Donald Trump has been accused of trying to hamstring Joe Biden before he leaves office by ‘lighting so many foreign policy fires the Democrat won’t be able to put them out.’
The president has ordered thousands of troops out of Afghanistan and Iraq, attacked Chinese tech companies and brokered a colossal arms deal in the Middle East this month.
And this week it emerged that Trump had to be ‘talked out of’ a bombardment on Iran’s foremost nuclear facility as his aides impressed upon him this would likely start a war.
One White House official told CNN: ‘The goal is to set so many fires that it will be hard for the Biden administration to put them all out.’
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks about Operation Warp Speed in the Rose Garden at the White House on November 13, 2020 in Washington, DC
Presumptive president-elect Joe Biden answers questions from the press at The Queen in Wilmington, Delaware on November 16, 2020
Analysts argue this is an extremely high risk strategy, not just from a national security point of view, but in a political sense; the reversal of such policies could provide Biden with easy wins.
Others say that Trump is acting honorably to fulfill the promises he made to the American people prior to his election in 2016.
Trump’s administration is, however, said to be doing the bare minimum to communicate with Biden’s team.
This is seen as a divergence from the norm, although it does run naturally from Trump’s belief that he won the election.
In late 2016, Obama made plans for the offensive against the Islamic State but was willing to hand over to Trump to make the final decisions as it was the Republican who would ultimately manage the war.
Bush staffers did similar for Obama, preparing stacks of memoranda on Iraq for the incoming president to proceed as he saw fit.
AFGHANISTAN AND IRAQ
US Army soliders from 1-506 Infantry Division set out on a patrol in Paktika province, situated along the Afghan-Pakistan border in November 2008
On Tuesday, the newly-installed Defense Secretary Christopher Miller announced another 2,500 soldiers will be withdrawn from Afghanistan and Iraq by January 15 – five days before Biden enters the Oval Office.
There are around 4,500 troops in Afghanistan and 3,000 in Iraq.
The move prompted concern from the top Republican in the House of Representatives.
‘I think it’s extremely important here in the next couple of months not to have any earthshaking changes with regard to defense and foreign policy,’ Mitch McConnell warned.
‘I think a precipitous drawdown in either Afghanistan or Iraq would be a mistake.’
Defense experts said a rapid withdrawal of troops could spark an insurgency by ISIS who might seek to rebuild their caliphate.
It’s a fulfilment of Trump’s political promise to his base and puts Biden on the ropes.
If the new president puts more boots back on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, this will be seen as highly symbolic by conservatives who are fed up with America engaging in costly, unsuccessful conflicts in the Middle East.
CHINESE BIG TECH
Chinese President Xi Jinping, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, speaks during fifth plenary session of the 19th CPC Central Committee in Beijing on October 29, 2020
The Trump administration last Thursday unveiled an executive order banning US investments in Chinese firms that Washington says are owned or controlled by the Chinese military.
The order could impact some of China’s biggest companies, including telecoms firms China Telecom Corp Ltd, China Mobile Ltd and surveillance equipment maker Hikvision.
Chinese state media this week said that Beijing was preparing for a ‘final act of madness’ by Trump in the last throes of his presidency.
Further measures Trump is looking at going into his remaining weeks include sanctions on the Communist apparatchik and to target the forced labor camps of the Uighurs in Xinjiang.
IRAN’S NUCLEAR AMBITIONS
Defence sources told The New York Times that Trump last week asked for options on a bombardment – likely to have targeted Iran’s foremost nuclear facility, Natanz
Trump held an Oval Office meeting last week where he was ‘talked out of’ launching strikes on Iran after a previous UN report showed a massive increase in nuclear stockpiles in breach of an Obama-era pact which Trump abandoned in 2018.
Defence sources told The New York Times that Trump asked for options on a bombardment – likely to have targeted Iran’s foremost nuclear facility, Natanz.
Iran has been flouting restrictions imposed by the nuclear deal which it still holds with Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia.
And in a further provocation yesterday, Tehran said it would ‘automatically’ return to its commitments under the 2018 deal if Joe Biden lifts sanctions imposed over the past two years.
Analysts told CNN that Trump’s policies had squeezed Iran so hard that it might make it easy for Biden to get them to agree to terms.
Democrats will be keen for the US to return to the Obama-era deal which they see as the likeliest means to deter Iran from manufacturing a nuclear bomb.
Biden’s allies believe that Trump’s aggression has only made the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran more likely.
But the White House is ‘building a wall of sanctions,’ CNN reports, which impose new punishments for Iran’s appalling human rights record, support for terror groups like Hezbollah and its nuclear activities.
It might be difficult for Biden to overcome these without appearing to be a soft touch.
MIDDLE EAST ARMS DEAL
In this Aug. 5, 2019, photo released by the U.S. Air Force, an F-35 fighter jet pilot and crew prepare for a mission at Al-Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates
The Trump administration told Congress earlier this month it had approved the sale of more than $23 billion in advanced weapons systems, including F-35 fighter jets and armed drones, to the United Arab Emirates.
The $23.37 billion package includes up to 50 F-35 Lighting II aircraft, up to 18 MQ-9B Unmanned Aerial Systems and a package of air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions, the State Department said.
Critics claim that it could spark a new arms race in the volatile Middle East.
Democrats said that the lack of time they were given to consider the sale was not appropriate.
‘That was something the UAE very much wanted the Trump administration to do before leaving office, and they did it very quickly and they notified even a much bigger potential package than what had been expected,’ Michele Dunne, director of the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace told CNN.
‘I think there’s going to need to be an internal discussion in the new administration about whether they will try to undo all these things.’
ISRAELI SETTLEMENTS IN THE WEST BANK
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo departs a security briefing on Mount Bental in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights, near the Israeli-Syrian border, Thursday, November 19, 2020
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo today visited an Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank, becoming the first top US diplomat to do so.
The construction of such settlements is in breach of international law, though Trump ally Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejects the UN’s legal interpretation of the West Bank.
Last year, Netanyahu unveiled a new community called ‘Trump Heights’ in the Golan Heights region which was seized in the 1967 war.
Biden was highly condemnatory of such settlements during his time as vice president.
The Democrat is a supporter of a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine which critics of Trump said has been made almost impossible by his policy on settlements.
Pompeo recently announced a new initiative to combat the international Palestinian-led boycott movement.
He said that the US would brand the boycott movement as ‘anti-Semitic’ and cut off all funding for groups that participate in it.
Such a move could deny funding to Palestinian and international human rights groups.
Some steps, such as Trump’s movement of the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, will almost certainly have to be maintained by Biden when he takes power.
HOUTHI REBELS IN YEMEN
A police trooper rides on the back of a patrol truck during the funeral of Houthi fighters killed during recent battles against government forces, in Sanaa, Yemen September 22, 2020
Pompeo has been pushing hard for the Houthi rebels waging civil war in Yemen to be designated a terrorist organisation.
The State Department and the United Nations have put up resistance because they say it would undermine efforts to broker peace.
The conflict has been raging since 2014, the death toll from the combined effects of the war and the ensuing famine is estimated at more than 200,000.
If the Houthis were to be designated a terror organisation it would be very difficult for Biden to row back.
The policy is part of the Trump administration’s campaign of all-out pressure on Iran, which backs the Houthis.
A State Department official told CNN that Pompeo and the rest of Trump’s staff didn’t care what position they put Biden in.
‘That is just how this cast of characters works,’ he told the broadcaster. ‘Pompeo will do everything he can to make it hard for the incoming team.’