LThe main purpose of US President Joe Biden’s tour of the Middle East is to reaffirm his country’s commitment to a region where he continues to pile up disappointments. At the end of this visit, one thing is clear: it disappointed people.
Israelis can begrudge their predecessor, Donald Trump, who aligned US diplomacy like never before with the Jewish state’s intransigent positions. Palestinians have lamented the lack of stronger gestures that might have translated into Washington’s desire to be an “honest broker” of the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process. However, since the reopening of the US Embassy in East Jerusalem, it has once again been dedicated to Palestinians in a genuine tribute to Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akle, who was killed by Israeli gunfire in May.
A more sophisticated stage for Joe Biden was planned in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, the scene of a meeting with Crown Prince and de facto ruler of the kingdom, Mohammed bin Salman. The 2020 Democratic presidential candidate had vowed to sideline dissident Jamal Khashoggi over his alleged involvement in the gruesome murder.
The US president has resigned himself to this reunion, hoping that his volte-face will be offset by an increase in Saudi oil production. A drop in petrol prices just months before the mid-term elections could turn out to be a setback for his camp.
L “Fist Pump”, this fist salute exchanged by the president with the thus rehabilitated former pariah, especially the craftsman of an authoritarian modernization of the kingdom, was a source of other disappointments. Especially expensive for Joe Biden, it was followed only by vague Saudi promises. It cannot be otherwise. Everyone from Canosa knows that these kinds of denials usually fail to restore confidence after a crisis.
No doubt the crown prince harbored a deep distrust of the democratic presidency from his diplomatic isolation. Joe Biden apparently annoyed everyone he could have trusted with his initial desire to put the defense of American democratic values at the center of his foreign policy.
In his defense, Joe Biden took on a major Middle East responsibility by approaching the White House. The last Democratic president, Barack Obama, ruled out any intervention in Syria in 2013, when Bashar al-Assad’s dictatorship was reeling, paving the way for Russia’s massive re-involvement in the region.
His Republican successor, Donald Trump, further weakened American interests by withdrawing his country from the 2015 international agreement that shaped Iran’s nuclear program. Its policy of maximum pressure, aimed at bringing the Iranian regime to its knees, would instead mean resuming its efforts to acquire nuclear weapons and refusing to return to the status quo.
Joe Biden took responsibility for these strategic errors. By adding his own to a region where America’s confrontation with Russian and Chinese revisionist powers is also playing out, he has made the American posture a bit more complicated.