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What to Expect from the Biden Administration

What to Expect from the Biden Administration

Sunday, 20 December, 2020 - 05:00

It may be fair to say that even US President-Elect Joe Biden himself is not absolutely sure about the details of his policies when he takes over on January 20, which is quite obvious.

Sure, a seasoned statesman’s beliefs do not change in a fortnight; but, Biden who served as a Vice President for eight years, and in the US Senate between 1973 and 2009, is also a veteran pragmatist, and non-ideological politician.

Furthermore, no leader as experienced as him might master all internal or external affairs; and this is where senior advisors play vital roles in influencing and developing the leader’s policies. This was the case of then Vice-President Dick Cheney with President George W Bush, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Senate’s ex-Democratic majority leader George Mitchell with President Bill Clinton, and former Secretary of State and White House Chief of Staff James Baker and former National Security Advisor General Brent Scowcroft with President George H. W. Bush, among many others.

Thus, it is important to assess Biden’s foreign policy team; without forgetting that the President-Elect (and former VP) had chaired the US Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee between 2007 and 2009. Moreover, Biden - born to an Irish Catholic and English family - has maintained strong relations with European leaders, in addition to his experience in Middle East affairs.

What is clear, so far, is that Biden would not adopt Donald Trump’s retrogressive slogans that were implemented in an isolationist and temperamental populism, devoid of a solid and coherent strategy.

Indeed, what is being expressed by Biden and his advisors and associates suggests that he plans to open a new page; more positive and less provocative, towards America’s traditional European allies.

Europe is expected to be the first and closest field test to Washington’s new policies. Today, the European Union, which has expanded at the expense of the Cold War’s old geography, is facing a disturbing rise of a ‘new Russia’. This rise has been seen in the Ukraine, Georgia, and even Syria; not to mention the allegations about Moscow’s cyber attacks, conspiracies and political interference in Western elections, as well giving tacit support to fringe extremist anti-establishment organizations.

I think the new Democratic Administration will engage more with Europe in dealing with the Russian challenge. More or less, the same will apply to the issue of East Asia and the Chinese challenge. The recent warning made by John Ratcliffe, the Director of National Intelligence, about China’s threat to America is noteworthy. In fact, the Chinese presence is evident and intense both in East Asia and Africa, and is expanded rapidly and consistently in other parts of the world.

The third region of strategic importance to the US, outside the Western Hemisphere, is the Middle East and North Africa. Here there are several issues that rank high in Washington’s strategic thinking, including: oil, Israel’s security, terrorism and immigration.

It is expected that Washington’s Middle East wheeler-dealers know the keys to these issues and more. Obviously, the ‘keys’ are represented, first, by the four regional powers, namely: The Arab countries – despite their old divisions and conflicts – Israel, Iran and Turkey; and second, by the Russian and Chinese interferences in the region.

The Barack Obama Administration, in which Joe Biden was Vice President, dealt with the Middle East for eight years. Its dealings, however, were a mixed bag of successes and failures, but eventually failures were by far more numerous and dangerous. It gambled on what it thought was the relative ‘moderation’ of the Iranian regime to the extent of striking a strategic deal with it. Its deal, however, was faulty on several fronts:

- Obama gambled on the ‘democratic’ and ‘moderate’ side of a theocratic, militaristic and expansionist regime that has little respect to agreements and promises. Indeed, it has always lied to the international community about its nuclear program.

- The nuclear agreement (JCPOA) with the Tehran regime primarily covered the technical details but was never linked to the political dimensions of the regime’s nuclear ambitions. Thus Obama allowed Iran to politically achieve on the ground what it had to postpone militarily through rapid acquisition of nuclear weapons.

- Through appeasing Tehran, and overlooking its expansionist project extending from Iraq to Yemen, via Syria and Lebanon, Washington antagonized the Sunnis in these states, as well as throughout the Arab world. As a result, it increased the credibility of the same forces of ‘radical political Islam’ – including Hamas – it had initially ‘demonized’ in order to justify dealing with Tehran.

Moreover, this policy opened the door wide for Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to enter the arena as a ‘defender of the downtrodden Sunnis’, undermined Palestinian moderates - along with the chance of a fair and lasting solution to the Palestinian conflict - as the Israeli Likud used Washington’s leniency towards Iranian ambitions as an excuse to justify its own traditional hardline policies.

As we know, following the bitter disappointment with the Obama administration, came Donald Trump with new, and ostensibly different, approaches. He began by ordering a punitive strike inside Syria, only to be followed by pronouncement that his aim was not bringing down Assad’s regime.

Trump’s second strike was far stronger, as he withdrew from the JCPOA and increased the sanctions against Iran. He then intensified his pressure against the Tehran regime, culminating in the killing of General Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Revolutionary Guards Al-Quds Force in January 2020; and then the killing of Brigadier General Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a leading nuclear official and expert last November.

As far as Iran is concerned, some may argue that Trump and his administration handles the regional issue fairly well. However, this was undone by Trump's whole-hearted espousal of the Likud’s policies. These included his recognition of Israel’s annexation of Syria’s Golan Heights, moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem (both contrary to UN resolutions), and tying Washington’s ‘friendly’ relations with Arab states to Benjamin Netanyahu rather than a moderate broadly-based government. Thus, whatever losses Iran suffered economically, it compensated politically.

Even worse, Trump unflinching support for the Likud's policies may have needlessly deprived both Arabs and Israelis of any real opportunity to agree on genuine peace, based on a proper coexistence free of outside pressures.

Today, one hopes that the ‘wise’ people in the Biden administration would avoid betting on the region’s extremists; be they Iranians, Arabs, Israelis or Turks. What is needed is moving forward toward genuine coexistence based on mutual respect, tolerating differences and diversity, and relinquishing dreams of hegemony under the banners of false religious legitimacies.

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