“The air tonight is as heavy as the sum of human sorrows.”-Albert Camus, Caligula
It is no longer just hyperbole. Still armed with nuclear weapons, a conspicuously deranged American president may be willing to do anything to cling to power. And if that willingness should appear futile, Donald J. Trump could conceivably prefer apocalypse to “surrender.”
Credo quia absurdum, said the ancient philosophers. “I believe because it is absurd.” In these presumptively final days of the Trump presidency, an impaired or irrational nuclear command decision remains possible. Though nothing can be determined about the true mathematical probability of any such once unimaginable scenario, there are increasingly compelling reasons for concern. One of these reasons is Mr. Trump’s bizarre eleventh-hour shakeup at the Department of Defense.
Americans have let these urgent matters drift too long. Nonetheless, despite evident lateness of the hour, a summarizing query must finally be raised: Should this visibly impaired president still be allowed to decide when and where to launch American nuclear weapons? This is not a silly or trivial question.
In the early days of the Nuclear Age, when strategic weapon-survivability was still uncertain, granting presidential authority for immediate firing command was necessary to ensure credible nuclear deterrence. Today, however, when there no longer exists any reasonable basis to doubt America’s durable second-strike nuclear capability (sometimes also called an “assured destruction” or undiminished retaliatory capability), there remains no good argument for continuing to grant the president (any president) such potentially problematic decisional authority.
More general questions should now also be raised.
In our expansively imperiled democracy, ought any American president be permitted to hold such precarious life or death power over the entire country?
Inter alia, could such an allowance still be consistent with a Constitutional “separation of powers?”
Can anyone reasonably believe that such existential power could ever have been favored by America’s Founding Fathers?
The correct answers are apparent, obvious and starkly uncomplicated.
We can readily extrapolate from Articles I and II of the Constitution that the Founders had profound concern about Presidential power long before the advent of nuclear weapons. This concern predates even any imagination of apocalyptic warfare possibilities. So what next?
As a legal and strategic scholar, I have been personally concerned about such fearful issues for exactly fifty years, though in a generic rather than president-specific sense. On 14 March 1976, in response to my then-detailed query concerning American nuclear weapons launch authority, I received a letter back from General (USA/ret.) Maxwell Taylor, a former Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff. The focus of this letter concerned assorted nuclear risks of US presidential irrationality. Most noteworthy, in this handwritten letter (attached hereto), was the riveting and timeless warning in General Taylor’s closing paragraph.
Ideally, Taylor had wisely cautioned, presidential irrationality is a grave problem that should be dealt with very early on; that is, during the election process.
“….the best protection,” I was then informed about a prospectively irrational American president, “is not to elect one…” Of course, at this late juncture, we are already confronted with a strategic fait accompli, that is, the realistic prospect of a tangibly impaired American president.
So what do we do now?
To begin, we must inquire, with a more narrow but still fact-centered focus: “What is current US governing policy on nuclear weapons launch authority?” This query is not only vital per se, especially perhaps after Trump was given anti-viral therapeutics that can produce clinically manic personality effects, but also because of this president’s strangely willing subordination to his Russian counterpart.
Why does Donald J. Trump always take such great pains to exonerate Vladimir Putin from the slightest hint of interference or wrongdoing?
In principle, at least, there are extant and codified safeguards against presidential impairment. To be sure, pertinent protocols are already in place. Among other things, structural protections are expressly built into any presidential order to use nuclear weapons, including very substantial and reinforcing redundancies. But virtually all of these safeguards are designed to become operative only at the lower or sub-presidential nuclear command levels.
In essence, therefore, these safeguards do not apply to the Commander-in-Chief; to the elected President of the United States. Donald J. Trump, the current US president, is plainly instructing his senior cabinet secretaries to prepare for a second term. This is not a silly aberration. It is (as Caligula would likely have said in ancient Rome) a “portentous omen.”
What relevant protocols do actually obtain? Arguably, there exist no permissible legal grounds to disobey a presidential order to use nuclear weapons. Certain senior figures in the designated military chain of command could sometime choose to invoke applicable “Nuremberg Obligations” (international law-based obligations to disobey), but any such last-minute effort to thwart a presidential nuclear command directive would almost certainly yield to more recognizable commands of US domestic and military law.
There is more. Given the vast levels of legal illiteracy in the United States, it is unlikely that a clear-thinking participant anywhere in this country’s nuclear chain of command would ever place sufficient personal confidence in the “soft” norms of international law. This is the case even though such norms are already “incorporated” unambiguously and convincingly into the laws of the United States.
Immediately, appropriate scenarios ought to be suitably postulated and critically examined. Should an outgoing President Donald J. Trump, operating within a dissembling chaos of his own making, issue an impaired, intemperate, irrational or seemingly irrational nuclear command, the only way for the (Acting) Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the National Security Adviser and several possible others to effectively obstruct this potentially catastrophic order would be “illegal.” Under the best of imaginable circumstances, such informal safeguards might sometime manage to work for a limited time, but for now, all time is plainly “limited time.”
Accepting the unrealistic assumption of a “best case scenario” would represent a foolhardy final approach to US nuclear security. This is most markedly the case at this perilous time of worldwide microbial assault, a time when the “pandemic variable” could quickly become paralyzing and determinative in its own right. What then?
Already, the US is navigating erratically in “uncharted waters.” While President John F. Kennedy did engage in personal nuclear brinkmanship with the Soviet Union back in October 1962, he had calculated his own odds of a consequent nuclear war as “between one out of three and even.” This curiously precise calculation, corroborated both by JFK biographer Theodore Sorensen and by my own private conversations with former JCS Chair Admiral Arleigh Burke (my professional colleague and week-long roommate at the Naval Academy’s Foreign Affairs Conference of 1977) suggests that President Kennedy had been (a) technically irrational in imposing his Cuban “quarantine;” or (b) wittingly acting out certain untested principles of “pretended irrationality.” And this was not during a bewildering time of “plague.”
What has been learned?
More precisely, what are this country’s present-day analytic “coordinates?”
Currently, the most urgent threats of a mistaken, irrational or deranged US presidential order to use nuclear weapons flow not from any “bolt-from-the-blue” nuclear attack – whether Russian, North Korean or American – but from some potentially uncontrollable process of escalation. Back in 1962, Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev “blinked” early on in the “game,” thereby preventing any mutual and irrecoverable nuclear harms. Now, however, certain escalatory initiatives undertaken by US President Donald J. Trump could express uniquely unstable decision-making processes.
Moreover, all of this could unravel in the blink of an eye, and at a moment of genuinely cascading presidential incoherence.
What shall be done? Above all, at least to the residual extent possible, Trump’s key advisors on such matters (those yet to be fired) should be brought to understand the true problem. Prima facie, no one can adequately decipher the risks of being locked into an escalatory dynamic from which there could be no choice, save outright capitulation or nuclear war. These would be unprecedented risks.
None of these circumstances would resemble the civilian “crisis-settings” Trump previously encountered in his commercial deal-making life. Although this law-defiling president might sometime be well advised to seek “escalation dominance” in legitimate crisis situations, he would need to avoid placing the United States in such volatile circumstances in the first place.
Therein lies the rub.
Is this president morally and intellectually prepared for making such imperative but complicated judgments?
At a minimum, the Acting Secretary of Defense, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the National Security Advisor and one or two others in appropriate nuclear command positions should prepare immediately to assure broadly collaborative judgments in extremis atomicum. Although it is reasonable to assume that some such preparations are already well underway, there is also good reason to expect that this outgoing president’snewest Defense Department appointments would act only in visceral obedience to Trump commands (even if the daunting matters at hand should appear prospectively existential) and that Trump’smultiple insecurities and personal derangements would obfuscate any needed decisional challenges.
Language matters. In all such complex and multi-layered strategic matters, terminological distinctions will need to be made explicit. Whether applied to an adversarial decision-maker (national or sub-national) or to Donald J. Trump alone, “irrational” has a specific meaning. It does not mean “crazy” or “mad.”
There is more. Looking ahead, fateful expressions of US presidential irrationality could take various and subtle forms. When made manifest, these traits could remain indecipherable or latent for a very long time, and include the following: a disorderly or inconsistent value system; computational errors in calculation; an incapacity to communicate correctly or efficiently; random or haphazard influences in the making or transmittal of particular strategic decisions; and the internal dissonance generated by any still-operative structure of collective decision-making.
From the singularly critical standpoint of US nuclear weapons launch authority, legitimate reasons to worry about the rapidly dissembling Trump presidency need not hinge on any accurate expectations of “craziness” or “madness.” Rather, looking over the above list of problematic decisional traits, there is good cause not just for amorphous or undefined worry (that sort of worry would not represent rational or purposeful reaction), but for (1) readily visible non-partisan objectivity; and (2) carefully developed analytic prudence. On this last valued criterion of presidential decision-making, Donald J. Trump would need to bear carefully in mind certain core conceptual distinctions between deliberate and inadvertent (unintentional) nuclear war. Also significant would be the differences between inadvertent nuclear war by accident and inadvertent nuclear war by miscalculation.
Whatever the particular nuclear-war scenarios for which any US president must make himself prepared, a verifiably common feature would be complexity. Back in March 1976, US General Maxwell Taylor advised me by letter (attached here) that the “best protection” against an irrational American president is “not to elect one.” Regarding the gravely incoherent presidency of Donald J. Trump, this optimal level of national protection is no longer available. All that we can do now is take vital 11th hour steps to best ensure a capable and stable US nuclear decisional posture.
Realistically, in view of this president’s strangely refractory position on staying in power, it may already be too late.
The needed stance would be one wherein a predictably nefarious and bewildered Donald J. Trump could still be held appropriately in check. Although any past juxtaposition of “derangement” with an American president would have seemed gratuitously disrespectful, and perhaps even outrageous, these are strikingly different times. Today, it is the willful disregard for a now plausible juxtaposition that would defy US citizen responsibility and defile the Republic.
This is no longer mere hyperbole.
At this grievous point in America’s Trump-created declension, anything seems possible.
