They also complain that Mr. Biden is maintaining the sanctions Mr. Trump applied on Tehran when he exited the nuclear deal, even though Iran had been in compliance at the time. Mr. Kushner referred to this approvingly as a “strong hand” that Mr. Biden had inherited.
“The Biden administration has bought the Trump analysis that these sanctions give America leverage, even though the sanctions didn’t give Trump any leverage on Iran,” said Joseph Cirincione, a longtime arms control expert who consulted closely with Obama administration officials over the nuclear deal.
Further complicating the prospects for nuclear talks was Mr. Biden’s Feb. 25 airstrike targeting Iranian-backed militia fighters in Syria, a retaliation for militia rocket attacks on U.S. forces in neighboring Iraq. Although the strike was limited, it derailed nascent nuclear diplomacy and risked escalation, Mr. Cirincione said.
The strike also angered liberals determined to end what they call America’s “endless” or “forever” wars — its military and counterterrorism campaigns across the Middle East and parts of Africa that began after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent of Vermont, said the strike “puts our country on the path of continuing the Forever War instead of ending it,” and he questioned its legal justification. (The White House says it supports congressional action to repeal and replace Bush-era laws that provide presidents with broad authority to use force.)
Compounding the frustration is a sense among liberals that Mr. Biden’s national security team is stocked with centrists who have supported past U.S. military interventions, including Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, and the president’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan.
Critics of Mr. Biden’s early Middle East policy have focused their attention on Brett McGurk, the National Security Council’s coordinator for the region. Mr. McGurk entered government as an aide in President George W. Bush’s White House, but stayed on through the Obama and Trump presidencies. He has strong relationships with leaders in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — oil-rich states labeled repressive by human rights activists and that liberals see as exerting an unwelcome influence over U.S. policy.
Mr. McGurk helped shape Mr. Biden’s decision, decried on the left, not to directly punish Prince Mohammed even after the White House declassified an intelligence report that found that he, the de facto Saudi leader, approved the operation that led to the murder of Mr. Khashoggi in 2018. Many liberals said the moral imperative of barring Prince Mohammed from future visits to the United States, at a minimum, should outweigh the familiar realpolitik of preserving relations with the Saudi kingdom.