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Biden: Between Obama in 2015, Eisenhower in 1956
Joe Biden and Barack Obama in Springfield, Illinois after Obama introduced Biden as his running mate on Aug. 23, 2008. (Daniel Schwen/Wikimedia Commons)

Biden: Between Obama in 2015, Eisenhower in 1956

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, London, June 5

Does President Joe Biden think in similar terms to his predecessor in office, Barack Obama, or to Dwight Eisenhower, who sat in the Oval Office over 70 years ago? It is difficult to answer this question right now, because time played a decisive role in shaping the two presidents’ political visions on the Middle East. Obama did not change his position from the beginning to the end of his term in office. He desperately wanted to reach an agreement with Iran at any cost, even if it meant upsetting America’s closest allies. He expressed this sentiment very clearly during one of his farewell interviews, when he described those who opposed the nuclear deal as “free riders.” Unlike Obama, Eisenhower began his term in office with a cold stance toward his allies, but ended it with a warm one. Obama’s story is recent and well known, but what is Eisenhower’s story? In an important book by the political scientist Mike Doran, titled “Ike’s Gamble,” Doran details this dramatic shift in Eisenhower’s foreign policy – from one alienating America’s closest allies to one seeking to appease them. When Eisenhower arrived at the White House in the early fifties, he witnessed “colonial” forces leaving the Middle East and national liberation forces emerging. He had to choose between the two camps. He faced two problems at the time. First, the forces whose power was on the decline in the Middle East – the British, French and Israelis – were Washington’s allies. At the same time, he wanted to win President Gamal Abdel Nasser as an ally, and thus attract him to the circle of American influence and away from the Soviet sphere. The Eisenhower administration had full faith that friendship with Nasser meant his ability to influence all revolutionary forces around the world and draw them to the American camp. Second, Eisenhower needed to ensure the steady flow of oil to Europe, which was in dire need to complete the Marshall Plan after World War II. The White House wanted to create a friendly Middle Eastern environment under Nasser’s leadership that would not cause any trouble, by approaching the revolutionary forces at the expense of the traditional forces and even weakening them if necessary. The biggest sign of trying to win a new friend at the expense of old friends was in the Suez Crisis of 1956, when Eisenhower interfered in every way possible to stop the tripartite aggression and reach a cease-fire. (He later regretted it, when he realized that overthrowing Nasser would have saved him many troubles he later faced in the Middle East, which is why he supported Israel unwaveringly during the Six Day War of 1967.) Eisenhower’s determination to win over the new friend made him reject the pleas of British Prime Minister Anthony Eden to provide his country with oil. Many concessions made by the Eisenhower administration in order to win over Abdel Nasser did not work, and Eisenhower realized after years of attempts that he was making a serious political mistake and that Abdel Nasser was procrastinating and buying time, and would not be the reliable friend that Washington aspired to woo. Eisenhower changed his convictions after years, and established ever stronger ties with America’s allies. These alliances shaped the international system under whose umbrella we still live over seven decades later. The question now remains: What approach will Biden take in regard to Iran? On which of the two presidents’ paths will Biden march? Will he follow Obama’s footsteps and seek to appease Iran at all costs, even if it means forsaking Israel and Saudi Arabia? Or will he follow the footsteps of Eisenhower, who stood firm by his allies’ side? – Mamdouh Al-Muhaini (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)

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