Would Democrat Joe Biden be a better US president for this region than Donald Trump? A British public opinion survey conducted across the Arab world reveals that 39 per cent favoured Biden, while only 12 per cent backed Trump. When asked who would be better for the Arabs, nearly half said neither but Biden was regarded as a better option than Trump. Indeed, Biden could not be more destructive than Trump, who has radically changed US policy toward the Arab world for the worse.
The two men are very different. A political neophite, Trump’s nearly four years in office have been chaotic and unpredictable. A 40-year Washington veteran, Biden has shown himself to be organised and measured in his approach to policymaking. Trump is a reality television star and showman; Biden a politician who understands Washington.
Trump takes a businessman’s transactional approach to policy-making, demanding a personal quid pro quo for adopting a specific policy. Lacking background in foreign affairs and refusing to be briefed properly, Trump has never considered the consequences of his international initiatives and created consternation among Western allies, deepening rifts with antagonists and increased instability in this region.
During his 36 years in the Senate, Biden served three terms in the foreign relations committee. Biden’s eight years as vice president in the previous Obama administration has shown him how to operate in the executive branch of government as well as in the legislative branch. Presumably, Biden will be able to calculate the limits of US influence and the results, positive and negative, of adopting specific policies.
On two key regional issues, Trump and Biden are far apart. Trump has done his utmost to sideline the Palestinians on behalf of Israel by departing from the internationally accepted “two state solution” and embracing the plan for limited Palestinian autonomy proposed by his son-in-law Jared Kushner, a Zionist committed to the expansionist policies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, including the extension of Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley. Trump has defunded the UN agency caring for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) and all programmes benefitting Palestinians, and recognised Israeli sovereignty over occupied Jerusalem and the Syrian Golan Heights. Trump shifted the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Trump depends on the electoral support of pro-Israel white evangelical Christians and right-wing Republicans in the electorate and Congress, and campaign funding from wealthy Zionist businessmen.
As part of his pro-Israel stance, Trump withdrew from the 2015 Iranian nuclear accord and has imposed punitive sanctions against Iran and any country, firm, institution and individual linked to Iran and its regional allies, Lebanon’s Hizbollah and the Syrian government. His policies are having a cruel impact on Palestine, Iran, Lebanon and Syria, starving their governments of funds, undermining their economies and plunging their citizens into poverty.
Biden is likely to revert to the regional status quo before Trump upended the situation. While Biden vows continued strong US support for Israel, he does not have a cozy relationship with Netanyahu as does Trump. Consequently, the tie between Biden and the Israeli premier will be cooler and, hopefully, more pragmatic.
Biden has said he seeks to rebuild relations with the Palestinians. He supports the “two-state solution”, opposes Israel’s colonisation and annexation enterprise, and pledges to revive negotiations. He plans to resume contributions to UNRWA and aid to the Palestinian Authority and reopen the East Jerusalem consulate, which used to deal with the Palestinians until Trump shut it down. He has said he would also reopen the Palestinian diplomatic mission to the US. He is, however, unlikely to pressure Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians or agree to punish Israel economically if it goes ahead with plans for annexing portions of the West Bank.
He will refuse to be pushed to take a strong line with Israel by progresssives in his own party. In recent years, the Democratic Party has largely weaned itself from the US-Israel lobby and has adopted more independent policies toward the Palestinians. This will give Biden leeway to form policy and act. Seventy per cent of US Jews back the “two-state solution” and vote Democratic. Biden depends on their support on November 3rd.
As ex-President Barack Obama’s deputy, Biden was and remains committed to the Iran nuclear deal, calling for reducing that country’s nuclear programme in exchange for lifting sanctions. He has said he would return to the deal if Iran resumes compliance, particularly by disposing of most of a large stockpile of low-enriched uranium which exceeds limitations set by the deal. Once the US is back in the deal, Biden would try to negotiate with Iran on non-nuclear matters.
On other regional issues, Biden has had a chequered career. He opposed the 1991 US Iraq war, and supported the 2003 US Iraq war. As chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, he recruited witnesses who falsely claimed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein posed a threat to the US, possessed weapons of mass destruction and backed Al Qaeda. He eventually admitted he had made a “mistake” and regretted his support for that war but did not call for US withdrawal from Iraq. He also outraged Iraqis by proposing their country should be divided into three federal regions — Kurdish, Sunni and Shia — without imagining the upheaval this would cause, as it would legitimise ethnic and sectarian cleansing.
While proposal did not fly, Biden was given the job of overseeing the situation in US-occupied Iraq. He visited the country repeatedly until 2011 when the US formally withdrew its forces.
Biden supported the Nato-led intervention in Libya, which led to the fall and murder of that country’s leader Muammar Qadhafi and its collapse into civil conflict. After unrest erupted in Syria in 2011, Biden favoured arming vetted “rebel” fighters. In 2014, he criticised regional powers of pouring money into Syrian groups allied to Al Qaeda and Daesh with the aim of bringing down President Bashar Assad, whatever the consequences. This is clearly why Arab expectations of Biden are not high.
While he is leading in US opinion surveys, the race remains too close to call only days before the November 3rd election.