|Pix Credit here|
This is an era in which elites believe they can return to something--a state of things, a condition, a way of understanding the world, a set of relations, trust--that they once abandoned and now seek to reclaim. The Middle East is a much different place than the one that Mr. Biden knew as he and President Obama sought to reshape its landscape more to their own liking. That effort, interrupted by the long interregnum of the Trump Administration, has produced a very changed landscape into which Mr. Biden now seeks to re-insert the U.S. as if nothing had happened. That is both an important objective, and the great tragedy of an American elite that is so self-referencing that they remain aloofly unaware of either the passing of time, or of an era. And it is a self absorbed self referencing that is not merely dangerously myopic but appears to be clueless and insensitive--the working of America's contemporary political demons is of primary concern to whose who continue to feel its effects at a distance.
President Biden's remarks at the GCC + 3 Summit Meeting provide a discursively pristine voyage through these psycho-political landscapes in ways that to some may appear disheartening. That distinctly though unaware self-referencing perspective was set in a portion of the opening of the remarks:
It’s good to be once more together with so many vital partners and to strengthening our cooperation on the future of this consequential region of the world. . . Around the world, we’re seeing efforts to undermine the rules-based order: with China’s increasingly coercive actions in the Indo-Pacific and beyond; with Russia’s brutal and unprovoked war against its neighboring Ukraine; and with Iran’s destabilizing activities. Here in the Middle East, we’ve also seen critical changes. For the first time since 9/11, an American President is visiting this region without American troops being engaged in combat — in a combat mission in the region. . . But today, I am proud to be able to say that the era of land wars in the region — wars involving huge numbers of American forces — is not underway. (Ibid)
The critical bit for the Americans centered on their involvement in land wars, not in the extent to which violent conflict remains a potent signifier of the realities of the region and a threat. What is left, then, is what one sees in the U.S. involvement in Ukraine--indirect help from a distance but with the expectation of conformity to the desires of the donor. Mr. Biden, in effect, is overseeing the transformation of American power from that of a traditional state to that which operates along the lines and with the sensibilities of a charitable foundation, or of an international financial institution much attached to conditional loan regimes. Client and patron. That is not an implausible basis for relationship--and it mimics in some ways the approach of the great competitor empire--China. Yet I suspect that the terms of engagement may not be competitive enough with what might be on offer elsewhere. A few targeted killings, a networked sanctions program is important, to be sure. But it does not suggest an intensity of support that states being asked to take a risk might find entirely reassuring.
The United States is clear-eyed about the challenges in the Middle East and about where we have the greatest capacity to help drive positive outcomes. Our objectives are focused on — are — excuse me, are focused, realistic, and achievable so that we can target our resources, rebuild trust, and deliver real results. . . Let me state clearly that the United States is going to remain an active, engaged partner in the Middle East. (President Biden's remarks at the GCC + 3 Summit Meeting).
On the other hand, the polite and somewhat direct honesty is refreshing. The United States, its partners are now told, will engage in certain activities--limited--to protect its own interests and those of its partners when and to the extent they align. Fair enough. But that protection of mutual interest no longer includes the direct projection of overwhelming military force. To some extent that is healthy--Americans may do better at multi-generational warfare--and supporting ground forces is usually far more expensive than the returns that they may bring, except of course in some circumstances.
And that exposes the great American fear: "We will not walk away and leave a vacuum to be filled by China, Russia, or Iran. And we’ll seek to build on this moment with active, principled American leadership." (President Biden's remarks at the GCC + 3 Summit Meeting). The vacuum filling come in five pillars, the extent of the reassuring nature of which remains to be seen:
First, the United States will support and strengthen partnerships with countries that subscribe to the rules-based international order. And we will make sure that these — those countries can defend themselves against foreign threats. . .
Second, the United States will not allow — will not allow foreign or regional powers to jeopardize the freedom of navigation through the Middle East’s waterways, including the Strait of Hormuz and the Bab al-Mandab. Nor will we tolerate efforts by any country to dominate another in the region through military buildups, incursions, and/or threats. . .
Third, the United States will not just aim to deter threats of regional — to regional stability; we will work to reduce tensions, de-escalate, and end conflicts wherever possible. . .
Fourth, the United States will build political, economic, and security connections between the United States — between the U.S. partners wherever possible, while respecting each country’s sovereignty and independent choices. . .
