It seems that US President Joe Biden will adopt the default Democrat foreign policy that is "camouflaged" by human rights, democratic values, respect, the rejection of racism, and so on. Reflecting upon Biden's first foreign policy speech at the State Department last week, the most frequent term used was "values" and related terms in the American democratic political lexicon. Such camouflage, therefore, is probably closer to being the actor's makeup that runs at the first sign of blood, sweat, or tears.
Biden's peace-making discourse with the allied powers that share the same makeup was also there, but he seemed to be asking for a "fight" with Russia, which threatens America's strategic aspirations the most. However, he disguised this by raising the issue of Russian opposition leader, Alexei Navalny.
He welcomed the extension of the new START agreement related to nuclear armaments for the next five years with Russia and China. Biden is clearly concerned about China, not least because of the US position on the ladder of global economic powers threatened by Beijing's "peaceful rise".
Hence, his conciliatory tone with Russia and China will look like a peaceful fight, in which he will utilise all the tools of American soft power. However, as he said in his speech, "We are ready to work with China when it is in America's interest."
Biden talks about repositioning US forces in the world, which I believe is a response to Paul Kennedy's theory of "overstretch" and the burdens it entails that outweigh the resulting gains. The Pacific Basin may be the destination for that new positioning.
As for the Middle East, one can note several matters. For a start, there was no reference to Israel or the essence of the Middle East problem, and it is very likely that this "absence" was deliberate. After studying the personalities in his team, it seems that Biden will depend greatly on secret diplomacy, negotiations away from the spotlight, and a world away from Trump's theatrics.
Gradual work will be done on the quiet to suffocate the Palestinian resistance at the hands of regional players new and more recent. This will be done with grants and other financial temptations, as well as deprivation, again, on the quiet, so that human rights noise will not disfigure the democratic veneer.
It is enough to remember that UN Resolution 242 came about with a Democrat President Lyndon B Johnson in the White House; Camp David took place with Democrat Jimmy Carter in situ, and the Oslo Accords and Wadi Araba agreement were on Democrat President Bill Clinton's watch. Moreover, the whole Arab Spring wave and its consequences took place while Democrat President Barack Obama sat on the sidelines.
Furthermore, if we look at the major hostilities in the Middle East directly related to the Palestinian issue, nine have taken place under Democrat presidents in Washington, compared with eight-under Republicans. This suggests that the democratic camouflage is linked more to wars than the Republicans' crudity that reached its climax with Trump's narcissism.
Then there was the fleeting mention of Iran, which was in the context of protecting Saudi Arabia. The 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal with Iran was not mentioned, which probably means that, as the Palestinian issue, it is part of the "secret diplomacy agenda". In fact, America's return to the deal may be linked to Iran pledging to pull back, at least, on its regional interventions, which Washington believes are harmful to US interests.
Biden will, of course, encourage more Arab normalisation with Israel, but he will approach the issues with a greater degree of caution than Trump. Qatar may play a major role in normalisation with Hamas, while Turkey will be the mediator with Iran, but this will happen in the shadows rather than the spotlight.
As far as the war in Yemen is concerned, Biden referred to the need to bring it to a close and threatened an end to arms sales to Saudi Arabia, despite his pledge to preserve the Kingdom's security. I appealed to Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman in an open letter in 2018 to stop the war and warned that those whom he thinks are his allies will withdraw, and his major allies working behind the scenes will eventually curb his ambitions.
Based on this, I believe that a dense fog will envelop the US, Saudi, European and Arab moves to bring Saudi Arabia out of this defeat, even if it means saving face only a fraction. However, this does not rule out the possibility of replacing the ruling Saudi team after the death of King Salman, as the prince broke the three rules of governance by turning against the family by arresting fellow princes; ditching Wahhabism by banning the religious police, and introducing cinemas and concerts into the country; and decimating the oil income.
Finally, wasn't it strange that Israel was the elephant in the corner in a speech by an American president about foreign policy? In my opinion, this reflected the Biden team's apprehensions about some tension in his relationship with the Israeli government, especially on the issue of reviving the two-state solution, Israel's [illegal] settlement policy, and how to deal with the Palestinian resistance groups. This is especially since some of them, Hamas in particular, were recently said to have contacted Israeli officials through Khaled Meshaal.
Again, I think that Israel-Palestine will be postponed until secret diplomatic talks can be arranged between the Palestinian factions and Israelis in Qatar, similar to the Taliban and US meetings in the same place. Perhaps the cave of doom beckons.
This article first appeared in Arabic in the New Khaleej on 7 February 2021 and has been translated and edited for MEMO.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.