Biden went to the Middle East


Note: this is a machine translation from the original Russian text

An unusual impression is formed when looking at the Middle East on the eve of the visit of US President Joe Biden there.

The event, needless to say, is important. After all, this is his first visit to the region, and so far the current White House administration has not presented its own regional doctrine. Everyone is terribly interested in what Biden's Middle East policy is.

Traditionally, almost everything in the region depends on the direction and content of the US Middle East strategy. This is the topic around which all combinations are played out, coalitions are created, conflicts arise, etc.

However, in the year and a half since the beginning of Biden's presidency, the general American theme has not been set. During this time, a lot of problems have accumulated in the Middle East, each of which the Americans are dealing with in one way or another, but there is no complete picture of such a mosaic.

Therefore, it is not surprising that everyone is looking forward to Biden's visit. Moreover, his deadlines were postponed. In a word, one could say that "the whole world (or at least the entire region) froze in anticipation of Biden's arrival"…

But everything turns out to be wrong. The region is by no means frozen. On the contrary, the activity of local politicians, kings, presidents, heads of government, diplomats has probably never been so high. Everyone has seen and negotiated with everyone, and more than once.

And what is wonderful: this activity cannot be compared with a fever before a big event, when in a hurry they "check the clock", finish printing documents, arrange tables and chairs, adjust flags, check the operation of microphones and air conditioners, the presence of water in coolers… Such agitation on the eve of the arrival of the "owner" is a thing of the past. Now everything looks different.

Namely: the President of the United States is not expected as a "director" who informs about strategic goals, gives valuable instructions that are binding, and distributes roles. They are waiting for him as a partner, who will be offered options for interaction and terms of cooperation.

This is the main feature of Biden's "historic" visit: America has lost the initiative. It is not she who offers and disposes. It is not she who forms the agenda. And the head of the White House is going to the Middle East without knowing in advance the results of his negotiations there. This is really happening for the first time in many, many years, if not decades.

Apparently, in order to remove this feeling, Biden, on the eve of his trip, published an article in which he made an attempt to set out his own agenda. Her theses have already been quoted many times, so there is no need to dwell on them in detail. However, it would still be appropriate to make a few comments.

Biden insists that the current state of the Middle East region is much more calm and peaceful than before. At the same time, he points to a decrease in terrorist activity in Iraq, the restoration of the unity of the Arab Gulf countries, a truce in Yemen, the isolation of Iran, the prevention of a large-scale war in Gaza and the resumption of direct dialogue between the top leadership of Palestine and Israel. All this, according to Biden, is the merit of the United States.

For the American public, such a description of the situation may be acceptable. However, any more or less serious analysis changes the picture.

The fact is that almost all of the positions listed by the US president are largely tied to Iran. And there could not and cannot be any significant changes on any of these tracks without the consent of Tehran. And first of all in Iraq and Yemen.

Does Washington really believe that the departure of Muqtada al-Sadr from the Iraqi parliament is the result of American diplomacy? Or that the Yemeni Houthis agreed to a truce in gratitude for removing them from the American list of terrorists? Or that Hamas in Gaza unexpectedly agreed to American persuasions not to continue rocket attacks on Israeli cities?

It seems that all this would be impossible if it were not for the will of Iran.

But he's "in isolation," says Biden.

What kind of isolation can we talk about if the Iranian president visits Oman, exchanges visits with the Emir of Qatar, and preparations are underway in Baghdad for a meeting of the foreign ministers of Iran and the KSA in order to restore full-scale relations? And if Turkish President Recep Erdogan intends to arrive in Tehran immediately after the visit of the American leader to the Gulf?

There is no "isolation" of Iran. Moreover, if we agree with Biden's opinion and recognize all the American successes and achievements listed by him, then logic will also require recognizing that the United States could achieve all this solely relying on very close and trusting cooperation with Tehran.

For, let us repeat – in today's Middle East, nothing like this can be obtained without the consent of Iran.

And this is well known and all regional players proceed from it. And the whole regional structure is built around this immutable fact – and not around this or that American doctrine, as it was before.

Through the efforts of successive American administrations, Iran has become not only a "threshold" nuclear power and acquired its own missiles, but has managed to create strong footholds in the Arab world (Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen), establish strong trade and political relations (Qatar, Oman, Syria, Gaza, partly the UAE and the PNA in the West the bank of the Jordan). Iranian warships have already moved beyond the Persian Gulf and settled into the Red Sea. And soon they will enter the expanses of the World Ocean (exercises have been announced in Venezuela, where the Iranians will participate together with Russia and China).

