Concerns about Biden Administration’s direction from top US expert Danielle Pletka

February 21, 2021 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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The latest webinar from the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) featured Professor Danielle Pletka, a Senior Fellow in foreign and defence policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, and previously a senior staff member at the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

Danielle Pletka

Washington-based Pletka started her address on “Biden, the Middle East and Beyond – Knowns and Unknowns” by saying any assessment of the Biden Administration was mostly speculation, as it is still early.

However, she is concerned about the Administration’s position on Iran, because many of the personnel instrumental in the Obama Administration’s negotiations for the JCPOA nuclear deal hold senior positions in the Biden State Department. For example, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman was a key negotiator and “she’s not a Middle East expert. She’s not an Iran expert. She’s not a negotiations expert. She’s not a proliferation expert. But she is a known quantity of the Iranians. And they like her. They like her a lot.”

Similarly, Secretary of State Antony Blinken was national security advisor to then Vice President Biden at the time and didn’t stand in the way of the “really, really terrible JCPOA,” while new CIA head William Burns was also involved.

She described the views on Israel of Robert Malley, the Administration’s new Iran Envoy, as out of the Democratic Party mainstream, adding he regards Hamas as legitimate and is soft on Iran.

So far, she said, there has been some good and some bad from the Administration. The bad news includes that even before Biden’s inauguration, Administration figures were meeting with Iran to negotiate on the JCPOA; the Administration removed the designation of Yemen’s Houthis as terrorists, and in the following two days, there were four Houthi drone attacks on Saudi civilian targets, which the Administration condemned but did nothing else about.

“The Iranians are testing the Biden Administration,” she said,  “And so far, the Administration has shown itself to be reticent in pushing back.”

On the other hand, the good news includes that the Trump sanctions on Iran have not been lifted, with Biden insisting Iran must first comply with the JCPOA, and Pletka doesn’t think Iran will. The Administration is talking about keeping US troops in Syria, which is important in view of the resurgence of ISIS, the trouble being caused there by Russia, and the importance of Syria to Iran’s plans, she also pointed out.

Pletka stressed that the US must understand Iran’s government doesn’t look at the world as Western governments do, and that the distinction between hardliners and moderates is “unmitigated rubbish” when it comes to Iran’s nuclear program and support for terror proxies. It is important to attack the Iranian regime on every track at once, not start with the nuclear program and then move onto other matters in a sequence, as the Administration seems to be doing.

Biden taking so long to call Israeli PM Netanyahu, she said, was bad, and petty.

On the other hand, it is good that Biden will not be moving the US Embassy back out of Jerusalem or repudiating some of Trump’s other advances. He supports the Abraham Accords – the peace agreements Israel concluded with the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco –  but the Administration will make more demands on Israel. Pletka also said plans to restore funding to UNRWA and getting back into the UN Human Rights Council without any demands that they change were “ridiculous” and “an embarrassment”.

With the US re-joining the notoriously anti-Israel UN Human Rights Council, Biden should have demanded changes to the skewed election process that leads to the worst human rights abusing countries being on the board, she argued.

On UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, she said Congress should also withhold US funding until it improves its behaviour,  but she hopes “all of the Arab funders who have been sustaining UNRWA and have been on the side sustaining the Palestinians decide that they don’t want to do it anymore. So if you notice, for example, the United Arab Emirates cut their funding to UNRWA dramatically. I think that there’s actually an Abraham Accord corollary… a whole series of things that could happen with the Palestinians that could be super interesting and that could provide the leverage for those who want to see reform, for those who want to see a true future for the Palestinian people.” She added that Canada and many European countries are also getting sick of UNRWA.

Trump, she noted, had afforded his successor a great deal of leverage in these areas, and Biden hasn’t used it.

The Palestinian election, she predicted, would be a sham, with many candidates already excluded by the Palestinian Authority (PA), and the Administration should be pushing the PA to improve governance, she added.

The Biden Administration won’t undermine the Abraham Accords, and will unwittingly validate the rationale for them, Pletka said, “which is that there needs to be a de-facto anti-Iran alliance in the Middle East that exists separate from the vagaries of American politics, that basically Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt and others can no longer depend on America…and they need to stand together and do their utmost to confront this challenge…” Also, a lot of people in the Administration do recognise that the Accords are “pretty cool”.

However, she doesn’t think the Administration will promote more such deals, because of its outdated thinking that peace with the Palestinians must come first.

Turkey, she said, is “one of the disgraces of American foreign policy”. The US doesn’t know what to do with it, because it is a NATO ally, yet its President Erdogan has become “the godfather of the Muslim Brotherhood”, and it also controls the flow of Middle Eastern refugees into Europe, so she suspects Biden will be no tougher on Turkey than Trump was, despite stronger rhetoric. She noted there has been no push back so far on Turkey’s incursions into Iraq and Syria.

On the power of the “Squad” of vocal radical left Democratic Party legislators, she said that while they don’t represent the party, which still prefers a moderate leader like Biden, they do influence the party decision-makers, and as the generation that grew up with sympathy for Israel is passing, the new generation is often hostile to Israel and to Jews.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) decision that it has jurisdiction over Israel and the Palestinians reflects, she said, what that body has always been about. She said it’s notable that the Biden Administration hasn’t lifted the sanctions Trump imposed on the Court, and if it continues on its present path, the worm will turn. It will lose support in the US, the Canadians and Europeans are getting sick and tired of its behaviour, and in two years the US will again have a Republican Congress.

She added that “for Israel, the best thing is to remind people there, but for the grace of God, go you, because everybody can run afoul of these international keystone cops who arrogate to themselves powers which they were not afforded by any treaty anywhere.”

Finally, on the Australia-US relationship, she said that she expects it to stay strong, as Australia is vital for any US Asia/Pacific strategy.


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