AMAC Exclusive By Aaron Kliegman
The Biden administration is significantly reducing America’s defenses in the Middle East, pulling several antimissile systems and other military hardware from the region.
Last month, the Pentagon confirmed that Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin directed the Commander of US Central Command, which oversees American forces in the Middle East and Afghanistan, to remove “certain forces and capabilities,” mostly air defense systems.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the administration is withdrawing some fighter jet squadrons and about eight Patriot missile batteries from Iraq, Kuwait, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and other countries. The US will also withdraw one Terminal High Altitude Air Defense (THAAD) system from Saudi Arabia.
Each battery requires hundreds of troops and civilians to operate.
The Pentagon says some of the military assets are returning to the US for maintenance, while others will be redeployed elsewhere. The Biden administration claims these changes are merely a manifestation of a larger effort to realign U.S. defense strategy to have a greater focus on Asia.
To be sure, China needs to be deterred—but moving antimissile systems from the Middle East won’t do the trick. The moves will, however, embolden another US adversary: Iran.
To understand why, recall how, in 2019, Iran attacked Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities using cruise missiles and unmanned aerial systems that ballistic missile defense systems are not designed to intercept. Iran evidently knows the limitations of America’s antimissile systems in the region and has figured out how to circumvent them. By removing air defenses from the Middle East, the Biden administration is essentially giving Iran free reign to target Saudi Arabia and other US allies with even more menacing missiles.
Nor does it help that Biden is actively appeasing Iran to reenter the 2015 nuclear deal, an agreement that paves a path for the Iranian regime to build nuclear weapons while enriching it by lifting economic sanctions.
In a desperate bid to revive the deal, the administration recently lifted sanctions on several former Iranian officials, energy companies, and government entities, including ones involved in financing terrorism — unilateral actions for which the US received nothing in return.
This is appeasement, plain and simple. And the Biden administration’s latest military withdrawals from the Middle East will only further appease Tehran, sending a clear signal that the US will not oppose Iran’s imperialism across the region.
There are two broader problems with the US shifting away from the Middle East.
First, the next war in which the US is engaged is more likely to be irregular and involve terrorists and insurgents in the Middle East, than, say, a war with China over Taiwan. In fact, there have been no wars between great powers since 1945, and most of the recent conflicts are intra-state, having more in common with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan than conventional wars against China or Russia.
Second, the political reality in Washington is that the Middle East always dominates headlines, and lawmakers can never seem to make the strategic shift away from the region. Even the Biden administration has launched military strikes against Iranian-backed militias in Iraq and Syria.
Therefore, Washington will likely continue its basic posture in the Middle East while also emphasizing great-power competition with China, leaving existing troops in the Middle East vulnerable without America’s high-tech defense systems.
Moreover, while it is important to prioritize threats in the Pacific, it is highly questionable whether that is truly what Biden’s Middle East drawdown portends.
Indeed, Biden’s defense budget suggests he is not merely redeploying assets—he is setting the stage for the first wave of massive defense cuts which will leave America and its allies in much greater peril.
Biden’s proposed budget for 2022 radically underfunds a vital program dedicated to stopping China from advancing in the western Pacific. Specifically, the administration falls about $1 billion short of the roughly $5 billion requested by the Pentagon’s Indo-Pacific Command for the Pacific Deterrence Initiative. The budget for the initiative has severe problems that have all but dissolved it.
Add an $8 billion cut to new weapons procurement, which will create an older, smaller force, and the result is a military unfit to meet the Chinese challenge.
The bottom line is this: Be wary of Biden’s recent moves to withdraw military assets from the Middle East. Many Americans — Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives — want American forces out of the Middle East. But what the Biden administration is doing is reckless, and worse, it signals weakness.
As we learned on 9/11, even if an administration wants to prioritize China and ignore the threat of terrorism, all it takes is one attack to change everything. China is the priority today, but America must remain strong and vigilant in the Middle East—or we may not have the luxury to focus on China at all.
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