So far, US president Donald Trump has not disappointed with unconventional statements, unexpected tweets, “alternative facts”, surprising and — at times — devastating decisions. However, I doubt that the consequences of his political decisions have been as diverse and far-reaching for any region as they have been for the Middle East and Africa (MEA).
There was the unilateral cancellation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA. The so-called ‘Iran deal’ was considered one of the most important achievements of former president Barack Obama’s Middle East foreign policy and channelled the economic interest of the West into the investment-thirsty Iran. President Trump’s withdrawal from this multilateral treaty, pared with the “maximum pressure strategy” and multiple levels of heavy economic sanctions, not only irritated the European partners but almost led to a regional war. Suffering severe economic damage, Iran is possibly the country most favouring presidential candidate and former vice president Joe Biden in the upcoming elections.
Then there was the recent “historic deal” between the United Arab Emirates and Israel to normalise diplomatic relations. Despite mixed reactions from the region, there are many positive hopes and expectations. However, this “peace agreement” was significant enough to get President Trump a Nobel Peace Prize nomination. For countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council, it will be interesting to see how Mr Biden will advance this strategy, should he win in November.
Further, there was Mr Trump's complicated relationship with “shithole countries” in Africa. Surprisingly, he did not cut the foreign aid budget as per his ‘America first’ doctrine. In fact, he still runs Mr Obama’s ‘Power to Africa’ and ‘Feed to Future’ initiatives, and has added his own ‘President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief’, which has been impressively successful. Nevertheless, many criticised the ‘Africa strategy’ as a fight plan against China’s and Russia’s influence in the region, rather than a development plan for future collaboration between Africa and the US.
And then there was also the withdrawal of the Trump administration from the Paris Agreement on climate change mitigation. This decision clearly showed the ignorance of the administration toward the heavy consequences of climate change on livelihood and wellbeing of people in the MEA and other regions.
Surely, another term for Mr Trump will bear many surprises. The interesting questions would be if and how Mr Biden would be able to change ‘America first’ to an ‘Our future first’ doctrine, making the US a reliable partner for its allies and a suitable partner for the developing world.
Dr Mazdak Rafaty is managing partner of Ludwar International Consultancy and SME adviser to the joint Emirati-German Chamber of Commerce.