Opinion: Biden meddles with Trump’s Middle East legacy at his peril

The challenge for the Biden administration will be to see how it can pursue a different foreign policy agenda without jeopardizing the very significant achievements made during Trump’s tenure.

By Con Coughlin, The Gatestone Institute

The incoming Biden administration has indicated that one of its top priorities will be to adopt a new approach in Washington’s dealings with the Middle East. In particular it wants to revive the flawed nuclear deal with Iran as well as re-establish a dialogue with the Palestinian leadership, which imposed a three-year boycott on the Trump administration.

Yet, while the new Biden team, the majority of whom are relics from the Obama administration, are keen to assert a new policy agenda for the region, they also need to take care that, in so doing, they do not squander the impressive legacy U.S. President Donald Trump has built up in the region.

It is worth remembering that when Trump took office, the region was still reeling from the dire consequences of former President Barack Obama’s inept and naive handling of the region.

By early January 2017, when Trump took office, Iran was squandering the tens of billions of dollars it received for signing the nuclear deal, which Obama had helped broker in 2015, on expanding its malign influence across the landscape of the Middle East.

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This malign influence included supporting the Assad regime in Syria, the Hezbollah terrorist organization in Lebanon, pro-Iranian Shia militias in Iraq and the Houthi rebels in Yemen, which regularly employed Iranian-made drones and missiles to attack Saudi Arabia, a key U.S. ally.

Attempts to revive the Israeli-Arab peace process, meanwhile, were going nowhere because of the Obama administration’s antagonistic attitude towards Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as maintaining its hopeless quest for a more constructive relationship with the Palestinian leadership.

In addition, Obama’s ambivalence about becoming involved in Syria’s brutal war meant that U.S. forces were hampered in their attempts to destroy the Islamist fanatics of ISIS, which had succeeded in capturing large swathes of northern Iraq and Syria.

Trump therefore deserves enormous credit for achieving a complete turnaround in America’s standing in the region during his tenure at the White House.

Thanks to Trump’s robust approach to Iran, where he withdrew from the nuclear deal and re-imposed crippling sanctions against Tehran, the Iranian economy has been seriously diminished, thus limiting the ayatollahs’ ability to peddle their pernicious creed throughout the region.

ISIS, and its dream of establishing a self-governing “caliphate,” has been completely destroyed, mainly because soon after taking office, Trump gave U.S. commanders the authority and freedom to intensify the military campaign against the Islamist fanatics.

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Arguably, Trump’s greatest achievement in the Middle East, though, has been the success he has enjoyed in breaking the impasse in the Israeli-Arab peace process, with a clutch of Arab regimes – the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco — establishing diplomatic relations with Israel under the so-called Abraham Accords, with many other Arab governments — including Saudi Arabia — said to be giving serious consideration to following suit.

Trump’s Middle East legacy is not only impressive — it has completely redefined the landscape of the region from the chaos and conflict that prevailed when Obama left office. Nowadays, the momentum in the region is moving towards peace, not conflict, as was so often the case during Obama’s presidency.

So the challenge for the incoming Biden administration now will be to see how it can pursue a different foreign policy agenda without jeopardizing the very significant achievements that have been accomplished during Trump’s tenure.

Certainly, if the incoming Biden administration makes any serious attempt to undermine Trump’s legacy in the Middle East, it will do so at its peril.

Con Coughlin is the Telegraph’s Defence and Foreign Affairs Editor and a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Gatestone Institute.