Jan 19th 2021

After Bush, Obama, and Trump: What Biden Can Do

by James J. Zogby

Dr. James J. Zogby is the President of the Arab American Institute

 

In January 2017, ​the Middle East that Donald Trump inherited from his predecessors was mostly in tatters. Daesh was in control of large swaths of Iraq and Syria. Civil wars were raging in Yemen and Libya. Iran and Turkey, each dreaming of becoming regional hegemons, were meddling in conflicts across the Middle East. And Israel, feeling no restraint, was continuing to oppress Palestinians and consolidating its control over the West Bank.

Other than continuing the effort launched by President Obama to defeat Daesh, instead of reversing the other negative regional dynamics​, the Trump Administration pursued a series of short-sighted piecemeal policies. And instead of attempting to play a leadership role in reducing tensions and resolving conflicts​ the US became a participant in many of them, causing them to grow more intense.

​Today, Daesh in Iraq and Syria may ​be dismantled, but deep sectarian tensions remain pronounced in both countries and extremist groups continue to present a danger. The wars in Syria, Yemen, and Libya have become internationalized with the engagement of multiple regional and global actors lining up on competing sides of each of these conflicts. 

Iran, though severely weakened by the Coronavirus pandemic and the severity of US sanctions​, ​and embittered by the US withdrawal from the nuclear deal, continues to wreck regional havoc. Turkey and its ally​, Qatar​, have come play an increasingly dangerous role in supporting politicized Sunni groups especially, but not exclusively, in Syria, Palestine, and Libya. And now new regional anti-Iran alliances are forming between Israel and Sunni states.

Israel, emboldened by the Trump Administration’s carte blanche, has felt free to strike Iranian and pro-Iranian targets in Syria, Lebanon, and even in Iran itself. It also aggressively expanded its colonial presence in the West Bank, making the once dreamed of Palestinian State almost impossible to imagine. And the Palestinian leadership​, reduced to a dependency on the whims of the occupier and deeply divided between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority​, has been incapable of projecting a strategy leading to liberation. As a result, the region’s attention has turned elsewhere.

This is where we are as we enter the century’s third decade – still paying the price of the disastrous consequences of Bush’s devastating Iraq war and the inability of the Obama and Trump Administrations to undo the damage. Added to this is the impact of the pandemic on the people of the Middle East and the incapacity of the weaker states of the region to deal with the continuing spread of the novel Coronavirus.

As the incoming Biden Administration begins to ​map out its approach to this region, several things should be clear. The first is that it is not possible to simply return to the status quo ante - resurrecting the nuclear deal, as it was, or restarting Israel-Palestinian peace talks. Consideration must be given to the new realities that now exist across the region and lessons must be learned from past failures.

It is also important to acknowledge that the US, while retaining significant strengths and resources, no longer has the dominant leadership role it possessed just two decades ago. And finally, it is critical to recognize that it is not possible to pick around the edges and deal with issues piecemeal. Everything is connected. All of the region’s players are engaged, in varying combinations, in ​each of the region’s upheavals. What is happening across the Middle East may not be of the magnitude of the two wars that ravaged Europe in the last century, but it is time we addressed ​these connected conflicts across the Middle East as the equivalent of a world war.

This being the case, if the US is to play any constructive role, it would be best to begin carefully by building a broad international effort that lays the groundwork for a comprehensive approach to resolving the connected crises that are currently tearing apart the Middle East. The immediate goal of this effort would be the convening of an all-party international peace conference under the auspices of the United Nations.

The main agenda item for this conference would be the creation of a regional framework – like the OSCE – that would provide all states a platform for dialogue to discuss regional security guarantees coupled with commitments to non-intervention and non-aggression. It would also lay the groundwork for regional trade and investment that would help to advance greater economic integration and prosperity.

The international conference would of necessity break out into working groups in which all relevant participants would address the region’s issues of concern. For example, there would need to be focused discussions on the Israel-Palestinian conflict, the wars raging in Syria, Yemen, and Libya, the elimination of weapons of mass destruction, and the role played by sectarian religious extremism.

Such an approach will no doubt be difficult and quickly rejected by hardliners in some countries. But it holds advantages over the alternatives. Since each of these conflicts involve competing regional players, working piecemeal by addressing each of them as if they are merely products of local unrest will continue be a dead end. Such a comprehensive approach taken by the P5+1 countries would a far better use of their combined strength and influence then just focusing on one problem. And promoting a vision of a peaceful Middle East that is so compelling that people can see the possibilities of a promising future may be the approach that will inspire the region’s leaders and opinion shapers to demand a change in course from the current downward spiral.  

What our polling tells us is that what the peoples of Middle East want is regional unity and investment in the future that can bring peace and prosperity. They’ve had enough of war and want​ stable employment, education, health care, and better future for their children. It’s time we start listening to them.

 

