1006 GMT January 17, 2022
The American foreign policy establishment is complex and has many layers. Foreign policy in the United States, as in other countries, is presumed to promote its national interests. However, the nature of the state-society relations in the United States allows for many different layers of forces and influences in shaping foreign policy objectives and outcomes.
The presence of thousands of pressure groups and lobbyists assures their access to the helms of power in the country. The populace with vast, guaranteed civil rights and liberties can also interact and influence politicians and decision-makers through open debates, campaign donations, and the public and social media.
Nevertheless, the public opinion-makers (top three to five percent of the populace) and the abundance of money injection into the political process have a strong sway over the formation of public opinion in domestic and foreign affairs.
The American Middle Eastern policy in the post-Cold War era has hitherto merely replaced its anti-communist rhetoric and policy with ‘the war on terror,’ while maintaining the policy of support for Israel and the authoritarian Arab states and securing effective control over the flow of oil to its allies in Europe and Asia. The Obama administration’s Iran nuclear agreement (JCPOA) was a tactical move to allay concerns of Israel and Arab states about Iran’s nuclear activities.
The Trump administration’s ideological leaning and interest lent itself to the motto, ‘America First.’ For the religious conservatives and political right, it promised a return to the more traditional American values to confront the ‘excesses of neoliberalism.’ The liberal drive for Equality, Diversity, and Inclusivity (EDI) has challenged the traditional conservative values of self-help, family, religion, liberty, and limited government.
Trump’s message of ‘economic nationalism,’ and ‘America First’ resonated well with the religious and political right, albeit there was his questionable personal devotion and dedication to the Evangelicals. Trump owed his rise to power to the Evangelicals, the Christian right, and the neoconservatives. In foreign policy, ‘American exceptionalism’ and its ‘indispensable power’ implied the continuing American leadership on the global stage.
So, U.S. support of Israel became even more pronounced in Washington’s Middle Eastern policy. Trump’s pandering to the oil-rich, authoritarian Arab states also supplemented his and his followers’ stance on Israel that also countered the “Iranian menace.”
Trump’s withdrawal from the JCPOA fell nicely within his administration’s ideological and sociopolitical vision.
President Biden’s Middle East policy may tactically differ from Trump’s, but the United States’ strategic concerns in the region remain the same. Biden has thus far continued with the general direction of the Trump administration. The protection of Israel as an ally and a strategic military outpost remains a core part of U.S. Middle East policy.
As such, the Biden administration will continue to pursue U.S. strategic interests in the region to take advantage of the ‘threat of a nuclear Iran,’ in order to continue with its historical, post-WWII policy.
The U.S. has successfully exploited the Soviet (and Russian) threat, the Arab-Israeli wars, and now the Iranian threat to facilitate its military buildup, arms sales, and direct and indirect covert and overt interventions in the region.
The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria simply implies fewer military personnel on the ground, but not less engagement. True, the Pivot to Asia remains high on the Biden agenda, but carbon-energy-abundant Russia, and energy-dependent-China, as well as their political ambitions beyond their respective regions stretch into the Middle East and are of strategic concern to the United States.
* Ali Abootalebi is a professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.