President Donald Trump has nearly two months left in office even as he refuses to concede. But America, as well as the world, is getting ready to make a transition into a post-Trump world. The question now is will his legacy endure, or will the world go back to a pre-Trump world?
There is no doubt that Trump’s unique style of governance in the past four years has changed the world as we know it. Trump has normalised his anti-establishment, populist approach to contentious and often divisive issues from climate change denial to his attack on globalisation, open borders among many others. On Iran, Trump has adopted a hard line position and according to news reports he has recently asked for options to launch a strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. The New York Times, which reported the story, said that he was dissuaded by top advisers from taking such a step in the final days of his administration.
Still Trump’s agenda is far from over. He is expected to issue an order to bring most US troops from Iraq and Afghanistan before the end of the year.
Trump may use the final weeks in office to take more unconventional decisions, without consulting with America’s allies. Some of these decisions may be rolled back by the incoming administration of Joe Biden, but others may not be. For our region the normalisation process between Israel and a number of Arab countries is likely to continue. Biden is likely to go by the traditional two-state solution but the Palestinian leadership needs to adjust to the new reality. It needs to engage the Biden administration and propose new ways to resume peace negotiations.
For that to happen, the Palestinians urgently need to put their house in order. That means concluding reconciliation and ending divisions. Unfortunately, the will to do that is lacking as Hamas and the Palestinian Authority (PA) continue to ignore previous agreements. The Biden administration could reverse some of Trump’s decisions, concerning UNRWA, aid to the PA and reopening the PLO’s office in Washington, but it is unlikely to make a breakthrough in resuming talks, at least not in the near future.
Likewise Iran will have to accept the fact that like Trump, the new administration wants to put additional conditions on Tehran especially with regard to its long-range missile program. The sanctions are unlikely to be rolled back immediately and the Iranian leadership must accept that its regional agenda has to be checked.
If Trump does go with his plan to pull out troops from Iraq and Afghanistan before the end of the year, the new administration is unlikely to overturn that decision. We can expect turmoil in both countries as a result. For Iraq, the US will continue to support the government but pressure will rise on Iraqi politicians to sever ties with Tehran. The forecast for Iraq is not completely pleasant.
A Biden presidency may not be good news from a number of countries like Turkey. But with the new administration focusing its efforts almost entirely on containing the pandemic, those regimes will have a temporary reprieve.
The Trump legacy both domestically and abroad will survive Trump himself. It was interesting to note French President Emanuel Macron’s recent statements regarding the future of Europe. In an interview this week Macron said the UN Security Council “no longer useful” and touted building “European autonomy.” Macron said: “We need to reinvent useful forms of cooperation — coalitions of projects and players — and we need to modernise our structures and create a level playing field for everyone. In order to do that, we also need to reconsider the terms of the relationship: I believe the second way forward is a strong and political Europe.”
Trump had downplayed America’s historical and strategic relationship with Europe. He was also critical of Nato, something that Macron appears to agree with as ties between Paris and Ankara, two main Nato members, sours over Libya and the Eastern Mediterranean. Trump also believed that America’s dependence on Middle Eastern oil was no longer a reality.
Away from some of the positions that Trump had taken on climate change and immigration, some of his achievements and predictions may yet survive him. A Biden presidency is unlikely to take the world back to a pre-Trump era. The region must not expect the US to go back to traditional foreign policy aspects. We should be prepared for all sorts of options including a toned down US role in the region.
Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.