As the first half of President Joe Biden’s 100 days passes by, many are now beginning to analyze the trajectory of his term. The most recent airstrikes in Syria on February 25, 2021 against Iranian backed militias, have seemingly set the tone for his Middle Eastern policy. Many Americans and foreign policy analysts now wonder where the Biden Administration will go moving forward.
Targeted at multiple facilities in Eastern Syria, the retaliatory strike against the militias, Kait’ib Hezbollah (KH) and Kait’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada (KSS), sent a strong unilateral message to both Iran and American allies. In an official release by the Department of Defense, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby stated, “President Biden will act to protect American and Coalition personnel. At the same time, we have acted in a deliberate manner that aims to de-escalate the overall situation in both eastern Syria and Iraq.” Departing from the Trump Administration’s general reluctance to continue their involvement in the ongoing conflict in Syria, the United States once again appears ready to aid its coalition partners in the region.
Unfortunately, for President Biden this shift is not seen favorably by either Syria or Iran, the latter of which the Biden Administration hoped to begin renegotiating the Nuclear Deal with. CNN reports “The Biden administration is disappointed after Iran rejected an offer by the European Union to partake in nuclear talks with the U.S. and the other signatories of the nuclear deal on Sunday, but said they remain open to diplomacy with Iran.” It is unlikely that Iran will be ready to trust the U.S. again anytime soon. Not only is the Trump Administration’s withdrawal from the Nuclear Deal and assassination of General Soleimani still fresh in Iranian leadership’s mind, the Biden Administration has done nothing to begin rebuilding trust with Iran.
Sanctions still strangle Iran as the COVID-19 pandemic wreaks havoc on Iranian citizens. According to NPR , “One of President Biden’s campaign promises — reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal — is at a standstill. Iran has been ramping up its nuclear program and demanding that Biden lift economic sanctions imposed to deprive the regime of cash.” Unless the Biden Administration takes active steps to repair U.S.-Iranian relations, further talks will fail to produce meaningful results. More likely, however, as a senior state department official stated in an official briefing on the deal, “I know President Biden doesn’t think that the United States should take steps simply for the – as an entry ticket to get back to the table with Iran.” It appears the road to a new Nuclear Deal will be a slow, diplomatic slog.
As for the Israel-Palestine conflict, more constructive solutions seem to be underway by the current Administration, marking a return towards working with American allies. Addressing a group of diplomats at the State Department, President Biden remarked, “I’ve asked my Middle East team to ensure our support for the United Nations-led initiative to impose a ceasefire, open humanitarian channels, and restore long-dormant peace talks.” To that end, it appears that Biden is extending a hand in good faith with Palestinian officials. “It is also reported to take a tougher stance on Israeli settlement activities and mentions efforts ‘to obtain a Palestinian commitment to end payments to individuals imprisoned (by Israel) for acts of terrorism,’” Reuters reports regarding a possible draft memo. Though not yet confirmed, this would be a very strong start to repairing U.S.-Palestinian relations. Though it risks angering Israel, a stable solution going forward requires the U.S. to broaden its coalition of allies in the region.
Though souring relations with Iran, the Syrian airstrikes sent a clear message to the international community. The U.S. returned to global affairs and is once again ready to work with allies in finding grounded, diplomatic solutions to the crises of the past decade. However, in order to be successful, the Biden Administration must make amends for the previous administration and go beyond simple diplomatic measures if long-term solutions are to be reached with Iran or elsewhere.