Foreign Policy

J.D. Vance Condemned Neocons—Then Called for the Same Middle East Policy

The close Trump ally tried to argue that more aggressive U.S. policy in the Middle East would help the U.S. get out of the Middle East.


Sen. J.D. Vance (R–Ohio.) believes that American neoconservatives have caused 40 years of "disasters" in the Middle East. But he's doubling down on exactly the vision they've had all along: an alliance of Israel and Sunni Muslim–led states, backed by U.S. military power, to "police" the region.

At a Thursday conference hosted by the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft—where I worked as a researcher several years ago—and The American Conservative, the senator laid out his idea of a "foreign policy for the middle class." Vance, who is on Donald Trump's shortlist for vice president, attacked the "tired old slogans" that have become consensus in Washington and called for a more "realist" approach.

But Vance also tried to argue that U.S. support for Israel and its Sunni allies is quite different from the kind of "endless war" policies he opposes elsewhere. He pointed to Israeli developments in missile defense as a potential benefit of U.S. support to Israel.

"By combining the Abraham Accords approach with the enduring defeat of Hamas," the United States will ensure that "Israel, with the Sunni nations, can actually police their region of the world. That allows us to spend less time and less resources in the Middle East," Vance said.

The Abraham Accords were a set of 2020 agreements between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain. The Trump administration sweetened the deal with several offers of U.S. support, such as a sale of advanced American fighter jets to the UAE.

The accords have allowed these countries "to push for even greater U.S. military entanglements" in the region, including a U.S.-led air defense alliance, according to a Quincy Institute report on Emirati lobbying. Saudi Arabia is currently demanding a formal U.S. defense pact in order to join the accords.

Last month, during a round of Israeli-Iranian fighting, the U.S. military and Arab nations reportedly shot down most of the Iranian missiles and drones before they entered Israel's airspace.

At the conference, Vance complained that the Biden administration was not bringing enough American weapons into the Middle East. An unnamed Israeli official told him that Washington had "forced the Israelis to empty their munitions stockpile and give it all to the Ukrainians," which Vance claimed "prolonged the war in Gaza in service of prolonging the war in Ukraine."

"That's absolute bullshit," says Josh Paul, a former U.S. State Department official in charge of weapons exports and a nonresident fellow at the nonprofit Democracy for the Arab World Now. "I think if that happened at all, the [Israeli official] was referring to the effort to transfer 155mm ammo from the U.S. stocks prior to October 7."

The United States keeps large amounts of ammunition in the War Reserve Stock Allies-Israel, a cache of weapons that are owned by the U.S. military weapons but located in Israel for rapid deployment to the region. Last year, the Biden administration began supplying the Ukrainian army from the stockpile. After the October 7 attacks on Israel by Hamas, the administration canceled shipments to Ukraine and asked Congress to give the Israeli army unlimited access to the war reserve.

Vivek Ramaswamy, another pro-Trump speaker at the Thursday conference, similarly argued that Israel is "a more important ally to the United States in advancing our interests in the Middle East than Ukraine." However, he argued that Washington should sell Israel weapons rather than give them away at the taxpayer's expense.

Vance wouldn't be the first to try selling a U.S.-Israeli-Sunni alliance as a way to lighten America's load. In 1996, a group of prominent neoconservatives wrote the "Clean Break" report, calling on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to adopt a policy of Israeli "self-reliance." The authors envisioned Israel working together with Sunni states to "contain, destabilize, and roll-back" Iranian, Syrian, and Palestinian threats.

"Israel can under these conditions better cooperate with the U.S. to counter real threats to the region and the West's security," the report stated. "Mr. Netanyahu can highlight his desire to cooperate more closely with the United States on anti-missile defense in order to remove the threat of blackmail which even a weak and distant army can pose to either state."

Several of the authors—Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, and David Wurmser—later served in the Bush administration and pushed for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

In addition to his belief in the "hard-nosed strategic argument" for his Middle Eastern policy, Vance said that it aligned with the "moral intuitions of American citizens," especially Christian Americans.

"A majority of people in this country—and I myself am Christian—believe their savior was born, died, and resurrected in that narrow little strip of territory on the Mediterranean," he argued. "The idea that there is ever going to be an American foreign policy that doesn't care about that slice of the world is preposterous."

Vance differentiated himself from neocons by denouncing their attempts to "spread democracy" by force. Pointing to the demise of ancient Iraqi Christian communities after the Iraq War, he argued that "traditional neoconservative foreign policy keeps on leading to the genocide of Christians."

Last month, right-wing talk show host Tucker Carlson made a similar point about the fate of Iraqi Christians—although with a subtle difference. "When there's a war abroad that the United States is funding, it is Christians who tend to die disproportionately," Carlson said during an interview with Palestinian Lutheran pastor Munther Isaac about his community's treatment by the Israeli government.

"Many Christian churches in the United States, particularly evangelical churches, support" the Israeli war effort, Carlson said. "But there is virtually never a word about the Christians who live there, the ancient Christian community in Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel proper. So, because no one has said a word, there has been great suffering among the Christian population in that region."

Indeed, Isaac told Carlson that it would be a mistake to see Israel as a "protector" of Christianity and that Palestinian Christians have been "disproportionately" impacted by the war in Gaza.

Vance may believe that he has found an innovative solution to pro-Israel noninterventionists' dilemma. Instead, he's stuck on the well-worn path that neoconservatives once took—one that will neither keep the United States out of Middle Eastern wars nor assuage American Christians' moral feelings.