The American Election and Foreign Policy

As the American election grows closer, it becomes an increasingly influential factor in policymaking in Washington and worldwide. American politicians are quick to try to negotiate any crisis that might allow them to proclaim some kind of solution. An ad itself, as a matter of fact, is becoming more important than its content. This is understandable if we keep in mind its potential influence on approval ratings for each candidate in the upcoming November presidential election.

There are innumerable examples of American diplomats performing on the world stage, and the most well known is their work in the Middle East and the surrounding region. On Aug. 13, the White House announced that it had spearheaded an agreement to normalize relations between the United Arab Emirates and Israel, with the U.S. acting as mediator. This agreement sent a strong message to the entire Arab world, in particular to those with whom the U.S. is ready to compromise if they are willing to normalize relations with Israel. There have been several potential candidates for such an agreement. All the Arab states with specific issues that could be resolved by Washington are now considering whether they could “survive” normalizing relations with Israel without resolving the Palestinian question. As they consider this, they’ll be considering how their own public perceives this possibility, and will keep the stability of their governments in mind as well. The U.S. is clearly ready to supply them with arms that were not previously on previously approved export lists for those countries, and to guarantee the security of those weapons. The U.S. is also prepared to remove some of these nations from the list of terrorist countries, which would have a powerful political and economic impact. The U.S. is perhaps even ready to recognize the sovereignty of these countries over certain disputed territories.

This is a moment in which the governments of Arab countries will have to quickly decide whether to seize the opportunity, regardless of the potential political risk, or to stay on the sidelines and demand a solution to the Palestinian question via a two-state solution, which, as of now, seems quite remote. It’s a classic example of pragmatism versus principles. It’s well known that true politics are generally more practical than principle-based.

Israel, for its part, understands the possibilities of this moment quite well and is ready to do anything to facilitate the decision-making of some Arab countries. The economic incentives are also quite strong, and the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could find ways to improve commerce and investments. Many nations also find Israeli technology very desirable, but American weapons systems, often developed in conjunction with Israel, are at the top of countries’ priority lists.

Of course, Israel will continue to request that the U.S. limit its arms exports in order to ensure that Israeli military supplies and equipment remain superior to those of any Arab country. Naturally, there’s a lot of wiggle room to control and evaluate this factor, but the official Israel-U.S. policy will remain the same as always.

However, there isn’t much time left before the American election. If the current administration remains in power, current trends will also persist, though with much less enthusiasm and fewer promises.

For some Arab countries, it will be very difficult to reject what is now clearly on the table. They will see all the opportunities at hand and, having seen the disunity of the Palestinians, will also be well aware of what not to do if they want to maintain political support. Politics now is about net gains — no one is truly worried about the real substance of political accords and the actual future implementation of what is agreed to.

As I’ve said above, it’s important to formally announce whatever agreements are made, thus adding another great success to the global stage of a longstanding crisis. Domestic politics always take precedence over foreign policy.

The author is the former ambassador of Serbia and a researcher at the University Institute of Lisbon Center for International Studies.

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