As the US mainstream media calls former Vice President Joe Biden the projected winner of the 2020 presidential race, the Democratic nominee's foreign policy team has come into the spotlight.
The American press has named former Bill Clinton and Barack Obama administration officials Antony Blinken, Jake Sullivan, Colin Kahl, Michele Flournoy, and Susan Rice, among those who could be tapped to shape the potential administration's foreign strategy in the coming four years in case Biden wins.
Biden's Foreign Policy Team: 'a Horror Show'
"Globally speaking, a Biden administration will push for easing the tension with China and the EU NATO states, up-scaling the rhetoric against North Korea and imposing more sanctions on Russia, Iran, and Syria for any reason they can conjure up", says Ghassan Kadi, a Middle East expert and political analyst of Syrian descent.
Biden's foreign policy team has brought together over 2,000 people, including 20 working groups, to determine his foreign policy agenda and "turn back" some of President Donald Trump's foreign policies. Supporters of Bernie Sanders, however, have expressed concerns over Biden's inner circle mostly consisting of Clinton and Obama administration veterans who previously endorsed US military interventions in the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia.
In August 2020, over 275 delegates to the Democratic National Convention, most of whom had previously pledged allegiance to Senator Sanders, wrote an open letter which called Biden's foreign policy entourage "a horror show" of aides with long records of backing "disastrous" US military invasions.
"We ask you not to rely on foreign policy advice from those who may have a conflict of interest as a result of their relationships and lobbying on behalf of merchants selling weapons and surveillance technology", the letter read as quoted by the Huffington Post.
Biden Aide Kahl: Advocate of US Military Deployment in Syria
If Biden wins the presidency, the US will not withdraw from Syria, Iraq, or Afghanistan anytime soon, believes Kadi. He does not rule out an increase in the US military contingent in Syria under a potential Biden administration, adding that the former VP is unlikely to engage in a dialogue with Damascus.
"The simple answer is no, not because they shouldn't, but because they will be too arrogant to realise that there is no way out of the stalemate without negotiations", the Middle East expert believes. "If anything, any new adviser or team of advisers will push to demonstrate that Trump's policy in Syria was wrong, they will likely be advocating sending more troops into Syria".
For instance, Colin Kahl, an informal adviser to the Biden campaign, is known for his "progressive engagement" strategy which envisaged the long-term deployment of a "right-sized" US military contingent to Mideast countries in the aftermath of the Arab uprising to oversee "democratic reforms" there.
Kahl, who served as deputy assistant secretary of defence for the Middle East from 2009 to the end of 2011, was largely regarded as the architect of the Pentagon's response to the Arab Spring – a series of armed rebellions that spread across the Arab world in the early 2010s and later hijacked by terrorist groups, such as the Muslim Brotherhood*, al-Qaeda*, and later Daesh* in some Arab states.
Responding to the GOP criticism of Obama's strategy in the Middle East and North Africa, Kahl insisted in 2012 that the radical jihadist uprising would eventually be replaced by an alliance between "moderate Islamists" and secular Arab parties, something that has never occurred, nearly a decade after the initial events.
Obama's critics argued that his administration's foreign policy was marred by grave mistakes, including the drastic increase in the US military presence in Afghanistan which only exacerbated the ongoing war, the invasion of Libya which turned a once flourishing country into a failed state, and the support of so-called "moderate" Islamists in Syria which translated into a nine-year war.
Since Donald Trump assumed the presidency Kahl has repeatedly subjected the president's Mideast policy to criticism. He lashed out at Trump for the latter's decision to immediately withdraw from Syria after the defeat of Daesh* terrorists: according to Kahl, Washington's goals in the Arab Republic were not limited to thwarting the terror threat.
At the beginning of Trump's term, the US had 3 cards to play to influence the Syria endgame:— Colin Kahl (@ColinKahl) December 19, 2018
—Aid to the opposition
—Conditional reconstruction assistance
—Troops & allies controlling 1/3 of the country & key oil/gas resources
Trump has now given them all away for...nothing.
In contrast, the former national security adviser hailed Biden's plan to preserve limited military contingents in the Middle East and Afghanistan.
However, according to Kadi, the situation on the ground in the Middle East and beyond has changed dramatically over the past few years. Besides this, Syria is no longer a crumbling state like it was five years ago.
"If [Kahl] really wants to have 'progressive engagement' with the Syrian people, he should then support the idea of withdrawing from Syria unconditionally because America simply has no business in Syria or legitimacy for its presence", he stresses.
Let's Not Jump the Gun, Withdrawal May Still be on Trump's Table
Touching upon Trump's failure to pull out from the Arab Republic, the analyst refers to some Pentagon officials deliberately misleading President Trump about the actual size of the US military contingent on the ground and covertly disrupting his strategy.
Jim Jeffrey, outgoing US special representative for Syria and special presidential envoy for the Western coalition against Daesh (ISIS),* told Defense One on 12 November how they tricked the president while maintaining the US military presence in the region.
That does not mean, however, that that's how the story ends, says Kadi adding that the 2020 US election is not over yet.
"Let us not jump the gun", the Mideast expert says. "The official results of the US presidential elections are still to be known. Furthermore, it has been touted that in preparation for an outcome that declares Trump a loser, he is possibly pulling the carpet from underneath Biden's feet and planning to withdraw American troops from a number of overseas posts including Syria".
Last Monday, Trump sacked Secretary of Defence Mark Esper, replacing him with National Counterterrorism Centre Director Christopher Miller. Top White House counterterrorism official Kash Patel, who was reportedly dispatched to Damascus earlier this year at Trump's behest, was appointed as chief of staff to the acting head of the DoD.
Miller, who is known as an advocate of ending America's overseas wars, recently wrote a letter to all Pentagon employees: "We met the challenge; we gave it our all. Now, it's time to come home", the acting US defence secretary stated, falling short, however, of providing any specific schedule.
*The Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda, and Daesh (ISIS/ISIL) are terrorist organisations banned in Russia and many other countries.