On September 29, at a festival put on by the Atlantic, Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan boasted of the Middle East’s unprecedented stability. Just a week later, Hamas attacked Israel, and far from being stable, the Middle East hasn’t been this volatile in years.

It’s not quite fair to hold someone to a turn of phrase on a conference panel, but it turns out that Sullivan wasn’t speaking off the cuff. That sentiment encapsulated how the Biden administration’s key thinker sees the state of the world — or, at least, how he saw it. The sentiment also appears in the print version of Sullivan’s November/December cover story for Foreign Affairs magazine.

Overtaken by events would be a generous way to put this.

“The Middle East is quieter than it has been for decades,” he wrote in an essay that went to print before Hamas’s October 7 attacks on Israel. Sullivan deleted that passage from the web edition of the article and updated the Middle East portions of the piece. “We are working closely with regional partners to facilitate the sustainable delivery of humanitarian assistance to civilians in the Gaza Strip,” Sullivan writes in the online version. “We are alert to the risk that the current crisis could spiral into a regional conflict.”

But the print edition of the magazine arrived on doorsteps this week and is now a striking artifact of Biden’s pre-October 7 priorities. And while it would be easy to dunk on some of the now out-of-date passages from Sullivan, which demonstrated how the Biden administration totally missed the possibility of a new Hamas-Israel war, what’s more interesting is how little these events have seemed to change things for the administration.

A read of the web version of his piece shows that the Hamas-Israel war has not fundamentally altered the national security adviser’s assumptions about the world. He remains focused on using unconventional economic tools, like investing in the US industrial base and using export controls to advance US statecraft, and stitching together new alliances to benefit American interests, all while being disciplined about how the US uses its military power. “Americans should be optimistic about the future,” he writes in both versions. “Old assumptions and structures must be adapted to meet the challenges the United States will face between now and 2050.” But what’s noteworthy is that the United States’ approach to the Middle East and Israel, according to Sullivan, is still not one of those areas that needs an update.

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