Fifth, the United States will always promote human rights and the values enshrined in the U.N. Charter. . . (President Biden's remarks at the GCC + 3 Summit Meeting)
|Pix credit here|
The 1st Pillar suggests the Ukrainian pattern now as a core strategy along spokes of dependency originating in Washington at the price of collective discipline along the lines of the American narrative of globalization and liberal democratic internationalism. Good if it works but the quantum of aid has to be valued higher than its price--and that includes the risk that the Americans will again be a fickle partner. Perhaps a contract is in order. And, indeed, this 1st Pillar points to the power of the discursive trope of production--in this case the production and consumption of the components of security to enhance mutual prosperity and protection against actors who would distort the rules based system of production and consumption (the tropes of level playing fields, of playing by the rules, of consent and choice and of transparent exchange with value driven by demand all speak to and reinforce this orienting premise). One might be tempted here to draw (clearly an exaggerated) line from the Clinton Administration's Yugoslavia engagement to the present and a repudiation of everything in between.
The 2nd Pillar of these suggests but does not guarantee the willingness of the United States to engage its military to make good on this commitment. Better put perhaps, to engage ground troops directly when push button warfare, and the more precise but indirect interventions of 2nd plus generation conflict tactics. And, indeed, it may mean a willingness to finance that commitment to be carried out by others. The idea mimics the trajectories of governance generally in liberal democratic administrative states, where the state or at least its apex becomes a center for rule generation and accountability-compliance, delegating operational tasks downward to the private sector and along its strategic production or operational chains. That works though it risks US enfeeblement--if they are no longer needed at critical points, then they are not needed.
The 3rd Pillar suggests the maturing of overt and covert operations in the era of 2nd and later generation conflict. The U.S. has certainly refined its capabilities in that respect--but it still has a way to go to ensure against leaks as we have seen in the context of sanctions regimes for example in the Russo-Ukrainian war. Related to this 3rd Pillar, the 4th Pillar at first read ought to cause some worry--one can read the key terms there as limited by the "wherever possible" standard. But it also suggests the politics of markets for relationships--exchanges among consenting parties but also shopping. That makes sense in the context of the core foundational discursive orientation of contemporary liberal democracy. Power is not in the relationships themselves but in the ability to set the rules within which those relationships may be produced and consumed on a national security market-platform.
Lastly, the fifth adds a core normative framework -- human rights and values. These are not the rights and values enshrined in the US Constitution, but in the UN Charter and in the work of the international community within and around that system under the leadership of the liberal democratic collective of states. That is a telling difference and one that has caused some friction in the past. The exchange between Mr. Biden and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman where Mr. Biden was said to have confronted the Crown Prince about the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the response to which was a reminder of the U.S. 's response to the situation in Abu Ghraib prison earlier in the century (see here).
And yet it is also at the core of liberal democratic normative construction of a human rights framework exported through its markets driven relationships (and like the Chinese Belt & Road Initiative) from a hub through global production trade spokes). But it is one that distinguishes metropolitan norms from those exported elsewhere. It is not that human rights matter or not, it is the way in which narratives of human rights are projected--especially where the standards to which partners are held suggest difference with what is tolerated in the home state. The object is not to excuse either but instead to suggest the difficulties of actually applying the policy, especially when intertwined with objectives 1-4.
Indeed, the 5th, human rights, Pillar, loops back to the first, markets based and relational pillar. As President Biden suggested in his remarks: "Supporting a rules-based order doesn’t mean we always have to agree on every issue, but it does mean we align around core principles that allow us to work together on the most pressing global challenges." (President Biden's remarks at the GCC + 3 Summit Meeting). Thus a rules based order is not meant as a purely administrative matter for structuring the space within which exchanges occur. It is also a trading and interactive space that is normatively driven by core ordering principles. For the leadership core of the liberal democratic camp that core of moral-normative principles are enshrined in the product of the UN system itself and its focus, first on development, then on human rights, and now on sustainability, bio-diversity and climate damaging conduct. Mr. Biden speaks to human rights, in part because that was what was played up in the liberal democratic press organs. BUt that is already ancient history as the new center of values based normative energy moves from the human to the spaces that humans inhabit, the protection of which may be critical to the survival of the planet as we have come to assume its characteristics.
