Joe Biden Should Build on Donald Trump's Foreign Policy Successes:
America stands to be alone should the Biden administration repeat Obama’s misalignment with Israel and now most of the Gulf states.
Avi Benlolo, Special to National Post Publishing date: Jan 22, 2021
Joe Biden took office this week as America’s 46th president. Given the fact he appointed many Obama administration stalwarts to his cabinet, one wonders if the new president recognizes the world has changed dramatically since. At least 13 appointees served under Barack Obama including Antony Blinken who now serves as Secretary of State; John Kerry as Climate Envoy; Janet Yellen as Secretary of the Treasury; and Susan Rice as Director of Domestic Policy Council.
All had strong voices in the Obama administration particularly with respect to Middle East affairs and to finding a solution for the despot Iranian regime. But unless Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris’s team realize that the world has changed since Obama, they are in for a huge awakening. Sure, they are savvy enough to realize that even while they may have disliked Donald Trump, undoing many of his foreign policies will set the world on a disastrous course. Biden has already begun rolling back a number of Trump executive orders. Domestically, he will have to contend with 74 million Trump supporters (nearly half the electorate) who will certainly take issue with immigration reform as one example. Even while he called for national unity at his inauguration speech, his instant move to clear the deck and dissolve various Trump policies before his seat was warmed up was counter-intuitive with respect to reaching the heartland of America.
Stress levels are running high around the world. After the Jan. 6 riot on the Capitol, America looks unstable and more divided as ever. Some nations will turn to China and Russia as “Plan B” partners should Biden’s policies become incongruent with their own. America stands to be alone should the Biden administration repeat Obama’s misalignment with Israel and now most of the Gulf states.
In this, one must recall the Obama administration’s parting shot against Israel in 2016: instead of using its veto power to defend its ally as had become U.S. policy, it abstained on a Security Council resolution that was critical of so-called “Israeli-settlements.” This misreading of facts on the ground and of throwing “Israel under the bus” as Trump’s UN Ambassador Nikki Haley would later say, sent a shockwave across Israel and the Middle East community. Rather than weaken Israel, it strengthened its resolve to build up capacities.
That single stroke of the pen by the Obama administration set in motion a new world order that will prove more challenging for Team Biden. Perhaps Biden appointed essentially the same administration thinking he would return to the negotiating table with Iran and the Palestinians. Perhaps his administration thinks it can sideline Israel on natural expansion in Jerusalem and the West Bank due to population growth. While Biden has been a friend to Israel for more than 40 years, for some inexplicable reason, he has been critical of Israel’s “settlements.” That’s a mistake.
Thanks to the Trump administration, Israel and its new Abraham Peace Accords peace partners form a powerful alliance. Israel’s economy is booming thanks to an effective vaccine rollout; its population is cohesive, educated and mobilized; its international diplomatic footprint is gaining strength and its military capacity and alignment with Europe and the U.S. military — and even co-ordination with Russia, China and India — continues to grow. The Palestinians have been sidelined given their unwillingness to negotiate peace with Israel.
Most significantly, the Biden administration would be foolish to return to nuclear deal negotiations with Iran. Doing so would continue enabling a horrible, tyrannical Holocaust-denying and anti-Semitic regime that sponsors terrorism and oppression throughout the Middle East. It would also continue cementing and strengthening Israel’s alliance with the gulf states and Saudi Arabia — given their united front against the Ayatollah. Instead, the Biden administration must unify America’s European partners and even Russia and China against an Iranian regime that is hellbent on acquiring nuclear weapons and threatening the international community.
It’s a different world. Dialling it back to 2016-era Obama would be a mistake, particularly on foreign policy. Trump was correct about taking a hard line on China and enabling a peace process in the Middle East, while moving America’s embassy to Jerusalem. He was correct in isolating Iran and disrupting its ability to expand its evil tentacles. And he was correct on making an offer of hope and peace to the Palestinians as a test to see if they were willing partners for peace.
The Biden-Harris team should give careful thought and consideration to those groundbreaking and fairly successful foreign policies. In the meantime, their focus should be on healing America from the pandemic, from its racial and spiritual divide and most importantly, finding a way to reach into its heartland to strengthen a nation on the brink of a new world order.
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