U.S. President-elect Joe Biden drew flocks of reaction from the Middle Eastern countries – Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Palestine-Israel. Arabs compared Biden’s approach to democracy, U.S.-Middle Eastern relations, and human rights policies to his predecessor, former President Donald Trump.
Since the U.S. Presidential elections, the Middle East had been carefully giving a watchful eye on Biden. According to Hussein Ibish, a known senior resident scholar, Biden and his foreign policy team ‘views the world differently’ than Trump’s administration.
Since the end of World War II, Biden ushers a paradigm shift in domestic and international administration and relations policy – from a transactional and informal approach to a former systematic, institutionalized, alliance-centered, and rules-based international order since the end of World War II quoted by Ibish.
However, Middle Eastern countries have divided views toward Biden’s relational approach. Some preferred Trump’s business-like strategy but abhorred his unpredictability, while others are optimistic about the Biden legacy to the Arab world.
According to Kirsten Fontenrose, director of the Scowcroft Middle East Security Initiative, the Biden administration considers Saudi Arabia a big prize in Israeli normalization. Biden pledges sympathy to activists’ rights after the gratuitous murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of Saudi Prince Mohammad bin Salman.
Despite the diplomatic gesture, Arab officials began expressing concerns on Biden’s foreign relations approach, hinting a return to Obama-era foreign relations of promoting Arab democracy and interrelations with the U.S.
Biden and VP Kamala Harris are known to be long-time Israeli advocates. Still, Arab officials worry about the Biden approach, hinting that Biden will unlikely change Trump’s U.S. embassy transfer policy to Jerusalem. Even so, Harris said in early November that Biden assures renewal of economic and humanitarian support for Palestinians through addressing Gaza’s humanitarian crisis, a restart of the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem, and reopening the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) mission in Washington. Palestinian leaders heavily rely on Biden to repair Israeli-Washington relations and freeze annexation efforts in the West Bank through 2024.
Contrary to the Trump negotiations towards JCPOA, Biden recognized Tehran coercion by the previous administration as a ‘dangerous failure’ and identified the JCPOA, highlighting that the U.S. is a ‘partner that can be trusted,’ thereby emphasizing the target of Iranian predictability through reintegration into JCPOA deal. However, Iran is not ready for a compromise; as said by a hardliner official, ‘democrats cannot be trusted.’ Iran is likely to push a democratic solution to the JCPOA deal due to its economic crisis. Still, it might be delayed due to Biden’s pandemic focus and the upcoming 2021 Iranian presidential elections.
From a unilateral, ‘America First’ approach, Biden foresees a multilateral, structured, and conventional foreign policy that maintains U.S. presence. President Biden aims to sustain a small military stronghold in Northeast Syria and limit U.S. influence by reducing funding and workforce. Biden’s imprints in the Middle East may be subtle, but it will leave a relevant impact on U.S.-Middle Eastern relations.