The first official visit of Joe Biden to the Middle East has left the American president in an awkward position. The abrupt departure from Afghanistan was a sign that the US had stopped prioritizing the region, after more than forty years of active presence there, to concentrate on the Pacific. However, the war in Ukraine has forced a new turn towards the region. A turn in energy key.
This shift has forced Biden to rely on the traditional allies of the US (Israel and Saudi Arabia) to oppose Iran at a time when Russia and China are beginning to take center stage in regional events.
Israel and Saudi Arabia have thus managed to draw the US back into their orbit to deal with a nuclear Iran. Biden’s trip has shown that, despite the differences between allies, Iran is the issue that keeps their alliance alive.
However, as in past presidencies, this pragmatism may take its toll on Joe Biden. The Iranian leaders could in fact condition their policies and their commitments four months before the American mid-term elections (the midterm).
[Con un choque de puños: así ha sido el encuentro entre Joe Biden y Mohamed bin Salmán en Arabia Saudí]
With a unilateral act, Biden confirmed that he would use force as a last resort to prevent the Iranian regime from acquiring a nuclear weapon. He then qualified and claimed diplomacy as a tool to resolve the conflict.
This contradiction reflects that, faced with Iran, Joe Biden has inherited a foreign policy with no alternative to that of confrontation. Something that prevents the US from renewing its policy in the region and endangering its international leadership.
Biden also took advantage of his visit to Israel to issue an ultimatum to Iran so that it reaches an agreement on the nuclear issue. But this political move could take its toll on Biden as he gives Iran leeway to respond and escalate tensions. All this four months after midterm and in the framework of an adverse economic context that could end with the victory of the Republican Party.
“Carter ignored a reality in 1977. That of popular discontent and the alignment of the street and the political forces with Ayatollah Khomeini”
The last 40 years show that the Iranian issue is often the Achilles’ heel of American presidencies. The most recent example is that of the electoral campaign of the Republican donald trumpwhich used the issue of the JCPOA P5+1 (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on the Iranian nuclear program) signed by the administration of Barack Obama with Hassan Rouhani to delegitimize Hillary Clinton and accuse her of a lack of international political leadership due to her Democratic heritage.
However, the clearest example of how the Iranian issue has influenced American presidencies is that of Jimmy Carter. Carter was the last president to visit Iran. It happened in 1977, when he celebrated the new year together with the last shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlevi, in full revolutionary boil. Carter had no doubts: “Iran is an island of stability in one of the most turbulent parts of the world.”
That conviction of Carter ignored a reality. That of popular discontent and the alignment of the street and the political forces with Ayatollah Khomeini, who from Paris (the heart of freedom and equality) set the agenda together with a team made up of Sadegh Ghotbzadeh, Ebrahim Yazdi Y Abolhasan Banisadr.
The more American alignment in favor of the shah, the more polarization and, therefore, the more successful the Islamic revolutionary strategy to submerge Carter in an internal contradiction: either he supported the shah’s repression or he supported the Iranian street.
“Since the triumph of the revolution, the American agenda has marked a large part of Iran’s revolutionary strategy, reinforcing the rhetoric of the hard wing and moving the country away from the Western orbit”
Finally, in January 1979, Jimmy Carter attended the Guadeloupe Conference, where it was decided that the Shah should go. On January 16, the Shah left for Egypt. The US had lost an ally.
Since the triumph of the revolution, the American agenda has marked a large part of Iran’s revolutionary strategy, reinforcing the rhetoric of the hard wing and distancing the country from the orbit of the West. Much of the electoral defeat of Jimmy Carter, which gave victory to the Republican ronald reaganwas due not only to the loss of the main leader in the region, but also to the hostage crisis, which lasted a total of 444 days and ended on the same day that Reagan took office: January 20, 1981.
Biden should take note of the experience of his predecessors. The politics of confrontation with Iran may end up harming his electoral prospects. Sanctions and the absence of diplomacy not only delay political objectives, but can hardly prevent them. In addition, they nullify the effectiveness of organizations such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Finally, Biden must not lose sight of the current regional context. If the US misses the opportunity to get closer to Iran, the other powers will fill that political vacuum. Specifically, Russia and China.
*** Daniel Bashandeh-Khodaei is a political analyst specializing in the Middle East.
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