Understanding power relations in the Middle East requires two basic dimensions. One is to know the essence of the international system and the role of international powers. The other is to know the dimensions of the Middle East’s importance historically. The Middle East has long been a battleground for international powers. Especially in the twentieth century, with oil discovery in this region, its dimensions have become more and more important. However, the fact that each of the US president’s type of policies towards the Middle East have shown that there is a fundamental difference in their doctrines for the Middle East in the past decades. As a result, differences between Donald Trump’s Middle East doctrine and other US presidents have created new areas of threat and opportunity for countries in the region. With the advent of Biden, the power equation will undoubtedly change in the Middle East due to this change.
The American Middle East policy is always based on Israeli interests in the region. The issue of moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem endorses Netanyahu’s policies in occupying most of the Palestinian territories, and the inclusion of the West Bank in pursuit of greater Arab involvement was a major feature of Trump’s one-sided policy. The highlight of these policies, as noted, is the increasing presence and exercise of US power in the Middle East, which has become a more serious challenge for countries in the region. In particular, the US gained international legitimacy for its presence in the region under the pretext of fighting terrorism. It justified any involvement in the Middle East political equations based on terrorism.
Given Trump’s defeat in the election of his Democratic rival, who inherited Obama’s foreign policy in the Middle East, Joe Biden has stated that his Middle East policy will be different from Trump’s in terms of decision-making and implementation. The key to Biden’s policy principles is to create a regional dialogue between the main actors. On the other hand, the Middle East has not seen such a thing since Biden’s presidency. Given the escalation of the crisis in the Middle East and the power structure in the US, the hope of an immediate turn in US regional policy and the resolution of old and complex conflicts in the short term is far from expected.
Trump’s aggressive and belligerent policy in the Middle East, with components such as increasing the number of military bases, persuading Arabs and Israelis to form an Arab-Hebrew front, and threatening Turkey with sanctions, posed a serious threat to the weakened areas of resistance in recent years. But in the meantime, while criticizing Trump’s Middle East policy on resolving the Palestinian crisis through negotiation and a return to sovereignty, Joe Biden has also criticized Prince bin Salman’s policies on human rights issues. Furthermore, Biden has called for an end to the war in Yemen. Therefore, we can see the adoption of a separate strategy on the Middle East issues. But one thing to note is that the geopolitical security climate in the Middle East will be different from the Obama era. The new White House security policy and policymakers cannot be indifferent to this change. The important point is that both Republicans and Democrats believe in the principle of maintaining Israel’s military superiority in the region, so Biden, like previous presidents, will take advantage of the situation in order to advance regional policies. Furthermore, one of Biden’s policies is to consolidate power in partnership with his allies. Consequently, Biden, along with the policy of dialogue and negotiation as a soft power tool, will not ignore hard military power in the form of coalition building.
Confrontation of Biden Middle East policy and the BRICS nations
The Middle East has the characteristics of security complexes countries such as Iran, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia are located in geographical proximity to each other. In the form of security complexes, there are patterns of friendship and enmity. The predominant aspect of this security complex is the persistence of institutionalized suspicion and pessimism. Yet, in recent years, there have been indications that a general effort is underway to change the US-provided Middle East security package. These include emerging countries known as the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, and South Africa). This strategy aims to emphasize the changing leadership of the US that these new actors have challenged. In this regard, it seems that Biden will try to have a greater impact on developments in the Middle East. Besides, by not emptying the field against other powers while maintaining a military presence in the Middle East, especially in the Persian Gulf, Joe Biden will continue to try to balance the changing power equations in the interests of the US and its allies.
In closing, there is no doubt that Biden has difficult foreign and domestic missions, and has inherited a different world from Trump. However, a change in US Middle East policy is far from expected. A revision of previous policies that will protect US interests and influence in the region and consider Israel’s security will continue, as the Trump administration did. Furthermore, although Biden is more in favor of using diplomacy to protect US global interests, especially in the Middle East, in case of any danger to global sovereignty and US interests against emerging powers such as the BRICS nations, he will not be silent at all and may even resort to military action.
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About the author:
Amin BAGHERI is an Iranian research fellow at the International Studies Association in Tehran, Iran. His primary research interest lies in international relations, political science, and conflicts in the Middle East. You can see more of his work on Twitter @bghr_amin.