By Dalia Al-Aqidi *
With US President Joe Biden about to enter his second year in the White House, those interested in his administration’s policies regarding the Middle East are seeking to form a realistic opinion of what to expect in the coming three years by reviewing the US approach to key issues in the region.
When US Secretary of State Antony Blinken outlined the administration’s priorities in his first foreign policy speech in March 2021, he made it clear that Washington would take every possible measure to avoid costly military interventions around the world.
“In future cases when we must take military action, we will do so only when the objectives and mission are clear and achievable, consistent with our values and laws, and with the informed consent of the American people. And we’ll do it together with American diplomacy,” he said.
The Middle East and Israel, the major US ally, were not mentioned in Blinken’s speech, which reflected the US leader’s idea of uniting his foreign and domestic policies.
In the past 12 months, Biden has brought back a number of foreign policies from the Barack Obama era and his time as vice president from 2009 to 2017. These include the policy of withdrawal from the wider Middle East, which was one of his presidential campaign promises.
Albeit geographically Afghanistan does not fall within the Middle East, the shameful US withdrawal from this country — leaving the fate of its people in the hands of the Taliban — cast a shadow not only on the region but also the whole world, undermining the confidence of the international community in the US political, diplomatic and military capabilities.
The sudden pullout gave the green light to several regional governments and rogue groups to manipulate the fate of millions of innocent people without fear of being held accountable, bearing responsibility, or facing any significant consequences.
The biggest challenge for Biden’s presidency is China and how his administration deals with its trade, economic, military, and cyber influence. This puts Beijing at the top of his list of priorities, while for the first time the Middle East is removed from the list, given that the region no longer offers enough incentive for the US to adopt proactive and costly policies toward it.
Why is the Islamic Republic of Iran the exception?
Before being elected, Biden repeatedly promised voters that he would revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. It became part of his domestic policy as well, which explains why Washington is giving away its leverage in the region in order to convince the Iranians and improve the Democratic party’s chances in difficult 2022 midterm elections.
One of several errors the administration has made in the region is the neglect of the first Middle East peace agreement in decades, as well as the failure to build on it. Despite his extensive foreign affairs experience, Biden’s strong opposition to former President Donald Trump’s policies has blinded him from seeing how the US, Israel and the Middle East would benefit from an expansion of the Abraham Accords.
The removal of Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen from the foreign terrorist organization and global terror lists has had dire consequences, and increased the threat the group poses not only to the people of Yemen and longtime ally Saudi Arabia, but also to the US itself. On Nov. 10, 2021, the terror group stormed the US Embassy compound in Sanaa, and detained more than two dozen local contractors in addition to seizing large quantities of equipment and materials.
Other pro-Iran militias will gain strength and influence in Iraq when the US ends its military presence there by Dec. 31.
Put simply, Washington has had little to do with countries that are facing humanitarian, political and security challenges, such as Syria, Lebanon, Sudan, Tunisia, and Libya, opening the door for Beijing to expand its influence in the region and reach out to America’s closest allies for more opportunities.
A new map is being drawn and new alliances are about to be created in the Middle East, and the White House will have nobody to blame but itself.
- Dalia Al-Aqidi is a senior fellow at the Center for Security Policy. Twitter: @DaliaAlAqidi