The day after tomorrow
The US Presidential elections are almost over and we have a new President-elect. The democratically elected head of state promises to be the President for all 331 million Americans, but the rest of the world, 6.6 billion people will be affected by his decisions. Joseph R. Biden Jr. at 78 is the oldest elected US President, will be the only Roman catholic to occupy the office after John F Kennedy, the youngest to hold that office. His Vice President elect, Kamala Harris, is the first woman Vice President and has a good chance of inheriting the Presidency.
Another US presidential election is almost over, we still expect drama and the suspense of a Trump exit and there are strong apprehensions that there will be Trump fireworks in the next 11 weeks before the inauguration of President-elect Biden and Vice-President-elect Harris. The 2020 election was the most expensive in history and with a $14 billion USD price tag, over 140 million US voters elected the oldest person in US history who will take the oath on the 20th Jan 2021 with the first female Vice President. The world seems to the relieved that the Trump era is over and we seem to be just waiting for peace, harmony tolerance and love to take over world-wide from the 21st of January 2021.
What we ignore is the fact that the 140 million Americans have voted for the President of the United States and he has promised to be the President for all Americans, not all citizens of the world. What is normally good for America is not necessarily good for the rest of the world, it remains to be seen how much President-elect Biden is able to heal America.
Obviously Biden is not the President-elect of the other 6.6 billion citizens of the world who end up bearing the brunt of America’s electoral choices for the next four years much like the Roman empire bore the brunt of the choices of the Roman senate, with no say in the matter. While COVID 19 will be top at the President elect’s list of priorities, economic revival wont be far behind. America’s economy is closely tied to its position as the world’s only super power, so foreign policy will be an important part of this revival. As Tom Huntington once said, McDonnell Douglas is quickly followed by McDonalds, such is the nature of the US doctrine of globalisation.
One of Trump’s greatest achievements abroad was the recognition of Israel by the UAE, quickly followed by Bahrain and almost by Sudan, effectively breaking the Arab embargo of Israel. His controversial un-questioning support of Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman(MbS) of Saudi Arabia had led to speculation that in the case of a Trump re-election Saudi Arabia would have recognised Israel, changing the dynamics of the Middle East as well as global politics forever.
The (new) Middle East
Now with President-elect Biden, he has stated that he intends to re-enter the Iran deal which was the Obama administration’s legacy, weakening the need (and support) for any formal Israel-UAE (Saudi) alliance. Supporting the Iran deal while providing strong support to create a regional counter balance for the Iran-Qatar-Turkey alliance is not possible and President-elect Biden will have to make a tough choice. Biden will try and revive the Obama legacy with Iran, weakening the new found appetite for Israel in the Arab and Muslim world, bringing the US role to the fore as the global policeman in the middle east. Biden will most certainly be tougher with MbS, whose appeal and strength in Saudi was based on his strong relationship with the Trump White House. In turn this will regionally weaken Mohamed bin Zayed, the de-facto ruler of the United Arab Emirates, who is considered MbS’s mentor. A revival of the Obama-Iran deal will sow more discord in Iraq, requiring more US troops to secure the country while Iran’s proxies in Iraq will demand a larger share of the pie, sparking larger sectarian strife.
Israel and Palestine
Trumps “take it or leave it” attitude with the Palestinians will also be reversed by Biden who will want to engage more on the two state solution. While the UAE was already planning to push old Oslo hand Mohamed Dahlan, a close ally of Abu Dhabi, as a potential replacement candidate for Mohamed Abbas, the current “President for life”, a new younger more pragmatic leadership is necessary to solve the issue with broad based acceptance of the Palestinian society.
The UAE umbrella would solve several security issues for Israel and the region, with the UAE potentially taking joint responsibility for a new State of Palestine’s borders along with Israel for a fixed number of years.
The Israel-UAE peace deal could be the umbrella for a quick resolution for the Palestinian question as long as the old, corrupt guard retires and a real representative leader who can represent all Palestinian factions, from the Hamas to the PLO negotiates with Israel, the UAE, the US and Russia. Any such names who enjoy broad based support in Palestine are very unpopular in Jerusalem, Abu Dhabi and Washington and hence a Biden administration will probably continue with the same old approach of the quartet haggling on the same old issues with the same old guard while Israeli’s and Palestinians pay the price for the political constipation.
Due to Biden’s age (78 at inauguration) and his health issues, all eyes will be on Kamala Harris, who will be his replacement incase President Biden will have to retire or worse, during his term. The Vice-President elect is not bound by the Obama legacy and is already the front-runner for 2024, it would be interesting to see if President Biden empowers her along with a potential running mate, such as Susan Rice, a potential candidate for Secratory of State, to run foreign policy.
Russia’s silence over the Presidential elections in the US and rumors of Putin being struck with Parkinsons’ disease create a little relief in the United States, but with President Putin potentially preparing to step down or dilute his power, creates more uncertainly on the Russian front. Russia has been a player in the middle east in all the hot spots such as Syria, Palestine, Iraq. It has also reigned in Iran and Iran’s proxy, the hezbollah. A weak Russia may mean less support to Russia’s client states, predicting chaos. It is important that the President-elect works with Putin to ensure a more distributed power structure in Moscow and more peaceful tones.
Biden’s biggest concern should be China. Over 1/3rd of the world’s 7 billion people live in the India-China-Pakistan belt and they are headed for a conflict. China has taken advantage of the pandemic and is aggressively pursuing economic and military power which include muscling on 300 sq. kms of Indian territory. The new alliance of China-Pakistan-Iran-Qatar and Turkey creates a huge terrestrial challenge for the region.
