Greg Sheridan: What is at stake for the world

October 27, 2020 Agencies
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Greg Sheridan, Foreign Editor of The Australian newspaper, discussed, “The 2020 US Election: What is at Stake for the World?” at the latest Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council webinar.

Greg Sheridan

Sheridan said that while it’s by no means certain, and polls can be misleading, it looks as though Joe Biden will win the election. He dislikes Trump’s manner and behaviour, and was a “never-Trumper”, but  admits Trump has done some good things, such as his record in the Middle East, including the Abraham Accords, and in Asia, and increasing military spending.

He continued, “The five countries in Asia that are most self-asserting and stand up best to China, namely India, Japan, Vietnam, Singapore and Australia, all have pretty good relationships with the Trump Administration…Most of all, Trump has called out China in a way that no previous president has done. He’s understood the magnitude of the Chinese threat to American interests and the way Beijing simply refuses to abide by international norms and world trade rules and so on.”

Sheridan said a second Trump Administration would be unpredictable, but he expects a more modest version, with Trump having learnt from his first term, and still constrained by US institutions of government and concern for his legacy, although there is also a chance of getting a bad Trump, who appoints ideologues or sycophants and makes poor deals with Iran and China, because he likes to make deals.

Biden, Sheridan says, would be likely to be the weakest president since Carter. His personnel will determine his policy. He would likely cut defence spending and overregulate the economy, which would be bad, “but nonetheless he could be a good centrist alliance-oriented Democrat…and he could take a hard-headed attitude to China, certainly keep all the benefits of the Abraham Accords in the Middle East and move beyond the old destructive paradigm which the Obama years represented in the Middle East.”

However, he added, it is more probable that we would get a bad Biden, reflecting the end years of the Obama administration, when the US was tremendously ineffectual, and have all the same people from that time, such as Ben Rhodes, John Kerry and Susan Rice. “Now all these people come from a global issues perspective. They believe in engagement for its own sake, and they are very orthodox thinkers in the United Nations school of foreign policy thinking. Kerry very famously declared, as a matter of absolute doctrine, Israel would never have peace with any of its Arab neighbours ever, under any circumstances, unless the Palestinian issue was resolved first.”

The Americans, under that type of administration, would be played by China and  “may go back to all the wrong features of the old paradigm in the Middle East, trying to resurrect the bad Iran deal, frittering away all the leverage Trump has built up for them through tariffs with China, sanctions on Iran and so on.”

An even worse version would be if the party’s left dominates, as they would be weak around the world, make radical cuts to the Pentagon, and see Western civilisation as the enemy “and they will see Israel as an expression of Western civilization. [Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] …cancelled her appearance at an event the other day honouring Yitzchak Rabin because she felt that that was too right wing and reactionary. Well if that section of the party can’t abide the memory of Yitzchak Rabin, they’re going to be a very difficult party in government for Israel and for all of America’s allies.”

On the other hand, Sheridan said, a Biden administration will be much more orderly than Trump’s, and the system will work better.

Trump is better for Australia and Israel than Biden will be, but we have bipartisan support in the US, and Israel and the US will maintain a strong alliance under Biden. However, “For Israel, Trump has actually delivered…he moved the embassy…to Jerusalem. Lots of American politicians have said they’re going to do that. The sort of Rhodes, Susan Rice, John Kerry consensus was that if we did that the whole Middle East would go up in flames, that this would cost American lives…Whereas in fact, the Arab reaction was…very, very muted, and I think this gave Israel and  the Trump Administration the confidence to go bit further, and Netanyahu will not have the same special relationship with Biden….Biden I think will not be as tough on Iran as Trump has been. Biden, I think will sustain the Abraham Accords, but I don’t know that…his Administration will push as hard for normalisation between Israel and Gulf Arab states without the prior solution of the Palestinian problem, and I think…the Palestinian problem is not amenable right now to a long-term permanent settlement, and…overall, I think he’s going to be less assertive, generally, than Trump.”

Australia, Sheridan said, has been good on the Middle East, but weak on Iran, and should have given Trump’s position on Iran more moral support. When PM Scott Morrison recognised west Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Sheridan thinks, he got the balance right, leaving east Jerusalem to be settled by negotiations while explicitly recognising Israeli sovereignty in west Jerusalem. He added that Australia and Israel are very strong partners in a variety of areas, and the Abraham Accords vindicated Morrison’s approach.

On Taiwan, Sheridan said that if Biden wins, there’s a real danger that China would do something aggressive, but just short of provoking a US reaction, whereas it’s scared of Trump. However, he noted that “If America was fighting for an independent Pacific democracy and we stayed out of that, then our American alliance would be over and our security would be compromised forever more,” so there would be some, maybe small,  Australian involvement if there was military conflict.

On the JCPOA nuclear deal with Iran, Sheridan said Obama thought his approach to the Middle East would reduce tension and contribute to peace, but “The truth is, everything Obama touched in foreign policy turned to ashes, turned to complete disaster. Insofar as he had any role in the Arab Spring, that was a disaster. He taught American allies that he would be disloyal to them…His one big military intervention was Libya, and that’s been an unmitigated disaster…by the end, the Iranians…so completely out-negotiated him, that he had to walk away from all his red lines in the Iranian deal, and I think what motivated him in the end was simply the feeling that if he had to walk away with no deal, he would be humiliated.”

Biden, he said, will want to reverse what the guy he has just beaten has done on Iran, and those who engineered the deal will be working under Biden, but there will also be some realists who will say the Trump sanctions have given the US leverage, so the deal should be re-negotiated.

Asked how the Abraham Accords may affect Israel’s relationships in Asia, Sheridan said Israel has been successful in Asia, but with non-Islamic states. Indonesia has been reluctant to do anything symbolic with Israel, but has little investment in the Palestinian cause, and is happy to have pragmatic commercial relations.

He concluded that while there is no structural reason to expect American power to decline, if Biden cuts the defence spend and damages economic growth, it will lessen American power, and it could also decline if the country can’t manage its political polarisation.




One Response to “Greg Sheridan: What is at stake for the world”
  1. Leon Poddebsky says:

    Regarding Obama’s clearing the path for a nuclearised Iranian Ayatollah regime, Dr Mordechai Kedar, a seasoned researcher of Islam, reached the conclusion that Obama’s policy of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and nuclearising Iran was sheer appeasement.

    Kedar says, however, that radical Islam opposes the West (esp. the USA) not because of what the USA does, but because of what it is- i.e., there is a clash of values and world views. Therefore appeasement is futile.

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