Friends, Enemies And Public Opinion: Inside Biden's Middle East Balancing Act
The United States has found itself at the forefront of a conflict that the whole world is following. President Joe Biden faces the pull of public opinion, the threat of Iranian action, and the escalation of the Israeli state.
PARIS — This past Sunday, for the third time, the U.S. military attacked two sites belonging to pro-Iranian groups on Syrian territory. It was in response to missile attacks on U.S. bases in Iraq and northeastern Syria.
Since Oct. 7, the U.S. military has also intercepted missile launches toward Israel from Yemen by the Houthi rebels. This military activism deserves attention because never before, during previous conflicts in Gaza, have the United States played such an active role. What is different this time, and what is Washington's objective?
First of all, it should be noted that the Biden administration was very quick to deploy substantial forces in the region after Oct. 7, having recognized it as an unusual event. This deployment included two aircraft carriers and their naval air groups, a nuclear missile-launching submarine, and special forces ready for intervention.
A message to Tehran
According to Joseph Maïla, a professor of international relations cited in Beirut's L'Orient-Le-Jour, this U.S. deployment is unprecedented in the Middle East since World War II. "This presence serves as protection and deterrence", explains the Franco-Lebanese academic.
Americans find themselves at the forefront of a conflict they thought they had left behind.
Protection for the ally Israel, clearly. But also deterrence against Iran, the main U.S. rival in the Middle East for decades, close to the nuclear threshold, and the sponsor of Palestinian Hamas and Lebanese Hezbollah.
After Oct. 7, the U.S. concern was that Iran might escalate the conflict to involve its other allies, especially by opening a front to the north with Hezbollah, which possesses a much larger striking force than Hamas. The U.S. message to Iran has been clear from the beginning: if there is an escalation, Iranian territory will not be spared.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan on Monday at the White House.
Al Drago - Pool via CNP/CNP via ZUMA
The U.S. commitment is such that the public opinion associates the United States with Israel's war in the Gaza Strip — regardless of whether this is Washington's intention. The association includes the type of warfare chosen by the Israeli state, as seen daily through images of civilian distress in Gaza.
Joe Biden, therefore, has to manage three simultaneous fronts: the military field with the risk to U.S. troops, evident in the attacks they face in Iraq and Syria; public opinion in the United States, which is divided less than a year before the presidential election, especially among young Democrats sympathetic to the Palestinian cause; and the growing resentment in the rest of the world as the U.S. vetoes a ceasefire request at the United Nations.
The U.S. president is the only one who can exert pressure on Israel to stop, and he will have to decide when to do so. He is also expected to address the "after," having promised a political solution. Currently, even more than in Ukraine, Americans find themselves at the forefront of a conflict they thought they had left behind.
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