US President Joe Biden has finally spoken to employees of the Department of State about his foreign policy plans emphasizing the need for a more diplomatic approach and friendlier ties with the rest of the world. He appealed to their emotions by declaring that his administration would try to return the US to a “position of trusted leadership” and urged his audience to reflect on the White House’s new foreign policy. The President essentially outlined his team’s vision of it, including that for the Middle East.
However, the plan to win back the trust of the global community was not off to a good start because at the end of February, he ordered an air strike near the Iraqi-Syrian border that could aid efforts of terrorists from DAESH (an organization banned in Russia). This move clearly showed that Joe Biden did not place much faith in diplomacy instead fully relying on brute force. After all, it is well known that the art of diplomacy involves taking necessary measures to stop military conflicts and strengthening ties between nations.
The US President’s decision to attack the militants drew criticism of the Iraqi government, and incited retaliation against US-led coalition forces. A few days later, multiple rockets (at least a dozen) landed at the Ain al-Asad airbase located in Iraq’s Al Anbar Governorate. According to reports, a US civilian contractor suffered a heart attack and died during the missile strike. Edward “Ned” Price, the spokesman for the US Department of State, implied that Iran-backed militias could have been responsible for it.
USA’s unlawful presence in Syria and Iraq will continue to draw a backlash, and those in the Middle East who oppose it could further undermine any US efforts as well as prudent policies.
Members of US Congress harshly criticized the new President’s decision to order the air strike without seeking approval from lawmakers first. “This makes President Biden the seventh consecutive US President to order strikes in the Middle East,” said Representative Ro Khanna (D-California), according to Politico. “We need to extricate from the Middle East, not escalate. The President should not be taking these actions without seeking explicit authorization instead of relying on broad, outdated AUMFs (Authorizations for Use of Military Force),” he added. In such a climate, Secretary General of NATO Jens Stoltenberg announced that the alliance would “expand its training mission in Iraq from 500 to around 4,000 personnel.”
Joe Biden’s approach towards Afghanistan also seems to lack a diplomatic touch. According to the deal struck by the United States and the Afghan Taliban in Doha (Qatar) under the previous administration, the US is supposed to withdraw its remaining forces stationed in Afghanistan by May 2021. However, the new US President said it would be tough for the United States to do so. Failure to remove the troops as previously agreed is likely to prompt the Taliban to take up arms once again.
An article published in The Washington Post on March 12 cited a former senior official as saying that it would be unfathomable to pull out American forces from Afghanistan “without stoking insecurity and jeopardizing chances for an eventual deal that could allow the United States to withdraw without fearing that Afghanistan would again become a terrorist haven.” According to the report, some military officials warned that there was “insufficient time to leave by May 1 without significant security and logistical problems.” They said that a “hasty exit would require the destruction of millions of dollars in sensitive equipment and could be followed by a diplomatic drawdown” at the US embassy in Kabul. On March 10, US Secretary Of State Antony Blinken stated that the Biden administration was “reviewing its Afghanistan policy” and had “so far not made any decision on the American force posture in the war-torn country.”
In the opinion of American political observers, Joe Biden’s approach to Saudi Arabia is completely incomprehensible and not what it appears to be. At first, Joe Biden announced that the US would “stop supporting offensive operations” in Yemen, “including the sale of precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia.” He publicly stated that the conflict had to end. The war has led to a humanitarian crisis in Yemen and turned the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula into breeding grounds for terrorists. The new US President then called Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and talked about the longstanding partnership between the United States and the Kingdom. In the meantime, the next day he published a classified US intelligence report saying that Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman had approved the operation to capture and kill Jamal Khashoggi. Clearly, the US is pursuing a double-edged policy aimed at exerting pressure on the Kingdom, which means that the Biden administration has been looking for new ways of milking Saudi Arabia dry with the aid of the Yemen war and Jamal Khashoggi assassination.
Then again if Joe Biden actually believes that the Kingdom will emerge victorious in this conflict, he is sadly mistaken. There are clear indications that once the Houthis win the war and the Saudi-led coalition withdraws its forces, a new regional order will be established, and this will definitely have a significant impact on who will take on the top government posts after King Salman dies.
At the same time, the new President’s first moves in relation to USA’s long-term ally, Saudi Arabia, also show that essentially there will not be a substantial difference between Donald Trump’s and Joe Biden’s approaches towards the Kingdom. In the United States, Saudi Arabia is still viewed as a key strategic partner in the region, hence there is a need for staunch long-lasting ties with it regardless of any existing challenges. Nonetheless, the rhetoric from government officials of these nations may not always reflect this.
There are differences in opinion among members of Joe Biden’s administration with regards to Iran and the impact of imposing sanctions against the inhabitants of this nation. Robert C. Smith, professor of International Relations at San Francisco State University, said he thought the administration was divided “as to how to approach Iran and might take some time before” it developed a policy. “Nations rarely make foreign policy decisions on the basis of morals, but rather on calculations of what serves their interests,” he added, commenting on the hardship and sufferings caused by the sanctions that “are used as a political and immoral weapon by the US administration on the general population.”
In the meantime, President Joe Biden expressed willingness to revive the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), signed by five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany, together with the EU. In turn, Iran’s Minister of Foreign Affairs urged the US leadership to first return to compliance and unequivocally show whether they wished “to follow the old failed policies of the Trump administration or not.”
Seeing as Joe Biden had proposed reviving the nuclear deal before he won the election and on becoming President, he laid out some conditions for reinstating the JCPOA, a number of politicians think that the new US leader must have to contend with opposing views among members of his administration, Congress, and within media outlets and the region. Some of these individuals would like to confront Iran while others prefer to reach an agreement, and it would appear that Joe Biden has not yet decided whose side he is on. In other words, there are people who believe the US should lift sanctions against Iran in exchange for Tehran returning to full compliance with the deal but perhaps few politicians in Washington DC agree with such a stance.
Abrupt steps taken by Joe Biden in the name of reviving an allegedly more diplomatic approach towards the Middle East have drawn growing criticism from several European officials who cannot fully comprehend the new administration’s foreign policies. An article published in Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung also lambasted USA’s failure to comply with the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, its inconsistent approach towards the Middle East and lifting sanctions against Iran. Pressure applied by members of the US administration on Turkey over human rights abuses; Joe Biden’s executive order revoking the Keystone XL pipeline cross-border permit (which disappointed Canadian officials); disagreements between the new President and Brazilian leader Jair Bolsonaro about deforestation in the Amazon, and many other issues all indicate that the current US administration is, just as the previous one, keen on pursuing America First policies. In other words, Joe Biden and his team will continue to make policy decisions on the basis of their own interests, and whether these will be in line with democratic principles and diplomatic norms or not is another question altogether.
Overall, it would seem that the new US administration’s willingness to continue with its confrontational policies in the Middle East, which can promote terrorism, as well as towards Russia and China; Joe Biden’s unwavering support of Israeli leadership, and USA’s domineering position in the Americas are all unlikely to help the United States reach its democratic ideals or master the art of diplomacy. Joe Biden’s version of diplomacy is in fact an extension of White House’s interventionist policies, which will not only isolate the United States from the rest of the world but could also result in Joe Biden’s (similar to Donald Trump’s) failure to get re-elected in four years’ time.
Viktor Mikhin, corresponding member of RANS, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.