History deserves pride of place. Soon, any such disregard for plausible national harms could prove unconscionable. In the chaotic 1st century CE, long before political democracy could ever seem sustainable and long before nuclear weapons, Roman Emperor Caligula revealed the overwhelmingly lethal costs of barbarous governance. Today, a democratically defeated American president, clinging wrongfully to political power and expressing this egregious dereliction during a period of “plague,” could produce even less bearable costs. At that nation-destroying point, the “air would be as heavy as the sum of human sorrows.”
History may not repeat itself, observed Mark Twain, “but it often rhymes.” Donald J. Trump may not be quite as decadent or depraved as Caligula, but he may not be that far removed either. Credo quia absurdum, warned the ancient Romans. “I believe because it is absurd.”
Donald J. Trump is not Caligula, but he is a sinister stain upon the integrity and survival of the United States.
 In this connection, reminds Sigmund Freud: “Fools, visionaries, sufferers from delusions, neurotics and lunatics have played great roles at all times in the history of mankind, and not merely when the accident of birth had bequeathed them sovereignty. Usually, they have wreaked havoc.”
 This is because (1) any statement of authentic probability must be based upon the determinable frequency of pertinent past events and because, in this case (2) there are no pertinent past events.
 One of this author’s earliest books was (Louis René Beres) Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (The University of Chicago Press, 1980). His twelfth and latest book dealing with such issues is Louis René Beres, Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016 (2nd ed. 2018). https://paw.princeton.edu/new-books/surviving-amid-chaos-israel%E2%80%99s-nuclear-strategy
 In the words of now-retired US Air Force Lt Col. Alexander Vindman, a former member of the National Security Council, Trump has long been Putin’s “useful idiot.” https://news.yahoo.com/impeachment-witness-lt-col-alexander-153907783.html
 Under international law, which is generally part of US law, the question of whether or not a “state of war” exists between states can be ambiguous. Traditionally, it was held that a formal declaration of war was necessary before any true state of war could be said to exist. Hugo Grotius divided wars into declared wars, which were legal, and undeclared wars, which were not. (See Hugo Grotius, The Law of War and Peace, Bk. III, Chs. III, IV, and XI.) By the start of the twentieth century, the position that war can obtain only after a conclusive declaration of war by one of the parties was codified by Hague Convention III. This treaty stipulated, inter alia, that hostilities must never commence without a “previous and explicit warning” in the form of a declaration of war or an ultimatum. (See Hague Convention III Relative to the Opening of Hostilities, 1907, 3 NRGT, 3 series, 437, article 1.) Currently, formal declarations of war could be tantamount to admissions of international criminality because of the express criminalization of aggression by authoritative international law. It could, therefore, represent a clear jurisprudential absurdity to tie any true state of war to prior declarations of belligerency. It follows, further, that a state of war may exist without any formal declarations, but only if there should exist an actual armed conflict between two or more states, and/or at least one of these affected states considers itself “at war.”
 In the words of Mr. Justice Gray, delivering the judgment of the US Supreme Court in Paquete Habana (1900): “International law is part of our law, and must be ascertained and administered by the courts of justice of appropriate jurisdiction….” (175 U.S. 677(1900)) See also: Opinion in Tel-Oren vs. Libyan Arab Republic (726 F. 2d 774 (1984)).The more specific incorporation of treaty law into US municipal law is expressly codified at Art. 6 of the US Constitution, the so-called “Supremacy Clause.” For pertinent earlier decisions by Justice John Marshall, see: The Antelope, 23 U.S. (10 Wheat.) 66, 120 (1825); The Nereide, 13 U.S. (9 Cranch) 388, 423 (1815); Rose v. Himely, 8 U.S. (4 Cranch) 241, 277 (1808) and Murray v. The Schooner Charming Betsy, 6 U.S. (2 Cranch) 64, 118 (1804).
 At the same time, what is apparently illegal under US law could be law-enforcing under international law, Here, too, we must recall that criminal responsibility of leaders under international law is not limited to direct personal action nor is it limited by official position. On the principle of command responsibility, or respondeat superior, see: In re Yamashita, 327 U.S. 1 (1945); The High Command Case (The Trial of Wilhelm von Leeb), 12 LAW REPORTS OF TRIALS OF WAR CRIMINALS 1 (United Nations War Crimes Commission Comp., 1949); see Parks, COMMAND RESPONSIBILITY FOR WAR CRIMES, 62 MIL.L. REV. 1 (1973); O’Brien, THE LAW OF WAR, COMMAND RESPONSIBILITY AND VIETNAM, 60 GEO. L.J. 605 (1972); U S DEPT OF THE ARMY, ARMY SUBJECT SCHEDULE No. 27 – 1 (Geneva Conventions of 1949 and Hague Convention No. IV of 1907), 10 (1970). The direct individual responsibility of leaders is also unambiguous in view of the London Agreement, which denies defendants the protection of the act of state defense. See AGREEMENT FOR THE PROSECUTION AND PUNISHMENT OF THE MAJOR WAR CRIMINALS OF THE EUROPEAN AXIS, Aug. 8, 1945, 59 Stat. 1544, E.A.S. No. 472, 82 U.N.T.S. 279, art. 7.