With the completion of the Gilgit-Baltistan highways and the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, China has the ability to move troops and equipment by land to Turkey. That complied with Turkey’s aggression and expansion in the Mediterranean, China’s recent acquisition of ports in Italy (Trieste and Taranto) and plans to build a port in Algeria puts teeth into President Xi’s terrestrial Silk route as well as Maritime “string of pearls”.
While Biden was the India-champion in the Obama team it remains to be seen how Harris’s potential hostility to the Modi government will translate into policy in the Indo-Pacific. The recently signed BECA and the renewal of the US, India, Japan and Australia “Quad”, to keep China under check in the South China seas and Indo Pacific, are going to be implemented under the new administration. Half-tamilian Harris isn’t a fan of the BJP and while her pride in her Indian origins may provide India some advantage, the personal emotional engagement may not be as positive for India in the long run. We can hope that the $16 billion USD investment made by Google, Facebook and Microsoft in India recently will be incentive enough for the former State Attorney of California to keep the flag of her maternal country flying high.
Biden’s chief headache will be keeping China in check, something the Obama team was not very successful in doing. The EU will follow the US lead on China and in the post COVID world strong measures will be needed to make China accountable and control its economic, military and political expansion which is what will decide who will be the global economic leader in 2025, China or the US.
Trump has blown holes into the US’s most meaningful alliance globally, NATO and Biden inherits a very belligerent Erdogan. With the lira at an all time low, the Turkish President with his ally, the Pakistani Prime Minister have dreams of revitalising Turkey’s Ottoman glory. Turkey has taken over coast guard training in libya, controls Mali )and its gold and uranium mines) and is the most influential power in Somalia. Erdogan now controls the achilles heel of all european governments, illegal immigration. If the clandestine migrants increase, power changes hands in Europe and governments fall. Turkey’s support to Islamic extremist movements from India to Libya is now well documented as well as its blackmail of European powers and NATO. A strong, democratic secular Turkey is essential and to start undoing foreign policy damage done under Obama, Biden needs to start from Turkey which is the key to solving Syria and Libya.
The conflict in Libya has now destabilised the entire SAHEL region and has wreaked havoc on European security. The first lone wolf attack in France by an illegal immigrant who landed in Lampedusa has opened the flood gates of fears which security analysts have been warning for years. Turkish intelligence and mercenary forces personally loyal to Erdogan now control the regime in Mali, have significant influence in Tripoli and now formally control the Italian funded Libyan coast guard makes the situation more complex given the exchange of rhetoric between European leaders and Erdogan who is trying to claim the leadership of the global Islamic community and revive the Ottoman Caliphate.
The Vatican has recently gone through various changes and while it is a small city state, it has strong effect on the lives of Catholics worldwide. The current Pope who grew up in Peronist Argentina has tried unsuccessfully in reforming the city state as well as its attitude to catholics worldwide, with scant success. An unstable Vatican where far right doctrinal forces have challenged the Pope’s authority, encourages the far right nationalistic fringe in Europe. The church has had a violent public spat with the US on China during the Trump administration. A stable Vatican is more conducive to centre right governments in Italy and the rest of the old continent. As a Roman catholic, President-elect Biden’s inspiration may be of great assistance to the holy father. It is historic that the President-elect is the second Roman catholic in history of the US to be elected to the Presidency after Kennedy.
Venezuela has been forgotten and ignored with the crashing of oil prices. With opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez leaving the Spanish Embassy in Venezuela for security reasons weeks before the US presidential elections, Venezuela has now become a danger for the entire neighbourhood and the world. Between drug cartels, revolutionary organisations such as the FARC and non state actors like the Hezbollah, Maduro has become the new patron saint of all lost causes. US sanctions have only succeeded in impoverishing the nation and driving people to desperation and the hope of a more lenient US immigration policy under Biden may lead to a surge of migrants from Venezuela to surrounding countries en-route to the US. Venezuela also strengthens key ally Iran whose proxy Hezbollah has evolved into a criminal state of its own which has been battle hardened in Yemen and Syria.
The biggest non-state actor that the new administration needs to deal with is the Hezbollah. Its reach is transversal from Venezuela to Hong Kong where its supporters manage to insert themselves into local Lebanese communities, by force or persuasion. The failed state in Venezuela and political turmoil throughout sub-saharan africa create a perfect environment where Hezbollah raises revenue and gold for the Iranian government. Illegal gold mining and drug transport across Latin America to Europe and the East, antiques trade from plunder in Yemen and Iraq, it is said Hezbollah has a finger in every pie. It also has converted loyalties in the Sunni belt in North Nigeria and Niger using its vast funds for social support.
In a way the Hezbollah is more dangerous than Iran whose position as a sovereign state binds it by treaties and international commitments, Hezbollah is an organisation with a far smaller public footprint in Lebanon and the criminal/extremist fringe is far more powerful. One day soon, specially if Iran were to make peace with the west, the invention might turn on the inventor and everyone else.
Wth criminal connections in the Italian, Russian and Nigerian mobs as well as a strong base in Venezuela giving it business relations with the FARC, the world will become a far more dangerous place if Hezbollah, elements in the Turkish extreme right team up to combat a new middle east.
And this is just what starts Monday morning, the day after tomorrow, on the 21st Jan 2020 for President elect Biden.