Middle East in Focus
The suspension of Senator Bernie Sanders’s campaign has all but assured that former Vice President Joe Biden will be the Democratic Party’s nominee for US president, facing Donald Trump in the November general elections. The Democratic primary campaign has been followed with interest in the region considering the implications of the final outcome for a number of important questions that continue to remain unresolved, including the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the US’ relationship with Iran. While perhaps still early to render a final verdict on the significance of Mr. Biden’s nomination, in terms of US policy in the region, some observers and editorials have already jumped into the fray to provide initial perspectives on the matter.
Writing for Al Ahram, Haro Karkour takes aim at what he calls the ‘moral bankruptcy of liberal principles in the age of the nation state’ underpinning US policy to then suggest that, for Mr. Biden’s candidacy to become transformational, he needs to move further to the left of his current position: “In an age of impending climate catastrophe and global health crisis, both of which cry for transnational cooperation, this nostalgia is dangerous. It lacks a post-liberal imagination that is desperately needed today. Thus, to answer the question raised at the start: no, it does not make a difference, as far as the status quo in US foreign policy is concerned, whether Trump or Biden is in the White House next year. The only real change can come from a more radical candidate, perhaps a democratic socialist who may challenge the moral bankruptcy of liberalism and, with fresh thinking, ultimately challenge the status quo. Whether this challenge will be successful and steer US foreign policy in a less conflictual direction is yet to be seen.”
Karkour is not the only one calling for Mr. Biden to take on some of Mr. Sanders’s ideas. In fact, the former vice president receives more than a nudging from a recent Khaleej Times editorial, albeit this time calling on him to focus on Mr. Sanders’s proposals for domestic economic reforms: “The US has been a paragon of free market economy. Its free rein to the private sector has surely helped in the rise of ventures, corporate firms and the whole private sector economy like nowhere else in the world. It's a bastion of capitalism, but Sanders is right in appealing that its current model hasn't helped everybody.... Biden, if elected, would have formidable challenges in resurrecting America's standing as the global leader. Trump's America First approach has compromised the long-standing cooperation with different countries. But as Biden tries to heal ties with the West, he would do well to adopt and work on some of Sanders's ideas at home.”
Of course, now that Senator Sanders has suspended his campaign, the question on everybody’s mind is whether his supporters will turn out and vote for Mr. Biden. Jerusalem Post’s Douglas Bloomfield makes the case that, for Mr. Sanders and his ideas to remain relevant, he must ensure a Biden victory in November: “Bernie Sanders may have ended his pursuit of the Democratic presidential nomination, but he still has a critical role to play over the next six months in deciding who does take the oath of office next January 20.... The message Sanders has to deliver to his followers is simple: a vote for anyone other than Biden, or not voting at all, is a vote for Trump.... Sanders won’t be the next president and can’t cure the coronavirus any more than Trump’s quack remedies, but he can inject some new momentum into the Democratic campaign for the White House.”
For some, though, the upcoming presidential elections are more than just about ensuring one’s political legacy. Rather, as Hussein Ibish opines in a recent The National op-ed, the real question is about the danger posed by Mr. Trump and his brand of populism to the American republic: “Under Mr Trump, Republican minority rule is rapidly dispensing with many traditional political guardrails and structural checks. The Republican Senate majority refused to hear a single witness in his impeachment trial, because any testimony was likely to be damning, and was open about its determination to acquit him no matter what. Now, Mr Trump is taking advantage of the pandemic to purge government inspectors general who made the mistake of doing their duty and telling a variety of inconvenient truths.... Between the White House, the Senate and several key states, minority rule is no longer an American anomaly. Unless the evident Democratic majority reasserts itself nationally in November, or an unexpected Republican majority suddenly materializes, the US will take another major step to becoming a full-fledged liberal non-democracy.”
That may be the reason why this Gulf Times editorial urges Mr. Sanders to provide full-throttled support to Mr. Biden, putting their differences aside: “While Sanders’ purist progressive campaign was unfettered by the reality of the nation’s political map... Biden doesn’t have the luxury, nor does he have the political inclination, to indulge in the same uncompromising approach. The question will be whether Sanders can accept that. Whether he embraces Biden – only figuratively in these times of physical distancing – as he failed to do with Hillary Clinton four years ago. Whether he acknowledges the political reality that, while Biden might not be the senator’s perfect candidate, he at least cares about the same issues. What Sanders does next, in the days and weeks and months to come, will help determine the fate of Biden’s presidential quest.”
One issue, however, that is likely to cause some friction may be the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, where there is still a lot of daylight between the Sanders and the Biden camps. However, even on that issue, as the Jewish Telegraph Agency (JTA) and Ron Kampeas report, the Democratic National Committee seems to have pre-empted any infighting by taking the lead early on by including a reference in support of the 2-state solution: “Tom Perez, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee. reassured Jewish Democrats that they would be happy with the next party platform.... Platforms are drafted ahead of national conventions in presidential election years, and ahead of the last two elections, the DNC platform has been beset by controversy. In 2012, the draft committee neglected to include recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and it was inserted at the last minute at a raucous public meeting over loud protests.... The Republican Party platform also changed from 2012 to 2016... Trump has equivocated on endorsing a two-state outcome, and Democrats have sharply criticized his peace plan, released earlier this year, for imposing outcomes on the two sides.”