Joe Biden leaves no doubt that some things will change in American politics in the Middle East if he wins the November 3 presidential election. Unlike under the incumbent Donald Trump, America will no longer “turn its values over to the wardrobe to sell weapons or buy oil,” Biden said recently.
The warning was directed against Saudi Arabia, but also applies to other actors in the region. An overview of the top five areas in which the US elections could bring about big changes.
Trump is on a course of “maximum pressure” to bring the mullah regime to its knees. Encouraged by the American right and allies such as Israel and Saudi Arabia, Trump left the international nuclear deal with Iran two years ago.
He has since tried to get Tehran’s leadership to agree to stricter rules for Iran’s nuclear program and to reduce the country’s missile arsenal with ever-new sanctions. With the assassination of the senior Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in January, the US president also proved that he does not shy away from military violence.
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Biden wants to bring the US back to the nuclear deal if Tehran puts an end to treaty violations. He emphasizes that it is better to integrate the Islamic Republic into international relations to make the regime more predictable.
The conflict with Tehran – where Iran’s military is testing missiles – is one of the greatest challenges for US foreign policy. Photo: Reuters
Iran therefore hopes for a change of power in Washington. According to media reports, revolutionary leader Ali Khamenei has ordered pro-Iranian militias in neighboring Iraq to stop their attacks on US facilities so as not to give Trump an excuse for new military strikes.
An end to the tough US position would not be without political risk for Biden, as a new Iran policy would arouse suspicion among US hardliners and allies such as Israel and Saudi Arabia who support Trump’s course.
To Israel’s right-wing government, Donald Trump is something of an extraordinarily generous uncle from America. The national religious in the cabinet will probably even consider it a gift from God. Because the American president gave them everything they had always wanted.
The message of the superpower was symbolically moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. He had nothing to do with the settlement plans. And the “deal maker” made it clear to the Palestinians from the outset that no state could be made with him. Even more. Trump demonstratively ended financial donations to the Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas and withdrew the money from the UN aid agency for Palestine.
In addition, the republican forged an Arab-Jewish alliance and showed the Palestinians in such a way that they can no longer count on the advocacy of brothers and sisters in the region. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked Trump with applause and hymns.
A clear message: “Israel needs it a few more years” is stated on this poster in Tel Aviv.
The Palestinians, on the other hand, consider the day Trump entered the White House as one of the darkest in history. No wonder they had put all their hopes on Biden. In Ramallah, he is expected to be as accommodating as Barack Obama once did. He had repeatedly called for Netanyahu’s willingness to compromise, infuriating Israel’s prime minister.
But Biden will hardly be able to change the facts created by Trump. The Middle East conflict has long been frozen in the status quo. Israel can live with that: negotiate? With whom and especially for what? The Palestinians will hardly be able to turn back the wheel – no matter who rules the White House.
What if Trump comes back to the office? Then the Palestinians have only one thing left, their Prime Minister Mohamed Shtayyeh recently said: God help us.
One of the top questions for friends and opponents of the US for the Middle East is whether America’s withdrawal from the region will continue after a possible victory for Biden. Trump has promised his voters to withdraw US soldiers from countries such as Syria and Afghanistan.
Critics accuse him of creating a vacuum that can be filled by actors like Russia, Turkey or China – to long-term damage to the US and its partners in the region.
Ruler Bashar al Assad benefits from US withdrawal from Syria Photo: AFP
A more active US policy in Syria, Libya or in the dispute between Turkey and its Eastern Mediterranean neighbors under Biden could therefore help reduce Russia’s influence and give the whole region more stability, proponents of a change of course say .
“The US must be at the forefront of regional issues,” Alan Makovsky, a former Middle Eastern specialist with the US State Department, recently demanded at an online conference of the US think tank Pomed.
Makovsky also believes that the United States should put human rights at the center of its Middle East policy. Trump has proven several times over the years that other things are more important to him.
For example, after the murder of the Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi two years ago, he held his protective hand over the alleged mastermind of the violence, the Saudi heir to the throne, Mohammed bin Salman. US arms deliveries to the Gulf Monarchy continued despite the many civilian casualties of the war in Yemen.
Millions of people in Yemen need help – especially babies and children. Photo: Essa Ahmed / AFP
Biden wants to change that after an election victory. As president, he would review US relations with Saudi Arabia, he announced earlier this month on the second anniversary of Khashoggi’s assassination. He also wants to stop US arms supplies for the war in Yemen.
For Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, Biden’s victory would therefore have profound consequences, writes journalist Anthony Harwood in the British online newspaper ‘The Independent’: For the first time, the 34-year-old prince has mentioned the Common MBS. according to his initials, he can make it “without the unconditional support of the White House.”
Sword dance with the ally – Trump visited King Salman of Saudi Arabia in 2017 (2nd from left) Photo: Jonathan Ernst / Reuters
Harwood’s assessment touches on another important point that could change after the election. In Trump’s foreign policy, personal relationships with the US president are often more important than institutions and professionals.
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In the Middle East, this can be seen in the close relationship between Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and MBS. Politicians such as Netanyahu or Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan use the direct line to the president. The tougher and worse foreign leaders are, the better he gets along with them, Trump said, according to journalist Bob Woodward, referring to Erdogan.
A return to a more conventional foreign policy is expected from Biden. The line ministries in Washington and bodies like the National Security Council would have more influence on the superpower’s Middle East policy. Rulers like MBS or Erdogan would then have a much more difficult time influencing the American stance in their favor.