U.S. President Joe Biden is slated to kick off his first presidential trip to the Middle East this week, planning to visit Israel, the West Bank and Saudi Arabia, in an attempt to recalibrate U.S. ties with the region.
The White House said last month that Biden’s visit demonstrates “the return of American leadership to bring countries together to address common threats and challenges” towards a “more secure, prosperous and stable Middle East region.”
In fact, the Middle East has never been secure. It is where rivaling geopolitical interests compete and collide, and where a self-serving Washington plays its strategic chess board at the expense of regional countries, but under the cloak of human rights and democracy.
For decades, the region has been mired in a quagmire of grave danger, incessant instability and economic crisis, largely due to U.S.-led wars, intervention and sanctions.
As Biden sought to reshape U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, as opposed to his predecessor, controversies mount over his real intent and sincerity, given the U.S. poor human rights record there.
The United States, since declaring independence in 1776, has been bent on expanding its territory and wielding its influence. The country has been at war for almost 93 percent of the time.
Statistics suggest that from the end of World War II to 2001, there were at least 248 armed conflicts in the world, of which 201 were initiated by the United States.
In Iraq, between 184,382 and 207,156 civilians have died from “direct war-related violence caused by the United States, its allies, the Iraqi military and police, and opposition forces” from the time of the invasion through October 2019, according to the Costs of War project at the U.S. Brown University.
Alaah Karim Ahmed, a 40-year-old former prisoner, remembered clearly the miseries he had gone through since being arrested by U.S. forces 19 years ago, as well as the shameful abuse and brutal torture by U.S. soldiers against detainees in the notorious Abu Ghraib prison.
Ahmed, a freshman at the time who was heading for his campus life at Tikrit University, was abruptly arrested when a roadside bomb hit a U.S. patrol on the main road near his car. He was arrested simply because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“I was severely beaten, handcuffed and shackled. They once hung me upside down for more than an hour,” said Ahmed, who revealed to Xinhua his scars left till this day from his three-month imprisonment.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based war monitor, nearly 4,000 civilians in Syria have been killed by the U.S.-led coalition forces, over half of them women and children. Meanwhile, other human rights watchdogs have put the death toll of civilians in the Syrian war since 2014 at a much higher number.
In the northern Syrian province of Raqqa alone, the U.S.-led airstrikes “led to the almost complete destruction of the city and extermination of thousands of civilians between June and October 2017,” the Syrian Foreign Ministry said in a statement in April, accusing Washington of committing war crimes in the Middle East country with airstrikes and shelling.
Besides wars, sanctions have been another major means of arm-twisting for the United States to ensure its own political and economic interests.
According to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, about 30 countries and regions are under Washington’s unilateral sanctions that cover almost every continent of the Earth except uninhabitable Antarctica.
In May 2018, the former U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration pulled Washington out of a nuclear deal signed with Iran and reimposed unilateral sanctions on Iran, despite the International Atomic Energy Agency and the European Union’s validation of Iran’s commitment to the pact.
In its annual report on U.S. human rights published in June, the Iranian Foreign Ministry said Washington uses its “unilateral coercive sanctions” as a tool of “economic terrorism” that have breached Iranians’ right to life, health, development, self-determination and adequate standards of living, calling it “the biggest violator of human rights.”
The U.S. military intervention in Syria in 2014, on the pretext of combating terrorism, had instead caused severe damage and loss of life in the country. However, besides civilian casualties and massive destruction to infrastructure, Syrians have seen their resources plundered and economic crisis aggravated with sweeping U.S. sanctions.
Osama Danura, a political expert and former member of the Syrian government delegation to the Syria peace talks in Geneva, said that the U.S. attempts to steal Syrian oil and burn wheat fields have badly impacted local people’s revenue and livelihood. “I think these acts amount to war crimes,” he said.
Meanwhile, the U.S. sanctions have seriously affected almost every aspect of life in Syria, such as the food supply, medical care, banking, housing and even charity work. According to the latest assessment by the World Food Programme, 12 million Syrians, or 55 percent of the total population of the country, are facing acute food insecurity and 1.9 million at risk of sliding into it.
The sanctions, aimed at pressuring the Syrian people, have hindered the reconstruction progress of Syria, Danura said.
PEACEMAKING OR TROUBLEMAKING?
Biden’s Mideast trip has been clouded by debates across media and among pundits over its purpose, timing and sincerity.
An article published by CNN on Sunday said that Biden might not be traveling to the region at all if it were not for the global oil market that has been battered by the Russia-Ukraine military conflict.
“As far as oil is concerned, this trip is an investment in the future, specifically the hope that an improvement in U.S.-Saudi ties will facilitate the Saudis increasing production later this year and into the next,” said the article.
Prior to his trip, Biden, amid criticism of the U.S. indelible human rights record in the Middle East, defended his decision to visit Saudi Arabia in a Washington Post opinion piece, insisting that he had long supported reforms and sought to “reorient but not rupture” relations with a longstanding strategic partner.
Biden’s planned visit to Israel and the West Bank “also risks playing into the hands of critics, who have accused the United States of not pushing hard enough to end the decades-old Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories,” The Washington Post argued in another piece.
According to a report of The New York Times published on Sunday, Biden will meet with Palestinian officials and may announce new economic support in the West Bank, noting that analysts and diplomats said that they did not expect major developments in Israeli-Palestinian relations.
“U.S. engagement, let alone presidential involvement, in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is no longer a priority,” The New York Times quoted Alon Pinkas, an Israeli former consul general in New York, as saying.
“The U.S. has reverted or shifted to alliance management, which is why an Israeli-Gulf, counter-Iranian coalition is far more important to the U.S. than solving the conflict,” he said.