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The Making of the Biden Doctrine

Updated: Feb 13

The Arab World and the Chimera of American Power

Impressions of a Transition

“Through a crucible for the ages America has been tested anew and America has risen to the challenge. Today, we celebrate the triumph not of a candidate, but of a cause, the cause of democracy.”

On the cold morning of January 20, a spectator of the new president’s inauguration could be forgiven for expecting radical change from the course that President Trump drew. The tone of the speech, vivid and decisive, was intended to draw a dividing line between the politics of the new Democratic administration and those of its Republican predecessor.

The events on those very steps only two weeks earlier struck the heart of the country’s administrative and political apparatus, paralyzing its establishment and leaving the jaws of the world agape. The newly relevant themes of democracy were repeated ad nauseam, as were regular references to the racial justice demanded by millions in the peak of the pandemic’s destruction. But even foreign policy, typically last on the laundry list of the public’s priorities, hinted at a clear divide.

“We can make America, once again, the leading force for good in the world,” the new Commander in Chief declared. The implications were clear: Washington’s image abroad had been sullied by the Donald, with trust in its foreign military and political commitments declining across the board. The brief and bitter interlude of “America First” was over: under Biden, the White House now had its gaze fixed on the world.

This new policy required new officials to realize it. After all, following the Reaganite maxim, “personnel is policy.” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a Trump stalwart and veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency, was replaced by Democratic insider Antony Blinken. National Security Advisor Robert C. O’Brien, the former president’s fourth appointee to the role, ceded his office to young technocrat Jake Sullivan. Peter Navarro, the influential Director of Trade and Manufacturing Policy and godfather of Trump’s protectionist agenda, saw his position dissolved entirely, with Sullivan absorbing its responsibilities.

Under this new coterie of the administration’s Ivy League-educated best and brightest, climate change made its way back to the rhetoric of Washington’s vast diplomatic machine and multilateralism ceased to be viewed with the nativist suspicion typical of Trump’s populist style.

However, even if one expected a return to the form and content of Barack Obama’s eight years in office, the reality was marked more by continuity than rupture. The harsher edges of Trump’s rhetoric may have been softened, but his aggressive approach to everything from China’s ascendance to Israel’s interests was left untouched.

Chinese Ascendancy and the Burden of History

Every president since George W. Bush has found himself managing a radically different world than the optimism of the 1990s anticipated. Many intellectuals, like Francis Fukuyama in 1992’s The End of History and the Last Man, saw in the ashes of Marxism the absence of intellectual challenges and concrete alternatives to the American order. Thus, for a time, tales of economic liberalization enabling the patient march of liberal democracy, all under the stewardship of an American Empire invested with a power unprecedented in the history of man flourished. Eventually, they came to resemble an almost instinctual faith, an unspoken premise of all serious discussion.

However, like Marxism, this new view of mankind’s destiny was always more of a program to be realized than a future to be anticipated. As a rigid determinism, it was dead on arrival. Its first negation came from China, then the world’s largest nation. 1989’s brutal repression of students, workers, and intellectuals gathered in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square for democratic reforms happened in the wake of economic reform on a massive scale. It preceded Fukuyama’s book by three years.

Yet the People’s Republic had much room to grow, and the reforms' resulting middle class still had much space to consolidate themselves in Chinese society. This provided a convenient excuse: the repression was the product of a premature democratization. American elites remained confident that the ties produced by a common commitment to the market and the rapid social change produced by liberalization would allow China to eventually outgrow its Communist Party and remain content to play by Washington’s rules.

For decades, the country’s development seemed in keeping with those predictions. The marketization inaugurated by Deng Xiaoping had deepened under Jiang Zemin, all while relations with the outside world steadily improved. The economy grew rapidly, driven by competitive labor costs and prudent planning, and the People’s Republic even joined the World Trade Organization under incredibly favorable terms in 2001.

