Opinion: Struan Stevenson: Biden and Harris could imperil peace hopes in the Middle East

Middle East USA World

FOUR years of domestic and foreign policy muddle and confusion, conveyed directly from the Oval Office by Twitter, have been topped by President Trump’s chaotic handling of the coronavirus pandemic. The violent Black Lives Matter protests have further accentuated America’s growing divisions. American voters are now beginning to ponder the prospects of a Democrat in the White house in the shape of Joe Biden. Dubbed ‘Sleepy Joe’ by Trump, 77-year-old Biden offers little to inspire optimism. His diminishing cognitive grasp is becoming increasingly embarrassing and difficult to hide. Nevertheless, no matter what he says and does, Biden’s lead continues to hold in the polls.

His choice of Senator Kamala Harris as his running-mate was a masterstroke. If Biden wins the presidential election in November, the well-liked Californian Senator and former Attorney General in America’s most populous state, will be the first female, black, Vice-President in US history. Daughter of a Jamaican-born father and an Indian-born mother, 55-year-old Senator Harris is married to a Jewish entertainment lawyer and is step-mother to his two children.

She was elected to the US Senate in 2017, where she has achieved a reputation for backing left-wing causes. She has, however, increasingly tried to move away from these radical positions now that she is Biden’s running-mate. Given Joe Biden’s age and increasing infirmity, Kamala Harris will be literally only a heartbeat away from the Oval Office. She could one day be Commander-in-Chief of the world’s greatest military power. So, what would a Biden-Harris presidency mean for US foreign policy and in particular America’s approach to the dangerous Middle East flashpoint that is Iran?

President Trump has claimed major progress in the Middle East by persuading the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to join Egypt and Jordan in normalising ties with Israel. As soon as he took office, Trump aligned the US with Israel and Saudi Arabia, throwing down the gauntlet against the theocratic Iranian regime. He accused his predecessor Barack Obama of having pursued a policy of appeasement to the Iranian mullahs. He denounced Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran as “The worst deal in history” and lost no time in withdrawing the US from the ‘so-called’ Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Next, Trump signed an executive order imposing a further round of “hard hitting” sanctions on Iran that sent shockwaves through the clerical dictatorship. He listed Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organisation and condemned their malicious regional activities, including their provocative ballistic missile programme, their sabotage of oil tankers in the Gulf, as well as Iran’s ongoing support for Bashar al-Assad’s bloody civil war in Syria, the Houthi rebels in Yemen, the terrorist Hezbollah in Lebanon and the brutal Shi’ite militias in Iraq.

Trump went a stage further in January this year, ordering a drone strike on the IRGC Quds Force terrorist commander General Qassem Soleimani, as he drove out of Baghdad Airport in Iraq. Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis – the Iraqi chief of the terrorist Kata’ib Hezbollah, were both killed in the attack. Trump’s hard-line approach to the mullahs seems to be paying off. There are signs that their sponsorship of proxy wars around the zone appear to be waning, with the gradual withdrawal of IRGC-backed forces in Syria and Iraq, a looming peace conference in Yemen and plummeting support for the Iranian-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon in the wake of the devastating Beirut explosion.

Both Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have pledged to sign America up again to the failed nuclear deal with Iran. This would presumably mean lifting sanctions and throwing a lifeline to the clerical regime. It would be regarded as a grave act of betrayal by the Iranian people, who crave regime change and look to the West to help them restore freedom, justice and democracy to their country. Iran’s 80 million citizens are seething with rage at their own government. They have suffered for four decades under the mullahs’ corrupt and murderous regime and they are calling for its overthrow.

In June, the US House of Representatives passed a resolution demanding action to counter the Iranian regime’s threats and recognising “the rights of the Iranian people and their struggle to establish a democratic, secular, and non-nuclear republic of Iran.” This bombshell resolution by Congress, on top of President Trump’s withering ‘maximum pressure’ campaign of sanctions, has brought the mullahs to their knees.

But even as a cross-party coalition of Republicans and Democrats in the House of Representatives voted for this ground-breaking resolution, Joe Biden published his Democratic Party’s draft platform for the 2020 election, in which he says that he will oppose regime change in Tehran. Biden’s announcement has already been welcomed by an Iranian regime spokesman who said it was a “small but positive step in understanding the realities of Iran, but it is still ambitious.”

The increasingly dangerous and hostile actions of the mullahs should have sounded the alarm bells. Their repeated attacks on Saudi oil installations and on foreign flagged oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, shows that they have lost none of their warmongering aggression. Their brutal crackdown, killing 1500 and wounding and imprisoning thousands of other young protesters who took to the streets in nationwide uprisings last November, should also make Biden think again.

There may be a glimmer of hope. On Iran, Harris has appeared to be moving to the right of Obama and even of her boss, Joe Biden. She has said that although she supports re-entering the nuclear deal, she wants to see it “strengthened”, which has been a constant refrain of the Trump camp. In June 2017, she defied leading Democrats by supporting a Republican Bill aimed at imposing further tough new sanctions on the Iranian regime. With only two months until the US presidential elections, American voters have to decide who will make the best Commander-in-Chief. Future peace in the Middle East will rely on their decision.

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