The US House of Representatives has impeached President Donald Trump for “incitement of insurrection” 7 days before the end of his presidency. In recent months, the administration of Donald Trump has made active steps in the foreign policy in an attempt to secure the previously established course. Sometimes these moves look pointless. Trump bequeath a heavy legacy to his successor Joe Biden in the Middle East, Latin America, in relations with China, etc.
The main rival of the United States in the Middle East, Iran, has been accused of complicity with Al-Qaeda. Tehran has allegedly become the “home base” for the leaders of the terrorist group, making it much more difficult for the United States to fight against them. Pompeo claimed that Al-Qaeda’s second-in-command was allegedly killed last year in Tehran.
Such statements seem to be the last attempt to cast a pall over Tehran before Trump’s surrender. They sound increasingly meaningless, given that Shiite state does not support al-Qaeda or ISIS, and Iranian-backed forces fight terrorists while the US often supports them.
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Attempts to weaken Iran’s influence are also made indirectly, outside the borders of the country. For example, US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo announced the intention of Congress to designate Ansar Allah movement (the Houthis) that according to Washington is supported by Tehran as terrorist organizations. In response, the Houthis accused Trump of being terrorist, and added that Washington’s actions deserve condemnation, and the Houthis, in turn, “reserve the right to response.”
Designation as a terrorist organization means, inter alia, the freezing of assets in the United States and a ban on American citizens or companies from doing business with the group. Moreover, it complicates the provision of humanitarian assistance in the country at war. The definition will prevent non-profit humanitarian organizations from operating in the territories controlled by Ansar Allah, and will also create additional obstacles in the negotiations process with the Houthis.
Syria has become the main foothold for the advance of Trump’s agenda. In recent weeks, a wave of Israeli airstrikes and missiles has swept across Syria. The strikes are carried out on a regular basis, aiming to push Iran and its allies out from Syria as well as to prevent them from developing offensive capabilities.
The last strike was carried out on January 13 in the morning and was probably directly assisted by forces of the US-led coalition. This became one of the largest strikes on the Syrian-Iraqi border. According to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights 57 people were killed and 37 others were wounded, including foreign fighters, mostly Iraqi and Afghan nationals, from armed groups loyal to Iran. The deaths of 5 Syrian service members were officially confirmed.
The Iraqi Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) also confirmed the death of Abu Yatem al-Katrani, the commander of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) 4th Brigade. However, they provided no information on its exact time and place.
In the meantime, the United States has reinforced its troops stationed in the Omar oil fields and the COINCO gas facility, regularly conducting exercises there, under the guise of an alleged war with ISIS.
The United States seized the moment to strengthen its troops in Iraq, amid false claims about a massive attack prepared by pro-Iranian forces on the anniversary of the assassination of Iranian Quds Force Commander Qasem Soleimani on January 3.
The plan to carry out “the complex operation” on the date of the anniversary seemed to be hardly implemented; however, such reports justify the sharp increase of the U.S. military presence in Iraq. Washington used the pretext of growing threat of Iranian vengeance to consolidate its military forces in close proximity to Iran.
All these steps fit into the logic of a close military campaign against Iran in January 2021 before Donald Trump leaves the White House.
Another victim of Trump’s recent attempts to protect its foreign policy heritage is China. Apart from the economic war, on the political battlefield, Donald Trump over the past year has actively accused Beijing of a global pandemic, espionage, theft of technology and Americans’ personal data.
During Trump’s presidency, the congressmen have prepared the Name the Enemy Act and wanted to prohibit calling the head of the PRC as “President”. Xi is not a popularly elected leader, congressmen explain, suggesting to call him Secretary General. Chinese high-ranking diplomats were banned from visiting universities and meeting with local authorities without the permission of the State Department. Visa restrictions were imposed on students and scientists from China. In the US, all Confucius Institutes should be closed, they are one of the main instruments of Chinese soft power. The Chinese consulate in Houston was closed, in response, Beijing closed the American consulate in Chengdu. In August, Trump gave the owner of the TikTok video service, Chinese company ByteDance, 45 days to sell TikTok to Microsoft, under the pretext that it transfers users’ personal data to Beijing.
Given the Biden administration’s relatively more favorable attitude towards China, Trump is in a hurry to spoil relations between the countries as much as possible in the last days of his presidency. As a result, on December 9, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the lifting of “self-imposed restrictions” on the relationship between the United States and Taiwan.
This step ended the US recognition of the “One China” policy status quo and created significant obstacles for the incoming ‘Biden team’ intentions to de-escalate tensions with China in order to satisfy the Big Tech.
Moreover, China, as well as Cuba, was accused by the US of attacks on American diplomats. In early December, the American media published a report by the US National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM), according to which they were “directed radio frequency exposure” that caused the illness of several dozen American diplomats in Cuba and China in 2017-2018.
Washington’s accusations are intended to justify new sanctions and once again put pressure on relations with China and Cuba, which is also suffering from the intensification of Trump’s foreign policy. The US State Department included Cuba in the list of countries sponsoring terrorism.
According to Mike Pompeo, “the Cuban regime must end its support for terrorism and undermine American justice.”
In response, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parilla called the decision of the US authorities hypocritical and cynical, accusing it of political opportunism.
The Trump administration has not forgotten Venezuela either. In early January, the United States stepped up strengthening the partnership with Guyana, which has territorial disputes with Venezuela for the belonging of the Essequibo border region. On January 7, Nicolás Maduro, approved by Presidential Decree the creation of the territory of the Venezuelan Atlantic façade, a new maritime territory that includes the disputed region.
