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The upcoming US presidency: A dispassionate analysis of US-Gulf relations

Published: Updated:

Citizens worldwide are currently on the edge of their seats in anticipation of who Americans will pick as their next president on November 3, in three days, provided that all matters run smoothly. This keen interest has generated heavy media coverage of the 2020 increasingly heated presidential race.

Everyone is waiting to see which candidate is going to take office, whether it is the current President Donald Trump, or Joe Biden the veteran politician. This global interest in the next occupant of the White House is understandable given the current extraordinary events and given America's dominance and its impact on global matters.

Read more: What should we expect if Biden is elected president?

The United States of America is the land of dreams, opportunities, freedoms, and democracy. Despite everything, it remains a state governed by the rule of law and respect for institutions, even if we witness certain imperfections, defects, missteps, disputes, or indicators of insecurity or violence appear from time to time, as it goes by the rule "what is right shall always prevail."

Some predict that a new president is bound to bring substantial change, which will surely have an impact on our region. For this reason, we see many analysts trying to closely decipher the contents of all speeches, and statements made by both presidential candidates to figure out their positions and future policies. While this may be commendable, I believe that this interest is highly exaggerated and entails that the candidates have far greater influence than what is true.

It is no secret that candidates' speeches and statements during the election campaign and rallies are formulated precisely to sway voters and bring in more votes. As for actual policies, they are drawn based on common interests and international influences. These policies are determined by experts and specialized advisors and they may differ entirely from the candidates’ campaign promises. We simply cannot predict the winning candidate by looking at their performance in a televised debate or by looking at the polls.

The constant change in American leadership does not necessarily mean that there will be dramatic or drastic changes in its foreign policy. New faces may come and go; however, the strategy and determinants of foreign policy mostly remain unaffected by the winning candidate or party. The only difference we might witness is merely a shift in certain priorities and approaches, since both parties aim to serve America’s vital interests.

Nonetheless, we cannot underestimate the influence US presidents have, especially in terms of highlighting certain issues.

Historically and theoretically, we know that Democrats tend to be idealistic in achieving their goals; for instance, they respect the legitimacy and principles of international law, they favor resolving conflicts by peaceful means without resorting to armament and militarization, and they also pay attention to issues related to the environment, climate and human rights.

Meanwhile, the Republican Party is known for being more pragmatic in its approach to preserving national interests and achieve its goals by any means. Republicans believe in relying on their military force to protect their vital interests, and they hold great interest in the oil industry.

Read more: Most Palestinians don’t see a Joe Biden presidency as positive: Palestine poll

It is important to note that these roles and approaches did not remain the same after Obama assumed office as the first African American president in the history of the United States. The Obama era brought along radical changes and a reversal of these values, and we have seen him set a new course for the Democratic Party aligned with his convictions and ideas.

This unprecedented shift created a state of confusion among the allies of the United States, especially in our region. This period in US history is reminiscent of the British Empire’s demise after it lost its international dominance. It was a rough period in US history, and we have seen Washington’s influence decrease significantly in the region. Obama’s term has ended, yet many remain fearful that a Biden presidency promises the same approach of the Obama era. It is difficult for us to forget Obama’s blatant support of Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood as if he was rewarding them for supporting terrorism.

Fortunately, Trump assumed office after him, and he succeeded in restoring America’s influence, and Iran’s aspirations were scaled down. Trump’s administration succeeded in standing up to countries that openly support terrorism, and withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal concluded by Obama in 2015, and assassinated the Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, who is responsible for most terrorist threats in the region.

Aside from personal preferences, our interest in the US elections should remain objective. There is no use in overwhelming ourselves with certain complexities like poll numbers, and the difference between the popular vote and electoral vote, not to mention the possibility of suspending the results in order to settle the judicial dispute that may arise.

Allow me to highlight the fact that our relationship with the White House is not guaranteed to remain amicable if Trump wins the presidency, and at the same time, if Biden wins (as predicted by the polls), this does not mean that US-Gulf relations will witness a negative shift or sudden deterioration, because this is not how matters are handled. Let us remember that we are talking about major institutional interests and intertwining relations between these countries. Many seem to lack a certain depth in their analysis of the situation, failing to understand the complexities of politics.

Saudi Arabia and the United States have managed to overcome many periods of tension, stagnation, and difficult crises, regardless of who resided in the White House, since the fact remains that it is unreasonable for the two countries to jeopardized a strategic relationship that has lasted over eight decades. What is new about it is that it no longer waits for signs of goodwill or public relations, but rather directed its attention towards establishing joint and sustainable institutional work to achieve common goals.

Both sides have devoted great efforts in the past three years, especially after Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman pushed for reformulating Saudi-US relations and rearranging priorities. The keyword that helped save this relationship had been ‘pragmatic mutual interests.’ This however doesn’t change the fact the Gulf States can impose certain pressures to correct the course of this relationship in case of any drawbacks. Nevertheless, we must remember that America today is no longer what it was, and we must be prepared.

Our main concern should not be whether Trump remains president, or if Biden takes over. We should be asking ourselves who is capable of fulfilling our demands and serving our interests more effectively. Donald Trump, despite his temperament and unpredictability, promises strong US relations with the Gulf states. He will also work on curbing terrorism and confronting the threat of Iranian expansion. We also expect the US to put an end to Turkey’s brutal influence on Arab territories.

As for a Biden presidency, it seems to be the less favorable option for people in the Gulf region since he is assumed to bring back Obama’s policies that did not serve the region, and because he does not seem to fully understand the gravity of the changes that happened in the region. Regardless of his personal positions, it’s important to note that Biden is aware that he has obligations and duties to serve the best interests of his country, which means that it will be our duty to introduce him to the reality of the dangers surrounding our region. Either way, regardless of the merits and disadvantages of both candidates, Gulf states are well-equipped to handle whoever wins and deal with him as a head of state.

Finally, let us understand that what Gulf states truly want from the next president is a well-thought-out American policy that fully understands the dangers and challenges facing their region, whether in terms of Iranian expansionist terrorism or Erdogan’s hostile rhetoric and policy. The main concern here is providing solid support to ensure the security of our region, which means sticking to Trump’s current policies and avoiding the major missteps of the Obama era.

It is safe to say that ensuring the stability and security of the Gulf region is considered a strategic necessity that undoubtedly serves US interests. Any threats to the Gulf are guaranteed to impact the stability of the global economy. Therefore, putting an end to Iranian and Turkish hostility is a fundamental requirement, and turning a blind eye to their practices means more tensions, clashes and chaos in the region.

This article was originally published in, and translated from, Saudi Arabian outlet Asharq Al-Awsat.

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