By Natan Sachs, Suzanne Maloney, Samantha Gross, Constanze Stelzenmüller, Jeffrey Feltman, Bruce Riedel, Stephanie T. Williams, Reva Dhingra, Aslı Aydıntaşbaş, Marsin Alshamary, Vanda Felbab-Brown, Daniel L. Byman, Madiha Afzal, Michael E. O’Hanlon, Steven Heydemann, Sharan Grewal, Jeannie Sowers, Shadi Hamid, Shibley Telhami, Amos Harel, Itamar Rabinovich
Two years into the Biden administration’s (first?) term, Middle East-focused scholars in the Foreign Policy program at Brookings offer thoughts on some of the policy areas the Biden administration has dealt with thus far.
The Middle East has fit awkwardly within Biden’s global priorities. Biden has sought to focus U.S. attention to other parts of the world, with more success than his immediate predecessors. Yet while competition with China and, later, the war in Ukraine have occupied much of the administration’s focus, the broader Middle East has still commanded considerable time and effort. In its first year, the administration prioritized the withdrawal from Afghanistan, an attempt to unwind U.S. involvement in the civil war in Yemen, and the effort to return to mutual compliance with the JCPOA alongside Iran. It struggled to balance a very critical initial approach to Saudi Arabia and its crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, with a subsequent desire to normalize relations with the Gulf, stem the rise in energy prices, and move forward on Israeli-Arab normalization.
Amid all this, the administration faced crises in Lebanon, the Horn of Africa, Iraq, and Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. It successfully worked to broker a maritime boundary between Israel and Lebanon and to help maintain ceasefires in Libya and Ethiopia. It has dealt with crises big and small, proving yet again how hard it is for U.S. administrations to divert their attention from the region. Indeed, the administration, has faced the perennial American difficulties arising from the tensions in its own policy priorities: promoting stability and maintaining uneasy relationships with difficult partners while supporting democracy and human rights; and the desire to move on from the region balanced against the necessity to address its myriad challenges and occasional opportunities.
Below, our scholars touch on several of these themes, among others. As always, scholars at Brookings take their own individual perspectives, celebrating differences of opinion among them.