Trump had the most successful Middle East policy of any American president. The denigrators will say that he had luck and that the timing was propitious, but what is strategy without luck and timing? He undid the Obama administration’s reckless attempt to establish a nuclear balance of power on a double fault line: between Sunnis and Shias, and between Israel and a theocratic regime dedicated to its destruction. He avoided a shooting war with Iran, and presided over not just the opening of warm ties between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain, but the development of a new strategic alignment that runs from India to the Gulf to the eastern Mediterranean and across southern Europe to London. In a rare moment of agreement with Barack Obama, Trump surmised that NATO’s European members were almost all “freeloaders.” Unlike Obama, he forced them to promise to contribute their statutory 2 percent of GDP. Will Biden enforce that promise? Probably not. Will he attempt to revive the Iran deal, turn on the United States’ regional allies Israel and Saudi Arabia, and block a promising strategic development in Asia—and fail, making war more likely? Probably.
The era of presuming upon the infinite extension of the post-1945 American-led order is long gone. So too is the luxury of believing that lines drawn in the sand and sea decades ago enjoy universal credulity. The new administration might continue the revision of American foreign policy that Mike Pompeo did much to advance. If the world is splitting into American and Chinese spheres, each with its legal norms, then economic and strategic policies must be aligned. But the new administration shows every sign of attacking the legacy of Trump’s foreign policy out of principle—or the lack of it.