From Iran to Yemen, As`ad AbuKhalil summarizes the bipartisan consistency with which Israeli interests dominate in U.S. foreign policy.
By As`ad AbuKhalil
Special to Consortium News
During the last presidential campaign, Joe Biden and his supporters raised high expectations about the impact his victory would have on foreign policy. U.S. and European mainstream media — which all but campaigned vigorously for Biden — made a fuss about former President Donald Trump’s penchant for alliance with despots. The previous president was often mocked for his close relations with Egyptian and Saudi leaders for example (of course, he was never mocked for his closeness to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu because Western media don’t mind the Israeli occupation and aggression).
These media left the impression that Trump was the first U.S. president to coddle dictators in the Middle East and beyond. The media — uncharacteristically — turned the murder of Jamal Khashoggi into a cause celebre and made taking action against the Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, or MbS, for ordering the killing of The Washington Post columnist, a primary foreign policy issue. It was raised repeatedly in the campaign and even in presidential debates and press interviews. Biden volunteered that MbS had no redeeming quality and — for the first time in U.S.-Saudi relations — declared the Saudi regime a “pariah.”
It would not be the first time a U.S. presidential candidate would backtrack on U.S. policy toward Saudi Arabia.
Barack Obama, Trump and John Kerry all threatened Saudi Arabia with various reprisals if they were elected. The reality is by now well known.
Kerry, as Obama’s secretary of state, enjoyed close relations with the Saudi regime and even hosted MbS in his home in D.C. We were told at the time that Kerry was impressed that a Saudi prince could play the piano.
U.S. foreign policy is too deeply entrenched with imperialist interests to be easily altered by new presidents, even if they are genuinely interested in reorienting foreign policy — in the Middle East primarily, or anywhere.
After several months of the Biden administration, it is becoming clear that the new administration is not that different from the Trump administration, as far as U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East is concerned. Almost all of the Trump initiatives are being kept intact.
Israel: The U.S. has preserved the relocation of its embassy from occupied Jaffa (“Tel Aviv”) to occupied Jerusalem, and major construction is underway in Jerusalem for it. Biden may inaugurate the new embassy, which would officially and juridically seal U.S. recognition of Israeli occupation of Jerusalem, thereby putting a nail on the coffin of the “two-state solution.” The U.S. has also not voiced criticism of the major expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken has not reversed Trump’s official recognition of the Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights. Furthermore, the Biden administration is as pleased with Arab despotic rapprochement with Israel as Trump was. In fact, MbS may find that the closet way to Biden’s heart, and even to the hearts of liberal media, is through a peace treaty with Israel.
Syria: The Biden administration maintains the cruel U.S. sanctions on Syria, which are hurting the Syrian population — whether or not they are pro-regime. U.S. sanctions never affect the lifestyle and livelihood of rulers but they always hurt the average people. Since my arrival in the U.S. in 1983, the U.S. has only invoked the welfare of a population under U.S. sanctions when the Reagan administration resisted pressures to impose sanctions on apartheid South Africa. The U.S., out of support for the apartheid regime, claimed that sanctions could hurt the civilian population there.
But the U.S., in all of its sanctions against Arab and Muslim countries, never once invoked the welfare of the people — precisely because the lives of Arabs and Muslims are not equivalent in U.S. eyes to the lives of white settlers in South Africa.
The U.S. has also refused to reduce U.S. or Israeli bombing in Syria, perhaps because it wants to extract a peace treaty with Israel from any (current or future) government in Damascus. The U.S. wants the Syrian regime and its opponents to understand that Washington won’t allow a political settlement without taking into consideration Israeli “security interests” and U.S. hegemonic interests.
“The lives of Arabs and Muslims are not equivalent in U.S. eyes to the lives of white settlers in South Africa.”
The Biden administration has continued to keep U.S. troops in Syria and may increase their numbers. The U.S. does not hide its true intentions: that the troops are there to counter Israel’s enemies, not to deal with a non-existent threat from ISIS.
Yemen: The U.S.-Saudi war on Yemen continues unabated and the Saudi regime resumed its raids over Yemen. The Biden administration has suspended the export of what it termed “offensive weapons” to Saudi Arabia but it continues to supply “defensive weapons.” After declaring the Saudi regime a “pariah” state in the campaign, Biden administration officials — widely covered in Saudi regime media — have been declaring their support for the “defense of Saudi Arabia” — which means the Saudi regime and the rule of MbS.
While the Biden administration has been vocal in support of the Saudi regime when its oil refineries come under attack from Houthi missiles, it has not once condemned Saudi bombing of Yemen and the suffering of the Yemeni civilian population it has caused. The U.S. has also endorsed a Saudi so-called peace plan for Yemen, which lacks the basic element for peace, which would include the lifting of cruel sanctions. (In the Saudi plan, the regime brazenly pledges that it will allow food shipments into Hudaydah airport, thereby confirming that it has been denying food and medical necessities from the people of Yemen). But this is not just a Saudi war; it is a Saudi-UAE war with full Western and Israeli backing.
Iraq: Like the Trump administration, the Biden administration refuses to heed the demands of the Iraqi people through their representatives who voted overwhelmingly for U.S. troops to leave the country. The Biden administration is even keener on keeping U.S. troops in Syria and Iraq. Current officials are among those who protested when Trump sought the withdrawal of U.S. troops.
Moreover, the Biden administration is, yet again, exaggerating the threat of ISIS to justify the permanent presence of U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria. At least the Trump administration was honest in admitting that U.S. troops in Syria were more about fighting Israel’s enemies than about fighting ISIS, as Trump said, for the oil. (As is well-known, Al-Qa`idah and ISIS have consistently avoided attacking or even antagonizing Israel.)
Iran: The White House has continued the path of Trump’s administration in tightening the grinding sanctions on the Iranian people. Worse, the Biden crew has basically absolved the Trump administration for causing the collapse of the nuclear agreement. The new Democratic team has basically internalized the stance of Trump, who insisted — despite evidence to the contrary — that Iran was violating the agreement before the U.S. decided to violate it (even though the agreement was integrated into international law as soon as it was adopted by the UN Security Council).
The U.S. still refuses to lift the sanctions, although the reimposition of U.S. sanctions was what caused Iran’s gradual abandonment of the terms of the agreement. The Biden administration is not only refusing to take the first and logical step to return to the agreement, but is signaling that it will impose new conditions on Iran (regarding ballistic missiles), in violation of the terms of the original agreement.
In sum, the mainstream liberal media widely exaggerated the extent to which the Biden administration would deviate from the path of Trump’s foreign policy innovations.
In the case of Israel, it was inevitable that the new administration would not dare retract some of the unprecedented steps that Trump made toward Israel, or that Biden — like all previous U.S. presidents — would continue to embrace despots in the Middle East and beyond.
But beyond that, on more than one issue and in more than one country, the Biden administration has followed in the footsteps of Trump, just as Obama before him followed in the footsteps of the Bush administration. Bipartisanship in foreign policy is still alive and well, no matter how much havoc this consensus brings to the people of the world.
As`ad AbuKhalil is a Lebanese-American professor of political science at California State University, Stanislaus. He is the author of the “Historical Dictionary of Lebanon” (1998), “Bin Laden, Islam and America’s New War on Terrorism (2002), and “The Battle for Saudi Arabia” (2004). He tweets as @asadabukhalil
The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.