The low stakes of Biden’s visit to Cyprus show Obama’s failures in the post-Arab Spring world

The island's gas could open a new era of prosperity

Share

A US foreign policy announced with the bang of President Obama’s famous speech in Cairo is ending with the whimper of his vice-president tramping around Cyprus with his cheque book.

This week Joe Biden became the first senior American official to hit the island’s soil since Lyndon Johnson in 1962. It is reported that he was accompanied by more than 350 officials, joining the 400-strong security force already in the island. For a place this small, that seems rather a lot.

On touching down he hastened to insist that he had not come with a  peace plan for the former British colony, bitterly divided between the Turkish north and the Greek south since the Turkish invasion of 1974, “in my back pocket.” Nor did his arrival signal any change in Washington’s attitude to the status quo: like the rest of the world except Turkey, the US recognizes only “one legitimate government” in the island – the Greek one based in Nicosia.

His visit was facilitated by the improved relations with the US forged by the island’s conservative President Nicos Anastasiades, but the real novelty was not political but geological: following the discovery of large reserves of gas off the coast of Israel, another such find has been made in the island’s waters.

Mr Biden was not coy about the potential significance of these discoveries. Cyprus’s gas could open a new era of prosperity for the island. And it could solve Israel’s problem of how to get its own gas to market, surrounded as it is by hostile neighbours unlikely to be interested in helping out. Cyprus, said the vice-president, could become a new “global hub” for natural gas. And once that has come to pass, it will offer another route to the diversification of the west’s gas supplies, given the sharp deterioration of European relations with Russia, until now its main provider.

If Cyprus takes the bait, it will have political benefits for America, too. The island’s ties with Russia are strong. Even after the famous investor haircut of March last year, in which bank deposits of €100,000 and above were stung for big one-off levies as part of the price for an EU bailout, wealthy Russians still have billions stashed in the island’s banks. Sanctions against Russia for its annexation of Crimea could heavily impact the Cyprus economy. The US would like to sweeten that pill. A strong flow of gas could do the trick.

So Mr Biden’s visit makes perfect geopolitical sense. But nonetheless, in the context of other events around the world, there is something a little pathetic about it.

In June 2009, a few months after becoming president, Barrack Obama galvanised the gullible world with one of his most masterful rhetorical performances, a clarion call to democratically-inclined Muslims to shuck off tyrants such as the one ruling the country where he was speaking, Hosni Mubarak, while also eschewing the snake-oil of jihad. “I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims,” he declared. “America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition.”

It was an attempt to yoke the energy released by the explosions of what at the time was still being called ‘the Arab spring’. Only an American politician inspired by a kind of cosmic narcissism and wilfully blind to the loathing of the US created by the Afghan and Iraqi wars could have made that pitch. Five years on, it is clear that it has failed utterly.

Obama’s attempt to escape the Middle Eastern quagmire prompted the big idea of his second term, the pivot to Asia. But now, with their $400 billion gas deal signed this week, Russia and China have made it painfully clear that there will be no easy gains in Asia either. Hence Mr Biden’s Cyprus trip. The stakes are comfortably low. For a superpower in full retreat, it is a suitably modest gamble.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, RSPSS, R, AI, CPLEX, SQL)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Law Costs

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - This is a very unusual law c...

Junior VB.NET Application Developer (ASP.NET, SQL, Graduate)

£28000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior VB.NET ...

C# .NET Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, jQuery, XML, XLST)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Web De...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Scientists have discovered the perfect cheese for pizzas (it's mozzarella)  

Life of pie: Hard cheese for academics

Simmy Richman
The woman featured in the Better Together campaign's latest video  

Tea and no sympathy: The 'Better Together' campaign's mistake is to assume it knows how women think

Jane Merrick
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model of a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution