Rep. Jim Banks, chairman of the Republican Study Committee, was interviewed by Clifford Smith, director of the Middle East Forum's Washington Project, in an April 23 Middle East Forum webinar (video) about changes in U.S. foreign policy under the Biden administration.
Banks sees the Biden administration's "appeasement" foreign policy as a "reversal back to Obama era policies," contrasting sharply with that of the Trump administration, which he likened to former president Ronald Reagan's "peace through strength" approach to foreign affairs. "The juxtaposition between the Trump foreign policy and the Biden foreign policy couldn't be any more stark." Banks and Smith covered a range of foreign policy issues in the interview.
Banks praised the Trump administration's brokering of the Abraham Accords, which normalized Israeli diplomatic relations with United Arab Emirates and Bahrain last year. Critics of Trump's Mideast policy who had insisted that Israeli-Arab normalization either couldn't be achieved or wouldn't matter strategically were proven wrong on both counts.
"History will look back ... very favorably" on the Abraham Accords.
In fact, the accords contribute to "long-term stability" by "putting pressure on [the Palestinians] to recognize Israel's sovereignty and [its] right to live peacefully." "History will look back ... very favorably" at President Trump's accomplishment, but the Biden administration doesn't appear to consider Arab-Israeli peace a strategic priority, as evidenced by the fact that it still has not filled the ambassadorial post to Israel.
In Afghanistan, where Banks had previously deployed as a member of the Naval Reserve and which he now follows closely as a member of House Armed Services Committee, the congressman fears a repeat of the "mistakes of the Obama era," when an "abrupt withdrawal" of American forces in Iraq paved the way for the rise of ISIS. "America's top military minds have told us that it will be only a matter of days or weeks before the Taliban completely take over Afghanistan once we completely withdraw," said Banks, after which the country will once again become a "safe harbor for terrorists in the region," such as the even more radical ISIS-Khorasan Province (ISIS-K). "We can't afford to turn this back over to them again." He advocates maintaining a "light footprint with a counter-terrorism focus," while "get[ting[ out of the failed nation-building attempts that we've made over the last 20 years."
On the issue of Iran, Banks criticized the Biden administration's determination to re-enter the failed 2015 nuclear deal and lift sanctions accordingly. The Trump administration's maximum pressure campaign of sanctions against Iran "dried up resources" available to its regime by damaging its economy and its ability to fund proxy groups. Changing course will allow the Iranians to "rebuild their nuclear program" and "fund their proxy groups" that have "cost the lives of ... American troops."
As chair of the Republican Study Committee, Banks, along with 90 co-sponsors, introduced the Maximum Pressure Act, a piece of legislation designed to curtail the Biden administration's rush to appease the ayatollahs. The act bars the Biden administration from lifting sanctions until Iran meets 12 stringent conditions outlined by then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in 2018. It also stipulates that a new agreement with Iran must be ratified as a treaty in the Senate, thus restoring the "proper role of the legislative branch." The Iran nuclear deal imposed under the Obama administration "circumvented Congress" entirely, and Banks anticipates the Biden administration will "shameful[ly]" repeat "the same path forward" in re-entering the Iran deal unless Congress asserts its "constitutional responsibility."
Another issue which Banks has been vocal in calling out is China's "antagonistic" relationship with the U.S. The Communist regime has become increasingly involved in the Mideast, diplomatically and economically, to increase its influence in the region and "dominate" the U.S. through "debt-trap diplomacy." While Trump "addressed the China threat," said Banks, under the Biden administration there are "few signs" that the Chinese Communist party will be held accountable. China's asserting itself in places "where the U.S. has historically enjoyed strong relationships" will eventually enable Beijing to "leverage those investments" to the detriment of U.S. interests in the region.
Marilyn Stern is communications coordinator at the Middle East Forum.