Joe Biden’s policies badly dent his popularity - GulfToday

Joe Biden’s policies badly dent his popularity

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.

 Joe Biden is sworn in as the 46th president of the United States by Chief Justice John Roberts as Jill Biden holds the Bible at the US Capitol in Washington. File/Associated Press

Joe Biden is sworn in as the 46th president of the United States by Chief Justice John Roberts as Jill Biden holds the Bible at the US Capitol in Washington. File/Associated Press

US President Joe Biden’s grades on his one-year report card are mixed but his approval rating has fallen from 56 per cent at his inauguration in January 2021 to 41 per cent now. Democrats are despairing but doing little to deal with the situation.

On the domestic front, he has managed to get through a deeply divided legislature major spending programmes designed to aid citizens struggling to survive the health, social, and employment problems they face due to the COVID pandemic. He has, however, failed to secure the cooperation of two conservative senators from his own Democratic party and all Republicans for his major “Build Back Better” infrastructure and climate change legislation.

Like his Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, Biden made the mistake of believing in bipartisan voting on issues benefitting the populace.

As Obama’s vice president, Biden had no excuse for mis- reading Republicans. Although there are a few dissidents in the party, they have refused to break with the policy of obstructing Biden’s initiatives. Their aim is to turn voters against Democrats ahead of November’s mid-term Congressional elections, when all House of Representatives and one-third of Senate seats are up for grabs, and to deny him a second term in the 2024 presidential election.

On the international scene, Biden returned the US to the Paris climate change accord and membership in the World Health Organisation. He re-engaged with Nato, reversing Donald Trump’s criticisms and cold shouldering of the alliance. But, Biden has failed to ease the migrant chaos on the US border with Mexico.

He has “pivoted” toward containing China without curbing China’s successful outreach. Instead of cultivating a “stable” relationship with Russia, Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin are in confrontation mode over the politico-military orientation of Ukraine.

Biden honoured his campaign pledge to end the 20-year war in Afghanistan with a disastrous withdrawal from that country of a penny packet of US troops, handing the terrible Taliban a major victory, and plunging that strategic country into its worst ever economic and social crisis which is impoverishing Afghans and threatens to destabilise Central Asia.

On this region, Biden has failed to deliver any his campaign pledges. He has not seriously striven to end the war in Yemen. Instead, violence is escalating. He has not re-engaged with the Palestinians. While he resumed partial funding to the UN agency caring for 5.7 million Palestinian refugees living in Israeli-occupied Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria, he has not reopened the US consulate serving Palestinians in East Jerusalem or the Palestinian mission in Washington, both closed due to Trump.

Biden has not put pressure on Israel to halt its West Bank colonisation drive or to renew negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. He does not want to risk rebuff by current Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett who is closely allied to the colonists and rejects the creation of a Palestinian state.

Biden’s policies could be dangerous. He promised to return the US to the 2015 agreement limiting Iran’s nuclear programme in exchange for lifting sanctions. Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018 and imposed 1,500 sanctions, crippling the Iranian economy and putting pressure on the government to capitulate to Trump administration demands. Iran did not oblige and has gradually breached limitations on its nuclear programme imposed by the moribund accord.

Although expected to re-enter the deal soon after taking office, Biden’s negotiators continue to haggle over terms, putting the agreement in jeopardy. Its collapse would be a disaster as Iran, which has vowed not to make nuclear weapons, could pull out of both the deal and the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Iran would also continue to build its arsenal of armed drones and long-and medium-range ballistic missiles. This could prompt other regional powers to follow suit or even opt for nuclear weaponry. By continuing Trump’s policy of sanctioning and isolating Iran, Biden is undermining the stability of the entire region.

This is a terrible turn of events at a time the UAE and Saudi Arabia have been trying to defuse tensions and normalise relations with Iran, disrupted since 2016. Saudi and Iranian officials have met four times in Baghdad since April and once on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session in September. Sheikh Tahnoon Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE National Security Adviser and brother of His Highness Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, travelled to Tehran last December where he met his Iranian counterpart and President Ebrahim Raisi. WAM reported that the two “discussed prospects of consolidating bilateral ties and explored an array of issues of common interest.”

The Biden administration has also intervened undiplomatically by slapping fresh sanctions on Syria, called on Arab governments not to end Syria’s suspension from the Arab League and refrain from normalising ties with Syria although President Bashar Al Assad remains in power in 75 per cent of the country. By remaining committed to regime change, Biden is clearly at odds with reality and with UN special envoy to Syria Geir Pedersen who, on January 17th, during a Tehran meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian said that there is no need for regime change in Syria as the country is stable under Assad.

The UAE pioneered the process of restoring relations with Damascus by reopening its embassy in 2018. Last November UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan visited Damascus where he met Assad. UAE businessmen — including several from Sharjah whom I met at the opening of the Damascus international fair in 2019 — and officials have also travelled to Syria. The Federation has provided $1.1 billion to humanitarian organisations working there between 2012 to March 2021. Going forward, the UAE has explored projects for reconstructing Syria’s water networks and other infrastructure.

Jordan and Lebanon have followed the UAE’s lead on normalisation. Both depend on Syria for trade, tourism and transit and have suffered serious economic decline since Syria’s civil and proxy wars have isolated that country and cut off the flows of goods and people to the Arab hinterland.

Without Syria, there can be no economic advance and political stability in the Levant. If Syria were to splinter into small fiefdoms governed by warring warlords, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq would be at risk of destabilisation.

Therefore, the only wise course is to normalise relations, press for the lifting of sanctions on Syria, and promote reconstruction and economic development. This is a hard fact the Biden administration refuses to grasp. Along with all its other regional failures, this is a recipe for disaster.

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