If the Obama administration is anything to go by, Joe Biden will be bringing a lot of baggage to the Middle East.
With the announcement by most major American media outlets that Joe Biden had won enough electoral college votes to become the next president of the United States, unseating the incumbent and highly controversial Donald Trump, it has been awfully difficult to find any sober analyses on what that could mean for the US’ domestic and foreign policy trajectory.
Such is the euphoria in the mainstream media and social media outlets that one would be forgiven for thinking that Biden was the messiah, come to deliver the world from injustice, tyranny, and suffering.
However, Biden is not an unknown variable as a new candidate no one has tried or tested, particularly when it comes to the Middle East and American foreign policy. His work as vice president under the Obama administration already gives us an insight into what to expect, and that insight is, in many cases, quite chilling.
Biden under Obama
In most functioning democracies, there are always elections that are absolutely nail-biting and exciting to observers and voters alike due to their potential impact on the course a particular country is about to take or due to electoral manifestos that carry great promise. In recent history, this is perhaps best exemplified by former US President Barack Obama’s “Change!” campaign that carried him to victory in 2008.
That election’s impact was global, as the world watched the most powerful nation, and its most advanced democracy, appoint its first Black president in a country with a horrifying history of discriminating against its Black citizens.
Obama was also widely praised in the Arab and Islamic world after he famously travelled to Cairo in June 2009 and gave a speech about how his administration wanted to “seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world”, a beginning founded upon “the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition.”
What promise. What hope. What a chance for true change after almost a decade of the Global War on Terror started by the administration of George W Bush that killed hundreds of thousands of Muslims and incarcerated many around the world without charge, renditioning them to be tortured in the prisons of allied Arab despots.
While it was not the first indication that Obama was simply exercising his renowned silver-tongued eloquence as the orator-in-chief rather than seeking to enact meaningful change, the Arab Spring fundamentally exposed his administration’s rampant hypocrisy.
Arab democrats and those looking to unburden themselves and their communities from the yoke of despotism and tyranny had high hopes that the Obama administration, with all its lofty talk of American ideals of democracy, transparency, and freedom, would be a natural ally for them as protests gripped the Middle East and North Africa after Tunisian Mohammed Bouazizi set himself, and the Arab world, ablaze in December 2010.
The Obama White House, with Joe Biden in office as vice president, was caught completely by surprise. It was one thing to promise to expand rights and democracy in the Arab world by engaging with its people, and it was another entirely when those Arabs then looked to the United States to hold up its end of the bargain.
Instead, what followed was a travesty and led to countless deaths around the Middle East at the hands of the tyrants whose autocratic values America professed to oppose.
In Egypt, and just a few years after he had made his speech there, Obama and Biden stood by and watched as Abdel Fattah el Sisi overthrew Egypt’s first and only democratically elected leader, Mohamed Morsi, and then proceeded to butcher by the thousands those demonstrating in support of democracy in 2013.
Now, Sisi has imprisoned at least 60,000 political prisoners without charge, most of whom are subjected to torture and risk execution.
While the late Republican senator and Trump adversary John McCain openly slammed Sisi for overthrowing a democratic government and was not afraid to use the term “coup”, Obama and Biden did not dare to use the “C word” for fear of being legally prevented from continuing to sell F-16s to Sisi’s dictatorship, while their top diplomat John Kerry disgustingly lauded the putsch as “restoring democracy” in Egypt.
Similarly, Obama’s and Biden’s silence as the Syrian people were slaughtered by the war machine of dictator Bashar al Assad, backed by Russian and Iranian military, political, and economic power, is an immense blight on his record.
Biden has personally harboured antipathy and outright disdain for the anti-Assad opposition, infamously arguing against arming them, defending the Obama administration’s catastrophic decision not to punish Assad for using chemical weapons despite calling it a “red line”, and then accusing Turkey and others of supporting the Daesh terror group by actually supporting legitimate opposition factions.
While Trump was undoubtedly abrasive and abusive, he at least struck Assad for using chemical weapons against civilian targets. Biden, on the other hand, prefers to view Syrians as either part of a distasteful but tolerable Assad regime or else tars the rest with the same terrorism brush.
Biden’s threats to Turkey
Perhaps the biggest concern for the Middle East is what a Biden presidency means for Turkey, the Islamic world’s most stable and successful democracy. In what has now become an infamous admission by Biden that went viral during his electoral campaign, the would-be leader of the free world has also made it amply clear that he intends to seek regime change in Turkey hinting that his administration may seek to interfere in Turkish democracy.
While he claimed he would seek to do so by supporting Turkish opposition groups to win via the ballot box, most Turks will recall with justified bitterness how, in the dying days of the Obama-Biden administration, FETO attempted to overthrow the Turkish people’s democratic will in 2016, killing almost 200 civilians and bombing the Turkish parliament and other symbols of Turkish democracy.
At the time, and rather than stand firmly behind their NATO ally in ensuring that the putschists knew that the United States would never work with a military dictatorship in Turkey, the White House made it painfully clear they were simply biding their time, expressing vague notions of “concern” as they waited to see who would come out on top.
Although the coup attempt was crushed after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spectacularly rallied the nation and led his country’s efforts in ensuring the people’s will was upheld, the United States then continued to provide safe harbour to Fethullah Gulen, the Turkish government’s primary suspect who resides in a comfortable mansion in Pennsylvania.
Say what you like about Trump, at least he did not seek to support subversive elements inside the Middle East’s most successful Muslim-majority democracy.
Biden, on the other hand, appears to be ideologically committed to subverting the will of the Turkish people and, along with his previous record in Syria, Egypt, and elsewhere, this can only spell more danger in the region spurred on by a revived “internationalist” US global agenda.
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