In a classic American short story (by William Saroyan) an old man and a boy are sitting on the porch hearing the whistle of a long-range freight train passing through their little town. “There goes another one we missed,” the old man says.
In America today, populists on both sides of the political aisle demand that allies should carry more of the burden, especially the military burden, of upholding the international order. Meanwhile, the fear of a rising China cuts against the grain of this thinking. Chinese leader Xi Jin Ping’s more aggressive foreign policy has generated an equally strong impulse to marshal resources and organize allies to contain China. In an effort to reconcile the contradictory impulses, many analysts and political leaders have fastened onto the idea of retreating from the Middle East.
It has been almost a decade since the Syrian people rose up against the Assad regime, demanding their freedom. While the world was hesitant to support the protestors, malign powers gladly stepped in to help Assad, creating an unmitigated disaster that has devastated Syria and sent shockwaves around the world.
The new Biden administration will encounter a Middle East that is very different from the one President Trump inherited from President Obama in 2017, and nowhere is the change more obvious than in Saudi Arabia. The kingdom is undergoing a dramatic process of transformation that includes the unprecedented consolidation of power in the hands of Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman (MBS), the adoption of policies of social liberalization focused primarily on youth and women, and the implementation of a plan for economic diversification to lessen dependence on oil revenue.
A key foreign policy challenge for President-elect Joe Biden is going to be getting along with Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and managing Washington’s ties with Ankara. To this end, Biden needs to understand the dynamics and fears that inform the decisions of Erdogan, Turkey’s powerful president, including the latter’s view of Russian president Vladimir Putin.
During the presidential campaign, candidate Biden never spared his words criticizing the Trump administration's Iran policy, in particular the decision to withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). This so-called "Iran Deal" was the signature foreign policy accomplishment of the Obama administration, which his successor revoked in May 2018. In its place, the U.S. has been pursuing a "maximum pressure campaign"--if not always consistently--through sanctions, with the goal of forcing Iran back to the negotiating table.