Still, there is, or can be, a lot of wiggle room here. The object is not to excuse either but instead to suggest the difficulties of actually applying the policy, especially when the now enormous and fraught discourse around the 5th Pillar (especially in the core states of the liberal democratic camp) is intertwined with the more strategic objectives objectives 1-4. What emerges, however one spins this, is a more modest engagement directly by the United States, and a determination that front line states bear more of the burden of their relationship with the U.S.--precisely the objectives of the Trump Administration in the years before 2020 (but with a values twist). It is a risky policy to the extent it is backward looking; but it has enough transformative potential to be interesting as an example of the forward looking projection of power in a post global world order. The greatest risk is the one that many within the core of leadership appear to embrace, if only as a discursive tool--that these policies are reactive, that is that they are meant to react to threats from Russia and China. No great state lasts long as a reactive power; as on the defensive. The strength of this policy is its use in projecting positive goals outward; a sword is, in this era, makes a better shield.
The text of the President's remarks follow. They may be accessed on the White House official site HERE.
2:09 P.M. AST
THE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you. It’s good to be once more together with so many vital partners and to strengthening our cooperation on the future of this consequential region of the world.
I’d like to thank our Saudi hosts for inviting the United States to join this summit and for their hospitality in welcoming all of us.
A great deal has changed since I visited this region when I served as Vice President of the United States, both on the world stage and in the Middle East.
Around the world, we’re seeing efforts to undermine the rules-based order: with China’s increasingly coercive actions in the Indo-Pacific and beyond; with Russia’s brutal and unprovoked war against its neighboring Ukraine; and with Iran’s destabilizing activities. Here in the Middle East, we’ve also seen critical changes.
For the first time since 9/11, an American President is visiting this region without American troops being engaged in combat — in a combat mission in the region.
We’ll always honor the bravery, the selfishness [sic] — selflessness of the — and the sacrifices of the Americans who served, including my son, Major Beau Biden, who was stationed in Iraq for a year.
And we’ll never forget the memory of the seven thousand fifty- — 7,054 American troops who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere over the last two decades.
But today, I am proud to be able to say that the era of land wars in the region — wars involving huge numbers of American forces — is not underway.
We — but we maintain both the capacity and the absolute determination to suppress the terrorist threat wherever we find it. We’ve demonstrated that this year — eliminating the Emir of ISIS on a daring operation, and just this week, taking out another key leader of ISIS.
We’re going to continue our counterterrorism efforts working with a broad coalition of countries, including everyone around this table.
And we will turn our attention and our resources to supporting our partners, strengthening our alliances, and building coalitions to solve the problems facing this region and the world — and the world today.
The United States is clear-eyed about the challenges in the Middle East and about where we have the greatest capacity to help drive positive outcomes.
Our objectives are focused on — are — excuse me, are focused, realistic, and achievable so that we can target our resources, rebuild trust, and deliver real results.
And we will operate in the context of the Middle East as it is today: a region more united than it has been in years.
The GCC is a prime example of that. Former rivals have
reestablished diplomatic and economic ties. New memberships are being forged. And increasingly, the world is seeing the Mideast — the Middle East through the lens of opening and opportunity.
Let me state clearly that the United States is going to remain an active, engaged partner in the Middle East.
As the world grows more competitive and the challenges we face more complex, it is only becoming clearer to me that — how closely interwoven America’s interests are with the successes of the Middle East.
We will not walk away and leave a vacuum to be filled by China, Russia, or Iran. And we’ll seek to build on this moment with active, principled American leadership.
Our new framework for the Middle East has five key principles, and I’d like to very briefly share them with you today.
First, the United States will support and strengthen partnerships with countries that subscribe to the rules-based international order. And we will make sure that these — those countries can defend themselves against foreign threats.
The United States and each of the countries around this table are an essential part of that order because we reject the use of brute force to change borders.
When the entire GCC, plus Egypt and Jordan, voted in the United Nations General Assembly to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it was a watershed moment. It showed that the core values of sovereignty and territorial integrity are truly universal.
And I want to be clear: Supporting a rules-based order doesn’t mean we always have to agree on every issue, but it does mean we align around core principles that allow us to work together on the most pressing global challenges.
