Jake Sullivan’s ‘calmer’ Middle East comments haven’t aged well | ET REALITY


In a 7,000-word essay for Foreign Affairs magazine published this week, Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s national security adviser, attempted to summarize the state of the Middle East.

“While the Middle East remains beset by perennial challenges,” he wrote in the Original version According to the essay, “the region is calmer than it has been in decades.”

While noting that challenges remained, including a tense situation between Israelis and Palestinians and the threat from Iran, he wrote that in the face of “serious” friction, “we have de-escalated the crises in Gaza.”

Mr. Sullivan’s claims have not aged well.

Just five days after his article went to press on October 2, Hamas staged a devastating terrorist attack inside Israel, killing at least 1,400 Israelis and taking hundreds of people hostage. Israel’s retaliatory airstrikes on Hamas-controlled Gaza have killed thousands of people and sparked a humanitarian crisis.

No one can be expected to predict the future, but the essay offers a rare insight into how the United States misinterpreted an explosive situation in the Middle East. In the end, all the diplomacy, intelligence sharing, checks and visits did not anticipate the worst breach of Israeli defenses in half a century.

Before the article was published online, Foreign Affairs asked Mr. Sullivan to update it to reflect the Hamas attack. The online version deleted Sullivan’s “calmer” phrase, as well as his claim that the Biden administration had “de-escalated” the crises in Gaza. (An editor’s note included a pdf of the original essay, which appears in the November/December 2023 issue.)

Mr. Sullivan had made public comments similar to those in his essay.

On September 29, he shared his assessment with some of the country’s political, media and foreign policy circles: “The Middle East region is calmer today than it has been in two decades,” Sullivan told conference attendees. festival celebrated by The Atlantic, running through a list of examples that included a long truce in Yemen and the cessation of attacks on American troops by Iranian-backed militias. The Hamas attack occurred several days later.

The president’s critics have pounced. A fundraising email sent to his supporters by the Trump campaign on Wednesday chastised “Biden’s delusional national security advisor” with a link to a story about Sullivan’s comments. Conservative media publications have followed his lead.

Not all of Mr. Sullivan’s critics are right-wing.

Brett Bruen, who served as director of global engagement in the Obama White House, said Sullivan was driven by “a myopic focus on some diplomatic outcome rather than real strategy.”

“Jake is brilliant, but he has never spent a significant amount of time in any of these places,” said Mr. Bruen, who called for Mr. Sullivan’s dismissal after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021, when 13 US service members and dozens of Afghans were killed.

Still, he praised Sullivan, an Obama administration alumnus and former close adviser to Hillary Clinton, as a foreign policy talent who helped lead a “stunning” U.S. response to the attack on Israeli civilians.

Regarding Biden’s experience in the region, Bruen said that “experience can also be a drawback when you look at the world as it was a couple of decades ago, not as it is now.”

He added: “And Jake doesn’t disabuse him of that.”

On Thursday, several Biden administration officials rejected the idea that Sullivan was offering any lasting insight into his thoughts on the Middle East. Instead, they said, Sullivan was offering a snapshot of a region that seemed calm after years of war, regime changes and refugee crises.

A senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the administration’s process after the attacks, said no expert could have predicted that Hamas would invade Israel, overrun defense forces, kill civilians and take hostages. to hundreds.

Adrienne Watson, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said in an email that criticism on social media revolving around a phrase spoken (or written) by Sullivan amounts to “a loose take.”

He noted that Sullivan had devoted countless hours to the topic, including meeting with Ron Dermer, Israel’s minister of strategic affairs, two weeks before submitting the Foreign Affairs essay. She and other officials noted that Sullivan traveled to Israel and the West Bank earlier this year to work on “an important Palestinian component” of the normalization process, which she also emphasized during her trip to Saudi Arabia in August.

“While the world has changed, as it often does, the last two weeks only underscored the importance of building on the approach we already had toward the region, such as building relationships that can be trusted to resolve this crisis or the next. ” Ms. Watson wrote.

Sullivan declined to comment for this article.

But his supporters noted an important caveat toward the end of both versions of his essay, which is titled “The Sources of American Power,” apparently an allusion to a much-cited Foreign Affairs essay, “The Sources of Soviet Conduct,” which was written in 1947 at the beginning of the Cold War.

“The United States has been surprised in the past,” Sullivan wrote, pointing to the Cuban missile crisis in 1962 and the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990. And, he added, “it will probably be surprised in the future, no matter how “The government works hard to anticipate what is coming.”

Eduardo Wong contributed with reports.

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