Time is running out for Joe Biden. When analysts judge him on foreign policy, it is certainly true that little can be achieved in 100 days for any American president, yet it seems already like his administration is almost in a panic mode.
The May 1st gradual withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan— postponed to September 11— is hailed by many on the left as a victory, as America’s objectives cannot be realistically achieved there. But then where in the world since the end of the second world war can anyone objectively point to America’s intervention and talk of victory?
In the Middle East, all we have seen is a trail of havoc in the last decades alone. Iraq’s invasion led to the creation of ISIS, which is now spread across three continents. Obama’s jittery and timorous Syria policy not only helped swell the terror groups’ ranks but opened the doors to a new era of hegemony and power grabs by the UAE, Iran, and Turkey in the region, with no end in sight to wars in Libya and Yemen – and a civil war about to blow up in Somalia.
And the so-called Iran deal, meant to tame the hardliners in Iran to downscale their uranium weapons program, eventually did precisely the opposite of what was intended.
America’s intervention has left the MENA region more divided and even more crippled by autocratic rulers than 500 years of colonialism could ever have.
Even domestically, America’s intervention has left the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region more divided and even more crippled by autocratic rulers than 500 years of colonialism by the French, British, or Ottomans could ever have imagined achieving themselves. The Americans, it would seem, are absolutely determined at any cost to not learn the lessons of history.
Which is why when Biden took office in January, there was much hope that he would quickly reverse the more senseless executive decisions made by Donald Trump and usher in a new era of relations with the Arab world—having the longer-term derivative of nurturing democracy and liberty while making the world a better place. Or at least that’s what the memo read.
Reshuffle of Foes
In reality, perhaps remarkably, while we witness a reshuffle of relations between foes taking place (Turkey’s relations re-established both with Saudi Arabia and Egypt as well as Qatar sort of being brought in from the cold), what we are seeing from Biden isn’t terribly different from what his predecessor, Trump, has done.
The difference really is style and experience. But the ultimate end game sees hardly a cigarette paper between Biden and Trump.
Biden, like Trump, is determined to get US troops out of Afghanistan. The only difference was that Trump didn’t care about relations with other key partners there. Yet Biden’s move is just as catastrophic for the country’s future. Afghanistan will almost certainly become a vessel for international terrorism and a Taliban hellhole. The group which we used to call extremists are certain to take back power at some point, making a mockery of a war which went on for 20 years and cost 2,312 American lives plus over 1,190 coalition deaths.
But if there was ever an example of this “nurturing democracy and liberty” mantra, look no further than Biden’s objectives in Iran and the smaller print of what’s being negotiated in Vienna right now.
Are we all being taken for a ride by the Iranians who have no intention whatsoever of signing an Iran Deal 2.0? Are they just playing at international diplomacy now, before they walk away, exasperated with American demands, with their arms in the air?
Is the Biden camp being played?
Seasoned hacks are looking at the messages which are being spoon fed to journalists from Iran and it’s clear that what we are observing on our television screens is a massive PR stunt which prepares both sides for the cameras when the talks fail.
And it’s all Biden’s fault.
In reality, when the details of what his objectives are in Iran are put under the spotlight, they transpire to be shockingly similar to Donald Trump’s. Through the smoke and mirrors of opaque diplo-talk, the Iranians want unconditional abolition of US sanctions. They rightly argue that they are the victims of being taken for a ride by America the first time round since it was Trump who pulled out of the JCPOA in 2018 and threw the lever.
When the details of what Biden’s objectives are in Iran are put under the spotlight, they transpire to be shockingly similar to Donald Trump’s.
Yet Biden doesn’t seem to be listening; he is playing a different game. In recent days, it was made clear that the abolition of sanctions scenario is impossible. The one which is more realistic is that the Iranians accept that some sanctions remain in place for a deal to be agreed upon.
Under this arrangement, Biden can protect himself from looking like a fool if Iran plays a dirty game against the other signatories. But a closer look at this rational is revealing, if not worrying.
The logic here is that Biden wants the impossible. He wants a new deal which would involve Iran scaling back its ballistic missile program and no longer funding Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen.
Any of this sound vaguely familiar? Yep, this was the essence of what Trump was attempting to achieve when he pulled the plug in 2018 on the co-called Iran deal. He believed, right up until his last days in office, that Iran would finally buckle and call him. Some of us can even remember the cruel jokes on the internet about Trump practically begging the Iranians to contact him.
In a nutshell, Iran’s financing of proxies in the region and its own ballistic weapons program were what Trump expected could be put on the negotiating table.
Both the US and EU knew when they negotiated the Iran Deal of 2015 that there was no point in even touching the sacred subject of ballistic missiles as it was made clear from the outset that this subject was off the table, as was the financing of proxies.
That’s why they were never even talking points.
But no one, not even cynics in the Obama administration, could have guessed that the moment the ink was dry on the deal and Iran was handed back the billions that the US had kept in its banks (which were Iran’s), that it would spend so much on upgrading its own ballistic missile program. The Iranians figured that if they were going to give up on uranium that they should at least upgrade their only defense system— which is so good that it blocks the most hardcore Israeli hawks from dreaming of striking the country.
Obama’s disbelief – which formed the backbone of the Trump anti-Iran campaign – has become Biden’s main subject of the talks in Vienna. This is why we shouldn’t hold out too much hope for a quick Iran deal. The two sides are just so far apart.
And we should be quite concerned by the statements coming from the State Department.
“Even if we rejoin the JCPOA — which remains a hypothetical — we would retain and continue to implement sanctions on Iran for activities not covered by the JCPOA, including Iran’s missile proliferation, support for terrorism, and human rights abuses,” a spokesman explained.
The extraordinary paternalism in this tone is quite shocking and gives us a clue where the big picture is on the Biden side. The new US President who we all thought was going to give Iran a break, is in fact turning the screws even harder and making a return to the original deal practically impossible, with prodigious demands on the US side. Not so much shifting the goalposts but more like changing the game while you’re at it – with a whole new set of rules thrown in for good measure.
Biden, like many US presidents before him, and despite his vast foreign policy experience, is also failing to learn from history.
What has got into the head of Joe Biden if he and his foreign policy chief Antony Blinken believe that after Iran was brought to its knees by oil sanctions – by America’s skullduggery – desecrating the country’s economy, that now would be a good time to kick it when it is down? Hence, Biden, like many US presidents before him, and despite his vast foreign policy experience, is also failing to learn from history.
The Americans are still dreaming of their cold war days as a superpower. Yet even then, they couldn’t control Hezbollah’s power in Lebanon and the hostages that it held. Similarly, during the same period they were so afraid of Iran that Reagan decided to blame Ghaddafi for the Lockerbie bombing when he knew it was commissioned by Tehran. If they didn’t have the leverage then, what makes Biden think they have it now and can pull this stunt off?
Was it not Henri Kissinger who, when speaking of weaker enemies, rightly stated: “The conventional army loses if it does not win. The guerrilla wins if he does not lose.”?