Meanwhile, while the US is preparing for possible provocations during the inauguration of Joe Biden, on the other side of the Pacific Ocean, North Korea (DPRK) has threatened to build up its nuclear arsenal to deal with any threats by the U.S.
The 8th Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea was held in Pyongyang. According to the Central Telegraph Agency of Korea Kim Jong Un, was elected Secretary General of the party. In January 2021, during a party congress in Pyongyang, he called the United States the main enemy of the DPRK.
“Our foreign policy activity should be focused on suppressing and bringing to its knees the United States – our biggest enemy, which represents the main obstacle to our revolutionary development,” said Kim Jong Un.
He also promised to improve the ability to deliver preventive and retaliatory nuclear strikes in order to hit any strategic targets at a distance of 15 thousand km.
During the election campaign in 2019 Joe Biden has clearly outlined the impossibility of normalizing relations between the two countries in the near future, calling Kim Jong Un a “tyrant.” The second identified the American as a “fool”.
The Trump administration tried to solve Washington’s North Korean problem during the summits in 2018 and 2019, which were preceded by a year of escalating tensions with promises of “fire and fury” for Pyongyang and a high risk of nuclear war. However, this did not lead to the desired result.
In the case of North Korea, Trump has no need to undertake specific measures in order to worsen the bilateral relationship. They are stable at a low point. Even the Biden’s presidency is unlikely to significantly change the situation. A shift to the “strategic patience” approach that was used during Barack Obama’s presidency is unlikely today. It only allows North Korea to get more time to build a more powerful nuclear potential. Biden realizes that Kim Jong Un will not stop developing new nuclear weapons, such as new ballistic missiles for submarines or mobile solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missiles.
The United States will be forced to establish a new format of relations with North Korea, taking into account the risk of a tough response from Pyongyang in case of increasing pressure, as well as Washington’s reluctance to make concessions, demonstrating its weakness.
An important issue in the transition of presidential power from Trump to Biden is the withdrawal of the American military from Afghanistan.
In 2020, in Qatar, the United States and the Afghan radical Taliban signed the first peace agreement in more than 18 years of war, which provides for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan in 14 months and the beginning of an inter-Afghan negotiation. The US Department of Defense plans that 2,500 American troops remain in Afghanistan by January 15, 2021.
There is a risk that Biden will make adjustments to the decision of the previous administration. It is likely that he will not completely abandon the withdrawal of troops, but he may well change its parameters, the number of soldiers, or simply replace the American soldiers with employees of private military companies.
The Afghan issue remains a rather sensitive topic, as it has a special meaning in the political game and during the election race. Democrats today are forced to “make excuses” for the failure of the Barack Obama administration in this area; and all of Biden’s campaign promises to withdraw American troops may in fact be unfulfilled. In reality, the American leadership was unable to withdraw the military from Afghanistan because this country has an important geostrategic position, and the interests of other countries, including China, Iran, Russia and Pakistan, are involved there. The withdrawal of Americans from Afghanistan would be perceived in the world as a geostrategic retreat of the United States. Also, the US is afraid to leave this region, because then the Taliban will gain the power and it will turn out that all American efforts were wasted.
The outgoing Trump administration continues to make all what is possible to preserve its heritage for Biden before leaving the White House. It reinforced its actions in all main regions. The military provocations are especially crucial in the Middle East, as well as the political efforts aimed to destroy the US relations with China.
Most likely, Joe Biden will move away from the policy pursued by Donald Trump and give up “maximum pressure” from Iran. He climes that the best way to achieve stability in the Middle East is to keep Iran from working on a nuclear program through negotiations.
It will not be easy for Biden to overcome the obstacles that the Trump administration has set along this way. On November 25, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that if Biden keeps his promises, it will solve the problems between Iran and the United States. Two days later, Iranian nuclear physicist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was assassinated. In response to the death of the scientist, Iran approved a draft law entitled “Strategic measure to lift sanctions.” The initiative provides for the possibility of refusal by the country’s authorities from an additional protocol with the IAEA on verification of nuclear activities.
In the case of China, “China Joe” is unlikely to significantly change the course of US foreign policy. At the moment, Washington does not have sufficient ground to lift the established tariffs and sanctions. It will be easier for Biden to leave things as they are. However, the emergence of new anti-Chinese initiatives, especially in the military sphere, as was the case under Trump, should not be expected. Tensions in the disputed areas are likely to decrease significantly. In many ways, Biden will strive to at least ensure the economic links between the US corporation and China. However, China has been slowly but steadily winning the race for the economic and technological dominance simultaneously boosting own military capabilities to defend the victory in the case of a military escalation. Joe Biden will have to reckon with this.
The shift in power in the United States changes the global agenda. Even while some countries like Iran, China or European leaders may have at least a little hope of stabilizing relations with the United States. Trump’s main heritage can be considered to be the fact that now the credibility of the United States is undermined. Even the European ally strives to create an independent military force, fearing that a Trump-style politician may come to power in the United States at any time. In relations with rivals, this significantly weakens the position of Washington and favors, for example, Iran, which gets the right to decide whether to go for rapprochement with the United States.
The United States has already shown that there are no red lines for it; that it prefers to be an independent player without binding themselves to international obligations. History speaks about this, and most likely it will also be the case in the future. Even before they really came to power, neo-liberalists have already demonstrated their unwillingness to follow any rules on the way to realizing their goals. Now, it is occurring within the borders of the United States, thus, the same should be expected in the international arena.