Biden’s Iteration and US Weakness in the Middle East – The New Indian Express


“Between friends, frequent reproaches alienate friendship,” says the venerable Confucius. This is apt to describe US policy toward the Middle East under President Joe Biden. Addressing the leaders of Arab Gulf countries in Jeddah last month, the US president said: “We are not going to walk away and leave a vacuum to be filled by China, Russia or Iran.” Although the statement may seem reassuring, one must consider the reasons behind it. Why state the obvious? The credibility gap is neither recent nor sudden.

The attacks of September 11 profoundly changed the American strategic vision of the world. The Bush administration’s “war on terror” was a knee-jerk reaction; in terms of objectives and strategy, Afghanistan and Iraq proved to be worse than Vietnam. It is true that the United States had something to show in Iraq; transition to democracy, an inclusive constitution, more rights and political space for Kurds and other minorities, and a political culture of leadership transition through ballots, not bullets. For example, legislative elections took place last October, and more than ten months later, Iraqi leaders are still struggling to form a new government. These are remarkable achievements.

However, the costly, ill-conceived, and politicized “war on terror” has eroded American dominance. Just months before the September 11 attacks, many were rejoicing at the rise of the American century and the “unipolar” world. Unraveling the costly military adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan has become the priority of the post-Bush administration. In the process, President Barack Obama began the decline of American dominance in the Middle East, a position he had enjoyed since the late 1960s when Britain left the region.

For all intents and purposes, the United States has been a Gulf power, underpinned by strategic partnership and military presence. The belligerent policies of the great powers vis-à-vis their neighbors (Iran and Iraq), the insecurity of the Arab regimes (Kuwait and Saudi Arabia) and the traditional pro-Western orientation of the regimes in power (Bahrain and Oman) have ensured and consolidated the American presence in the Gulf. These were further cemented by bipartisan US commitments to Israel’s security and well-being.

However, over the past two decades, US policies in the Middle East, particularly in the energy-rich Gulf, have been in shambles. The pivot to Asia – later the Indo-Pacific – made the Middle East less attractive. As popular protests spread across the Arab world, the Obama administration was slow to respond. Yet when he did, he disappointed both the protesting masses and the embattled Arab rulers. The belated American response disappointed the former, and the latter felt disappointed despite their continued support and service to American interests. Hosni Mubarak has become a new addition to the list of “friends” abandoned by Washington in the hour of need.

This contrasted with Russian support for Bashar al-Assad of Syria. Despite its power and preponderance, the United States has lost its credibility in the Middle East; Washington is not a reliable friend for the Arabs, especially the Gulf monarchies.

President Biden has added new lows. Growing US sanctions and hostilities are bringing Iran, China and Russia closer than ever before. While these countries have been cooperating for some time, the Biden administration has given their policies a strategic focus.

These countries are moving away from petrodollars and trading oil in currencies other than the United States to weaken the American grip on their economy. For some time, China has used barter to both weaken the American factor and increase its leverage vis-à-vis Iran. Thus, the effectiveness of US sanctions vis-à-vis these three countries will be less effective.
The Ukraine crisis has also undermined Israeli-Russian relations, manifested in various hostile public statements by Russian leaders and fears over the future of the Jewish Agency office in Moscow. Moreover, the growing tension between the two would limit Israeli military operations against Iranian groups and Hezbollah in Syria. The crisis has also made Moscow, a traditional arms supplier, the recipient of Iranian drones, a sign of Russian vulnerability and technological expertise.

Under President Putin, Russia has engaged with conflicting actors in the region; Israel and the Palestinians; Fatah and Hamas; Syria and Turkey; Iran and Saudi Arabia; and Egypt and Turkey. Although the political results of these engagements were limited, the weakening of American influence led several countries in the region to react favorably to Russian overtures. The survival of the Assad regime was a major incentive for them to view Moscow favorably. Until now, President Putin did not have a comprehensive strategy for leveraging these commitments, but President Biden’s policy toward Ukraine has prompted Moscow to develop a strategy for its relationship with the Middle East. East.

President Biden broke the ice with his late engagements with Crown Prince Mohammed bin-Salman during his recent visit to the Middle East, but resuming the golden days of pre-Khashoggi bonhomie with Riyadh will be tough. While Russia, China and Iran may not fill the “vacuum”, they will severely prevent the United States from regaining its hegemony in the Gulf.

