Three policies of Biden that dented his popularity - GulfToday

Three policies of Biden that dented his popularity

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.


President Joe Biden speaks in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington. Associated Press

While Washington’s conduct of foreign affairs rarely impacts popular voting in US elections, President Joe Biden’s Democratic party might have retained clear majorities in the both Houses of the legislature if he had not made three disastrous decisions after he took office in January 2021.

First, he was expected to honour his campaign promise to re-enter the 2015 accord limiting Iran’s nuclear programme in exchange for lifting sanctions which Donald Trump abandoned in 2018 and slapped 1,500 sanctions on Iran. Although more than two-thirds of US citizens support re-entering the deal, Biden capitulated to the anti-Iran lobby in Congress and the country. He procrastinated and prevaricated over re-joining it, missing out on an early victory in foreign affairs.

Contrary to expectations, Biden did not sign an executive decree effecting unconditional US-re-entry soon after taking office. He decided to call for linkage between the nuclear agreement and Iran’s politico-military activities in this region and Iran’s ballistic missile programme. As these issues were not part of the agreement, Iran rejected the attempt by Biden to use them to gain concessions.

The negotiations dragged on through Iran’s presidential election in June which was won by hardline conservative Ibrahim Raisi. If Biden had returned to the deal months earlier and given a major victory to the reformist camp of outgoing President Hassan Rouhani, Iranians would have seen the removal of sanctions which have crippled their economy and punished the population. Hardliners would have found it impossible to exclude from the presidential election reformists who could have defeated Raisi.

Iran could have not only been on its way to recovery after years of punitive sanctions but also a reformist administration would not have re-activated the moral police who cracked down on alleged women’s headscarf violation. This provoked ongoing nationwide protests which have led to massive arrests and repression, Iranian isolation and heightened regional tensions. Unrest does not serve US interests and diverts US attention from other fronts at a time of global turmoil.

Biden’s second disastrous decision was to honour Trump’s misbegotten deal with the Taliban.

He agreed to withdraw US and allied troops from Afghanistan by May 2020 without getting any serious quid pro quo from the Taliban other than a promise to prevent al-Qaeda from threatening the US and its partners. Trump concluded this plan in February 2020 with the aim of gaining credit for ending “America’s longest war” and bringing the troops home ahead of the US presidential and legislative elections in November 2020.

After winning the presidency, Biden stuck by the commitment to pull out but fixed completion for the end of August 2021 in time for commemorations of the 20th anniversary of al-Qaeda’s September 11th, 2001, attack on New York and Washington. Bidan’s administration and the US and allied militaries deployed in Afghanistan did not, however, make the complex arrangements in Afghanistan and elsewhere to effect a smooth transition.

The pull-out conducted during August was chaotic. Afghan troops were left to the tender mercies of the Taliban without command and control, air cover for operations, pay and logistics. Many Afghan soldiers simply laid down their arms and surrendered to the Taliban or went home. While the US and its allies got their troops out safely, arrangements were not made for Afghans who supported the Western occupation and were forced to scramble to get onto planes at Kabul’s airport. Thousands who were left behind were threatened and arrested by the Taliban.

It promptly confined to their homes Afghan women, who had been relatively free for 20 years, accessing education and employment. The aftermath has been terrible for all Afghans who must endure heavy sanctions as well as the Taliban.

Biden’s approval rating fell to 43 per cent, a fall from 49 per cent in July before the Afghan debacle. He has never recovered from this fall. His rating stood at just 44 per cent going into the November election. If he had handled the Afghan case successfully, he would have been given credit for ending US involvement in an unpopular war. Instead, he has been castigated for humiliating the US and its military.

Biden’s third wrong-headed decision was to involve the US and NATO in the Ukraine war. He should have tried to avoid this conflict by urging Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to renounce Lyiv’s quest for membership in NATO and rein in right-wing Ukrainian militants who mounted artillery attacks on the Russian-majority Donbas area occupied by Russia in 2014. For Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, NATO’s eastward expansion and security of the Donbas are, and were, a casus belli. He had made this abundantly clear but Western leaders did not listen or take his warnings seriously, prompting him to invade Ukraine.

Instead of providing Ukraine with nearly unlimited funds and materiel to fight Russia, Biden and his allies should have given Ukraine arms for defence while exerting pressure on Zelensky to negotiate. He has taken a defiant stand. His country has been heavily bombed, thousands killed, cities reduced to rubble, and villages destroyed. If Ukraine “wins,” it will be a pyrrhic victory.

The Biden administration is divided over how to handle the war. Armed Forces Chief-of-Staff General Mark Milley has called for using diplomacy to end the war while civilians Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan argue now is not the time to push for negotiations. The longer this war goes on the greater will be the devastation in Ukraine and the damage to countries round the world. Biden should listen to the general who knows war rather than civilians who do not. Furthermore, Biden and his allies should not treat Russia as the winners of World War I did defeated and heavily punished Germany which responded with World War II.

This war has created shortages of fuel and food, boosted prices of essential commodities and stoked inflation everywhere. Due to the faltering US economy in the US it was predicted that Biden’s Democrat party would lose both the Houses of Representatives and the Senate in last week’s mid-term election. Fortunately for him, the rival Republican party — in thrall to the erratic, destructive Trump — failed to win a major victory in this contest. This was Trump’s to lose rather than Biden’s to win.

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