 “Do you know what it means to find yourselves face to face with a madman,” inquires Luigi Pirandello in Act II of Henry IV, “with one who shakes the foundations of all you have built up in yourselves, your logic, the logic of all your constructions? Madmen, lucky folk, construct without logic, or rather, with a logic that flies like a feather.”
 In studies of world politics, rationality and irrationality have now taken on very specific meanings. More precisely, an actor (state or sub-state) is presumed determinedly rational to the extent that its leadership always values national survival more highly than any other conceivable preference or combination of conceivable preferences. Conversely, an irrational actor might not always display such a determinable preference ordering.
 More technically, this means assemblies of authoritative individuals who lack identical value systems, and/or whose organizational arrangements impact their willing capacity to act as a single or unitary national decision maker).
 See, by Professor Beres, at The Hill: https://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/foreign-policy/344344-risks-of-accidental-nuclear-war-with-north-korea-must-be See also, Louis René Beres: https://moderndiplomacy.eu/2019/10/22/donald-trump-foreign-policy-incoherence-and-inadvertent-nuclear-war/
 Though Athens and other parts of Greece experimented with democratic institutions in the sixth fifth and fourth centuries BCE, these institutions soon gave way to imperial designs from Macedonia (Philip and Alexander) and later, from Rome.
Implications of Right-Wing Politics in United States
US witnessed one of the tumultuous transition of power as the republicans shook the very roots of a model democracy in the US after the Capitol hill mayhem .
Trump administration during the four-year Presidential Term has been worst on all fronts -be it Internal Policy, Health Policy, unemployment, Governance, Foreign Policy, security and Trade policy.
Trump being afraid of defeat resorted to inciting Voters, supporters and workers to attack Capitol Hill, and his racial tirade and overtures drowned him in Last year’s most trumpeted Presidential Elections when the country appeared divided between the rightist and leftists.
The elections witnessed the bloodshed, torture, violence and sheer violation of legislative laws that warranted immediate legal action.
From his election to the Presidential slot, Trump behaved like an amateur and insensible, had run the political affairs as a personal business rather than a statesman. He, being an actor, took the job as a mere role but the presidency demands prudence and sensible decisions to avoid any worst repercussions.
Trump’s aggressive response to matters of importance further exacerbated the situation, especially with China and Iran.
The leftists or change agents wanted a people-friendly government where the rights of people should be protected regardless of their political affiliation or association, caste, colour, creed, religion, ethnicity.
For the years, US democracy has been a model for many developing countries owing to its non radicalised and people-friendly Governments.
All the democratic forces were stunned over the unfortunate incident of Capitol Hill mayhem and were shocked that even developed nations like America can be enthralled, enticed and incited to the level that they will shake the very roots of Democracy i.e Capitol Hill.
The world responded with regrets that it was unfortunate that trumpism radicalized supporters to the extent that they were instigated and incited to influence the Presidential Elections results so that Biden’s Victory may not be validated.
The world might have moved to tears when Trump supporters and workers ransacked Capitol Hill and brought disgrace for America around the world.
All experts, analysts and pro-democracy leaders condemned such act since it was against the norms of civilized nations of the world.
All that mayhem that stormed the US was orchestrated and masterminded by a Business Tycoon, Actor turned Politician Donald Trump who already lost his credibility for his election to the office of President since he was facing rigging and horse-trading charges in his first term that led to his impeachment Trial but luckily he was set free twice from impeachment during his presidency.
Furthermore, his complete failure to tackle the issue of pandemic also contributed to his humiliating defeat since he ridiculed the pandemic by terming it China Virus owing to trade war with China.
Later, when the pandemic went out of control, he took initiative but it was too late to restrict the covid-19 infections since the US had the highest ratio of Infections in the world.
Trump escalated the situation with Iran by killing General Qassem Suleimani in Iraq. later, Iran attacked American Military bases in Iraq but there were no causalities reported for the incident. Iran also shot down a passenger plane by mistake and all passengers were killed.
Trump’s diplomatic relations with China worsened due to the Trade war. American relations with North Korea did not improve though both Trump and KIM met in Singapore to reach a possible peace agreement.
His amnesty or pardon for his friends also came under heavy criticism since he was afraid that they might be prosecuted as his term ended.
His blunders contributed a lot to his worst defeat though, he being stubborn did not accept defeat but later, Supreme Court rejected his claims of any rigging in elections.
Republicans being a right-wing party radicalized the political workers and community to that extent that people violated law without any fear as they enjoyed the support from the white house.
Such aggressive policies led to the isolation and there was division based on ethnicity, colour and religion that is alarming for the tolerant and peaceful nature of people.
The right-wing politics of Donald trump sowed the seeds of hatred and hostility that will have serious repercussions in the long run as long as the trumpism pandemic exists among the people.
His failure to implement a deal of the century plan in the Middle East that was aimed merely on supporting Israel by giving a greater share of settlements. The deal came to a logical end as it was heavily criticized and Palestinians called it a suicide if accepted.
Despite signing the deal with the Afghan Taliban with the help of Pakistan to end 20 years longest war on terror and paving the way for US troops’ withdrawal, the law and 0rder situation has not improved so far as the peace dialogue between the Afghan Taliban and Government yet to take place.
