The new US administration might just have come into office two weeks ago but that hasn’t stopped the official from making some sweeping statements about foreign policy. President Joe Biden announced on Thursday that he would end American support for Saudi and United Arab Emirates-led “offensive operations” in Yemen, echoing promises he made on the campaign trail in 2019.
This announcement by Joe Biden is distancing away from both the Obama and Trump administration’s stance on Yemen, as it marks six years of military assistance from Washington for the Saudi-led coalition that is fighting Iran-linked rebels in the impoverished Arab country. This does not seem like a mere perfunctory gesture—the move has been accompanied by the US temporarily freezing a massive package of F-35 jets to the United Arab Emirates and arms to Saudi Arabia for review. This is a substantial development, indicating that the Biden administration is serious about resetting the Trump-era US policies towards the Middle East.
This, however, does not mean that relations between the US and Arab countries will sour. It could bring about much-needed change in the foreign policy status quo, as it indicates that there will be many new negotiations and deliberations in the region. If dealt with sensitively and inclusively, it could lead to greater peace in the region, especially between the US, Saudi Arabia and Iran—peace that is urgently needed as the Trump administration’s quarrels with Iran proved that the region cannot withstand more conflict or threat of nuclear war. Old resentments should be replaced by cooperative attempts to bring peace.
However, this will not be simple. There is the risk of the new US administration falling into the trap of opposing everything Trump did, like undoing the Trump goodwill with Russia. Already, the Biden administration has made statements indicating they will be tougher on Russia. Considering Russia has a stake in the Middle East too, the hostility between the two countries will undoubtedly play into Middle East politics as well. A careful balancing act needs to be considered by all stakeholders.