Washington DC – In the early days of his presidency, Joe Biden promised to cooperate with his Former Donald Trump place”Democratic values“And “diplomatic leadership” are the core of US foreign policy.
But as 2021 is coming to an end, Biden’s first few months in office are characterized by what experts call a passive Middle East policy, focusing more on the management status quo than on resolving major conflicts.
Earlier this month, a senior Biden administration official who asked not to be named appeared to admit this and told reporters that Washington was not trying to “change” the area.
“We are not trying to achieve unachievable goals; we are not trying to change the Middle East,” the official said on December 17. “We focus on the interests of Americans and our national security, as well as the national security of our friends.”
At the same time, some of Biden’s first initiatives in the region-to revitalize the economy Iran Nuclear Agreement And end Yemen war -No results have been produced because the Democratic president is mainly concerned with pressing domestic issues, from COVID-19 to large-scale infrastructure bills.
While the pandemic is still in full swing, foreign policy shifts to competition With China, More and more attention Over russia Analysts said that Biden seems to lack the “bandwidth” and willingness to implement transformative policies in the Middle East.
“I don’t think there is a broader Middle East policy right now. What’s going on is managing the chaos they inherited,” said James Zogby, chairman of the Arab American Institute (AAI), a think tank based in Washington, DC.
The continuation of Trump policy?
After World War II, Washington began to play an active role in the Middle East, pursuing policies that focused on protecting the free flow of oil resources in the region, establishing alliances with Gulf monarchies, fighting communism, and protecting Israel.
After the Islamic Revolution in 1979, this approach turned to contain Iran. In 2003, the US military under the leadership of then President George W. Bush invaded Iraq, expanding Washington’s military footprint in the region. When Trump took office in 2017, he vigorously promoted policies that he believed were in the interests of the United States and strengthened relations with the Gulf and Israel.
Some rights advocates had hoped that Biden would promise to put human rights first, and would not only break with Trump, but also with the decades-long U.S. policy in the region. Although the government is still in the early stages of its term, Middle East observers say that hopes that the president will honor his commitments related to the region are slowly fading.
Christian Coates Ulrichsen, a Middle East researcher at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, said that as the Iran nuclear deal is “up in the air” and the war in Yemen continues to raging, Biden’s attitude towards the Middle East is “very similar” to Trang Generally speaking.
“On a deeper level, the substance is not as different as people think. So, it is more like a style,” Ulrichsen told Al Jazeera.
In addition, analysts also pointed out that Biden has retained some of Trump’s most controversial policies—especially against Israel, a longtime US ally in the region.
Biden administration officials strongly refused to compare with the policies advocated by Trump. Trump is a staunch defender of the Israeli government. He is accused of undermining American values and eroding diplomacy through tweets and rhetoric.
But Biden Decided to keep The U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem has consolidated the status quo of the previous administration’s changes. His White House has not changed Trump’s recognition of Israel’s claims of sovereignty over the occupied Syrian Golan Heights.
The current government also Fully embrace Trump’s normalization efforts between Israel and Arab countries. As part of the “Abraham Agreement” facilitated by Trump, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan agreed to establish diplomatic relations with Israel last year.
“We will encourage more countries to follow the example of the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco,” US Secretary of State Anthony Brinken said in September. “We want to expand the scope of peaceful diplomacy, because treating Israel like any other country is in the interest of the region and the countries of the world.”
In fact, the security of Israel is still the top priority of the Biden administration. The Biden administration faced widespread pressure in May to demand disclosure. Call to end Regarding Israel’s bombing of the Gaza Strip, it said it wanted to work behind the scenes to ensure a ceasefire.
“For President Biden, this is a basic, fundamental principle-as he often said: If Israel does not exist, we will have to invent it. Israel’s security is in his and our hearts first,” A senior official in the Biden administration told reporters this month.
Biden has resumed some humanitarian assistance to Palestinians cut off by Trump, and his government has expressed support for a “two-state solution” to resolve the conflict.