After Hu Jintao’s accession in 2002, the country’s foreign policy explicitly rested on the doctrine of “China’s peaceful rise,” hoping to convince the United States and its allies that the increasingly influential and prosperous country was willing to accept Washington’s customs and leadership. Under Hu, some observers even remarked that the residual authoritarianism of his predecessor seemed to have softened in a generally calmer political climate.

China was largely seen as keeping to itself. That is, until the inauguration of Xi Jinping in 2012. His new administration would bring remarkable changes in Chinese foreign and domestic policy. Whereas his predecessors underlined their compatibility with the extant global hierarchy, his view was markedly different: China had become a major power, and it needed to act like it. Deference to Washington in foreign affairs was replaced by the assertive rhetoric of “wolf warrior diplomacy” and a domineering stance in the South China Sea. New horizons of ambition were reached with the massive, concerted intercontinental investments of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), first announced in 2013.

While his antecedents remained faithful to Deng Xiaoping’s emphasis on collegiality and collective leadership of the Communist Party, Xi did not hesitate to exploit popular anger with Party corruption to consolidate his control. Regional rivals, like Chongqing’s Bo Xilai, were arrested or sidelined, while “Xi Jinping Thought” was codified and Xi himself elevated to the party’s leadership core, right alongside the founder of the People’s Republic itself, Mao Zedong.

All the while, Chinese economic might had been growing at breakneck speed. While in 1990, Beijing had little more than a fifth of the United States’ GDP, it had grown to over three quarters of its size. The economic consensus was that by 2020, it was on course to surpass it and become the world’s largest. While American manufacturing power had long been displaced from the leading position it enjoyed for much of the postwar era, it had never been bested so decisively. And worse, China had manifest ambitions to upskill its workforce and contend with Silicon Valley itself for the dominance of the high-tech market, unafraid to engage in industrial espionage and sometimes underhand tactics to get its way. History had definitely not ended in 1992.

These changes did not go unnoticed in Washington, where the incumbent Obama administration, fresh from handling the unstable Middle East inherited from its predecessor, resolved to address the matter.

The “Pivot to Asia,” the foreign policy strategy which defined Obama’s second term, was consummated in the 2016 signing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. It took an economically liberal approach to the task of revitalizing American interests in the region. Lowering tariffs and other barriers to trade, it envisioned a Pacific Ocean transformed into a great free-trade area under Washington’s watchful eye.

Amongst its exhaustive list of signatories, from Japan to Mexico, Vietnam to Peru, one country was noticeably absent: China. After all, the agreement was designed precisely to counter Beijing’s rising economic power.

Campaigning in 2016, then-candidate Trump had dutifully promised to kill it. The vision of Pacific-wide free trade was viewed with distaste by his base, heavily tied to the country’s declining manufacturing sector, particularly vulnerable to the discipline of foreign competition, and attuned to the growing trade deficit. Under the influence of protectionist economist Peter Navarro, the populist firebrand had other ideas for countering the People’s Republic’s industrial ascendancy: tariffs.

It is a mistake to view this protectionism as out of sync with the history of American conservatism. True, protectionism had long been antithetical to the ideas of the neoclassical economists who inspired the Reagan Revolution. It was even opposed by a substantial portion of the financial elites closely linked to the Republican Party’s establishment. But there is a long precedent for conservative protectionism as the preferred policy of the manufacturing sector’s elite, as the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930 shows.

Like many other features of Trump’s campaign, not least the slogan of “America First” arguably cribbed from Lindbergh’s isolationist activism, it seemed like a blast from the darkest past. On the eve of the election, much of the liberal press was abuzz with predictions of imminent fascism, while Richard Hofstadter’s The Paranoid Style found eager buyers in the nation’s chicest bookstores.

When, to the shock of the world, he won the presidency on November 8, 2016, he set about realizing his program. Navarro was soon appointed director of the newborn Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy, while fellow trade skeptic Robert Lighthizer became the country’s new Trade Representative. In an administration soon marked by staffing issues and unprecedented job turnover, Navarro and Lighthizer lasted all four years.