For example, on food security, we are collectively committing billions of dollars to alleviate the crisis here in the region, with more than $1 billion coming from the United States.
On energy security, we agree on the need to ensure adequate supplies to meet global needs. Energy producers have already increased production, and I look forward to seeing what’s coming in the — in the coming months.
And on the climate crisis, we’re collectively investing hundreds of billions of dollars in clean energy initiatives, increasing our climate ambition, and working together to diversify supply chains and invest in critical infrastructure.
And we’re looking forward to Egypt and the UAE hosting the next two major U.N. climate conferences.
Second, the United States will not allow — will not allow foreign or regional powers to jeopardize the freedom of navigation through the Middle East’s waterways, including the Strait of Hormuz and the Bab al-Mandab. Nor will we tolerate efforts by any country to dominate another in the region through military buildups, incursions, and/or threats.
The free flow of commerce and resources through the Middle East is the lifeblood of a global economy. That’s as true today as it been — as it has been for decades.
And when nations adhere to international rules, it works. So my administration has made it a priority to protect those vital waterways.
We’ve established a new naval task force to work in partnership with many of your navies to help secure the Red Sea. That includes the first naval task force to use
multi-manned[un-manned] surface vessels and artificial intelligence technology to enhance marine — maritime awareness.
We’re also integrating air defenses and early warning systems to ensure that we can defeat airborne threats.
Third, the United States will not just aim to deter threats of regional — to regional stability; we will work to reduce tensions, de-escalate, and end conflicts wherever possible.
This approach is already reaping dividends. As was mentioned: In Yemen, working closely with Saudi Arabia, Oman, the UAE, and the U.N., we forged a truce that is now in its 15th week.
We’ve welcomed the leadership Of Iraqi Prime Minister Kadhimi to bring countries from the nei- — from the neighbor- — from the region together for talks in Baghdad.
Thanks to the months of quiet, persistent diplomacy, we helped finalize an agreement to remove international peacekeepers from Tiran Island in the Red Sea, and transform an area that once sparked wars into a future hub of peaceful tourism and economic development.
And as we continue to work closely with many of you to counter the threats posed by — posed to the region by Iran, we’re also pursuing diplomacy to return constraints on Iran’s nuclear program.
But no matter what, the United States is committed to ensuring that Iran never gets a nuclear weapon.
Fourth, the United States will build political, economic, and security connections between the United States — between the U.S. partners wherever possible, while respecting each country’s sovereignty and independent choices.
Integration, interconnection — these are the underlying themes of our meeting today.
How many years have we been trying to connect Iraq’s electricity to the — to the G- — to the GCC grids? I remember being briefed on it in 19- — in 2016, when I was Vice President of the United States. I said, “Let’s get it done.”
Well, today, finally, after years of failed efforts and false starts, thanks to the efforts of so many around this table, it’s done.
New energy projects linking the region, a new free trade deal and investments between neighbors, like the Saudi investments in Egypt and Jordan. The more we build these connections, the more we’ll see the benefits that return to our peoples and will grow.
Fifth, the United States will always promote human rights and the values enshrined in the U.N. Charter.
Foundational freedoms are foundational to who we are as Americans. It’s in our DNA. But it’s also because we know that fai- — that the future will be won by the countries that unleash the full potential of their populations, where women can exercise equal rights and contribute to building stronger economies, resilient societies, and more modern and capable militaries; where citizens can question and criticize their leaders without fear of reprisal.
I’ve gotten plenty of criticism over the years. It’s not fun. But the ability to speak openly and exchange ideas freely is what unlocks innovation. Accountable ins- — accountable institutions that are free from corruption, that act transparently, and respect the rule of law are the best way to deliver growth, respond to people’s needs, and, I believe, ensure justice.
And no country gets it right all the time — even most of the time — including the United States. But our people are our strength. Our countries, with the confidence to learn from their mistakes, grow stronger.
So let me conclude by summing all this up in one sentence: The United States is invested in building a positive future in the region, in partnership with all of you, and the United States is not going anywhere.
This is a table full of probi- — problem solvers. There are a lot of — there’s a lot of good we can do if we do it together.
Thank you again for inviting me to participate in this summit today, and thank you for the many years of partnership between your countries and the United States.
May God protect our troops. Thank you. (Applause.)
2:20 P.M. AST