Much ink has been spilled over the recent Houthi attacks on shipping lanes in the Red Sea and U.S. infrastructure in the Middle East. But not enough people are asking the right question: Why are these attacks occurring in the first place?
Since the first day of the Biden administration, the U.S. has shifted from a muscular foreign policy to one based on soft power. The administration delisted the Houthis as a terrorist group, promised to restart negotiations on a new Iran nuclear deal and executed a disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan. In addition, the White House decided to move away from traditional U.S. allies in the region. For example, during the 2020 presidential campaign, President Joe Biden promised to make American ally Saudi Arabia a “pariah.”
The administration’s foreign policy has had disastrous results on a global scale. For the first time since World War II, we have a major land war raging in Europe; Israel has suffered the worst terror attack in its history, committed by an Iranian proxy; as noted above, the Houthis are directly attacking world trade; and Iran’s terrorist Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has just fired a missile that struck very close to the U.S. consulate in Erbil, Iraq.
Biden’s soft power strategy is simply a continuation of the Obama administration’s foreign policy, which was also a disastrous failure. For example, in 2012, President Barack Obama made his famous “red-line” threat to Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, saying military action would follow any use of poison gas against Syrian civilians. Assad went on to gas his citizens and Obama did nothing in response. Assad correctly realized he could do more or less whatever he wanted and proceeded to flout the U.S. in the Syrian civil war that rages to this day.
Under President Donald Trump, this failed policy changed. When the Iranians fired missiles at a U.S. base in Iraq, Trump had IRGC head and arch-terrorist Qassem Soleimani assassinated. The media and foreign policy establishments wrung their collective hands, shrieking that this would destabilize the entire Middle East. Needless to say, it didn’t. In fact, Soleimani’s execution and Trump’s unequivocal support for Israel and the Saudis backed Iran into a corner. Under Trump, the Iranians never mustered a response to the Soleimani assassination because of the simple fear that the U.S. and its allies in the region would take drastic action in response.
This foreign policy doctrine also enabled the effective use of soft power. In particular, it resulted in the Abraham Accords. Once thought to be impossible, the U.S. was able to negotiate normalization agreements between Israel and several of its Arab neighbors. This realigned the Middle East in a manner that placed even more pressure on the Iranian regime.
Trump’s foreign policy was one of the most successful aspects of his presidency. Yet the media kept telling its audience that Trump would lead the U.S. to the brink of war. In fact, his muscular approach made war less likely. No such conflicts broke out, Iran was deterred and Russia did not invade any of its neighbors for the first time since President George H.W. Bush was in office.
If it wants to reverse the Biden administration’s failures, the U.S. must start flexing its muscles again. This does not demand American boots on the ground, as Trump’s success demonstrated. Nonetheless, the only effective tools of foreign policy are strength and deterrence. To keep ourselves and our allies secure, we must return to that policy by abandoning appeasement and fear.