Right-wing politicians led by Trumps have serious implications that will ultimately create problems for Biden to cope with during his presidency .
Biden has to overhaul the whole system to restore the Trust and reputation in the world and strengthen the US through unity by abolishing the discriminatory approach.
The Selection of an Afro-American lady as Vice President has already laid the foundation to put the country on right track and building the trust of all the communities whether voted for him or not as he called himself the president of all Americans rather than of those who voted and supported him during his victory speech.
The Vote is the great tool of people to bring in the choice of leadership as it is the constitutional right of every American and can be exercised on free will without any pressure .
The Afro-American community still recalls the cold-blooded murder of George Floyd by Police, supported Joe Biden after he chose Kamala Harris as Vice President candidate .
On the other hand, though Trump was given clean chit in impeachment since he was charged of inciting the supporters to attack Capitol Hill that will be marked as a black day in American history, yet he has sown the seeds of intolerance, political victimization and radicalizing the peaceful Americans.
This aspect of populist or right-wing politics always plagues the peaceful and vibrant societies in a developed nation like the US, UK, France and Germany. Trump promoted racism through his flowery speech that incited and enthralled mob violence to exert pressure through street power as practised in Asian states such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, China and Japan.
The political analysts term Trump as an existential threat for Biden as he still enjoys the second largest votes in key states and may create problems especially the legislation for key issues.
Biden will have to fix diplomatic relations with all nations of the world especially Tehran and Beijing as Former President Donald Trump escalated the diplomatic relations with these countries with his insensible and aggressive attitude.
He will have to take immediate steps to clear the mess that was stalled by Trump’s radicalized and extremist approach to right-wing Politics whose price is being paid by citizens through isolation and hatred.
Biden and Kamala Harris will have to chalk out such policies that deal with communities with equality and justice and especially deal with the pandemic situation through vaccination drive to minimize the covid-19 infections. The causalities have surpassed thousands whereas long lockdowns have created unemployment and economic crisis impacting many industries.
They need to sit with health experts and Economists to get the country out of the crisis. It will be better to take help from the nations that managed to defeat this pandemic with SOPs and measures.
Beyond ego, the US may seek help from Russia, China, Singapore and the UK to win against the pandemic situation, though the ratio of the infections dropped worldwide as the cold winter departs.
Joe Biden will have to support Kashmiris against the unilateral move of India as he had promised in the election campaign.
He should play his role for the Middle East peace plan of the two-state solution so that Palestinians may have a state as per their wishes and the map they have in mind.
It was the sensible decision from him that troops’ withdrawal option was postponed ,given the critical situation in Afghanistan. Rather, he should not jeopardize or sabotage the peace deal with the Taliban .Instead ,he should engage person like Zalmay Khalilzad to strengthen the dialogue process between the Afghan Taliban and other stakeholders including the existing Government of Ashraf Ghani so that peace could be restored as it will benefit all the countries and play a pivotal role in regional stability and prosperity. The pandemic has united the world as human conscience has roused again.
Finally, Democrats have always saved America and promoted justice, equality and opened doors for the world for immigration but Trump wreaked havoc with all the social norms and promoted intolerance, racism and inequality that shook the very roots of the country and gave birth to happenings of Capitol Hill and distrust on the electoral system.
Biden Administration is expected and mandated by the masses to clear that mess and pave the way for his second term if he succeeds to bring change to the country.
Right-wing politics has its pros and cons but the version introduced by Republicans radicalized the whole system and divided the country even in times of emergency. Populist leaders all around the world have impacted various governments specially in Asian States as they are elected on popular vote .
The version introduced by Trump may give birth to the dissent voices as left-wing whose critique may be beyond rectification whereas the ethnic divide, will promote separatism as happened in UK, Spain, Russia and Subcontinent when people’s rights were compromised and the freedom of expression was annulled.
US cannot afford further isolation and division of communities on the basis of ethnicity , colour or radical thoughts since it has already the price during the regime of Trump .
New US Administration Approach to Syria: How Different Could It Be?
With the new US administration in the White House, there are rather lofty expectations about a change in the American Middle East policy in general and towards Syria in particular. Some argue that the US Middle East policy will remain somewhat in line with that of Trump’s presidency, while others believe that Biden’s team will try to reverse many of the previous foreign policy steps. The rest say that we should expect an Obama-style Middle East policy, which means more diplomatic engagement with less military involvement and a heavier focus on the human rights issues.
The truth, as usual, lies somewhere in the middle. The new US administration will certainly attempt to undo some of the predecessor’s moves: withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, putting the Houthis on the terror list, suspending aid to the Palestinians, etc. However, this will require considerable effort on the part of the new White House.
First, the new Administration will spend much more time dealing with the domestic issues they have inherited from Trump: polarized domestic politics, economic issues, consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and response to it, etc. Biden’s administration will have to devote much of its time to all of this, so it is safe to say that the Middle East will not stand in the forefront of the US foreign policy focus.
