What should Joe Biden do in the Middle East?

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America must stop oscillating between war and retreat

Joe biden has made no secret of his frustration with Saudi Arabia. A “pariah” with “very little social redeeming value”, he called its government in 2019. One of his first acts as president was to end American support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. Last week he released an intelligence report that blamed the kingdom’s crown prince, Muhammad bin Salman, for the murder of a journalist in 2018. But at that point Mr Biden’s ideals collided with America’s national interest. The prince may be a brute, but he is also in charge of an important American ally. In the end Mr Biden decided that the cost of punishing him would have been too high.

This is all part of a larger cost-benefit analysis taking place in the White House. Mr Biden has signalled that he wants to make the Middle East less of a priority. He has good reason to pull back. America has thousands of soldiers spread across Arab countries, yet its interventions have produced dismal results. Many Americans argue that their country should instead focus on countering China’s growing global influence. The question facing the Biden administration is how to lighten America’s burden in the Middle East while still protecting its vital interests there. That will not be easy.

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