In January of 2018, Trump slapped 30% tariffs on solar panels and 20% tariffs on washing machines. Further targeting steel (at 25%) and aluminum (at 10%) in early March, the first salvo in the trade war was confidently launched with a characteristic tweet: “Trade wars are good, and easy to win.”

By the end of the month, the Donald directed Lighthizer to add further tariffs on $50 billion of Chinese goods, with a tentative list of over 1,300 targeted products published the following month. Later that summer, several lists collectively amounting to $250 billion of Chinese goods were released, all targeted with varying tariffs.

Most economists, the markets, the press, and the Democratic opposition reacted overwhelmingly negatively to this new protectionism, with tariffs on Chinese fireworks even being singled out as the reason for a potential fiasco in that year’s Independence Day celebrations.

Sino-American tensions increased as the manufacturing sector came to dominate policy towards China. However, Beijing remained largely unfazed in its ambitions and the Department of State began crafting the ideology of a new Cold War under the leadership of Mike Pompeo and his short-lived Director of Policy Planning, Kiron Skinner. Indispensable, too, were the short spells of National Security Advisors John Bolton, Bush administration stalwart, and Robert C. O’Brien, longtime Republican operative.

Scarce Resources and the Middle Eastern Debacle

Trump had thus deepened, with radically different tools, the new course of American foreign policy set by Obama. Yet any Pivot to Asia worth its salt had to contend with the American Empire’s inherited foreign policy commitments. Its vast power was not, as of yet, unlimited. Although Washington’s traditional transatlantic allies viewed the new White House with unadulterated ridicule and contempt, this could be temporarily excused.

After all, Europe seemed largely quiet, and Putin was not perceived as particularly threatening, for various reasons, by Trump himself. For the White House, most notable among these foreign policy commitments were the mammoth investments, military, economic, and diplomatic, in the Middle East.

First, there were important regional alliances to be curated, notably with Israel and Saudi Arabia. A tentative truce with Iran had been achieved under the Obama administration with the framework of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), limiting its nuclear ambitions despite wild unpopularity with Republicans and Netanyahu’s Israel. This clearly could not continue. Then, the Bush administration had left a considerable mess to be dealt with in Afghanistan and Iraq, and dissatisfaction with both “forever wars” had been considerable drivers of Trump’s victory over the Republican establishment.

However, due to the new administration’s instability, the lack of a coherent “Trumpian” policy elite, and the president’s own mercurial character, the declared reluctance to extend American involvement in the region was not translated into broader strategy. An explicit attempt had not been made to square the competing commitments of escalating Sino-American competition while maintaining the status quo in the Middle East.

As a result, a rather confused policy mix was developed by the administration over those four years. Its aggressive rhetoric towards regional rivals was belied by its explicit commitment to withdrawing from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. However, its more isolationist tendencies were contradicted by missile strikes against Bashar Al-Assad’s regime and the assassination of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ commander Qasem Soleimani.

Seemingly the only constant of a course more often defined by Trump’s variable mood than anything else was an ironclad commitment to defense contractors and closer relations with Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, previously alienated by Obama’s reluctance to fully embrace the hard-right leader of Israel’s Likud.

Close ties to defense contractors, the sine qua non of Republican administration, were maintained by the administration’s close attention to business interests. It was no coincidence that the president’s last Secretary of Defense was former Raytheon lobbyist Mark Esper.

Never before had the White House been so clear about Israel’s role as designated American proxy in the region, as Tel Aviv’s interests became seemingly indistinguishable from American ones. This was in part thanks to Trump’s heavily evangelical base, eternally invested in the destiny of a country indispensable for eschatological mayhem.

The administration’s refusal to abide by the JCPOA came after heavy pressure both from its own neoconservatives and the open lobbying of Netanyahu, who made it a personal mission to destroy a deal he felt, on very little evidence, Tehran had been cheating. Furthermore, the administration took great pride in opening the American embassy in Jerusalem, despite the firestorm of international condemnation that followed.

