Between Trump and Biden, what changes for the Middle East?

The administrations pass, the alliances remain. And this is also true for the United States of America , where the outcome of the challenge between Donald Trump and Joe Biden in the presidential elections will generally end up having little impact on US foreign policy in certain areas of the planet, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa.

When, between the first and second world wars, the United States appeared in the Middle East as mediators and decision makers , the welcome of the local populations to the new international actor was all in all positive. The USA, apparently, was not among the colonial powers, France and Great Britain in the first place , which between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries had occupied, plundered and divided up the territories of the former Ottoman Empire.and, therefore, enjoyed a by now narrow credibility. Even in the Israeli-Palestinian question, which in the Thirties already denounced all the tensions destined to worsen in the following decades, the United States was seen as an ultimately reliable mediator. Suffice it to say that the concept of self-determination, very important for the peoples in the process of decolonization , was the son of the “Fourteen points” developed by American President Woodrow Wilsonat the end of the First World War. Evidently, the peoples of the Middle East did not imagine that the United States – apparently geographically distant – would soon adopt an imperial and globalized posture, in which the Arab East – nestled between the pro-American West, the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China – would become the center of the new stars and stripes geopolitical projection.

Thus, the trajectory of US policy in the Middle East has remained consistent over the decades, and will continue to be so with the Biden presidency or with a possible Trump bis. On a macroscopic level, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt will still be the iron allies in the area for Washington, while the strategic line to follow will continue to be that of Iranian containment. The possible differences, however, will be found in the details of the individual dossiers.

In the case of Israel and Palestine, for example, it is unthinkable that Biden will radically change the policy of American support for the Jewish state, which from Trump has obtained the transfer of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as well as normalization agreements with the United Arab Emirates. , Bahrain and Sudan. Nonetheless, Biden announced during an online fundraiser his intention to establish a consulate in East Jerusalem as a platform for diplomatic dialogue with the Palestinian National Authority (PA). The purpose of the operation is to restore the Palestinians, or at least their leadership, to the condition of returning to influence the negotiations. Trump, on the other hand, has chosen the option of totally bypassing the Palestinians, dialoguing directly with the local states which, in theory, support the parties.

The fact that a change of the guard in the White House would not constitute a trauma for Israel is testified by a curious exchange between Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu on the occasion of the new agreements with Sudan. The US president asks the interlocutor: «In your opinion, Sleepy Joe (derogatory nickname of Joe Biden, ed ) would have ever made this agreement? I do not think”. Bibi Netanyahu’s response was chilling: “President, I can tell you one thing: we appreciate the help for peace from everyone in America.”

Another dossier in which a possible Biden presidency could bring about changes is the Iranian one. The strategy of “maximum pressure”, inaugurated by Trump with the imposition of sanctions and with the unilateral exit from the nuclear agreement in 2018, does not seem to have achieved the goal of returning the Islamic Republic to the negotiating table by a position of weakness. It would not be surprising if Biden opted for a softer approach, without necessarily re-entering the path traced by the nuke deal agreed by Obama in 2015. This attitude could have significant implications even in the bloodiest regional crisis, the Syrian one. According to the National Interest trade magazine «Joe Biden is notHillary Clinton , and does not seem to have any interest in forcibly removing Assad or supplying US weapons to the jihadist-dominated anti-Assad opposition today. More likely that the Democratic exponent points to a policy of appeasement with the other actors involved in the dossier such as Russia, Turkey and Iran, with the goal – more pragmatic than political – of maintaining a US military garrison to monitor oil fields in the East of Syria and on the border with Iraq.

Last but not least, the Trump administration has created the maximum possible tension between the United States, the political Islam of the Muslim Brotherhood and – consequently – with the countries that support it most: Qatar and Turkey. In 2019, the New York Tycoon exerted great pressure for the Muslim Brotherhood to be included on the black list of terrorist organizations, like al-Qaeda , IS and PasdaranIranians. The Obama administration, on the contrary, was faced with the need to dialogue with the Ikhwan (the Arab name of the Brotherhood), when the parties affiliated to it had won the post-Arab spring elections in some countries of the area. This is the case in Egypt, where Mohammed Morsi’s Freedom and Justice party triumphed at the polls in 2012, only to be overthrown the following year by the coup that brought current President Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi to power .

In 2017, with the support of the USA, Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and allied countries, they launched the so-called Qatar ban , in order to isolate the powerful Gulf State and its emanations linked to political Islam. The Doha media today hope that “Biden will exert much stronger pressure on Saudi Arabia and the Emirates to end their blockade on Qatar” considering that the Trump administration “has recently intensified its diplomatic efforts to encourage a resolution, realizing that the conflict between two strategic allies, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, is not in the interest of the United States ”.

The possible detente between the two blocs of Sunni political Islam could also be a good card to play in the game with Turkey. The most militarily powerful state in NATO , after the USA, is in a dire economic condition due only in part to the Covid-19 pandemic. Recent frictions with Emmanuel Macron’s France – another member of the Atlantic Alliance – and Ankara’s periodic flirtations with Vladimir Putin’s Russia – such as the purchase of S-400 anti-aircraft systems – make Turkey one of the hardest knots to unravel for those who, after the presidential elections, will obtain the keys to the White House.


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