Asharq Al-awsat English Middle-east and International News and Opinion from Asharq Al-awsat Newspaper

Biden’s Policy for the Region

Biden’s Policy for the Region

Monday, 8 February, 2021 - 17:45
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad.

One of the gravest problematic issues that faces Saudi Arabia, and all other ally countries of the United States, during Obama’s second term in office was the US’s strategy for the new phase. Obama himself talked about it many times, but the strategy as a whole is the vision of many senior policy makers.

In a nutshell, these senior policy makers believe that the concept of “higher interests” has drastically changed after WWII. China, in lieu of Russia, has become the main economic and political adversary to the US and its interests in East Asia. Any eastern expansion will come at the expense of the West, as well as the Middle East, which became less important as the US produces more shale oil, becoming an oil-exporting country and changing the long-established ties with the Middle East.

The United States began its military withdrawal from the region and, consequently, decreased its political activity. However, the years that followed showed us that things were not so simple.

The Iranian nuclear threat is a global one all nations must fear, terrorism can return and strike the US at home, and China is edging towards Asia and Africa, seizing the regions it had drawn on its map as part of its enormous Belt and Road Initiative, which stretches to Southeast Asia, Oceania, Africa, Asia, the Middle East and the Russian North Sea Route. Accordingly, 126 countries have signed cooperation agreements with China while Pakistan has almost become fully Chinese, after it was once under consideration to be American. Oil-exporting countries in the Middle East remain of vital importance for being the primary energy suppliers as Saudi Arabia is now China’s main source for oil.

All of these things force Washington to revise the concept of “higher interest” in light of international race. This was simply the big picture of international relations and the return of competitiveness to the region, but we must not forget about its smaller details.

The US, for example, has no interest in leaving Yemen a devastated country, where Houthi and al-Qaeda militias can rule, while Iran seizes control of it. But the US does not want to fight in Yemen, which leaves supporting the Arab Coalition as the only viable option.

On the one hand, Washington wants to please the organizations that are calling for an end to the war for humanitarian reasons, but it does not have a real solution to resolve true cause of the conflict: the Houthi takeover of Yemen. Biden wants to support the Arab Coalition and strengthen American influence without direct military involvement. The fact of the matter remains that the previous Obama and Trump administrations supported the coalition and sold it weapons and arms, despite statements suggesting the contrary.

Even as the antagonistic media applauded President Biden for removing the Houthis from the US list of terrorist organizations to reverse the decision made by the Trump administration, it cannot be denied that this move is consistent with the Biden administration’s search for a peaceful solution, as it is not possible to negotiate with the Houthis if they are considered terrorists. We must also not forget that Trump designated the Houthis as a terrorist group just ten days before to leaving the White House.

As for Washington's statements and appeals to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries regarding their actions in matters the US considers to be human rights issues, and the American demands for the release of detainees, this is a mere formality we see with the majority of US administrations.

In the end, the US cannot force these governments to change their laws or release those whom it considers security threats. The current US administration will leave the White House after many years and long before the convicts are released. Thus, betting on Biden and his administration to change the situation or exert pressure is inconsistent with the higher interests of these countries that prioritize their interests over those of any individual. Only weak countries seek podiums to preach and dictate to others what to do.

Arab countries realize that interests are a two-way street. In the end, the United States looks after its own interests when dealing with Middle Eastern countries. If there was no interest to be found, then it will not heed these countries’ issues or complaints.

Other opinion articles

Editor Picks