PR Kumaraswamy
Professor at JNU. Y teaches the contemporary Middle East
([email protected])

“Between friends, frequent reproaches alienate friendship,” says the venerable Confucius. This is apt to describe US policy toward the Middle East under President Joe Biden. Addressing the leaders of Arab Gulf countries in Jeddah last month, the US president said: “We are not going to walk away and leave a vacuum to be filled by China, Russia or Iran.” Although the statement may seem reassuring, one must consider the reasons behind it. Why state the obvious? The credibility gap is neither recent nor sudden. The attacks of September 11 profoundly changed the American strategic vision of the world. The Bush administration’s “war on terror” was a knee-jerk reaction; in terms of objectives and strategy, Afghanistan and Iraq proved to be worse than Vietnam. It is true that the United States had something to show in Iraq; transition to democracy, an inclusive constitution, more rights and political space for Kurds and other minorities, and a political culture of leadership transition through ballots, not bullets. For example, legislative elections took place last October, and more than ten months later, Iraqi leaders are still struggling to form a new government. These are remarkable achievements. However, the costly, ill-conceived, and politicized “war on terror” has eroded American dominance. Just months before the September 11 attacks, many were rejoicing at the rise of the American century and the “unipolar” world. Unraveling the costly military adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan has become the priority of the post-Bush administration. In the process, President Barack Obama began the decline of American dominance in the Middle East, a position he had enjoyed since the late 1960s when Britain left the region. For all intents and purposes, the United States has been a Gulf power, underpinned by strategic partnership and military presence. The belligerent policies of the great powers vis-à-vis their neighbors (Iran and Iraq), the insecurity of the Arab regimes (Kuwait and Saudi Arabia) and the traditional pro-Western orientation of the regimes in power (Bahrain and Oman) have ensured and consolidated the American presence in the Gulf. These were further cemented by bipartisan US commitments to Israel’s security and well-being. However, over the past two decades, US policies in the Middle East, particularly in the energy-rich Gulf, have been in shambles. The pivot to Asia – later the Indo-Pacific – made the Middle East less attractive. As popular protests spread across the Arab world, the Obama administration was slow to respond. Yet when he did, he disappointed both the protesting masses and the embattled Arab rulers. The belated American response disappointed the former, and the latter felt disappointed despite their continued support and service to American interests. Hosni Mubarak has become a new addition to the list of “friends” abandoned by Washington in the hour of need. This contrasted with Russian support for Bashar al-Assad of Syria. Despite its power and preponderance, the United States has lost its credibility in the Middle East; Washington is not a reliable friend for the Arabs, especially the Gulf monarchies. President Biden has added new lows. Growing US sanctions and hostilities are bringing Iran, China and Russia closer than ever before. While these countries have been cooperating for some time, the Biden administration has given a strategic focus to their policies. These countries are moving away from petrodollars and trading oil in currencies other than the United States to weaken the American grip on their economy. For some time, China has used barter to both weaken the American factor and increase its leverage vis-à-vis Iran. Thus, the effectiveness of US sanctions vis-à-vis these three countries will be less effective. The Ukraine crisis has also undermined Israeli-Russian relations, manifested in various hostile public statements by Russian leaders and fears over the future of the Jewish Agency office in Moscow. Moreover, the growing tension between the two would limit Israeli military operations against Iranian groups and Hezbollah in Syria. The crisis has also made Moscow, a traditional arms supplier, the recipient of Iranian drones, a sign of Russian vulnerability and technological expertise. Under President Putin, Russia has engaged with conflicting actors in the region; Israel and the Palestinians; Fatah and Hamas; Syria and Turkey; Iran and Saudi Arabia; and Egypt and Turkey. Although the political results of these engagements were limited, the weakening of American influence led several countries in the region to react favorably to Russian overtures. The survival of the Assad regime was a major incentive for them to view Moscow favorably. Until now, President Putin did not have a comprehensive strategy for leveraging these commitments, but President Biden’s policy toward Ukraine has prompted Moscow to develop a strategy for its relationship with the Middle East. East. President Biden broke the ice with his late engagements with Crown Prince Mohammed bin-Salman during his recent visit to the Middle East, but resuming the golden days of pre-Khashoggi bonhomie with Riyadh will be tough. While Russia, China and Iran may not fill the “vacuum”, they will severely prevent the United States from regaining its hegemony in the Gulf. PR Kumaraswamy Professor at JNU. Teaches Contemporary Middle East ([email protected])

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