As 2024 moves closer, the vague Middle East policy blueprint of the US is only fuelling the “power in recession” narrative
With Russia acting rather independently on the production of energy to impact prices, patching up relations with Riyadh could prove useful in regulating global energy costs in the face of the ongoing war on the periphery of Europe.A successful Saudi–Israel deal could send the right signals for the Biden administration. To pursue this, Biden and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) may finally meet on the side-lines of the G20 Summit in New Delhi. At the bilateral level, it could carve out more space by building diplomatic capital with Saudi Arabia. With Russia acting rather independently on the production of energy to impact prices, patching up relations with Riyadh could prove useful in regulating global energy costs in the face of the ongoing war on the periphery of Europe. On other concerns, the deal could not only restrain Israel’s expansive agendas in the West Bank in the near term—a pervasive regional apprehension—but also extend political advantages back to Biden’s White House.
The US efforts in the region may also be driven by the fact that a post-Afghanistan presence may need a reformed rationale in the region where economic competition with China trumps its traditional military-led policies.Finally, Biden faces legislative hurdles in the Congress where the support of at least 67 Senators would be needed—a two-thirds majority. On Saudi Arabia, the American political class remains divided. The last vote on the sale of weapons to Riyadh in 2021 witnessed a glaring division between the Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents in the Senate. Thinking in Saudi Arabia and Israel A critical component surrounding the debate around a Saudi-Israel normalisation is that both states have had back-channel communications with each other for years. So, a normalisation of relations will be a swan song for what has been brewing behind closed doors for some time now. However, the risk of normalisation is tilted more towards Saudi Crown Prince MbS than Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. To mitigate these risks, MbS has put forward heavy demands for the US to sign up for, should this diplomatic coup be cemented under Biden’s leadership. First is, of course the easy one, which is some guarantees of top-of-the-line weapons sales for the Kingdom to solidify its defence needs. If Afghanistan has been America’s bad war and withdrawal, then Yemen, on a smaller but regionally equitable extent, has highlighted an unexpected lack of tactical success for the much larger Saudi armed forces. But the other two more difficult demands placed by MbS, have been for the US to agree upon a ‘NATO-like’ security pact, which basically means it will act on behalf of Riyadh’s threat perceptions (a similar construct to NATO’s Article 5). And, finally, the most contentious one, a civil nuclear agreement that allows enrichment of uranium domestically. These demands go far beyond the current security arrangements that the US has even with Israel, its most significant strategic partner in the region. However, even on divisive issues such as the question of nuclear capacities, reports have suggested that Netanyahu may accept MbS’s nuclear outreach with the US if it leads to normalisation (and gains towards his own political stature and legacy).
If Afghanistan has been America’s bad war and withdrawal, then Yemen, on a smaller but regionally equitable extent, has highlighted an unexpected lack of tactical success for the much larger Saudi armed forces.Both Israel and Saudi Arabia are taking advantage of Biden’s pre-election calculations where he chastised Riyadh as a pariah state in 2019. For Biden, such a posture would have remained palatable at some level even today if drastic shifts in international affairs were not realities that were rapidly unfolding, i.e., the war in Ukraine and China’s belligerence fast finding bipartisan support in Washington to counter Beijing. For the moment, both MbS and Netanyahu find it easier to call the shots with the US than the other way around.
The former president Donald Trump tinkered with that trend when he pulled the US out of the JCPOA as well as facilitated the Abraham Accords to assist in an internal restructuring of regional relations.Historically, most presidential legacies in the US are associated with policy decisions that have had significant repercussions for the Middle East. The former president Donald Trump tinkered with that trend when he pulled the US out of the JCPOA as well as facilitated the Abraham Accords to assist in an internal restructuring of regional relations. Without any major foreign policy successes in the region and a national election staring in the face, the Biden administration’s expectation that it can persuade both Israel and Saudi Arabia to sign a deal by the end of this year may be a race against time.
Biden’s efforts to gain diplomatic advantage could very well be undone by the region’s own political and economic churns.The one thing Biden has been unable to do up until now is to lay out his strategic thinking on what is America’s view over its long-standing strategic relations with the Middle East. This is raising anxieties not only in the US but with partners in the region as well. This missing speech from the US President is adding to the confusion, and is marketing Washington as gullible to influence. As 2024 comes closer, leaving the US presence in the Middle East as a vague policy blueprint may be seen as unbecoming of a superpower.
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Kabir Taneja is a Fellow with Strategic Studies programme. His research focuses on Indias relations with West Asia specifically looking at the domestic political dynamics ...Read More +
Vivek Mishra is a Fellow with ORF’s Strategic Studies Programme. His research interests include America in the Indian Ocean and Indo-Pacific and Asia-Pacific regions, particularly ...Read More +