Source Responsible Statecraft
WASHINGTON, U.S.--President Joe Biden often notes that he has 40 years of experience in dealing with global affairs, but he and Washington seem to be poor learners.
The four days he just spent in the Middle East confirm that his own views and U.S. policies there remain confused, contradictory, and often counter-productive - though very profitable for Israel, Arab autocrats and their cronies, and American arms manufacturers.
The amateurish nature of Biden’s trip was best encapsulated by the media attention focusing on whether he shook hands or bumped fists with Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, whom the CIA said was responsible for the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident.
Biden had no issues of substance to discuss with Israeli and Arab leaders that could possibly break new ground because of the many limiting factors that have been built into U.S.-Mideast policies for half a century.
Biden’s overall agenda for this trip never had a chance, frankly, because of the five policy constraints that have shaped the violent modern legacy of American involvement in the region:
-Supporting Israel over Palestinian and Arab rights, both in the region and for gains in domestic U.S. politics;
-Using military power to try to achieve political goals;
-Seeing Arab energy and cash surpluses as the main focus of U.S. engagement;
-Promoting strategic links with Arab states mainly to contain undesirable powers in the region, and,
-Totally ignoring the conditions and rights of the hundreds of millions of Arab, Iranian, and Turkish men and women in this predominantly Muslim region, while cementing links with handfuls of autocratic leaders who engage the U.S. on the basis of the first four principles above.
The Biden trip deepened these legacies, offering glib throwaway comments that purported to express Washington’s commitment to peace, security, democracy, and prosperity for all the people of the region.
Ordinary Arab men and women recognize that American interventions in the Middle East have mostly promoted dynamics that ravage their lives: non-stop wars, extremism, authoritarian rule, runaway corruption, massive neglect of international law, fragmenting states, and, most recently, mass poverty impacting a majority of people in Arab states today.
Most Arab economies are deeply indebted and unable to generate balanced productive economies (beyond the few energy producers). Several countries like Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Syria, and Yemen are running out of water, and sometimes even electricity.
This is why the majority of ordinary Arabs, were they allowed to express themselves freely, would cringe at Biden’s declaration to the Arab leaders’ summit in Jeddah Saturday that, “The United States is not going anywhere. We will not walk away to leave a vacuum to be filled by China, Russia or Iran. We will seek to build on this moment with active, principled American leadership.”
Say what? But Iran, Russia, and China keep expanding their relations with Arab and other Mideast parties, while the U.S. has tried to contain them. Some of those Arab leaders in Jeddah last weekend are even conducting their own bilateral talks to lower tensions with Iran, or even depend heavily on open or illicit trade with Iran.
Biden’s attempt to muster Arab and Israeli support to contain powers like Iran, Russia, and China is the latest twist in an established American pattern of trying to coordinate with local countries to push back perceived enemies of the U.S. or its Mideast allies. Such enemies have included the Soviet Union, the Muslim Brotherhood, Nasserism, Baathist Iraq and Syria, Palestinian guerrilla movements, Hamas, Hezbollah, ISIS, and — today’s flavor of the decade — Iran, Russia and China.
Why do Russia, Iran, and China keep expanding their relations in Arab lands? Any honest analysis would show it is the impact of American policies that have turned a blind eye or directly promoted the structural threats in the Arab region: greater Arab corruption and state incompetence, popular anger and often desperation, and a sense of hopelessness among hundreds of millions of people that causes many of them to want to emigrate. This opens the doors to any party that preaches to remedy their ailments.
American presidents have never grasped that it is impossible to get very far in trying to promote Israeli relations with Arab states, or serious Arab-Israeli-American coalitions to confront a third party, as long as Washington passively watches Israel continue its colonial annexation of occupied Palestinian lands and keeps offering cash and technology to maintain Israel’s military superiority in the region.
While many Arab leaders desperately seek U.S. and Israeli support to survive, the majority of Arab citizens still see Israel and the U.S. as their main security threats, 89 percent and 81 percent respectively. Another recent poll shows that the majority of Arabs surveyed in UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain now view normalizing relations under the Abraham Accords unfavorably.
So many in the Middle East worry when Biden says, as he did this weekend, “Let me state clearly that the United States is going to remain an active and engaged partner in the Middle East.” Many worry because active engagement and non-stop militarism by the U.S. have been a main contributor to turning the Arab region into a wreck.