Analysis: Biden must clarify his “pragmatic” policy in the Middle East | Political news

US President Joe Biden’s visit to the Middle East this week is the culmination of an urgent need and a growing desire.

It’s about the United States convincing its partners in the region to fully support its position on Russia’s war in Ukraine – and meeting the West’s growing energy needs – by addressing their security concerns. .

And the desire is for the United States to clarify its voice and explain to its partners exactly how it wants to confront and contain the growing strategic influence of Russia and China in this volatile but important region.

Biden wants his interlocutors to understand that they need to stop reminiscing about the policies of past administrations and focus on his approach: a realistic and pragmatic approach; which harmonizes ends and means; that takes into account past failures and current capabilities; that moves away from the lofty agendas of regime change, nation building and radical regional transformations.

Biden’s Middle East policy had previously been outlined by national security adviser Jake Sullivan, who stressed Washington’s desire to promote “regional stability” through diplomacy, and the top White House official on the Middle East, Brett McGurk, who spoke of a desire to “get back to basics” through the “3D approach” of deterrence, diplomacy and de-escalation.

While in the Middle East, Biden will further clarify his position and try to reassure his allies that with this change in strategy, the United States does not plan to leave or deprioritize the region. He will explain that the decision to withdraw from Afghanistan would have no impact on Washington’s presence in the Middle East, and that it would at least free up more resources for the region, in particular to fight “terrorism”.

Biden will also make it clear to his regional partners that Iran is – and will remain for the foreseeable future – a US “adversary”, regardless of what happens with the nuclear deal. He will assure them that Washington will not allow Iran to go nuclear, come what may.

He will explain that strengthening alliances in the Middle East is essential for US national security and that Washington is prepared to sell arms and provide training and support to key regional allies to stand up to Iran and to its regional representatives. But at the same time, he will make sure everyone understands that he has no intention of tolerating “free riders” – with the exception of Israel – and would insist that his partners keep at least the appearance of respect for human rights, which his administration places at the center of its foreign policy.

In the event that a regional cold war continues to escalate, with Russia and China supporting Iran and conducting military exercises with its military, as has been the case in recent years, Biden wants to ensure that the United States are not left behind. leverage or influence on the situation. Thus, he wants to pursue further diplomacy with Iran and support regional partners, such as Saudi Arabia, who are doing the same.

He would also like to see the expansion and strengthening of the Abraham Accords and the deepening of Israeli influence in the Arab world. Thus, he will likely use the upcoming visit as an opportunity to demonstrate his administration’s willingness to promote such cross-regional cooperation through investments in security and technology.

Although there is much talk of forming a NATO in the Middle East, Biden has no such strategic vision or doctrine for the region and will not pretend to have one. He is more likely to listen to suggestions than announce a big initiative while in the area. But that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t encourage such talks, because the emergence of such a movement can serve American interests by maintaining momentum toward collective security. The dream of a NATO in the Middle East, as unrealistic as it is at present, is also a good way for the United States to sell more expensive weapons under stricter conditions.

Biden hopes to achieve all of the above patiently and without much fanfare. He would like to defuse tensions from Yemen to Palestine, from Libya to Syria and the Gulf. Its goal is not to quickly provide big solutions to big problems, but rather to manage regional crises without direct military interventions. He still appears determined, however, to maintain a strong counterterrorism task force in the region to combat ISIS, al-Qaeda and other organizations the United States considers “terrorist.”

While Biden remains theoretically committed to a two-state solution in Israel-Palestine, he seems convinced that such an outcome is not achievable without directly confronting policymakers in Israel or the powerful Israel lobby in Washington. He probably doesn’t see such a politically beneficial attempt right now. So this week he will describe Palestine as a “humanitarian problem” that can be solved through aid and investments aimed at improving living standards and governance.

In short, although Biden pursues a more pragmatic and less ambitious Middle East strategy than his three predecessors, he takes up important elements from all of them, including the fight against terrorism, the search for diplomatic solutions – including a nuclear deal with Iran – and prioritizing the Abraham Accords at the expense of Palestinian and Arab political and human rights.

All of this raises a number of questions:

How, in light of disastrous past failures, will a return to basics and traditional alliances with autocracies lead to a different outcome?

How will Biden respond to the deteriorating security in the region caused by the escalation between Iran and Israel in Syria and elsewhere, knowing all too well that neither side has any intention of backing down and backing down? give up its regional ambitions?

Will US regional allies, such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, accept a return to the status quo and return to Washington’s dictates, or become more like Israel? – difficult, eccentric and pursuing their own interests?

What will be the implications for the region if the United States extends its support for Israel while only paying lip service to solving the Palestinian problem?

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