President Donald J. Trump visits troops at Bagram Airfield on Thursday, November 28, 2019, in Afghanistan, during a surprise visit to spend Thanksgiving with troops. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)
Learning from Trump in the Middle East

If Joe Biden becomes the next U.S. president, many anticipate that his administration will offer a “return to normalcy,” for better or for worse. Despite the ways in which the Trump administration’s foreign policy has overpromised and underdelivered, there are certain aspects where Biden’s foreign policy team could learn from Trump’s approach, especially in the Middle East. 

What to Keep

Embrace audacity: Trump prides himself on breaking the rules. Although he tends to do so for the pursuit of personal benefit, Trump’s willingness to challenge conventional assumptions about foreign policy, especially by reaching out to adversaries and questioning arrangements that no longer serve American interests, hold some lessons for Biden. Although Trump has left troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria despite promising to bring them home, ending endless wars remains a popular position that Biden should embrace and implement. Trump’s popularity among his base derives in part from his disregard for the status quo, though he often fails to follow through. Biden’s administration could bring the institutional capacity required to actually implement a foreign-policy agenda that reflects the wishes of the American public, rather than the hawkish agenda of the foreign policy establishment. 

Reconsider relationships: Other than Turkey as a NATO member, the United States does not have a formal alliance with any country in the Middle East. However, Washington acts as the security guarantor for states including Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Trump’s willingness to question previously ironclad alliances with NATO countries like the United Kingdom and Germany have alarmed foreign policy experts due to the potential for destabilization. (Trump’s admiration for dictatorships and disdain for democracies has likewise prompted concern.) However, alliances and security partnerships are not ends in themselves. If a relationship no longer serves the interests of the United States, it should be renegotiated. In the case of the Middle East, a region whose strategic importance is widely acknowledged to have declined, the ongoing material and reputational costs associated with U.S. military presence long ago surpassed any benefit the United States derives. Therefore, a Biden team could learn from Trump’s willingness to question the utility of existing relationships, and prepare to renegotiate those that no longer serve U.S. interests.

Read the full article in RealClear World.

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