The problem the US faces in the Middle East is fundamental lack of credibility. US allies do not believe in the US and Iran does not fear America. US rhetoric about “looking at other options” does not deter Iran nor does it impress US allies. After giving up Afghanistan does the US face a fundamental problem of credibility. The general view is that the US is leaving the Middle East to its own devices to focus on China. No one thinks the US will destroy the Iranian nuclear weapons program.
The Trump administration also wanted to vacate the Middle East but at least they had a vision for how to subcontract the great power role in the region to Israel. However, nations that were ready to normalize relations with Israel are now biding their time in the absence of US provision of incentives. The idea of leaving Israel in charge of the Middle East so that the US can focus on China certainly makes sense but that requires that the US be ready to provide incentives to nations of the Middle East interested in normalizing relations with Israel.
At a recent meeting between US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman did Riyadh offer to normalize relations with Israel in return for a list of US incentives. It is unclear if there has been any progress in Israeli-Saudi normalization since then but the US government needs to internalize that it cannot disengage from the Middle East without first leaving Israel in charge of the region and this requires further normalization, particularly between Israel and Saudi Arabia.
While the current administration no doubt recognizes regional normalization with Israel as vital to regional security, it does not appear that the Biden administration is ready to provide incentives and hence the normalization is held up. While outsourcing US superpower duties to American allies around the world certainly makes sense, there is still a need for a US role in the region such as the imposition of a no-fly zone over Iran after Israel’s destruction of the Iranian nuclear weapons program so as to prevent the Khomeinist regime from rebuilding its nuclear facilities as well as to provide air support to armed rebellions in Iran’s ethnic periphery, something that will demographically reduce Khomeinist Iran to only half the current size.
There does not appear to be an orderly plan for the US disengagement from the Middle East. The experience from the US disengagement from Afghanistan certainly does not inspire confidence in US allies in the Middle East. The previous administration appears to have had such a plan and was ready to invest in Israel-Arab normalization in the region. The current US administration needs to internalize that leaving Israel in charge of the region requires that further nations (particularly Saudi Arabia) normalize relations with Israel and those nations understandably expect provision of certain incentives from the United States.
The Biden administration would be especially well-advised to adopt the Middle East disengagement plan of the previous administration which crucially involved provision of significant incentives to nations that normalize relations with Israel.