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We, Iran, and the Transitional Period in Washington

We, Iran, and the Transitional Period in Washington

Sunday, 6 December, 2020 - 05:15

Looking at how the situation is unfolding in the US, we must not expect a smooth transfer of power from President Donald Trump to President-elect Joe Biden, between now and January 20.

For a start, there are no signs that Trump is willing to recognize the result, let alone make things easier for his successor. Moreover, rightwing zealot “Trump activists” continue to back him, and go along with his rejection of defeat, and challenging the ‘swing states’’ vote in courts despite successive setbacks.

Trump was further emboldened by the US Supreme Court’s vote against banning crowds during religious occasions; a move by state governors to enforce distancing, in an attempt to quell Covid-19.

Indeed, it encourages him to intensify his defiance, and take his so-far unsubstantiated of vote rigging to that Court, where loyal rightwing conservative judges now form a comfortable majority, after Trump, himself, appointed three of them over the last four years.

Add to the above, Trump and his advisors and strategists realize that the Democrats did not perform well in the Congressional elections, where they failed – so far – to win the Senate, and lost several seats in the House of Representatives. This underlines the fact that Biden’s victory has not been a result of the popularity of the Democrats’ policy, but rather the dislike of Trump.

Still, from the opposite direction, there is a force gathering momentum, which sees no interests either for it or for the US, to allow uncertainty and confusion to drag on like this. It is a force which is worried that what is going on would damage the country’s political trust and its economic and financial wellbeing. Here, I mean the ‘business establishment’ with its global interests, investments, and strategies, which favors smooth transition, the acceptance of peaceful change, and rejects devastating economic instability.

Those major business leaders are the only people capable today of confronting the populist wave Trump rode in 2016, and became a hostage to its extreme policies and slogans. It is totally untrue that this extreme rightwing populist current can be confronted by an equivalent extreme leftwing current, for two main reasons:

1- Extreme left – if it ever existed in America – is tiny and ineffective, contrary to the rightwing propaganda of the ultra-conservative media led by the likes of Fox News, the New York Post and others.

2- What is being described as the ‘progressive left’ is deeply divided, and does not represent a broad or homogeneous grouping. A proof of that is the Democrats’ disappointing performance among Latino voters on whose support they were relying. Not only did they worsen in Florida when conservative Venezuelan refugees handed the state to the Republicans as they combined forces with old conservative Cuban refugees and immigrants; they also failed to win over the Mexican border area Latinos in Texas despite the ‘Wall’ issue.

The strategies and visions of macro-economic-based interests of the ‘business establishment’ differ markedly from those of the small business owners, tradesmen, professionals and minor contractors. The latter, who were attracted in the late 1970s and during the 1980s to Ronald Reagan’s populism and ‘patriotic’ Americanism, have become attracted again since 2016 to Donald Trump’s populism and ‘patriotic MAGA (Make America Great Again) Americanism’.

However, there are two major differences – one economic, the other strategic – between the two cases.

The economic difference is reflected in Reagan’s adoption of strident laissez faire ‘free market’ economic policies, ‘small government’, and mass privatizations; while Trump adopted clear protectionist and interventionist stances that run contrary to the philosophy and ethos of free market capitalism.

The strategic difference, on the other hand, touches on the US global position. During Reagan’s presidency and the global Bi-Polarity the major challenger of the US was the flabby Soviet Union, with its traditional command economy, inefficient public sector and uncompetitive industries. Today, however, after the collapse of the Communist ‘alternative’ and with the advance of globalization and high technology the situation is different. Now there is China, a huge rising and unburdened power, joining Japan and South Korea in invading the US market; which has, in turn, provoked Trump to resort to ‘self-defense’ strategy.

Gone are the Reaganomics’ days when Washington was crossing borders and bringing down ‘walls’, including the Berlin Wall, here is Trump’s Washington building a ‘wall’ along its Mexican borders to prevent immigrants coming in. Furthermore, after the days of Reagan’s long-arm and thick-stick diplomacy, withdrawing American troops from international hot spots is regarded by Trump as a victory of his isolationist ‘America First’ policies.

Be it as it may, what is important for us Arabs is what the ‘transition period’ between now and January 20 brings to us and to the Middle East. What can be said is the following:

First; there are no signs that Trump is willing to cooperate and make the transition a smooth one; although, this may not imply that he would undermine Biden’s presidency by initiating conflicts and wars. Second; it would be difficult to imagine Biden continuing Trump’s policies; but this may not mean a full reversal. Many regional realities, positions and considerations have changed; moreover, within the president-elect’s team there are visions and approaches that may not be identical to those of Barack Obama’s administration.

Third; there are regional players who may use the few coming weeks to declare their priorities, rather than sit still and wait for things to happen. Indeed, if the assassination of top Iran’s nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh is planned from outside – which is more than likely – it means that some people in Trump’s administration, or some circles in Israel, do not want pro-Tehran elements within the Democratic Party to play for time, and return to the pre-2016 US - Iran relations.

Fourth; Russia’s relations with Israel, Turkey and Israel are worth monitoring, as they may influence how Washington plans its future regional policies. In fact, under the incoming Democratic administration it may not be as assured and relaxed as it was when Trump was in charge, keeping in mind that Trump regarded China, not Russia, as “America’s number one enemy.”

All this make the next few weeks a very sensitive and decisive period for investing in, exploring, and taking care of valuable priorities.

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