By Batoul Sbeity

Changing strategies: From Trump to Biden

March 8, 2021 - 14:24

Although it may seem from the outset that the first major military action of the Biden administration in eastern Syria signals an escalation from the side of the U.S., the reality is that it is a strike in the direction of American compromise. 

The general indication of the Biden administration’s foreign policy is heading towards reversing Trump's policies, which had diverted the American establishment away from its general framework within the past four years. Through this attack, America's message to the nations of the region is that you have to accept our presence, as we do not intend to leave; at the same time, it wishes to negotiate with Iran and come to an agreement that involves granting certain rights to the latter, denied by the previous administration. 

Within the past four years, America was under the label of 'Trump'; it has now returned back to the label of the American establishment.' 

As opposed to Trump's unilateral approach, Biden has re-directed America towards the cooperation and coordination of policies with Europe and NATO under the sponsorship of the American strategies. The reality is that Biden is reversing Trump's policies that were taken outside of the scope of the established strategies, such as returning back to the Paris Agreement on climate change, easing restrictions on Iranian diplomats’ movements in New York, withdrawing Trump's snapback claim on UN sanctions against Iran, and signaling the green light for South Korea to free billions of dollars in Iranian assets, amongst other things. 

Biden's administration represents a return to the deep state trajectory of securing long-term investments and interests in the region. This relies on policies that, on the one hand, deal with the establishments’ growing threats and depending on their magnitude. For example, the economic growth of China, which remains on the course to be the only major economy to have expanded in 2020 during the COVID-19 crisis, has rattled Washington. Add to this the Russian influence in West Asia, a region that prior to the Syrian conflict was an exclusive zone for the West. Russia's strategies that are based on their presence in Syria, their growing influence in Libya, and the expansion of their military reach to areas in Africa like Sudan, have given them a strong grounding in the region.

Indeed, American policy's bedrock rests on trade, so it can remain the superpower that dictates the word order, no matter the means of exploitation by which they achieve their interests. It is one based on American prestige and hegemony. On the other hand, the establishment wishes to strengthen its allies, including Saudi Arabia, in the region. For example, it ensures smooth economic activity and production in these countries in order to continually benefit from their investments and have leverage over the energy supplies in this strategic region. 

This is whilst the Saudi kingdom fully depends on American security and has given them all their cards, such that they are not in a position to argue or dictate matters. A recent example is the U.S. release of the 2018 intelligence report that concluded the murder of Khashoggi was done on behalf of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. 

Indeed, this report was revealed as part of the American establishment's wider strategy of uncovering which Trump had denied and placed under the table, as he rebuffed and falsely asserted the U.S. intelligence was not certain about bin Salman's role. Since this case has been under the watchful eye of the world and is not something the U.S. can afford to turn a blind eye to, the current administration has sought to heal the deep scar left by Trump, through polishing their image to the world and under the pretence that the establishment cares about human rights; it is simply Trump's mishandling that is to blame. Indeed, this diversion of strategy is a matter of not remaining silent on issues that would undermine the way America seeks to promote itself onto the world stage, as it is a case of embarrassment to remain silent in order for it to safeguard its brutal interests. 

This strategy is in stark contrast with the trajectory of Trump's administration, which relied on short term policies of bargains, thereby using his certain authorities as a president to exercise what was in contradiction to the line of the deep state; this resulted in weakening the fixed American institutions, for example, the military, during his tenure.

 Trump's trade policy was one of milking Saudi Arabia and inevitably leading to its bankruptcy through agreements for open arms trade that America can withdraw any time, spanning a decade and worth over half a trillion dollars. Trump does not realize that whilst this temporarily boosts the American economy, the strategy of maximizing and incurring short-term gains will not serve the American interests in the long run. 

Additionally, his efforts to pull out from the region reflects his balance-of-payments mentality, since it proved more expensive to remain in the region than to pull out, whereas the deep state recognizes that strategies cannot be built on such one-dimensional policies and rather function on the basis of influence and prestige. This was also triggered by the largest discoveries of proved reserves of crude oil in 2019, in areas such as Texas and New Mexico, since Trump considered domestic energy security to be the main concern for exploiting the region. Given the relation spanning Saudi Arabia and the West is built upon the formula 'protection for oil', now that America has no need for Saudi oil, it expects them to still pay for the empty security and legitimacy they grant the kingdom. However, the deep state recognizes that it is not simply concerned with obtaining oil from West Asia, as much as it is with having control over a strategic region of vast energy reserves and trade routes, through which it can have leverage over the whole world economy.

