US-MENA: Biden cannot delay decline and disengagement

Regional Views
US-MENA: Biden cannot delay decline and disengagement

With the US presidential election less than two weeks away, we analyse the implications of the results on US foreign policy towards MENA. During his first term, President Donald Trump has made radical moves in the region via his “deal of the century” related steps, and by pursuing a strategy of “maximum pressure” on Iran, including through its regional acolytes.  We discuss the window of volatility during the “lame duck” period should Trump lose. He will remain in charge until the 20 January inauguration, and any foreign policy decisions taken might not be easily undone under a Biden administration.
While the unfolding geopolitical power play is likely to continue the instability, there is room for US-MENA trade to expand. Despite global trade slowing down due to the pandemic, the new regional normalisation accords could pave the way for new trade markets for the region with the US. We are already witnessing talks around the potential sale of US defence aircraft to the UAE. However, with US military presence retreating and bilateral relations with regional players redefined, the stage is set for MENA to continue its pivot eastward toward Asia, with China becoming a central new player in the region.

Our key arguments include:

  • Even if he is defeated, Donald Trump’s policies will remain in force during the ‘lame duck’ window before a new administration. We do not rule out his liberal use of executive orders to effect foreign policy, which would probably be targeted at Iran.
  • Trump has reshaped US-MENA alliances in ways he would seek to maintain if re-elected. While a Biden administration would be unable to undo some of these changes, we expect a return to the foreign policies we saw during the Obama years, including US disengagement.
  • While global trade is set to drop this year due to pandemic-induced disruption, US-MENA trade could hold up, and new regional normalisation ties provide an opportunity for new trade markets with the US.


Florence Eid-Oakden, Ph.D, Chief Economist

Ghalia Al Bajali, Leila Lajevardi, Kevin Johnson, Analysts

The Regional Views series are thematic papers aimed at identifying and analysing factors behind medium to long-term economic trends shaping the region. Our analysis draws conclusions that help businesses and investors get ahead of the curve. As a firm staffed by Middle Easterners, we focus on insight rather than standard analysis.

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