Analysis: Biden to clarify his ‘pragmatic’ Middle East policy


US President Joe Biden’s visit to the Middle East this week is the culmination of an urgent need and growing desire.

The US must convince its partners in the region to fully support their stance on Russia’s war in Ukraine — and meet the West’s growing energy needs — by addressing their security concerns.

And the desire is for the US to clarify its voice and explain to its partners exactly how it intends to confront and contain the growing strategic influence of Russia and China in the unstable but important region.

Biden wants to make it clear to his interlocutors that they should stop reminiscing about previous administrations’ policies and focus on his approach: one that is realistic and pragmatic; that aligns ends and means; that takes into account past failures and current opportunities; that is turning away from the lofty agendas of regime change, nation building and radical regional transformations.

Biden’s policy in the Middle East had already been outlined by Jake Sullivan, national security adviser, who emphasized Washington’s desire to promote “regional stability” through diplomacy, and Brett McGurk, the top White House official in the Middle East. Middle East, who spoke of a desire to “go back to basics” through the “3D approach” of deterrence, diplomacy and de-escalation.

During his stay in the Middle East, Biden will further clarify his position and try to reassure his allies that with this change of strategy, the US has no intention of leaving the region or prioritizing the region. He will explain that the decision to withdraw from Afghanistan would not affect Washington’s presence in the Middle East in any way, and that it will at least free up more resources for the region, especially to fight “terrorism”. .

Biden will also make it clear to his regional partners that Iran is a US “adversary” — and will remain for the foreseeable future, regardless of what happens to the nuclear deal. He will assure them that Washington will not allow Iran to go nuclear no matter what.

He will explain that strengthening alliances in the Middle East is critical to US national security, and that Washington is ready to sell weapons and provide training and support for key regional allies to rise up. against Iran and its regional proxies. But at the same time, he will make sure everyone understands that he has no intention of tolerating “freeriders” – except Israel – and will insist that his partners maintain at least the semblance of respect for human rights, which his government puts at the heart of its foreign policy.

In the event that a regional cold war continues to gain momentum, with Russia and China standing behind Iran and conducting military exercises with its military, as has been the case in recent years, Biden wants to make sure the US is not left out without influence or influence the situation. For example, he wants to continue diplomacy with Iran and support regional partners, such as Saudi Arabia, who are doing the same.

He would also like to see the Abraham Accords expanded and strengthened and Israel’s influence on the Arab world deepened. Therefore, he is likely to use the upcoming visit as an opportunity to demonstrate his government’s willingness to promote such inter-regional cooperation through investment in security and technology.

While there is much talk about forming a NATO in the Middle East, Biden has no such strategic vision or doctrine for the region and will not pretend to have one. He will listen to suggestions rather than announce a major initiative during his time in the region. But this doesn’t mean he wouldn’t encourage such discussions, as the semblance of such a drive could serve American interests by maintaining momentum toward collective security. The dream of a NATO in the Middle East, unrealistic as it may be at the moment, is also a good means for the US to sell more expensive weapons under stricter conditions.

Biden hopes to accomplish all of the above patiently and without much ado. He would like to de-escalate tensions from Yemen to Palestine, from Libya to Syria and the Gulf. His goal is not to quickly deliver big solutions to big problems, but rather to manage regional crises without direct military intervention. However, he still seems determined to maintain a strong counter-terrorism task force in the region to fight ISIS, al-Qaeda and other organizations that the US deems “terrorist”.

While Biden remains theoretically committed to a two-state solution in Israel-Palestine, he seems convinced that such an outcome is not feasible without direct confrontation with decision-makers in Israel or the powerful Israeli lobby in Washington. He probably doesn’t see such an effort politically beneficial at this point. Therefore, this week he will portray Palestine as a “humanitarian issue” that can be solved through aid and investment aimed at improving living standards and governance.

In short, while Biden pursues a more pragmatic, less ambitious strategy for the Middle East than his three predecessors, he picks up key elements, most notably counter-terrorism, pursuing diplomatic solutions — including a nuclear deal with Iran — and prioritizing the Abraham Accords at the expense of Palestinian and Arab political and human rights.

All this raises a number of questions:

In the face of disastrous past failures, how will a return to grassroots and traditional alliances with autocracies lead to a different outcome?

How will Biden respond to the deterioration in security in the region as a result of the escalation between Iran and Israel in Syria and elsewhere, knowing all too well that neither side has any intention of pulling out and pursuing their regional ambitions? to give?

Will the US regional allies such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt agree to a return to the status quo and take back the dictates of Washington, or will they become more like Israel – difficult, eccentric and their pursuing your own interests?

What will be the implications for the region if the US expands its support for Israel and pays lip service to solving the Palestinian issue?

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