Against the backdrop of Joe Biden’s emerging Middle East policy, more and more voices are being heard talking about a return of the US to Barack Obama’s non-interventionist doctrine, including in this region. Will Joe Biden’s presidency become the “third term of President Obama” for the Middle East, as some commentators have already called it? It should be recalled that during the presidency of Barack Obama, there was a warming of relations between the US and Iran, while relations with Saudi Arabia cooled. There was also formal support and effective capitulation to the Arab Spring, the rise of ISIS and the use of Kurdish neo-communists to fight against it. Which of these parameters can already be observed or assumed to correspond to the policies of the current and previous American presidents, and in what ways do they differ?
President Biden has declared his readiness to return to the negotiating table regarding the so-called nuclear deal with Iran, which the USA signed under Obama in 2015 with the participation of Great Britain, Germany and France. According to this deal, Iran gave Western countries control over its nuclear program, ensuring that it was strictly peaceful and could not be transformed into a military program, in exchange for the lifting of some sanctions. During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump accused Barack Obama of empowering Iran, giving it a free hand to expand its influence in the region, made possible by the lifting of sanctions. Trump promised to withdraw from the deal if he won the election, and he has kept his promise. The sanctions acted as a stranglehold on the Iranian regime, and tensions between the US and Iran peaked after the demonstrative killing of Qasem Soleimani by Americans last year. And now Joe Biden is talking about the possibility of returning to the nuclear deal established by his “spiritual father.
Just as US-Iranian relations became confrontational under Donald Trump, they became friendly with Saudi Arabia. However, this friendship was initially based on the Saudis signing extravagant contracts to purchase American weapons. Overall, it cannot be said that the Saudis have been able to take advantage of their “friendship” with Trump as Iran did with Obama. Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), who became famous for his brutal treatment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, managed to escape major consequences under Trump’s administration. Although a show trial was held and some of the perpetrators were punished, no sanctions were imposed on MBS personally (for now). However, the Biden administration has announced sensitive sanctions against 76 members of the Saudi establishment involved in Khashoggi’s murder, as well as the possibility of imposing sanctions on the Saudi Rapid Reaction Force, which reports directly to MBS.
Syria is the place where the “Arab Spring” died or, more precisely, was suffocated. Obama welcomed it with words but allowed Iran and then Russia to crush it. The war in Syria dragged in countries like Iraq and almost dragged in others like Turkey. In the fight against ISIS, which became a powerful virus that destroyed the Syrian revolution both internally and externally, the Obama administration relied on Kurdish neo-communists and gave them control over about a third of Syria. Since these were members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which had been waging war against Turkey for decades, turning northern Syria into a springboard against Turkey’s Kurdish border areas forced Ankara to intervene militarily in the devastated country. During Donald Trump’s presidency, this support has been minimized and U.S.-Turkish relations, destroyed under Obama, have been normalized as much as possible. Turkish analysts, including Hasan Oztyurk, are currently talking about signs of a planned renewal of U.S. support for the so-called “Kurds” (an assortment of international neo-communists hiding behind that name). These reports come amid escalating tensions between Ankara and the Kurds. Oztyurk also writes that the resurgence of ISIS in Syria could be used by the White House as a justification for renewing this support.
Considering all this, it is clear that US-Turkish relations will become one of the central points of the new White House policy in the region. It should be recalled that during his election campaign, Joe Biden openly spoke about the need to overthrow Recep Tayyip Erdogan. But not by military means, but by elections. And it seems that the White House is planning to act according to this scenario. On the one hand, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently stated in unveiling the country’s new foreign policy: “We will not promote democracy through costly military interventions or attempts to overthrow authoritarian regimes by force. We have tried these tactics in the past. Despite good intentions, it has not worked.” On the other hand, Americans are actively engaged in public opposition within Turkey, particularly on divisive issues such as LGBT rights and a new constitution. In the midst of the scandal over disrespect for Muslim holy sites, U.S. Ambassador to Turkey David Satterfield demonstratively met with representatives of Turkey’s “LGBT community” and promised them support from the White House.
The US Congress is currently preparing a new human rights document with an emphasis on LGBT rights, which could give the White House a new card to support or sanction countries depending on their compliance. Against this backdrop, the Turkish president has apparently decided to take pre-emptive action and announced a new Human Rights Action Plan, which is likely to serve as an ideological alternative to the American program document. At the same time, as previously reported, Turkey is beginning to discuss a new constitution. If all these initiatives are linked, the Turkish Human Rights Action Plan and the new constitution could be seen as a response to the Biden-Obama ideological challenge. However, it is unknown to what extent such a response will be supported by the majority of Turkish society, which is a necessary condition for its effectiveness. Otherwise, the Biden administration will exploit this division to achieve its goal of removing Recep Tayyip Erdogan from power. It should not be forgotten, however, that American society itself is highly divided. Therefore, developing a successful ideological platform could help Erdogan neutralize this threat and win the sympathy of Americans who are disgusted with the ideology of aggressive liberalism.
However, when talking about the possibility of reviving Obama’s policy in the Middle East, it should not be forgotten that it ended in failure for the US. As a result, the positions of other countries were strengthened, as they learned to form situational alliances with each other, as Turkey, Russia and Iran did. Too much time has passed, and the geopolitical landscape of the region has changed significantly since then. According to available information, Iran may refuse to return to the deal only with Western powers and demand that countries like China, Russia, and Turkey be included as guarantors this time.
Many people have accused Donald Trump of abandoning US foreign policy positions. However, the core of his geopolitical strategy was to see China as the main threat to American global dominance, and countering it requires concentrating forces in that direction. In contrast, Joe Biden, like Barack Obama, risks dissipating American forces, not turning enemies into friends, but friends into enemies, and thereby strengthening its main competitor.
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