Back in order - GulfToday

Back in order

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.


During his election campaign Biden promised to reset relations with US allies and antagonists and re-assert US leadership in world affairs.

US President Joe Biden has succeeded in getting his urgent piece of legislation adopted by both the House of Representatives and Senate. Financial aid payments are going out to middle class and low income families, unemployed workers continue to receive benefits, and states are granted federal assistance for tackling covid-19. He has also reversed dozens of Donald Trump’s more egregious domestic edicts but has, so far, failed to address the migrant crisis building up on the country’s southern border with Mexico.

Mass shootings in Georgia and Colorado have put Biden under pressure to press Congress to abolish weapons of war and limit gun sales. Attacks on Asian businesses and individuals have called for measures to address violence against Asians which has increased over the past year due to the fact that covid emerged from China. He has not shared US covid vaccine supplies with poorer countries, slashed $200 billion (Dhs733b) from the defence budget or raised taxes on the super-rich and wealthy corporations to pay for government spending, as demanded by progressives in the Democratic party.

During his election campaign Biden promised to reset relations with US allies and antagonists and re-assert US leadership in world affairs. Biden has not, however, realised that the world has changed, largely for the worse, since his former boss Barack Obama, arrived in the White House in 2009. While Trump can be blamed for a great deal of the negative change, the downturn in global affairs has its own causes and momentum.

While Biden has, at least, eased tensions with Nato and Europe which were stirred by the abrasive Trump, returned to the Paris climate accord and rejoined the World Health Organisation, he has angered both Russia and China and let down Iran, Palestine, Syria, Iraq and other regional countries which expected a “new deal” in US foreign affairs.

Moscow was infuriated when Biden said his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin is a “killer” without a soul while commenting on allegations that Russia had intervened on Trump’s behalf in the US presidential election. Biden also threatened Russia by say it would “pay a price” for this and imposed stiff sanctions on senior Russian officials for the poisoning and imprisonment of Russian opposition figure Alexi Navalny.

In 2017, Trump had the grace to admit that US as well as Russian leaders were “killers.” Biden obviously does not agree with that view although he ordered the bombing in Eastern Syria of pro-Iraqi militiamen who had not been involved in attacks on US forces in neighbouring Iraq where they should not have been in the first place.

Biden’s arrogant Secretary of State Antony Blinken provoked China during talks in Alaska with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi by criticising Beijing’s human rights record, growing authoritarianism, and assertiveness in foreign affairs. Yang replied by saying that the US should not speak of the policies of others but deal with “deep seated” racism at home and “condescension” in relations with the rest of the world.  He stated, “Many people within the United States actually have little confidence in the democracy of the United States.”  This is also true of many people around the world, whether friends or antagonists of the US, who do not welcome Biden’s efforts to regain “leadership.”

Having given the impression that he would promptly return to the 2015 pact with Iran for limiting its nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief, Biden is dragging his feet, risking the collapse of the deal. Scores of US Iran experts and nuclear scientists have called on Biden to hurry up but his officials repeatedly say the administration is not ready to rush although Iranian President Hassan Rouhani will be replaced in summer, perhaps by a hardliner opposed to negotiations with the US.

The Biden administration proudly announced it has re-engaged with the Palestinians by promising a paltry $13 million (Dhs48m) for their covid response. It is significant that the funds are to be channelled to local healthcare facilities through efforts of Catholic Relief Services — Biden being a devoted Catholic. The administration has so far said nothing about restoring the

$2.995b (Dhs11b) Trump cancelled in annual US contributions from 2018 to the present for the UN agency caring for five million Palestinian refugees and US Agency for International Development support for development projects in the West Bank and Gaza and East Jerusalem hospitals.

Vice President Kamala Harris and Blinken have also made it clear that the US will not halt or reduce the $3.3b (Dhs12b) in yearly military assistance Washington gives to Israel although it does not need such a sum to retain regional hegemony and uses US funds to maintain its occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza.

So far, Biden has done nothing about the punitive sanctions Trump imposed on Syria and Lebanon which, along with covid, warfare, and political and economic trials are impacting these countries’ citizens rather than their rulers and political elites. Instead of drawing down US forces in northeastern Syria, Biden has beefed them up, retaining control of 90 per cent of Syria’s oil resources while doing nothing to compel Turkey to withdraw its army and surrogates occupying enclaves of Syrian territory along the border as well as the northwestern Idlib province.

While the administration has not yet discussed the continuing deployment of US forces in

Iraq, aid to that country — devastated by the 2003 US war — has fallen to $30m (Dhs110m) from $321m (Dhs1.2b) last year although covid is ravaging the population and anti-government protests are continuing.

The US owes Syria and Iraq reconstruction funds for its brutal bombing of the cities of Raqqa and Mosul in the campaign to defeat Daesh. Instead of assistance, Syria gets sanctioned and Iraq no money for reconstruction although Iraqi and Syrian ground forces were responsible for driving Daesh from its false “caliphate,” rounding up its fighters, and tackling Daesh fugitives.

While the Biden administration bides its time, US-sanctioned and alienated Russia and China are making gains in this region.  Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has toured the Gulf and Saudi Arabia to coordinate energy policies, grow trade and cooperate on covid. Lavrov also visited Lebanon to press politicians to form a government expeditiously and invited Hizbollah legislators to Moscow to urge the movement to promote progress on this urgent issue.

China has reached a monumental deal with Iran for investment of $400b (Dhs1.5 trillion) in the country’s infrastructure in exchange for a 25-year supply of oil.  In spite of US sanctions, China currently buys nearly one million barrels a day of Iranian crude.

While focused on his domestic agenda essentially maintaining the Trump policy of “America First,” Biden has angered both Russia and China, with which he has to cooperate, and ignored major regional developments, at a high cost to its citizens.


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