This year, the American people will elect their president for the next four years. The US’s vast influence and importance in most corners of the world makes him either an important ally or a dangerous enemy. Nevertheless, there is a region of the world where American military and diplomatic actions have proven counterproductive:the Middle East.
During the 2003 invasion and later occupation of Iraq, the US lacked a consistent strategy to stabilize the country. Later, the Obama administration’s decision to leave Iraq (2009), created a vacuum of power that was filled by militias and extremist groups. Finally the recent crisis over the thousands of ISIS prisoners after the “defeat” of the caliphate shows the lack of a coherent grand strategy for the Middle East.
With the 2020 election coming up it is important to understand the Middle East policy of the main democratic candidates: Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Elisabeth Warren. With the loss of American hegemony and the increase in Great Power competition, the oil rich Middle East still matters to US interests. Its large amounts of oil and its volatility makes it important for the US and its allies to avoid the region to fall in the wrong hands. Further destabilization of the region or another war would jeopardize US geopolitical, geo-economic and security interests.
Israel: Biden, Sanders and Warren all support a two-state solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Biden is the more “pro-Israel” of the three, assuring a no-strings attached continuity in military and financial aid to Israel. Warren and Sanders both support the continuity of military and financial aid to Israel on the condition that the country takes steps towards peace with Palestine.
Iran: Biden, Sanders and Warren agree that the US should try to rejoin the JCPOA if Iran agrees to comply with the deal. They also propose strong diplomatic measures to try to weaken and deter Iran’s efforts to destabilize the region and its ballistic missile program. On the use of military force against Iran, only Warren discards the use of military force to stop Iran from testing a nuclear weapon, while Biden is the only one that will consider the use of military force to protect oil shipments through the strait of Hormuz, even though this could escalate into a military conflict with Iran.
Saudi Arabia: Biden, Sanders and Warren agree that the current relationship with Saudi Arabia, based on cheap oil imports and weapons sales need to be reevaluated. They all oppose the war in Yemen and publicly condemned the assassination of Khashoggi. The three candidates also recognize the importance of Saudi Arabia in the region and the need to work with the Saudis in order to assure security and stability in the region.
There is little difference between the candidates proposals for the Middle East and as it has been the case for the last twenty years, the candidates policies look more like concrete objectives rather than an overall grand strategy for the region. The main issues being: containment of Iran, prevention of proxy wars, energy security, the Israel-Palestinian conflict and curving Russian and Chinese growing influence in the region.
It is clear that a new administration would have to work multilaterally with the support of international organizations (United Nations), regional and international allies in order to avoid losing influence over the region which would have serious repercussions for American foreign policy, economic and security interests.