In what was hailed, inaccurately, as a “peace deal” in some quarters, Trump’s most notable and enduring foreign policy achievement was centered precisely on Israel. Three Sunni Arab countries (Bahrain, Morocco, and the United Arab Emirates) met in Washington on September 15, 2020 to normalize relations with the Jewish State. Under the title of the Abraham Accords, these agreements aimed to capitalize on the escalating tensions between the Sunni Arab states under Saudi and American patronage, and the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Concurrently, the relative quiet the Palestinian front had seen for at least two years had allowed the three countries to take advantage of Netanyahu’s threatened annexation of the West Bank to appear to save the Palestinian cause in exchange for normalization. The economic downturn caused by the pandemic and the renaissance promised by Israeli investment only added to the benefits of such an agreement. All this was facilitated by the skillful diplomacy of Yossi Cohen’s Mossad, which had spent years secretly mediating with the three states and was more than happy to give an embattled Trump much of the credit.

The Abraham Accords seemed to bode well for American position in the Arab world, as the inclusion of Bahrain, openly a Saudi client state, hinted at a potential extension of this policy at seemingly minimal cost, while defense contractors benefited from the quiet promise to sell 50 Lockheed Martin F-35s to the Emiratis, arms they could now sell to three countries fully integrated in Washington’s diplomatic and military infrastructure.

However, despite the seeming success of the Accords, a coherent method of reconciling ambitions in Asia and commitments to the Middle East had still not been found or formulated. Although the Abraham Accords seemed to point towards a post-American future for the region where Israel and the Sunni Arab states could collaborate against Iran without American mediation, this had not been explicitly detailed.

There was also no guarantee that Saudi Arabia and the Sunni states were as committed to containing Iran as Washington and Israel were. Trump’s successor, Joe Biden, was to inherit a fragile, although seemingly quiet situation in the region, where the challenge of regional rivals had been left unresolved and a formula for managing both fronts had yet to be concocted.

The Foundations of the Biden Doctrine

The presidential transition, fraught with allegations of fraud and an attempted insurrection unheard of in the country’s contemporary history, also reflected a profound shift in the stakeholders influencing White House policy.
His coalition was an echo of the one mobilized by Obama, with a solid grasp on the Black and Latino communities complemented by some inroads in the unionized working class, particularly in the service sector. The novelty was in recent expansions in the highly skilled middle class, appealing to desires for competent management of the federal government.

The post-industrial white working class, strictly linked to the manufacturing sector, had long since passed into Trump’s camp or political disillusionment, despite originally belonging to Obama’s coalition in 2008. But Biden’s victory was a narrow one, and many in his administration were acutely aware of the need to reintegrate disaffected elements of the Obama coalition into the fold of the Democratic Party.

The context? Biden had risen to power with promises of a robust climate policy which Trump, the president who tore up the Paris Agreement promising to govern “for Pittsburgh, not Paris,” openly detested. This now had to be realized in the deglobalization triggered by the Donald, but consolidated by the pandemic’s drastic effects on the global supply chain. By 2020, it was the third administration acutely aware of the need to counter Chinese competition while also realizing its climate goals, the interests of constituents, and the imperatives of political power.

The means? The White House’s officials soon coined the “Foreign Policy for the Middle Class,” an approach which kept Trump’s previously distasteful protectionism intact and coupled it with active investments in infrastructure and geopolitically strategic capital. The goal was to build an ecologically sound industrial base at China’s expense, consolidating the support of existing constituencies eager for climate action, while rebuilding employment opportunities for the disaffected working class.

Internationally, this approach would also recommit the country to multilateralism and an emphasis on workers rights which would undercut Chinese advantages in labor costs while benefiting the most underpaid elements of the working class. Thus, the new American president now found himself shaking hands with Brazilian president Lula da Silva on the need to protect workers in the global economy while pursuing a broader approach to security in the Pacific, working closely with regional powers wary of Chinese influence.

This commitment to multilateralism was one of the many reasons for Washington’s strong response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, as a commitment to defending Kyiv was seen as analogous to similar promises made to Taiwan in the South China Sea. American credibility was at stake and Beijing had better know that it meant business.

