WASHINGTON (Dispatches) – U.S. Senator Chris Murphy has said Washington should deprioritize hostility with Iran, cut down its military presence in the Middle East, and has also urged Saudi Arabia to “come to terms” with Hezbollah’s role in Lebanon.
“We have to look at our security footprints in the region. We spend billions of dollars putting massive amounts of troops in bases spread throughout the region. I don’t think that actually accrues to our security interests,” Murphy said during a podcast interview with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The lawmaker, who serves as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee focusing on Middle East issues, said decreasing the overall “militaristic footprint” in the region also includes security aid to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which he said had not eased the risk of conflict in the region.
Murphy said the U.S. should instead prioritize reentering the Iran nuclear deal - former President Donald Trump walked away from the agreement in 2018 - and reaching other long-term agreements with Tehran.
“I think that having some successful long-term diplomatic agreements between the United States and the Iranians will help build confidence for other diplomatic arrangements, either formal or informal, to be entered into that perhaps lower the temperature in the region,” he said.
“I don’t think that our current position in the region, whereby we are essentially giving the Saudi side whatever they need, is actually leading to that detente or to that conversation happening.”
During the podcast, Murphy also placed partial blame for the situation in Lebanon on a lack of Saudi engagement over Hezbollah’s prominent role inside Lebanon.
Lebanon has been suffering from a crippling economic crisis that has worsened to become one of the “most severe” in the world since the mid-19th century amid U.S.-led sanctions.
“[The Saudis] are deeply uncomfortable with the role that Hezbollah plays. The Saudis should come to terms with the fact that - at least in the short term - Hezbollah is going to be part of the political infrastructure there,” he said.
In previous years, Saudi Arabia cancelled billions of dollars in aid to Lebanon and banned its nationals from visiting the country.
The senator also dismissed concerns that cutting U.S. military presence and security assistance to its allies in the Middle East would create openings for Washington’s geopolitical adversaries, namely China.
He said the U.S. must “play hardball” with Riyadh, adding that he doesn’t believe “the Saudis are going to walk away from a security alliance with the United States.
“They will never get from the Chinese nor the Russians what they get from the United States today… They want us to be tougher on Iran, but they don’t have another potential partner like the United States.”
The issue of China’s perceived influence in the region was highlighted in a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee hearing on Tuesday.
Earlier this year, the foreign relations committee advanced legislation that seeks to combat what it sees as Beijing’s economic and military influence in the Middle East.
Murphy, however, said concerns of China outpacing the U.S. is not in the military sector, but in the areas of development and economic aid - pointing to the specific example of Egypt.
In Egypt, China has set up the Suez Economic and Trade Cooperation Zone, an economic and trade hub hosting Chinese entities and businesses. Beijing is also constructing a Central Business District in the country’s new administrative capital.
“All we have available to us right now in Egypt is public shaming and the withdrawal of military aid, whereas the Chinese will come in with much more significant economic promise than the United States can today,” Murphy said.