Second, in the realm of foreign policy, US relations with Europe, China and Russia are of far greater importance to Washington than those with the Middle East which will remain on the margins of the US foreign policy, being a concern only through the lens of strategic threats, such as combatting terrorism (anti-ISIS coalition efforts), nuclear non-proliferation (revival of the JCPOA), and interacting with actors involved in those issues.
Third, Biden will face certain domestic opposition to some of the Middle East policy issues, e.g. Iran nuclear deal, the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, sanctioned entities and so on.
Finally, having different views, approaches and rationale, US allies in the region (Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Turkey and Israel) could possibly frustrate some of the plans devised by the new administration.
Therefore, we should not expect the Middle East to figure high on the US foreign policy agenda, as well as keep our expectations low as concerns possible breakthroughs on the profiles which will get certain US attention: the Iran nuclear deal, Syrian Kurds issue, reconciliation with Turkey, dealing with Libya, cultivating relations with Israel and Palestine.
Syria Is Not a Priority
Syria has never been a priority for the US foreign policy and will likely remain a second-tier issue for Biden and his team. In fact, some analysis of the US Middle East policy over the last decade shows consistency of approach. Although Obama started his presidency with his 2009 Cairo speech, intended as a signal of support to the region and increased attention from the US, his administration responded to the Arab Uprising with certain discretion and was reluctant to increase American involvement in the regional conflicts—Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya—rather opting for a low profile, proceeding with its fight against terrorism and focusing on diplomacy to a greater extent. Trump administration, by and large, continued this approach avoiding military involvement and shifting more of the responsibility for security and regional problems onto its regional allies—Israel, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, etc. While Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal and increased sanction pressure on Tehran, this never translated into a significant change in the American approach to the region. Even in Syria, which suffered several US missile attacks, the moves of the previous administration did not lead to a drastic change of the situation on the ground. Moreover, US “betrayal” of the Kurds and a partial withdrawal of its military from Syria had little serious impact on the course of the conflict. Therefore, over the last decade, the US regional policy has, by and large, been going along the similar lines of limited engagement, fight against terrorism, support of its regional allies.
Today, Biden administration’s plans do not provide for a change in the established approach and deal only with a limited number of policy issues, those coming in for heavy criticism under Trump, e.g. the Iran deal, extending support to the Syrian Kurds, suspending dialogue and aid to the Palestinians, etc.
It is worth noting that the new US administration does not regard the Syrian conflict as a separate problem, important in its own right. It, rather, treats it as a secondary issue linked to other, more important policy issues, such as dealings with Iran and the nuclear deal, relations with Turkey, which happens to brand US-backed Syrian Kurdish militias (YPG) as terrorists, as well as dealings with Russia who, in recent years, has become more active in Syria and in the region at large, or ensuring security of US allies in the region (Israel, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Iraq, etc.) who feel threatened by increased Iranian military presence in Syria. Therefore, the Syrian profile is largely viewed in the context of US policies towards Iran, Russia and Turkey, rather than as a separate foreign policy concern.
Interestingly, though, the new Administration refused to send its representative to the 15th round of the Astana Syria talks held in Sochi on Feb. 16–17, despite an invitation being sent, as is argued by Alexander Lavrentiev, Russia’s special envoy on Syria. The US ceased to participate in the Astana meetings in mid-2018. Mr Lavrentiev went on to suggest that the new administration has yet to formulate its Syria policy, despite being officially in office for over a month now. “There are signals [coming from the US] that they will be ready to work with us, but so far no conclusive proposals have been made,” concluded the Russian envoy. Thus far, Washington has not devised its Syria policy, having other actors involved guess its possible approach and future steps.
Moscow Concerns with US Syria Policy
US military presence in Syria is among major concerns for Russia. American soldiers are deployed in northeastern and eastern provinces of Syria as well as in the south, around al-Tanf settlement, on the border with Jordan and Iraq. Moscow perceives American presence in the country as illegal and among the key obstacles to its reunification. US support to the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) prevents them from striking a deal with Damascus, something that is needed to restore the country’s territorial integrity and to assume control over those areas, as the majority of oil fields, water resources (Euphrates river), and some 40% of all agricultural lands are located in Kurdish-held regions. When the US is going to leave Syria is thus one of the most important questions for Russia.
A short answer would be that Washington will not pull out its forces from Syria, at least in the mid-term. Regardless of who occupies the White House, there are certain interests and goals that the US has in Syria, and it will hardly abandon them.
First and foremost, American military presence in Syria serves as a deterrent for the Syrian government forces and loyal militias, as well as for Russia, Iran, pro-Iranian units and Turkey. American troops prevent the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and the Russian forces from asserting control over the oil fields and extending it to the economically-needed, 3-million strong northeast and east provinces of Syria. They also keep an eye on Iranian activities in east Syria, on the border with Iraq (border-crossing in Al-Bukamal), and keep Iran from further entrenchment. Finally, American troops keep the Turkish forces and the Ankara-backed armed Syrian opposition from the offensive against the Syrian Kurds. In addition, American military surveilles Russian activities and moves in the region. Being no heavy burden for Washington, the mere presence of several hundred US soldiers in the country kills many birds with one stone. That is why we can hardly expect the new US leadership to abandon such a position.
