Biden Returns to the Middle East

Dalia Ziada
Dalia Ziada

Since the victory of Joseph Biden with the American Presidential Elections, in November 2020, the Middle East has fallen into an endless cycle of uncertainties about the future of US foreign policy in the Middle East. That is not only because the Democrat Biden is the complete opposite of the Republican Trump. But, also, because the Middle East has drastically changed, especially on the inter-state relations and the geopolitical level, since the era of Obama Administration, which coincided with the Arab Spring that brought the entire region upside down.

In fact, most regimes in the Middle East, including non-Arab countries like Israel and Turkey, had been praying that Donald Trump could have remained in power for another term. The pragmatic approach of the Trump Administration, which relied on ‘personal diplomacy’ was the perfect political language to interact with and influence the decisions of Middle East leaders. This proximate, non-institutional, communication between Trump and the leaders of the region, created a better off situation for all Middle East countries, while cornered Iran, the biggest enemy of the region, in a tough spot.

The Middle East uncertainties towards Biden Administration were magnified by the fact that during his electoral campaign, Biden was largely vague about his prospected foreign policy in the Middle East. When asked about the Middle East, he only repeated some nostalgic phrases from the Obama era about adopting a new approach towards the Islamic world. He was mainly pre-occupied by China and the economic threat it represents to the long-term position of the United States as the most politically, economically, and militarily powerful country in the world.

It was clear to all observers that the Middle East is not the top priority for the new US Administration of President Biden, unlike the case with almost all his predecessors. On his first few months in office, President Biden divorced himself from the headaches and troubles of the Middle East. Even, he decided to review all the decisions President Trump has made in favor of some Arab Gulf countries, including the crucial arms sales deals to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Then, everyone got surprised by the decisions paving the way for US withdrawal from the Middle East. That was particularly highlighted by Biden Administration’s decision to withdraw US troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.

On the positive side of the issue, this indifference shown by the Biden Administration towards the Middle East, in the first few months of his term, played an obvious role in accelerating the process of reshuffling the regional coalitions and alliances. Conflicts among Arab Gulf countries turned into an Arab Gulf reconciliation, and the severe rift between Egypt and Turkey is now being fixed. However, on the negative side, the Biden’s uncaring approach towards the Middle East was about to bring the region back into hell, after the eruption of the violent conflict between Hamas and Israel, in early May.

The Biden Administration received a lot of criticism from observers, worldwide, for showing a lethargic response to the recent episode of war between Tel Aviv and Hamas. Rather than appropriately intervening to control the fight, the US intervened, not only for once but for three times, to block an Israel-binding ceasefire resolution by the United Nations Security Council. Only after Egypt successfully mediated a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, after eleven days of missile attacks and the death of hundreds of innocent civilians, the Biden Administration decided to intervene.

In the past week, President Biden contacted the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi twice. The first call between the two presidents took place immediately after the successful ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, on May 21st. Biden applauded Egypt’s efforts on brokering the ceasefire and the two leaders agreed to remain in close contact on co-managing strategic regional issues, in the future. The second call between El-Sisi and Biden took place, three days later, and was immediately followed by a very important Middle East tour for the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who visited Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, and Jordan.

It is clear that the Biden Administration has, finally, realized that it did a mistake by putting the Middle East as a second priority on its foreign policy agenda. In other words, the decision to suddenly withdraw from the Middle East, after decades of heavy political and military involvement, or even the decision to shrink the US role in managing and mediating in the many plights of the Middle East, have been proved to be impractical and non-applicable decisions. Yet, the Biden Administration needs to redesign its new foreign policy in the Middle East based on the new realities and the new alliances that are currently governing the region.

Dalia Ziada

BY: Dalia Ziada