Biden has come to put a halt to what Trump had not finished, that is pulling out from West Asia. 

At the same time- America's grip- no matter how strong will begin to loosen, triggered through expanding the spectrum of sanctions and sieges on nations, as this has encouraged the opposing side to construct alternative systems that threaten the American order. For example, China has been steadily working towards introducing a parallel international financial system, that could operate outside the U.S. dollar's influence, such as the alternative international payment system to SWIFT called CIPS. 

Sanctions also fuel the growth of the black market; for example, lack of medical equipment in Iran has led traffickers to profit from the sale of an underground supply of life-saving drugs, which may contain components brought from countries where a lack of robust medical standards have seen them banned. 

While Trump's sanctioning and reckless actions have incurred massive harm on the nation of Iran, it is through such policies that Iran has been put to the test and has shown its strength.  For example, Iran's targeting of Al Assad Airbase shows its uncompromising stance that has left the Islamic Republic’s mark on history. Moreover, the recent U.S. release of the Iranian ballistic storm on the airbase is another indication of Biden's changing policies, signaling that the American establishment did not agree with Trump's assassination of Major General Soleimani, hence revealing the blow this incurred on the American prestige thereafter. 

The strategic change in the American establishment’s policies depends on the balance of forces on the ground that is dynamic in nature, and the entity that wants to influence the scene needs to take account of the developments and changes occurring, otherwise, they will remain outside of the ground reality. The establishment is taking these factors into account and, as a result, seeks to build strong relations and to get rid of previous policies. For example, America sees that it has no choice but to give the green light for other countries to unfreeze Iranian assets, despite the fact that this will allow Iran to grow in strength; hence America is in front of a real problem. On the flip side, if they deal too strongly with the opposing side, as did Trump, this will also enable a strong reaction, that will be to their disadvantage. 

How does Biden's administration seek to deal with Iran? There is no way they can get rid of Iran, nor can they get them to compromise on their principles and comply with American demands, whilst the maximum pressure policies of Trump's administration have not worked. If anything, Iran has survived through them and managed to expand its capabilities. As a result, Biden seeks a formulation for co-existence within the space, which is within a formula of understanding that does not allow the tensions to reach the conflict's extent. 

However, the main obstruction is Israel, which is an existential issue for Iran. No solution can be found with respect to co-existing in their presence; this is especially an issue for America since Iran is moving forward and expanding its capabilities. Unless Israel is dismantled, there will be constant tension in the region, as it is an entity rejected by the people of the surrounding neighboring nations. At the same time, America has not reached the point where it will forego sustaining Israel despite the fact it represents a heavy burden on America's shoulders. This is due to the complexity of doing so on a historical and psychological level, whilst the general culture of the far-right has internalized the need for Israel on a theological level. 

The reality is that the affairs will go in this direction until it becomes uncontrollable. Indeed, Israel is the stick that America uses to punish others in the region, and when this stick becomes ineffective- due to the changing balance of powers that are not in its favor- and when this stick itself needs another stick to provide it with protection, it will lose its functional role. 

Hence, a change in strategy to secure the supreme American interests will be pursued, which will eventually necessitate foregoing Israel. Indeed, the recent U.S. revealing of Israel's nuclear facility expansion in Dimona is an indication of the American establishment’s changing policy for Israel and a signal for this regime to know its limits with respect to the important American interests.

Given that America does not want to leave the region, and the people of the region are rejecting the American presence, they are preparing the grounds for this to become a reality, for example through attacking American bases, such that its presence is no longer stable, and America is unable to carry out its intended work.

At the same time, America does not have the capability nor the capacity for a full-blown occupation. 

Having put Biden's recent military attack into context, it should be clear that the apparent military escalation serves the purpose of compromise and not war; hence the other side was told about the attack prior and headquarters were emptied, whilst it was strategically planned on Syrian soil, an open battleground for all, in order for America to claim that it seeks to respect Iraq's sovereignty.

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