Full Spectrum Jordan: America’s Uncertain Leadership

Vice President Joe Biden visit to Israel March 2016
(File photo: Jordan News)

In the aftermath of Hamas’ attack on Israel’s settlements, the world expressed sympathy and then solidarity with Israel. Protest voices also noted Israel’s decades old actions towards Gaza, causing a hiccup in what the West wanted as a united front in support. Then, Israel’s actions in response to Hamas ended up being a massive assault on Gaza, including cutting off food and water to 2.2 million people - a war crime - the use of white phosphorus, and the call for 1.1 million to evacuate to the South.

This forced displacement is especially jarring. Mass displacement is one of the hallmarks of the 21st century. The Great African War (1998-2003; 2 million displaced) Syria (2011-2017; 13.1 million displaced) Rohingya from Myanmar (2017-present; 1 million displaced) Ukraine (2022-present; 14 million displaced) Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh (2020,2023, 120,000 displaced), Sudan (2023; 5.1 million displaced) and more.

In this case, it is swift and planned. In a recent interview, the former Israeli deputy foreign minister said “This is thought out, there is a huge expanse, almost endless space in the Sinai desert” and “Egypt will have to play ball”.

However, the replies from Joe Biden, Anthony Blinken, and John Kirby have been cheering at worst and hesitant at best.

As this unfolds, many Western host states are tired of hosting refugees, and small states find themselves hosting refugees with declining support. In a recent interview, Henry Kissinger, at age 100, stated that Europe made a mistake in hosting so many immigrants. But this is years after Angela Merkel stated that multiculturalism was a failed experiment. This weekend Poland holds a tight election with immigration and multiculturalism as one of the sensitive topics. Far-right parties across Europe are gaining popularity.

Three Things You Should know

  1. The declared US policyBiden initially entered the arena swinging hard. He wanted to obliterate his predecessor's footprint in image, message, and policy. The White House, the State Department, and the Department of Defense all seemed to hit the reboot button. In a large step away from both Donald Trump, and the RealPolitik of Henry Kissinger, Biden declared his administration’s foreign policy to be human rights centered. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken echoed this multiple times - the emphasis of this administration would be human rights. In February 2021 he wrote,  “The United States is committed to a world in which human rights are protected, their defenders are celebrated, and those who commit human rights abuses are held accountable”.

  2. How it has collapsedEvery country has high ambitions and subsequent policy failures. Politicians always promise more than they can achieve during early days. As the only superpower which extends foreign policy strength around the globe, the policy failures of the US garner more attention because they affect so many more people. The women of Afghanistan certainly understand this, and the parents of the US soldiers who died in the war likely also do as they read about the Taliban’s return to power. The retreat from Afghanistan occurred in Biden’s administration (though Syria, the Rohingya, and the Great African War occurred under his predecessors). It is perhaps the largest retreat from a human rights based foreign policy so far. But Gaza is likely to be larger. Media has reported that Israel has dropped bombs in Gaza in the last week that equal the amount the US dropped on Afghanistan in the first year. Gaza is half the size of Singapore -236 km and 2.2 million people - Afghanistan is 652,000 km and a population of about 38 million.

    In addition to the large mistakes there are smaller ones. While Venezuela was being investigated for crimes against humanity, the White House sent a friendly delegation to Caracas to talk to Maduro about stabilizing energy prices. The Biden administration first agreed to unfreezing $6 billion in assets for Iran before blocking it again. Iran’s human rights record did not change during these periods. Guantanamo Bay prison remains open. Mass weapons sales to questionable allies continues.

  3. What does this mean for the ‘rules-based order’?A united front against Russia and in solidarity with Ukraine was meant to be a strong show of continued belief in and implementation of the post-WWII security structure. A common gravitational point for that security structure has been US leadership - not only as a provider of finance and weaponry, but as a guide and unifier. One of the stabilizing factors of US leadership has been certainty and consistency. With some very major exceptions, this has led to peace and prosperity in Europe and other spots on the globe. Going from Obama to Trump to Biden has created a lot of waves, rather than calm waters. European officials complained about George W. Bush after 9/11, but in retrospect he was much more predictable. US leadership has also become more uncertain as its political structure becomes more partisan and aggressive. US performance pockmarked with government shutdowns, contested elections, gridlocked Congress, and events like January 6 shake partner confidence. Hypocrisy in government is as old as government itself. But lack of concern for Palestinian lives seems to be a uniting factor between both political parties. Finally, mass displacement will become the defining trait of conflict in the 21st century. The solution we currently have does not work. Millions will move, host countries receive a few billion for a few years, and then they need to focus on a different crisis. The countries acting as host face burdens. Some, like Lithuania in 2021, simply use power to push the refugees away. Others like Germany or France accept but then debate if they should have. Some, like Jordan, continue to host though the financial cost increases and citizen needs also beckon. Whether Syrian, Rohingya, Ukrainian, or Sudanese, we know that many of these displaced peoples will not be able to return (though some might).

    A lack of certainty in US partnership and a lack of strategy on the growing challenge of mass displacement is a recipe for global discontent and fragmented alliances.

اضافة اعلان

My take“To stand against global politics of fear and coercion; to defend the sovereign rights of smaller nations as equal to those of larger ones; to embrace basic principles like freedom of navigation, respect for international law, and arms control — no matter what else we may disagree on, that is the common ground upon which we must stand.”

These were the words of US president Joe Biden when he addressed the 77th UNGA just last month.

Where do Palestinians lives, Palestinian dignity and Palestinian freedom fit into this speech?

This week has been a lot. In response to the Hamas attack, Israel’s president said there are no innocent civilians in Gaza. Israeli military commanders said they will not allow any aid to enter Gaza, even at the expense of civilian life. Hospitals have been bombed. The population was forcibly displaced. White phosphorus, internationally banned, has been used. Fake news uttered from Biden's podium (and then renounced by his team later) - and this is backed by Anthony Blinken who says Israel has the right.

As a global citizen, it is a disappointing moment. To hear this so blatantly stated, so happily supported, with such disregard for civilian protection or following of international law.

In previous pieces I have asked what is the endgame for Gaza. What does Israel plan to do with 2.2 million people after this is over? Forcibly move all of them? Collective punishment for years?

But now, my question is for the US - and Europe to an extent. What is the endgame for all of us? If Israel can say there are no innocent Gazans, Can Ukraine say there are no innocent Russians? Iran says there are no innocent Americans? Where does it end?

And will we just adapt to a few million on the move after every conflict? Once the headlines disappear we can forget them and go back to doom scrolling the news until the next crisis? What is the international order that we will design and adhere to?

I don’t have answers for the US or the world order. But I do live in a small state that is next door to Palestine, and is host to almost 2 million refugees. We have to have our own endgame. We need our own roadmap to get there.

His Majesty gave us the political practical road map to end the suffering - a Palestinian State with East Jerusalem as its capital.  Her Majesty made clear our moral standpoint “It's not self defense if you are an occupation force”.  So now you have it, our solutions, our road map, our values and moral stand.

As Jordanians and Arabs it's our turn to say to you - are you with us or against us?

Katrina Sammour was first published on Full Spectrum Jordan, a weekly newsletter on SubStack. 

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