However, the specter of the Middle East returned to haunt this administration just as its predecessor, as tensions with China had hardly subsided in the transition’s shifts. If anything, a renewed commitment to using state power in foreign policy and public investments for industrial reconstruction had rendered the question of resource utilization even more urgent than before.

The administration was unambiguously committed to withdrawing from the region. Most controversially, it oversaw a fraught exodus from Afghanistan that saw the Taliban regain control of the entire country.

The attitude of the new administration was one of unambiguous optimism. In the arduous task of defining the administration’s vision in this radically new context, Secretary of State Antony Blinken is generally regarded as being less influential. In contrast, Jake Sullivan, the newly-appointed, extremely bright, Ivy League-educated successor to O’Brien as National Security Advisor, has been the clearest architect of this global strategy.

Sullivan is remarkably unsubtle in his desire to be remembered as a Wise Man on par with George Kennan or Henry Kissinger. Aping Kennan, he took to penning an essay detailing his project in Foreign Affairs in early October of 2023. The title, chosen with a hubris worthy of Aeschylus, was “The Sources of American Power.” Kennan was thrown into stardom with “The Sources of Soviet Conduct” published in the very same publication. One longs for modesty.

On the eve of October 7 and the new conflict between Israel and Hamas, the original version of Sullivan’s essay described a Middle East that, although “beset with perennial challenges…is quieter than it has been for decades.” This part was later removed, edited out for online publication.

Only days later, the region would be engulfed in a brutal conflict that Blinken himself compared to 1973’s Yom Kippur War. In light of such an epochal miscalculation, one has to ask how and why the administration, and the entire American establishment, have gotten it so wrong.

The Realities of Arab Geopolitics

A concrete and detailed analysis of the interests, stakes, and dynamics underlying American interests in the region may thus be worth conducting, far from the relatively superficial variables that the comings and goings of different administrations toy with. The relationship between the Biden administration, its predecessor in Donald Trump, and these dynamics is decisive in understanding the roots of the current crisis.

Principal American priorities in the Arab world are relatively straightforward: securing energy supplies and guaranteeing investments. Although the United States depends relatively little on hydrocarbons from the Middle East thanks to its own domestic supplies, it nonetheless has a direct interest in controlling the price of oil thanks to its decisive importance in the global economy.

Direct influence in its security and stability is indispensable for the American economy and the country’s hegemonic duties, even in an era marked by increasing awareness of the coming ecological transition. The explicit commitment to defend the integrity of oil and gas shipments in the Straits of Hormuz is a prime example of this priority in action.

Meanwhile, guaranteeing investments and other economic interests is crucial for American firms, particularly as Beijing begins to throw its economic weight around in the Arab world. Thanks to its geography, the region is indispensable for global trade and any instability produced by local actors could threaten the integrity of the European economy, and hence the American one. The recent crisis over Houthi attacks on Israeli and allied shipping in the Red Sea, and the consequent American-led response, is a reflection of the importance of economic interests which extend beyond hydrocarbons to the United States.

In light of these two priorities, countering terrorism is necessary to guarantee the stability necessary for their realization. If allied local powers cannot guarantee a monopoly on the legitimate use of force within their own territory, to use Weberian terms, then both ambitions risk being thwarted. Countering regional rivals, such as the Islamic Republic of Iran, plays a comparable function in the eyes of Washington’s strategists.

The diplomatic architecture built around these two goals and their corollaries stands on two pillars. On the one hand, the ever-closer relationship between the United States and its traditional, ironclad ally, the State of Israel. Despite occasional divergences in policy, the relationship between the two states is backed by shared views on regional strategy and a powerful political consensus in Washington, fostered both by a powerful pro-Israel lobby and political sympathies ingrained in much of the American public. Through the ample financing this mechanism guarantees the Mediterranean statelet, the Jewish State has become the closest thing to a regional proxy Washington has.

But in a region overwhelmingly dominated by Arab states, American policy cannot rely exclusively on a country of barely 10 million to enforce its interests. As such, it has also endeavored to develop intimate ties with the predominantly Sunni autocracies neighboring it.