But the President of the United States did not honor his campaign promise to open a consulate for Palestinian affairs in East Jerusalem. Israel publicly opposed In this move, most of Biden and his senior aides did not publicly criticize Israel-including those on the record. Human rights violation Oppose the Palestinians.
On the contrary, they often raise mild objections to Israeli policies-including expansion of settlements and efforts Forcibly remove Palestinian families from their homes in East Jerusalem-in the statement they opposed “unilateral steps” by both sides, and the government said these measures have increased tensions.
Zogby said that Biden’s attitude towards the Israeli-Palestinian issue shows that “no points are awarded for playing small balls” in the Middle East policy.
“It’s very good to the Israelis and has a Few meetings The cooperation with Abu Mazan has not changed what is happening there,” he said, using Quenya for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
At the same time, the friendly relationship between Washington and many authoritarian Arab governments has been an increasingly fierce point of contention. In recent years, the Democratic Party has become more outspoken when criticizing US-Saudi relations.
After the reporter was murdered, their criticism reached a climax Jamal Khashoggi With the delay of the Saudi-led military offensive on Yemen, the United Nations called it the world The worst humanitarian crisis.
Trump forged Warm relationship He visited the rulers of the kingdom during his first visit as president in 2017. When the campaign ended and began to take office, Biden-who promised to make Saudi Arabia a “untouchable” in 2019-did not promote drastic change in the coalition.
Biden Announce The United States ended its support for Saudi-led “offensive operations” in Yemen, but he emphasized that his government has not abandoned the kingdom. “We will continue to support and help Saudi Arabia defend its sovereignty, territorial integrity and people,” the US President said in February.
His assistants have repeatedly praised Washington’s relationship with Riyadh, and the US government has given the green light. $650 million in sales Provide Saudi Arabia with air-to-air missiles and a helicopter maintenance agreement worth US$500 million.
Saudi Arabia intervened in Yemen in 2015 to repel Houthi insurgents in the country. They took over most of the country, including the capital Sana’a, and restored the Gulf-backed government of President Abdullah Mansour Hadi.
Biden appointed Tim Landkin, an experienced American diplomat, as Yemen’s special envoy to focus on ending the war, but his diplomatic efforts and multiple visits to the region have yet to yield positive results.The Houthis rejected the U.S.-backed Saudi proposal For a ceasefire, Insisting that the Saudi-led air and sea blockade of Yemen must be lifted before the end of the fighting.
Iran and Egypt policy
Another key issue faced by the Biden administration in the first year was the effort to revive the Iran nuclear agreement.
Trump allowed the United States to withdraw from the multilateral agreement in 2018 and began to impose “maximum pressure” sanctions on Iran, which in turn began to upgrade its nuclear program.Although the Biden administration started Indirect meeting As Iran resumed the agreement, it continued to enforce Trump’s sanctions regime and increased its own sanctions.
Ulrichsen said: “On this issue, the continuity between the two administrations is greater than the change.”
He added that some of the early sanctions could be a “signal” to Iranians that the new government is committed to “changing the dynamics in this negotiation”, especially when Hardline Iranian President Ibrahim Raisi was elected in June.
Biden’s aides emphasized that unlike Trump, who alienated U.S. partners through the withdrawal agreement, they are seeking a multilateral approach to Iran. European Allies And rivals Russia and China to push Tehran to re-comply with the nuclear agreement.
In terms of Egyptian policy, although Biden promised shortly before the 2020 election When referring to President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, “No longer issuing blank checks to Trump’s “favorite dictator”.” The government has already Praise the role of Cairo And promote the strengthening of the US-Egyptian partnership.
Rights groups Complaint Since the 2013 coup came to power, the Sisi government has imprisoned thousands of dissidents and declared almost all forms of political opposition illegal. However, the Egyptian president denied detaining political prisoners and stated that his government is fighting “terrorism”. Ism”.
Biden withheld US$130 million in the US$1.3 billion annual aid provided to Egypt on the grounds of human rights issues, but Ulrichsen said the move was more a symbolic gesture than a policy that followed. change.
“This may not send a strong message to the rest of the area,” he told Al Jazeera. “This may be a signal that they are doing something to let people see that they are doing something.”