Author : Kabir Taneja

Expert Speak Raisina Debates
Published on Nov 02, 2020
By exiting the Iran nuclear deal and guiding the Abraham Accords to fruition, did Trump’s disruptions succeed in American foreign policy’s most hostile region?”
West Asia: Deal making and deal breaking for peace in the Middle East

How Donald Trump has changed the world series>

During his 2016 electoral campaign, President Donald Trump criticised the Iran nuclear deal which came into effect in October 2015 after months of arduous negotiations between Tehran, the UN Security Council members, and Germany (known as the P5+1). The deal was to end the Iranian nuclear programme in return for bringing the country back into the global economic mainstream; it was at the time being celebrated as an opening to end a long-standing impasse with Tehran. Yet, Trump’s disruptive take on politics in West Asia (Middle East) began well before True to his campaign promise, Trump withdrew the US from the Iran deal in May 2018. Although expected, it was perhaps Trump’s single-most disruptive, critical decision that has drastically changed the trajectory of American policy towards the region. To be sure, “disruption” itself is not an alien concept in the region, and much of what the US has had to contend with in the Middle East is still the ongoing fallout of the Arab Spring, a people’s movement gone wrong and hijacked by vested interests. Trump’s approach has been largely personality-led, with undertones of short-term gains and personal victories acting as the strongest motivations. Bringing “peace” to the Middle East, a long-standing chimera of a succession of American presidents and their foreign policy thrusts, was Trump’s aim—all the while, maintaining a strong-arm posture against Iran. Trump’s policy of not allowing Iran to successfully achieve a metamorphosis into a regional power beyond what it currently is, found traction within the Gulf power centres, and Israel as well. Indeed, former President Barack Obama’s approach to the Middle East was seen as “distant” and being “cold” towards the absolute power of Gulf monarchs, despite them being allies. Meanwhile, Trump is seen as a return to the “normal”, and the return of an American security blanket against Iran, and perhaps increasingly and more boldly, Turkey, a NATO ally. However, Trump’s agendas have been more self-centred, of those preserving his legacy as a president who achieved all those tasks that other presidents had failed to. This was recognised by the Gulf leaders, who have put their support behind Trump in the form of the much-touted normalisation agreement between the UAE and Israel, later joined by Bahrain as well, signed in September 2020. While Trump claimed the limelight around the singing of the Abraham Accords and the political mainstreaming between Abu Dhabi and Jerusalem, the likes of Israel and UAE were willing to play along as they consolidated their own interests regionally, specifically against Tehran, and also helping each other in consolidating power within Washington D.C. itself for future reference. Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal set in motion a flurry of changes in the region, including an Iran – China strategic agreement that could push Tehran’s nuclear programme closer to Beijing’s ambit. However, the most significant disruption had in fact to do with American foreign policy in motion during the Obama presidency itself. For the Gulf, Trump returned to the pre-Obama status quo, that of cornering Iran, increasing sanctions on the back of the same providing likes of Israel, UAE and others with top-of-the line defence technology. Iran may now find no incentive to return to the negotiating table with the US, with or without Trump. This could lead to more years of animosity and political distance between the US, Iran and the wider Gulf states.
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Kabir Taneja

Kabir Taneja

Kabir Taneja is a Fellow with Strategic Studies programme. His research focuses on Indias relations with West Asia specifically looking at the domestic political dynamics ...

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