Second, the fact that the US is capable of significantly increasing its military presence in Syria at any given moment and within a short span of time puts it in a position of being a potential spoiler of any military or political/diplomatic initiative or deal that Russia, Iran, the Syrian government or Turkey may undertake. Besides, recent reports indicate that the US is constructing a new military base with airfield facilities near al-Omar oil field in Deir ez-Zor. Its runways are 2.5 km-long, which allows it to host heavy military planes (Lockheed C-130 Hercules, Lockheed C-5 Galaxy, or В-52). Once finished, the base will let the US easily send several thousands of soldiers or PMC fighters to Syria overnight, handing it an opportunity to rapidly build up its military presence and capabilities in the area. This makes Washington an indispensable participant of any settlement in Syria and forces Moscow, Ankara, Tehran and Damascus to take American interests and concerns into account. It is unlikely that Washington is ready to lose such leverage.
Third, being the leader of the anti-ISIS coalition, the US maintains its presence on the ground, which enables it to fight the remnants of terrorists. US officials have recently called attention to the fact that the main focus of US military in Syria is to fight the Islamic State which has become more active over the past six months. This reason serves as an official excuse to justify US presence in the country.
Finally, the US wants to maintain its ability to influence the political process in Syria. As of now, Washington has several instruments at its disposal. Its unilateral sanctions coupled with the Caesar Act, created serious additional problems not only for the Syrian economy but for the socio-economic, humanitarian and medical situation affecting millions of ordinary civilians as well. Such sanctions are politically motivated, pursuing a change in the regime’ behavior, something that was never achieved. Essentially, this results in making the socio-economic and humanitarian conditions in the country only worse and obstructing any attempts to reconstruct critical infrastructure. Many humanitarian organizations report severe impediments in delivering humanitarian aid to Syria and rebuilding the country, with many INGOs being simply afraid to work in Damascus-controlled areas because of their fear to be sanctioned. According to the UN Special Rapporteur Prof. Alena Douhan, “secondary sanctions and over-compliance with unilateral sanctions result in fear for all interlocutors and drastically affect all population groups in targeted societies impeding people, private business, workers, scholars and doctors to do their job and to enjoy human rights.” As a result, US sanctions on Syria allow Washington to exert serious influence on the political settlement of the conflict as well as on Syria’s economic reconstruction, along with letting the United States remain a key actor in the conflict resolution.
Another leverage the US has in terms of shaping the political process in Syria is its support to SDF. Today, while backing the Syrian Kurds, Washington also obstructs any serious talks between them and the Syrian authorities in Damascus aimed at reaching reintegration of the northeast and eastern provinces of Syria back under control of the central government. Even though the most recent round of talks between the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and Damascus activated by Moscow ended up with reaching an important preliminary agreement on major controversial issues, this does not prevent the Kurds from backtracking once the Americans decide to sustain or increase their support to them and reaffirm their commitments. Such moves can substantially affect the ongoing intra-Syrian political processes and prevent the country from restoring its territorial integrity. As long as the Syrian Kurds enjoy support and commitments from the US, it is extremely hard to expect them to reach any viable deal with Damascus.
By the same token, the US can influence Turkey and its Syria policy—either through increasing pressure on Ankara or trying to co-opt it by addressing its concerns and moderating the Turkish-Kurdish agreement. Such steps can potentially change the course of the conflict, thus profoundly affecting Russian positions in Syria.
Similar logic applies to the US policy towards Iran and to the revival of the JCPOA. Washington would very much like to tie the nuclear deal to other issues of concern, such as Iran’s ballistic missile program and/or its “malign activities in the region”, including those in Syria. Such an approach aspires to change Iran’s behavior, for instance, in Syria in exchange for the nuclear deal revival and lifting US sanctions. In the US line of reasoning, the White House has an upper hand in the talks with Iran to be able to force it to follow its preferred path. That can, in turn, affect Iran’s behavior not only apropos the return to the JCPOA but concerning its Syrian policy as well. The risks, if this approach fails, are high, as this will have counter-productive results. If the nuclear deal is not revived and sanctions remain at place, Iran will most likely persist in its “malign activities” in Syria and throughout the region, while reserving the option to escalate them. Even the most recent US attack on pro-Iranian targets in Syria had more to do with Iran and its activities in Iraq and Syria rather than with the Syrian conflict itself.
This is to say that the US policy towards Iran and the revival of the nuclear deal, or towards the Syrian Kurds, or the way how Biden’s administration will deal with Turkey, or Russia on the track of the Syrian conflict will have a serious impact on the situation in Syria. So far, there is no indication that it is going to be among the priorities of the new administration. Syria, though, will most likely remain part of US regional policies and subordinate to US dealings with Iran, Turkey and Russia. Outcomes of US-Iran, US-Turkey and US-Russia dialogue can potentially have a profound effect on the situation in Syria. Although it is hard to expect the new US administration to drastically change its approach to the Syrian conflict, there may be new promising avenues for diplomacy which will, hopefully, yield more positive results than negative ones.