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Mar 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Massive fiscal and monetary stimulus programs in the United States and other advanced economies are fueling a raging debate about whether higher inflation could be just around the corner. Ten-year US Treasury yields and mortgage rates are already climbing in anticipation that the US Federal Reserve – the de facto global central bank – will be forced to hike rates, potentially bursting asset-price bubbles around the world. But while markets are probably overstating short-term inflation risks for 2021, they do not yet fully appreciate the longer-term dangers."
Feb 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "To be sure, calls to “build back better” from the pandemic imply some awareness of the need for systemic change. But the transformation we need extends beyond constructing modern infrastructure or unlocking private investment in any one country. We need to re-orient – indeed, re-invent – global politics, so that countries can cooperate far more effectively in creating a better world."
Feb 23rd 2021
EXTRACT: "So, notwithstanding the predictable release of pent-up demand for consumer durables, face-to-face services show clear evidence – in terms of both consumer demand and employment – of permanent scarring. Consequently, with the snapback of pent-up demand for durables nearing its point of exhaustion, the recovery of the post-pandemic US economy is likely to fall well short of vaccine development’s “warp speed.” "
Feb 20th 2021
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Feb 20th 2021
Courtyard of the Amsterdam Stock Exchange, circa 1670, (Job Adriaenszoon Berckheyde).
Feb 12th 2021
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Feb 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Since Russians began protesting opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s imprisonment, the security forces have apparently had carte blanche to arrest demonstrators – and they have done so by the thousands. If Russians so much as honk their car horns in solidarity with the protesters, they risk personal repercussions. The official response to the protests goes beyond the Kremlin’s past repression. It is war."
Feb 6th 2021
EXTRACT: ".......like Biden, Roosevelt was certainly no revolutionary. His task was to save American capitalism. He was a repairer, a fixer. The New Deal was achieved not because of Roosevelt’s genius or heroism, but because enough people trusted him to act in good faith. That is precisely what people are expecting from Biden, too. He must save US democracy from the ravages of a political crisis. To do so, he must reestablish trust in the system. He has promised to make his country less polarized, and to restore civility and truth to political discourse. In this endeavor, his lack of charisma may turn out to be his greatest strength. For all that he lacks in grandeur, he makes up for by exuding an air of decency."
Feb 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "Europe must not lose sight of the long game, which inevitably will center on China, not Russia or relations with post-Brexit Britain. China is already establishing a presence in Iran, and demonstrating that it has the capital, know-how, and technology to project power and influence beyond its borders. Should it succeed in turning the Belt and Road Initiative into a line of geopolitical stepping-stones, it might soon emerge at Europe’s southeastern border in a form that no one in the EU foresaw."
Jan 29th 2021
EXTRACT: "One sign of this change is that, unlike all recent Democratic administrations, Biden’s hasn’t paid obeisance to Wall Street by giving bankers top jobs. The new Secretary of the Treasury, Janet Yellen, is a former Federal Reserve chair and academic who has made it clear that she understands the country’s pressing social needs. Moreover, Biden consulted Warren on her economic views, and has named a former Warren adviser as Yellen’s deputy. Yellen’s appointment demonstrates that Biden shares the insight that enabled Trump’s rise: that too many Americans feel that they cannot get a fair share. "
Jan 24th 2021
EXTRACT: "Barack Obama cautioned in his final speech as president that, “Our democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted.” Yet isn’t that exactly what America has been doing? In a decade punctuated by the global financial crisis, the COVID-19 crisis, a racial-justice crisis, an inequality crisis, and now a political crisis, we have only paid lip service to lofty democratic ideals. ... Sadly, this complacency has come at a time of growing fragility for the American experiment. Internet-enabled connectivity is dangerously amplifying an increasingly polarized national discourse in an era of mounting social and political instability. The resulting vulnerability was brought into painfully sharp focus on January 6. The stewardship of democracy is at grave risk. "
Jan 23rd 2021
EXTRACT: "To be sure, if cornered, any populist might resort to Trump’s endgame methods: trying to coerce elites into committing fraud to prevent a transfer of power, or deploying right-wing extremists on the ground to intimidate lawmakers. These desperate acts signaled Trump’s weakness. But it is important to note that most Republicans still did not disown Trump even when confronted with his blatant lawlessness on January 6. ... Other right-wing populists may well take notice of this fact. The recent events in the United States have shown that elites who are prepared to collaborate with authoritarians will tolerate quite a lot in the end. This ignominious precedent is especially likely to hold true in other countries where crony capitalism has implicated the business community in illegal behavior."    
Jan 21st 2021
EXTRACT: "May, a decent and honest woman, was far outdistanced by her successor and his colleagues in the Trump sycophancy stakes. In January 2017, Johnson’s senior fellow Brexiteer and principal ministerial fixer, Michael Gove (a former journalist with The Times newspaper), conducted an interview with then President-elect Trump that plumbed new depths of oleaginous toadyism. Gove wallowed in Trump’s endorsement of Brexit. It subsequently came to light that Gove’s then-employer, Rupert Murdoch, was in the room while the interview took place. And why not? The owner of Fox News as well as The Times was entitled to keep an eye on his two protégés."
Jan 21st 2021
EXTRACTS: "Does anyone really think that the vast majority of Republican legislators who could not bring themselves to object to the attempted coup at the Capitol — or any of the other outrageous antics Trump has unleashed on America for the past four years — will suddenly experience sleepless nights and pangs of conscience now that he is gone? Au contraire. This band of spineless, morally bankrupt congresspeople and senators are far more likely to follow Trump and carry Trumpism into the 2024 presidential election." ..... "A recent survey of Europeans revealed that the majority believe that America’s political system is hopelessly broken, that President Biden will be unable to halt its decline on the world stage, and that China will become the world’s leading power within a decade. What if they are right? America’s Trump-inspired death spiral has practically ensured any real recovery will likely take decades — and multiple terms with a Democratic president and Congress at the helm — to achieve."
Jan 19th 2021
EXTRACT: "What our polling tells us is that what the peoples of Middle East want is regional unity and investment in the future that can bring peace and prosperity. They’ve had enough of war and want ​stable employment, education, health care, and better future for their children. It’s time we start listening to them."
Jan 13th 2021
EXTRACT: "Trump intentionally and directly incited the insurrection of January 6. But he does not bear sole responsibility. Every one of his enablers, and the enablers of his enablers, is guilty. Fox Corp’s hidden backers, especially those who are so fond of touting their piety, must now ask themselves, as the Gospel of Mark instructs: What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? "
Jan 12th 2021
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Jan 11th 2021
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Jan 10th 2021
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