In a recent 7,000-word essay for Foreign Affairs magazine, Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s national security adviser, attempted to assess the current state of affairs in the Middle East.
In the original version of the essay, he wrote, “Although the Middle East remains beset with perennial challenges, the region is quieter than it has been for decades.” He also claimed that the Biden administration had successfully “de-escalated crises in Gaza” in the face of “serious frictions.”
However, just five days after the article went to print on October 2, Hamas launched a devastating terror attack inside Israel, resulting in the deaths of at least 1,400 Israelis and the taking of hundreds of hostages. In response, Israel conducted retaliatory airstrikes against Gaza, leading to a humanitarian crisis.
This turn of events highlights how the United States miscalculated the volatile situation in the Middle East. Despite diplomatic efforts and intelligence sharing, the worst breach of Israeli defenses in half a century caught everyone off guard.
Before the article was published online, Foreign Affairs requested an update to reflect the Hamas attack. The online version removed Sullivan’s “quieter” assessment of the region and his claim that crises in Gaza had been “de-escalated.”
Sullivan had made similar statements in public appearances, where he portrayed the Middle East as relatively calm in recent years. However, the Hamas attack shattered this perception.
Critics of President Biden and Sullivan have seized upon this development, with the Trump campaign and conservative media outlets criticizing Sullivan’s earlier remarks.
Notably, not all of Sullivan’s critics are from the political right. Some have raised concerns about his approach to foreign policy, emphasizing diplomacy over a broader strategic outlook. Nevertheless, Sullivan has been recognized for his role in responding to the attack on Israeli civilians.
In response to the criticism, Biden administration officials have argued that Sullivan’s assessment reflected a snapshot of a region that had appeared stable after years of conflict, regime changes, and refugee crises. They emphasized that no expert could have predicted the Hamas invasion of Israel and its consequences.
In sum, Sullivan’s initial assessment may not have accounted for the rapidly changing dynamics in the Middle East, but the administration argues that the approach to the region remains relevant and should be based on building reliable relationships to address future crises.
Sullivan declined to comment for this article, but it’s worth noting that he acknowledged the potential for surprises in international relations, as history has shown with past unexpected events like the Cuban missile crisis and Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.