From our partner RIAC
Washington Ill-Prepared to Set Human Rights Agenda
It is evident that US Democratic President Joe Biden and his team will pay more attention to the human rights agenda in foreign policy than their Republican predecessors did. It is also clear that Washington will actively use this agenda in dealing with its main geopolitical adversaries—above all, China and Russia. Finally, it is obvious that the United States will try to put together a consolidated Western front to shoulder American human rights initiatives. Human rights will become one of the tools to keep liberal democracies together confronting what is perceived to be the global rise of illiberal authoritarianism. We are likely to hear strong rhetoric on human rights coming out of the White House and the State Department. We will observe multiple human rights-focused US initiatives in international organizations. And we will also see new American human rights-related sanctions against Moscow and Beijing.
Still, at the end of the day, this strategy might turn out to be less successful than the new US leaders anticipate. No matter how Russian or Chinese governments are planning to handle, respectively, the Alexey Navalny case or political protests in Hong Kong, it is very unlikely that either Moscow or Beijing will yield under US pressure. Moscow and Beijing will continue going hand in hand with each other in blocking US-proposed international resolutions, in containing US foundations and NGOs operating in sensitive areas, and in countering the coming American information offensive on the human rights front. The growing pressure from the White House will only further cement the China-Russia partnership.
Moreover, the reality is that Washington is ill-prepared to make a convincing case on human rights and broader democracy issues.
First, America itself has not fully recovered from a deep and protracted political crisis. Many inside the US still question the standards of November’s presidential elections as well as the legitimacy of information restrictions imposed on Donald Trump and his supporters by major social networks and the US mainstream liberal media. The 2020 large-scale violent racial riots also question the assumption that the United States can serve today as a universal model of human rights observance. Until President Biden fixes related problems at home, his international human rights crusade will not look too credible even for his fellow citizens.
Second, it is easy for Biden to raise human rights issues against Russia and China—or against North Korea and Iran. This is a light and unburdensome task—in any case, these countries are not and will not be US allies or partners anytime soon. However, what about other potential targets—like Turkey and Saudi Arabia? On the one hand, both Ankara and Riyadh are perceived in Washington as gross violators of basic human rights. On the other hand, Washington badly needs partnerships with both of them. If the Biden administration heads down a slippery slope of double standards and selective use of the human rights agenda in foreign policy, this will not make this agenda more convincing for anyone. If Biden chooses to go against traditional US clients and friends, the political price for such integrity might turn out to be prohibitively high.
Third, though the international human rights agenda remains important, it seems that today, in most societies, the public puts fairness before freedom. 20 or 30 years ago, the quest for freedom was the driving force behind the majority of street protests, political upheavals and revolutions. Today people revolt mostly against what they believe to be unfair and unjust. The widely shared sentiment of unfairness and injustice rather than human rights or political democracy is the main source of various populist movements in all parts of the world.
The balance between the quest for freedom and the quest for fairness has always been moving from one side to the other, forming long political and social cycles in human history. In the first half of the 20th century, fairness and egalitarianism were perceived as more important than freedom and human rights, while in the second half of the century, the balance shifted away from the former and toward the latter. Today we observe the global social pendulum once again swinging in the opposite direction.
In this context, the recent statement of Chinese President Xi Jinping about the ultimate victory over absolute poverty in China may well outweigh all the eloquent human rights rhetoric coming from US President Joe Biden.
From our partner RIAC
Webinar: How will we minimize conflicts in the Eastern Mediterranean?
One of the biggest online events for this year with the theme: “How will we minimize conflicts in the Eastern...
Laura, for EU-funds crimes please don’t call Bulgaria. We are busy right now
EU chief prosecutor, Laura Kovesi, rejected almost all of the Bulgarian candidates nominated by Bulgaria’s chief prosecutor Ivan Geshev to...
UN Security Council: Taliban continues to patronize Central Asian Jihadists
On February 3, 2021, the UN Security Council published its twenty-seventh report on threats and challenges of global terrorist organizations...
Iraq Opens Hands to the Pope Francis’ Historic Visit
The world looks forward to Pope Francis’ historic visit to Iraq which is considered the first papal trip represented by...
Restart Iran Policy by Stopping Tehran’s Influence Operations
Another US administration is trying to figure out its Iran policy. And, as always, the very regime at the core...
Equality in engineering crucial to achieving sustainable development
Regional disparities in engineering, especially in Africa, must be addressed if the world is to realize a common future where...
Pay Transparency: Commission proposes measures to ensure equal pay for equal work
The European Commission has today presented a proposal on pay transparency to ensure that women and men in the EU...
Americas2 days ago
Joe Biden and his first contradictory foreign policy moves
International Law2 days ago
Why states undermined their sovereignty by signing NPT?
Americas3 days ago
Biden’s Syria strikes don’t make him a centrist Democrat – they make him a neocon
Americas3 days ago
Charting an American Return to Reason: Nuclear Policy Goals on North Korea
Energy News3 days ago
E-Boda-Bodas: a promising day for electric transportation in East Africa
Africa2 days ago
China’s vaccine diplomacy in Africa
Reports3 days ago
65% of Adults Think Race, Ethnicity or National Origin Affects Job Opportunities
Middle East2 days ago
The US doesn’t deserve a sit on the UNHRC, with its complicity in the Saudi war crimes in Yemen