19 October 2020

The US presidential elections and the lack of interest on the Middle East

Sergiu Medar

As it comes out from the public presentations of the two candidates at the US presidency, there are huge differences between Trump and Biden, especially in terms of the foreign policy. The “America First” principle, promoted by Trump, led to the US’s isolation and a colder relation with its allies. Using that in the electoral campaign will not have the same success. As for the geostrategic interests, one may notice, for both camps, the same lack of interest for the Middle East, which leads to the idea that the US policy in the area will not suffer huge changes regardless of who wins.

Image source: Profimedia

The November 3rd 2020 is a moment to influence the political, economic, domestic and foreign security situation of world’s states. Regardless of the state, the relation with the US is dominating the national security strategies of the countries. Therefore, the main concerns of world states’ political analysts is monitoring the development of the electoral campaign to identify the political, security, economic and social intentions of  the two candidates if they would win the elections. These states are making early warning studies and simulations on how the situation would develop in their region and in their states.

As for the US’s foreign policy, there is a huge difference between Trump and Biden’s options. These differences are not that huge, however, in the Middle East, comparing to other geostrategic areas.

Always, the interest areas regarding the natural mineral resources or hydrocarbon were conflicting areas. Here, we can mention the political and security situation in the Middle East whereat, lately, we can also add the Eastern Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea.

Considering that for the US the main strategic threat is the big powers competition, the mineral and hydrocarbon resources are no longer that interesting as they were 10 years ago. The US is no longer majorly interested in resources, but in the destination of those resources and how they influence the other states it is competing with: China, Russia and the EU (economically speaking).

Following the positions of the two candidates, Donald Trump, representing the Republican Party, and Joseph Biden, the Democratic Party, the analysts could identify the possible development of the US policy on the mentioned regions and, hereof, the decisions to be taken in the future.

There are only weeks until the elections and Biden already has a 10% advantage over Trump. The American electoral systems, however, does not completely follow the popular vote result. It happened also in 2016, when Trump was elected president by the electors, although Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. Hereof Biden’s advance cannot be decisive now.

Regardless of the Administration, which will lead the White House, be it republican or democratic, its objectives on Middle East (ME) will be similar, including: blocking Iran’s nuclear program, solving the conflict between Israel and Palestine, consolidating the support for the Gulf allies, but also for Egypt and West Bank, balancing the situation in Libya and Iraq, preventing the creation of a possible Russia-Syria and Iran alliance. All these objectives are strategically important but also similar for the two candidates. The difference is the way they approach their accomplishment.

If Trump wins the elections, he will keep an increasingly distant policy towards the Middle East, along with aggressive messages and actions over Iran. Biden, who has more experience in the area, as he was also a member of the US Senate and vice-president of the United States during the Obama Administration, would come with a better foreign policy in the region.

Iran will continue to be the main US enemy in the region, regardless of the winner of the elections. Two reasons for the possible position of the future US Administration are: 1) the US withdrawal, in May 2018, from the Nuclear Treaty with Iran, signed during the mandate of the former president, Obama, in 2015 and 2) the imposition of US economic sanctions on Iran and its business partners. As a response to such a measure, Iran stated that it will not follow any agreements or restrictions in terms of the nuclear material it will produce. After this aggressive American policy, Iran attacked a series of oil facilities in Saudi Arabia, US’s ally, followed by the assassination of the Iranian military leader, Qassem Soleimani, following Trump’s orders. Then, Iran launched missile attacks on the US military bases in Iraq.

Aiming at reaching the same objectives, Biden, if he becomes the White House’s leader, will seek the reactivation of the Nuclear Treaty and the negotiations with Tehran.

Both presidency candidates have stated, during their electoral campaign, that they want to bring the American military home. The current president was contradicted, on this topic, by Pentagon’s military officials who stated that they did not met, yet, the conditions to create a stable area in the regions the American troops are dislocated. Trump has offended the military leaders accusing them for supporting the armament companies’ businesses and extending the war.

As for the participation of the US troops to Afghanistan’s operations we must mention that the Obama Administration reduced the number of troops dislocated with almost 8.500 military, in 2015. In the first year of the Trump Administration, there were withdrawn almost 14.000 military and, in September 2019, this number decreased with another 5.000.

In Iraq, the withdrawal of the US troops was even more hastened. If between 2003 and 2011 there were 150.000 military of the US in Iraq, now there are only 6.000.

Biden has a whole different strategy on the US troops’ military intervention, as he supports it in some parts of the globe, but criticizes it in other parts. Alike Trump, he thinks that the US cannot longer solve all the conflicts on the globe. Also, he thinks that the withdrawal of the American forces from a region must be done responsibly, by making sure that the situation does not meet a reversible process and that the price paid in human loses and money will not be useless. Biden, unlike Trump, has stated that he will not totally withdraw the US troops from Middle East, but he will leave there some forces able to face Al-Qaida or ISIL attacks.

The biggest success of the Trump Administration was, undoubtedly, signing the Abraham Agreements in Washington, between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. The moment was chosen carefully, just a few months before the elections, creating a huge political advantage for the current president. Although he got huge media support, the event was almost ignore by the voters, given their major concern on the SARS CoV-2 pandemic.

Regardless of the candidate who wins the elections, Israel will continue to get support from Washington, just like during Trump’s mandate, and Washington’s relations with Israel will continue to be a major security concern for the US. Here, where Netanyahu’s plan to recover 30% of the West Bank’s territories, the ones to lose something will be the Palestinians. During the current administration, Washington recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved its embassy here.

If Biden will be the new president, he will not move the US embassy to Tel Aviv again, and Jerusalem will not become Palestinians’ capital, as they wish. The only thing he might do would be to postpone the transfer of territories from West Bank to Israel. This is how Biden, who supports the solution of two states, will have to follow Trump’s approaches in the relation with Israel.

As for Syria, this is what Trump considers “a land of sand and death”, proving his lack of consideration on this country and the lack of compassion on its people. Hereof, he let other states decide the faith of this state: Russia, Turkey and Iran. Id Biden wins the White House position, he will not change that much here. The US encouraged Syria’s current allies to provide country’s security, therefore a change for the situation in Syria favoring the US is impossible. Most likely, regardless of the winner of the elections, the lack of interest of the US on Syria and Lebanon will continue.

As for the US relations’ with Saudi Arabia, the UAR and Egypt, its position on these countries will not change that much, no matter if the administration will be republican or democratic. We must mention here that a possible colder relation with Saudi Arabia might happen if Biden wins the elections. The mentioned states, as well as the Gulf states and the other countries close to the Suez Canal have taken advantage on Trump’s trade policy and only saw the relation with the US through economic lenses.

The analysis of the two candidates’ attitude on Middle East does not reveal the same US interest on this region, like 10 or 12 years ago. In fact, Washington’s immediate interest in the foreign policy field is, for an undetermined period of time, solving the problems provoked by the novel coronavirus pandemic and, hereafter, the US’s geostrategic priorities are directed towards Europe, the Indo-Pacific area and Latin America, and Middle East is only the fourth US priority on the foreign plan.

Translated by Andreea Soare