Rejuvenated Biden now needs to reset foreign policy goals
At the end of day, there was no red wave sweeping the polls in the US midterm elections. Against the odds and almost all polls, the Democrats were able to retain the Senate, while giving the Republicans a paper-thin majority in the House. President Joe Biden was elated — as he should be. Voters shied away from the populist candidates of the Republican Party’s far right and almost all those that Donald Trump endorsed were defeated.
Pundits on both sides of the political divide will now scramble to figure out exactly what happened. The Republican Party will resume its journey of soul-searching that started when Trump incited his followers to storm the US Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in a bid to annul the presidential election result. The fallout from that raid — a botched coup to be exact — proved disastrous for the outgoing president and his loyalists.
For the Democrats, the midterms were a pivotal triumph, not only for a divided party and for a president whose popularity had dipped to historic levels, but for American democracy, which is what mattered the most for a growing number of voters.
For the rest of the world, there will be a moment of reflection. A red wave would have put America on a new trajectory, especially where foreign policy is concerned. No one really knows what this would have meant for Russia, Europe, China and the Middle East. It may have paved the way for a Trump comeback in 2024, with all the unpredictable consequences of his political resurrection. Now, two more years of the Biden White House may mean more of the same — or they could deliver a major reset that might de-escalate tensions across the board in the midst of a very volatile world.
Two more years of Biden may not be good news for all outside the US. But what is clear for now is that Biden will not be a lame duck president as he goes into the second half of his first term. He and his national security team will need to rethink their foreign policy objectives. That may have started already with this week’s meeting between Biden and China’s Xi Jinping in Bali, Indonesia, where the two men agreed, in principle, to work out their differences and avoid confrontation.
What is clear for now is that Biden will not be a lame duck president as he goes into the second half of his first term
There are also other foreign policy areas where Biden and his team need to rethink, recalibrate and refocus. Certainly, in the Middle East, the Biden administration must revisit its hasty reproach of Saudi Arabia’s embrace of foreign policy goals that serve its interests and those of its partners in organizations such as OPEC+. The Middle East is changing fast and countries are building alliances and partnerships that fulfill the interests of the region, which has paid a high price in the past due to the unilateral and self-serving interests of Washington lobbies and think tanks.
One area where the Biden White House needs to take a bold stand is the Israel-Palestine issue. With Benjamin Netanyahu on the verge of putting together the most extreme government in the history of Israel, with openly supremacist ministers on board, the time has come for the US administration to put an end to the carnage in the West Bank and the illegal usurpation of Palestinian lands. Sticking to backing the two-state solution is no longer enough. Normalizing an apartheid state in the making is something that threatens to topple international law and conventions.
The reset should also include US policy toward the Iran nuclear deal and the fact that Tehran’s regional agenda is a source of instability in countries like Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen and beyond. The policy review should also cover the US military presence in eastern Syria and the need to revive a political settlement to end the Syrian crisis. Washington should stop looking at regional crises from a perspective of profit and loss and more as a responsibility to contain and resolve.
And when it comes to the war in Ukraine, which has had rampant ramifications for the rest of the world, the time has come to seek a political settlement and open a path for dialogue. The stakes are too high for a long, open-ended conflict; one that threatens to divide Europe and trigger new conflicts in Central Asia. The Biden administration will have to devise an alternative strategy that will spare world economies a major recession, avoid global energy shortages, curb inflation and stave off hunger in vulnerable countries. But most of all it must avert a nuclear showdown that would spell disaster for all.
Despite controversial views of America under Biden among both friends and foes, the US remains a world leader and an influential country that can make a difference. Biden needs to reset most of his foreign policy goals, starting with America’s allies. The results of the midterm elections mean that he can still pursue a vibrant and innovative foreign policy that should lead to de-escalation, while opening the way for breakthroughs in new conflicts as well as old ones.
- Osama Al-Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman. Twitter: @plato010