A Foreign Policy Biden Got Right - by Copying Trump
For the first time as president, Joe Biden visited Israel this week, arriving on Wednesday and staying into Friday. The Middle East trip featured both impressive innovation — such as cultural exportation of the American “fist bump”— and salutary preservation of key features of Middle East stability.
On Thursday, President Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid issued The Jerusalem U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Joint Declaration. In the declaration, Israel thanked the U.S. “for its ongoing and extensive support for deepening and broadening the historic Abraham Accords.” The Abraham Accords are agreements to normalize relations between Israel and Muslim-majority countries — United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Bahrain, and Sudan. The agreements allow the countries to engage in economic cooperation and other peaceful partnerships for the first time since Israel was created.
The Abraham Accords represent the first positive steps towards permanent peace in the Middle East for 40 years. Previous efforts had focused narrowly on solving the disputes between Israel and the Palestinian authority, without success. But, during the Trump administration, American negotiators broke the impossible deadlock by addressing another aspect of Middle Eastern peace altogether. From a certain perspective, normalizing relations between Israel and distant Islamic states might be less desirable than solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but at least it was achievable.
During the Trump presidency, the anti-Trump media establishment was highly reluctant to give Trump credit for any achievement, and so they were muted in their praise of the Abraham Accords. There was a chance that American policy on the agreements would become politicized, one of the many policies that ping-pong between two extremes whenever the party in the White House changes hands. Now, however, President Biden has reaffirmed America’s commitment to the Abraham Accords from the other side of the political aisle, cementing in place what may be President Trump’s most significant foreign policy achievement.
This outcome wasn’t guaranteed. Last year, the Biden administration reinitiated talks regarding the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the Obama administration deal with Iran which the Trump administration subsequently discarded. Iran is Israel’s most dangerous geopolitical opponent, and the Obama administration’s overtures towards Iran accompanied an icy relationship with Israel. By attempting to reenter the JCPOA (an agreement was never reached), the Biden administration appeared to be following in the footsteps of the Obama administration.
However, in Thursday’s Jerusalem Declaration, Biden reaffirmed America’s commitment to Israel’s capability to defend itself, noting, “the United States stresses that integral to this pledge is the commitment never to allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon, and that it is prepared to use all elements of its national power to ensure that outcome.” This may be the strongest line the Biden administration has taken with respect to Iran.
President Biden continued the hard line against Iran on Friday when he flew from Israel to Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia and Israel do not have diplomatic relations, but both countries are concerned about Iran’s growing influence in the region. Biden said even flying directly between the two unfriendly countries was a “small symbol of the budding relations” between them. CNN reported Saudi Arabia is expected to open its airspace to commercial flights to and from Israel, and allow Israel’s Muslim minority to pilgrimage to Mecca.
President Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia also demonstrated a change of policy, as Biden had previously sought to make the kingdom a “pariah” for the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Biden’s change of heart came as a result of high energy prices; instead of easing restrictions on domestic production, he aims to convince the oil-rich country to pump more.
After Afghanistan and Ukraine, President Biden’s record on foreign policy is mixed, at best. But with regard to Israel, the president got it right this week. Most surprisingly, he did so by embracing the legacy of his predecessor, President Trump.
Joshua Arnold is a staff writer at The Washington Stand.