The persistence of the Palestinian question in regional public opinion has effectively rendered any collusion or collaboration with Israel, which is implied in strict cooperation with the United States, impossible for a democracy. The brief spells of democracy in Egypt and Tunisia which resulted from the Arab Spring gave ample evidence of the Arab public’s profound antipathy towards normalization of ties or alignment with Israeli interests.

It is no coincidence that every regional power which has to some degree developed strategic ties with Israel is rigorously autocratic. Thus, both Israel and the United States have developed structurally indispensable relations with regional autocracies, actively fostering their persistence and extremely reluctant to support alternatives, with minor exceptions.

The Sunni-Shia split, furthermore, is a convenient cleavage on which to rally the specifically Sunni dictatorships of the region to collaborate with Israel in an anti-Iranian key. The example of the Abraham Accords cannot be understood without reference to the ambitions of Tehran’s Shia leadership, threatening to the profoundly autocratic, Sunni-led Bahrain and United Arab Emirates.

The Accords themselves, as the Biden administration’s continuity with them reflects, are excellent examples of this diplomatic architecture finally formalized and synthesized. Prior to them, most Arab states collaborated with Israel only secretly and ad hoc. Now, they were granted permission to build one economically and militarily integrated bloc, potentially allowing the collateral advantage of guaranteeing a more tightly unified energy infrastructure under Israeli military supervision. For the Israeli public, rapprochement guaranteed a sense of security and normalcy following decades of regional conflict.

Regarding the Abraham Accords, the promised military benefits of integration through the procurement of F-35 fighter jets exposed the fruitful potential of such a collaboration. American arms shipments to the region, despite being both extensive and lucrative, have been limited by the qualification that Israel be guaranteed a Qualitative Military Edge, thus preventing many Arab clients from buying cutting-edge military technology. The Accords, alongside the promise to use more Israeli components in their manufacturing, successfully allayed Tel Aviv’s concerns on Abu Dhabi, allowing further American economic expansion and a more robust front against Tehran in the Persian Gulf.

In this case, American strategy aligns with traditional Gulf, and particularly Saudi, priorities. Saudi Arabia has for decades been the leader of the Sunni anti-Iranian bloc in the region, viewing Iran as a security threat both directly in the Gulf and through its proxies in Iraq and Yemen, where in the latter case it was bogged down in years of a costly and bloody war effort against the Houthis, ultimately unsuccessfully. Tensions periodically flare up elsewhere (namely Syria, Bahrain, and Lebanon) with Iran thanks to conflicting interests, rendering the entire Middle East a sort of large chessboard where, with the eternal encouragement of Washington, Riyadh seeks to press its advantage over its largest neighbor.

But it is precisely the costs of the Saudi-Iranian conflict, and the Sunni-Shia split more broadly, that has rendered the Kingdom open to alternative approaches. Following poor results in Yemen, where the initially rebel Houthis have become the de facto governing power, Saudi Arabia has seemed potentially interested in a rapprochement with the Islamic Republic, cozying up to its historic nemesis under Beijing’s sponsorship.

The Chinese desire for reconciliation is strategically sound, as the Saudi-Iranian cleavage is one heavily conditioned by Washington’s own interests in Iran, which are somewhat distinct from Riyadh’s. Picking a side as decisively as Washington in the conflict would be out of keeping with Chinese foreign policy, and represent an obstacle to the stability China would benefit from in the region, given its increasing economic importance.

On March 10, 2023, the People’s Republic finally succeeded in convincing the two countries to normalize relations. Security, trade, and cultural ties all reopened. Despite further summits and a noticeable change in rhetoric, divergences in interests persist, and Chinese clout remains miniscule compared to the American behemoth.

For one, Saudi Arabia continues to see its own security as fundamental to its existence. Given its historic reliance on the United States for this guarantee, any serious rupture with Washington over Tehran would put it in a precarious position. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, universally regarded as the éminence grise behind the Saudi throne, makes no secret of his ambitions towards a nuclear weapons program.

