Ben Cardin: Where does new Senate Foreign Relations chair stand on MENA ?

MEE Staff

Middle East Eye  /  October 5, 2023 

Middle East Eye looks at senator’s foreign policy positions after his predecessor Bob Menendez stepped down amid a corruption scandal.

After US Senator Bob Menendez stepped down from his post as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee amid a Hollywood-esque corruption case involving Egyptian intelligence officials, the position was assigned to the next Democrat in line, Ben Cardin.

Cardin began his chairmanship by blocking $235m in military aid to Egypt over human rights violations, and then similarly called for reevaluating military assistance to Azerbaijan.

“Congress has been clear, through the law, that the government of Egypt’s record on a range of critical human rights issues, good governance, and the rule of law must improve if our bilateral relationship is to be sustained,” he said earlier this week when announcing the blocking of the aid.

While Cardin, 80, has announced that he will not be seeking re-election in 2024, he may remain as the top member of the powerful and influential Senate committee until the next congressional term, which will last until the end of next year.

Middle East Eye takes a look at Senator Cardin’s career and what his positions are in relation to the Middle East.

Who is Ben Cardin ?

Cardin, a Baltimore native and grandson of Russian Jewish immigrants, is a US Democratic senator from the state of Maryland, where he has served since 2007.

Before that, Cardin served in the House of Representatives representing large parts of the city of Baltimore.

As a senator, he was an early advocate for the Global Magnitsky Act, legislation that gives the White House the power to issue visa bans and targeted sanctions on individuals over gross human rights violations or acts of significant corruption, regardless of where they are in the world.


During his political career, Cardin has been a fervent supporter of Israel.

In 2014, Israel’s war on Gaza killed 2,220 Palestinians, mostly civilians, as well as 72 Israelis, who were mostly soldiers. Cardin issued several letters coming to Israel’s defence. He wrote to then-UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon rebuking the UN chief’s statement that Israel’s attacks were an “atrocious action”.

He also wrote to then-President Barack Obama, urging him not to pressure Israel into a ceasefire “that leaves them vulnerable to future deadly attacks”.

In 2017, Cardin co-sponsored a bill that would target businesses that boycott Israel and its settlements in the occupied West Bank. That bill has yet to be passed.

Cardin also called for the dissolution of a UN inquiry that sought to probe alleged Israeli war crimes against Palestinians during the 2021 offensive on Gaza.

The senator also supported former US President Donald Trump’s decision to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Iran nuclear deal

Where Cardin differed from many of his Democratic colleagues was during the Obama-era negotiations over a nuclear agreement with Iran.

Cardin was one of four Democrats, including Menendez, who opposed the Iran nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

“I was unable to support this agreement because it legitimizes Iran’s nuclear programme, providing a rogue state and major sponsor of terrorism with an international endorsement of an industrial-scale nuclear program,” he said at the time.

He has also introduced a number of bills aimed at targeting the Islamic Republic with sanctions.

Despite opposing the nuclear deal, he did assist in helping it pass through Congress by working with Senator Bob Corker, who headed the Foreign Relations Committee at the time, to give the Senate the power to review the nuclear agreement and vote to block it.

During that time, Menendez was similarly facing another indictment over corruption charges.

Cardin later disagreed with Trump’s decision to leave the nuclear agreement, calling it “reckless”. He did, however, advocate in the aftermath of leaving the deal that “maximum pressure” on Iran was the only way to get back to the negotiating table.


Menendez, Cardin’s predecessor in the Foreign Relations Committee, was an ardent opponent of Turkey and its president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Cardin doesn’t seem to share Menendez’s displeasure with Ankara. In 2016, the senator condemned the attempted coup that took place in the country.

He did say in 2017 that Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 missile system requires the US to impose sanctions on Ankara and criticised Erdogan’s government for its human rights record.

However, the senator has also praised the fellow Nato member for the stances it has taken in relation to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine which began last February.

“You’ve seen Turkey, a NATO ally but one which has not been always on our side, take really aggressive actions both in supplying defensive lethal weapons to Ukraine, but also denying the sea passage of Russian war vessels,” Cardin said in a conversation with the Council on Foreign Relations in April 2022.