The Middle East, a region ravaged by wars for thousands of years which, at first, were ethno-sectarian in nature but, as people started using oil in bulk and with the discovery of the enormous amount of crude oil reservoirs in the region, superpowers had to find a way to dominate it, as that would ensure their supremacy on the international scale. This hunger for power and world domination has led the modern world into a new age of conflict centered around the usage of “proxies,” whether they be states or rebel groups. This new style of conflict started with the cold war and stems from the concern that a full-blown escalation between superpowers is too expensive and risky and could mean the end of the world as we know it if one side gets cornered and decides to use nuclear weaponry. Nowadays, as you might have seen, there is growing interest from Arabs in the American elections. Some people wonder why that is, so let us discuss why the ME region cares that much about American politics? And what would the presidency of either candidate mean for the region?
First, let us understand a bit more the regional conflict: The two main powers at play are the United States of America (Mainly through its support of Saudi Arabia and Israel) and Iran (with numerous armed proxies in the region, for example, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen, etc.). Now that we recognize both sides of the conflict, we can also agree that countries in the region do not always pick one of the two sides, which creates a division inside the country. One example would be Lebanon, with the 14th of march and 8th of march alliances, which evolved from being a denomination of who’s against and who’s with the Syrian occupation of the country to become a way to differentiate between who opposes and who supports the Iranian proxy “Hezbollah” respectively. When It comes to the US elections, we tend to see people who oppose Iran’s proxies wanting another Trump administration, while people who side with Iran tend to prefer a Biden administration. Let us first discuss the case of the projected winner Joe Biden: Biden worked as VP under the Obama administration and worked in the Senate for 36 years as a democrat. The Middle East region feels that Biden, having worked in politics his whole life, will return the region into a slow-moving diplomatic stage where Iran and the US have a deal in place and a platform for discussions. This would be a threat to those who wish to get rid of the Iranian influence in the region as soon as possible, especially if Biden decides to establish a new nuclear deal with Iran, strengthening the country and its armed groups again. An administration of diplomacy and deals would also mean a deterioration of relations between the US and its allies in the region, most notably Saudi Arabia and Israel as their safety would now be even more at risk. Some Arabs who oppose Iran still debate that Biden wants what is best for Israel and other US allies and will keep their interest in mind while using the soft power approach to regain stability in the region. These points are debated by those who back Trump by saying that the growing instability in the region is just a sign of the US exterior policy working and weakening Iran and that it is necessary if we want to see an end to these conflicts. They also bring up points about the drone strikes under the Obama administration between 2009 and 2015, where more than a hundred non-combatants were killed as the administration at that time considered all military-aged males in strike zones as combatants unless there was intelligence explicitly exonerating them. The fact that the Obama-Biden administration has gotten involved in additional wars instead of sowing the peace that they promised in their campaign; while the Trump-Pence administration has not gotten involved in any new wars and has even started a withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan while also working on an Arabic-Israeli peace deal that has been successful so far, which would finally bring peace and stability to the region when completely implemented. Even though a lot of Trump endorsing Arabs understand that another term is not exactly the popular option in the United States (due to the administration being described as racist, anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-feminist, which has been causing growing civil unrest in America for a while now especially after the creation of the Black Lives Matter movement and the reactionary counterpart All Lives Matter movement), They fear the worst under another administration that would be similar in policy to that of Obama’s.
In conclusion, we can see that the region’s interest in the US elections comes from the Arabs’ dependence on foreign policies adopted in America to push forward their region’s agenda. The divide in opinion for Arabs who care more about the stability of their countries than the social stability of the US can therefore be linked to their preferred approach to the conflict: those who seek a quick and harsh elimination of Iranian influence see Joe Biden as the biggest threat to their agenda. In contrast, those who seek a safe and non-escalatory policy towards Iran tend to see Donald Trump as a threat to the region’s stability. For you, as a Lebanese person that is affected by this conflict, what approach would you rather see and why?