In short, Iran, as an influence factor, has equaled the United States in the region. And this has transformed the Middle East into a completely new quality. He is no longer a passive object of American (or any other) policy, but a kind of collective subject. He has acquired an internal, independent dynamics of development, which the White House manages (at least under the current owner) unable to.

This means that Biden will not only be listened to here and not so much as demanded from him to integrate America into the emerging regional architecture. And it, as we have already assumed, is formed around several centers of power: three non-Arab (Tel Aviv – Tehran – Ankara) and one Arab, which, apparently, will be heterogeneous. It has yet to be formed on the basis of the competition between Riyadh and Abu Dhabi with the participation of Cairo and Baghdad.

In these conditions, the only thing that the United States can really influence is competition in the Arab camp. But even here Washington can no longer make any individual decisions: neither Tel Aviv, nor Ankara, nor the Arabs themselves will allow him to do this. Because they all understand perfectly well: America is not up to the subtleties of Middle Eastern layouts right now. She won't delve into them. This means that he will inevitably make mistakes, the consequences of which will have to be sorted out for more than one year. Adventures in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan are classic examples of this. Nobody wants a repeat.

Therefore, we can assume that the main content of Biden's Middle East visit will be, firstly, an attempt to regain the trust of the Arabs, first of all, Riyadh. At the same time, it should be borne in mind that the main requirement formulated by the Arab Gulf countries is their full participation in the work on the "nuclear deal" with Iran. And the implementation of this requirement logically entails the ousting of the United States from the process, if only because Tehran consistently insists that Gulf security issues concern only coastal states and no extra–regional forces should be allowed here.

This thesis, persistently repeated by Iran, seems to meet with the understanding and tacit consent of the Arabs. And we can say with a fair degree of confidence that this is their vision of the "Middle East NATO", which was mentioned by Jordanian monarch Abdullah II on the eve of Biden's visit.

In the United States, this project is seen as a formalized American-Israeli-Sunni alliance against Iran. But the Gulf Arab countries need a regional bloc primarily to consolidate and institutionalize the Arab center of power in the region, and not to legitimize the presence of the United States and Israel here and give them the right of veto in solving regional problems. This, by the way, is understood in Tel Aviv, where they do not dream of binding themselves with allied obligations either with the Arabs (no matter how friendly they may be) or with Washington.

So Biden will have a very difficult dialogue in this direction.

No less difficulties, apparently, await him when discussing another problem - the "stabilization" of the global energy market against the background of the consequences of Russian special operations in Ukraine.

The point here is to convince the Arabs (mainly the KSA) to increase oil production in order to "punish" Moscow.

Technically, this task does not seem impossible. Despite the widespread opinion of French President Macron, Saudi capacities are hardly working "at the limit".

The question is not to quickly increase production. For the Arabs, the question is to guarantee long-term demand. After all, no one has canceled the "green agenda" yet, and it, being adopted at the highest international level, orients oil-producing countries to a steady decline in demand for "black gold".

If the prospects remain the same and demand continues to decline, then the Arabs have no reason to open their taps. They need long-term contracts, not one-time "geshefts".

So, under these conditions, it is quite possible to assume that in response to Biden's wishes, he will be offered to withdraw from the Paris agreements (as his predecessor Donald Trump did). Such a step would indicate Washington's seriousness to restore the global oil market and would give Arab exporters a reason to start increasing production.

But will Biden do that? Will he take responsibility for completely abandoning the foundations of his political program?

It is impossible to exclude this, given that the responsibility can be blamed on Putin: they say, it is because of him that you have to give up the most expensive…

Such a feint is likely. And here it is extremely important whether the Arabs will allow themselves to be convinced. After all, Biden himself has already demonstrated how easily the newly elected US president crosses out the decisions of his predecessor. Trump pulled the US out of the Paris agreements, and Biden brought everything back. But if Biden repeats the actions of Trump – where are the guarantees that his replacement will not repeat the actions of Biden himself?

So, whichever way you look at it, the US president has a very delicate mission in the Middle East: to regain at least some of the trust from the countries of the region and come to terms with the loss of the role of the almighty hegemon.