It could be said that the first month of Joe Biden’s presidency went exactly as most observers had expected, in terms of both internal and international policies.
Just like Donald Trump’s ethos was to undo everything Barack Obama did, the new Democratic administration does not only want to reverse Trump’s policies, but also to complete what Obama failed to achieve in eight years. Indeed, if the early team appointments made by Biden reflect this line, the Democrats’ control of the Senate – albeit thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris’ casting vote – should confirm most of these appointments without much trouble.
In the same vein, came the early decisions and initiatives, underlining a full break with everything the previous Republican administration adopted and stood for. What adds to the strength of Biden’s position is the deep rift appearing in the Republican Party, between the current of the sedate traditional interests of the “establishment” and Trump’s populist current born in 2016; and went on to lead the party to extremist “putschist” positions none of the main two parties dared to espouse.
However, the passing of time may be more than capable of changing several equations, even if convictions remain the same. Hence, if the Biden team continues what it “ideologically” began last month in the sphere of foreign policies, it must expect reactions like those of the European allies in the recent 5+1 meeting.
It is true that the wise European leadership had a difficult time with Donald Trump’s mercurial moods, extremism and populism under the banners of “America First”. It is also true that they detested his support of certain ultra-right European characters and his open animosity to the spirit of European unity - and always preferred to deal with a moderate Democratic administration than a difficult coexistence with Republicans who see Europe more as a competitor than an ally.
All the above are true, and so is the issue that European countries have their own interests which may not be congruent with Biden’s visions. This is why, throughout Trump’s four years, most European leaders have realized that they could not rely anymore on Washington as the ultimate and only Western authority, and Western Europe’s reliable defender in all conditions.
The Trump years opened the eyes of the Europeans, and other realistic non-European politicians, that there is life outside the American camp; and sometimes the interests of even the closest allies are not one and the same. This has been confirmed by the Iranian nuclear agreement (JCPOA), the growing relations between many European countries and Russia, the future dealings with China and other issues.
On the other hand, just as the east and south Asian affairs now seem to rank higher in Washington than trans-Atlantic relations, European powers now believe they cannot deal with its neighboring Russian giant solely through the keyhole of US interests. Furthermore, thanks to the Nord Stream1 and Nord Stream2 gas pipes (strongly opposed by Washington) Russia is now an influential player in Europe, and after gaining footholds in Syria and Libya, also has a presence in the Mediterranean.
As for China, it now poses the major and most direct threat to America’s global status, as top American officials agree. Furthermore, it is now the major economic powerhouse in many global regions. Ambitious Chinese projects, such as the Belt and Road (the New Silk Road) announced in 2013, would enhance China’s investments in 70 countries, and link it with numerous ports which it hopes will be the launchpad for its worldwide economic expansion.
After four years of Trump’s “America First” policies, the Europeans should no doubt welcome Biden’s goodwill gestures. They would also welcome the return of good relations with the powerful old ally who stood by them during WWII, as well as throughout the Cold War against the USSR. However, they are not reassured anymore about an American consensus on foreign policy, in light of huge differences between the Democrats and the Republicans.
Here we come to the US Middle East policy. Despite structural differences between Washington’s trans-Atlantic alliances and its other international relations, every country, and every situation, has intersecting common worries and interests.
All rational Middle Eastern leaders – whether Arab or non-Arab – realize that a solid relationship with Washington is a must. They would all prefer to be secure and trusted allies, based on old strong relations with America that go back to the second half of the 19th century when many of the current Arab countries were part of the Ottoman Empire. But as with what has happened with European allies, differences began to appear some time ago. During the last four years, the difference increased with the emergence of new interests that have started to impose themselves.
In the Arab “Mashreq”, in particular, there has been a two-sided problem; the first side appeared during Obama’s presidency, and the second during Trump’s presidency.
Obama’s foremost regional “aim” was reaching an agreement with Iran. This meant allowing Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), through its sectarian militias inside Arab countries, to undermine any remnant of sovereignty and state institutions in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. Thus, Iran won and the Arabs lost; and unfortunately, unless the Biden administration changes this “aim”, Arab trust in Washington’s intentions will collapse, and Arab belief in America’s culture and political principles will disappear.
As for Trump, Washington changed course, and went back to regarding the special relationship with Israel, regardless of how hawkish its government is, the core of its regional strategy. This is why, Washington blessed and recognized Israel’s annexation of the Syrian Golan Heights, moved its embassy to Jerusalem, and fought every Palestinian entity in every possible way. So, again, Israel won and the Arabs lost; after finding themselves at the mercy of two regional political enemies (Iran and Israel) enjoying American support!
This terrible situation must change as soon as possible, otherwise it will bring frightening future dangers, if states collapse and disintegrate, and sectarian militias impose their criminality as a practice tolerated by major world powers, and blessed by the international community.