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What Did the U.S. President Tend to Achieve through His Middle East Trip?
 Source:Centre for strategic Thinking  Views:667 Updated:2022-07-20

The U.S. President Biden just concluded his visit to the Middle East three days ago. A lot of discussions across various circles have been on-going regarding his trip. This was the first visit of the U.S. leadership since assuming office in January 2021. So, why had it taken too long for the U.S. president to plan his trip to the Middle East? The reason behind this could be complicated. It might be partially related to the killing of the Washington Post Journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which, according an intelligence report released by the Biden administration in February last year, was authorized by the Saudi Crown Prince; or more crucially, the delayed trip should have a relevance to the U.S. re-calibration of its overall strategy including its plan in the Middle East.


The U.S. president was intended, through this trip, to revive the U.S. interest in the Middle East, and to re-affirm that the U.S. overall strategic adjustment wouldn’t affect the U.S. long-term interest in this region, given that the U.S. officials have long been bearing a grand global strategy in mind, which means that the issues and events going on in different regions including the Middle East, Europe, and Asia etc. shouldn’t be completely separated from each other. Therefore, upon his visit, the U.S. president claimed that the U.S. would commit to maintain and further expand the U.S. influence in the Middle East, and wouldn’t leave a vacuum for other major powers to fill in.


To serve the above general purpose, the U.S. president, through his Middle East tour, tended to deal with the following range of issues more specifically:


First, mediating the tension between Israel and Palestine, and reiterating the U.S. support of a two-state solution. Nevertheless, it didn’t appear to be in a hurry to take concrete actions to push this issue to be settled. So, more crucially from the U.S. perspective, it just tended to reaffirm the U.S. attitude over this matter at the current stage.


Second, recovering the damaged U.S relations with Saudi Arabia and convincing the Saudi authority to increase the daily oil production capacity in order to contain the oil price surge and to stabilize the global oil market. This attempt of the United States was obviously of a rescuing response to the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the deepening of which would likely lead to an energy crisis. However, the Saudi authority only agreed to raise the oil production capacity to not beyond around 13 million barrels per day by 2027, as it already pledged last year, based on the current level of 12 million barrels per day.


Third, seeking an alternative means to deal with the Iranian nuclear issue. The U.S. was intended to gather a number of Middle East countries together to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. Previously, the U.S. mainly relied on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action also named the Iranian nuclear deal, jointly signed by the five permanent members of the United Nations plus Iran, the EU, and Germany, to handle the Iranian nuclear issue. Nevertheless, since the former U.S. administration formally withdrew from the deal in May 2018, this issue has been getting more complicated to deal with.


The current situation is that given the position the U.S. has held in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, Russia, as one of the signatories of the Iranian nuclear deal, very possibly wouldn’t like to cooperate on exerting pressure on Iran. Hence, apparently the U.S. leader, through his Middle East tour, was purposely to seek an alternative means to curb Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.


Fourth, expressing the idea of forging an Israel-Arab Defence Alliance system, which is also described by some as the Middle East NATO. The purpose of proposing the idea of establishing a new alliance system in this region, on the one hand, is to further deepen the U.S. involvement in the Middle East, just like what the U.S. has done in Europe through NATO over the past years. On the other hand, it could possibly serve as an instrument to help counter Iran’s intent to increase its nuclear capacity.


So far, the major players in the Middle East have appeared to be very cautious about the U.S. intention of forging a “Middle East NATO”, as the region might risk being trapped in a fragile security situation by following this idea.


Fifth, attempting to facilitate a favourable condition for the U.S. to carry out its strategies in other regions including the Indo-Pacific region. Ensuring energy security will be one of the major concerns for all major powers including the U.S. and China. Given that energy security is of a more serious concern for China than for the U.S., over the years, China has diversified its cooperation partners in energy, which are now located in different regions across the globe.


Yet, the U.S. officials may still have assumed that projecting the U.S. influence and deepening the U.S. involvement in the Middle East would likely take the U.S. to a more advantageous position, at least from the energy perspective, in future competition with china in the Indo-Pacific.


After all, the U.S. president tended to deliver the above list of messages through his Middle East trip, with the purpose of solidifying the U.S. interest and influence in the region, and to further extent, of better serving the U.S. broader strategic agenda. However, for the time being, given the fragile security situation in Europe and the damages to Europe as a result of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, to which, the increased involvement of the U.S. in European affairs over the past years has had a relevance, how likely and in what degree the major players in the Middle East would like to accommodate the formulation and implementation of the U.S. new strategy in the Middle East, would remain to be seen.





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