Furthermore, the country’s economy depends on its stranglehold over global oil supplies. In a context of ecological transition, where the global consensus has stably consolidated itself around some form of transition from hydrocarbons, this puts the Kingdom in a precarious position. The country’s response has been an unprecedented program of state-led diversification under “Vision 2030,” where new programs have been created to develop the tech sector, renewable energy, tourism, sports, and an increasingly prominent place in global entertainment culture. Just like with its security concerns, a civilian nuclear ambition is also contemplated.

For all of this to succeed, American consent and Israeli expertise are needed. Talk of a grand deal for normalization between the two states, one which would dwarf the Abraham Accords, had immediately preceded the tragedy of October 7. Israeli cooperation with a Saudi nuclear program, alongside a broader provision of investment and expertise, was also discussed. Indubitably, this would have led to conflict with the concurrent desire for rapprochement with Tehran.

However, despite the fact that Saudi Arabia would see economic and security benefits from normalization with Israel, it remains in some way accountable to public opinion. Whereas most regional autocracies can mostly repress their population into accepting most policies, Saudi Arabia actively seeks to court Arab public opinion. Seemingly endless funds and sheer will have for years poured into its flagship new station, Al Arabiya, to counter Qatar’s hegemony of the Arab news in Al Jazeera.

The Kingdom’s current leadership, despite its evident personal disinterest in the Palestinian cause, inevitably a source of conflict with Israel, is still keenly aware of the clout once generated by King Faisal, long known for his commitment to Palestine in the early 1970s. The Palestinian cause is universally popular in the region and given Iran’s militant support of Hezbollah and Hamas, Riyadh is keenly aware that normalization could come at the cost of losing the war of public opinion. Ultimately, it risks damaging its ambitions to lead the Arab world.

Ironically, it was the very extremism of the Netanyahu governments that allowed the Abraham Accords to be signed. After all, if Israel is more ambitious and explicit in its desire for annexation and settlement expansion, then temporary demands become inherently more effective. In the case of the Accords, Netanyahu was simply asked to renounce the ambition to directly annex the West Bank, an unprecedented and unrealistic move for the Jewish State, anyway.

The Chimera of American Power

The optimism shared by Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United States on the eve of October 7 seemed warranted. After all, one assumption was held in common by all three powers: that the Israeli policy of low-cost, low-opposition occupation was working, and that it could continue more or less indefinitely, with only periodic maintenance needed to maintain its success.

Thus nobody, least of all the American elite, would have to seriously think about a solution to the Palestinian question, one which might require serious pressure on Israel. One which might entail a fundamental reevaluation of regional strategy across decades of administrations to function, one which might build a lasting peace.

The first explicit definition of the “Biden Doctrine” came the hands of Thomas Friedman’s column at The New York Times on January 31, 2024. He envisioned it as a simple, painless recognition of Palestinian statehood without the fuss of substantively pressing Israel to change course on its policies. Then, with the simple flexing of a pen, regional integration, peace, and a sustainable Pivot to Asia can be realized. America, to quote the president, could once again become "the leading force for good in the world."

The consequences of this myopia are no longer the stuff of articles and think pieces. Gaza is in ruins, its population is devastated, and tens of thousands lie dead on both sides of its fence.


"How Trump and Biden killed the free trade consensus." The Hill.

"Biden's trade policy has echoes of Trump's, and they're working." The Washington Post.

"Biden is building on the Abraham Accords, part of Trump's legacy in the Middle East." NPR.

"Abraham Accords: Three-Year Success Now at a Crossroads." Wilson Center.

"Biden's Efforts to Bring Saudi Arabia Into the Abraham Accords." CSIS.

"Biden Must Choose Between Iran and Israel." The New York Times.

"The Sources of American Power: Biden and Jake Sullivan." Foreign Affairs.

Fukuyama, Francis. "The End of History and the Last Man." Democratica Pura.

"Trump's China tariffs are getting real." Financial Times.

"Trump imposes tariffs on $200 billion more of Chinese goods." The New York Times.

"Overview of Vision 2030." Vision 2030.


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