The Choice Between Trump and Obama Foreign Policies

A new book by Dr. Walid Phares, titled The Choice: Trump vs Obama Biden in US Foreign Policy is getting attention in Washington, D.C. and around the world. Released in late September, it stands alone as a definitive discussion and analysis of foreign policy and national security within a loud and crucial presidential election season which seems determined to focus only on domestic issues, personas, and inflammatory accusations. 

In The Choice, Phares examines the shifts in foreign policy that occurred during the Obama-Biden administration between 2009 and 2016, analyzes these shifts in strategy, and highlights the domestic and geopolitical consequences. Of primary concern to the author was the Obama-Biden administration’s "partnership with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the region". This implicit and explicit partnership, Phares argues, created additional domestic and regional problems, including the emboldening of Jihadists. Just as important to the author was the Iran Deal. According to Phares, it was for this deal that the Iranian people were abandoned, ISIS could not be defeated, and allies such as the Gulf and Israel were sidelined.

Phares also paints a picture of paralysis surrounding the peace process. By strictly adhering to a failed paradigm for finding peace in the Middle East, the Obama-Biden administration failed to foster peace agreements between Israel and moderate Arab countries. Under Obama-Biden, relations between Washington and Jerusalem deteriorated, delaying any substantive movement until Trump’s administration. Phares cites other crises with impact on U.S. national security, including the abandonment of civil societies during the Arab Spring, rejection of vetting, the removal of instructional material from U.S. agency programs needed to understand the Jihadi threat, and the Obama administration’s encouragement of the entrance into the United States of immigrants who might not share our American value system.

Phares argues that the Obama administration and the Clinton campaign tried to crush the Trump campaign, not just out of traditional political interests and party dichotomy, but also because a Trump win would mean a near reversal of what they viewed as a “realism-based” foreign policy. That would include withdrawal from the Iran Deal, which would affect the interests of several circles profiting from that deal. The author also argues it was Obama's bureaucrats who created and used the Mueller Probe to derail Trump's foreign policy in an attempt protect power interests, including political and financial windfalls resulting from the Iran Deal and other detrimental partnerships in the region.

By in large, The Choice is a compelling and extremely worthwhile read, particularly for those who have not yet cast their votes. However, the author tends to gloss over a few of the weaknesses of Trump’s foreign policy, such as his abandonment of our Kurdish allies who had worked valiantly to defeat ISIS alongside us,  to Turkish forces, particularly in  the Idlib province of Syria. He, instead, casts the responsibility for this on the extremely powerful Qatar and Turkish Muslim Brotherhood lobby in Washington, ignoring the enormous power of the presidency.

Having had said that, in The Choice, Phares demonstrates that despite an array of weapons set against him, Trump was able to move decisively on several of the foreign policy and national security issues the Obama administration left in its wake. The Trump administration’s successes included withdrawal from the Iran Deal, decisively crushing ISIS, launching an Arab Coalition, isolating Venezuela's regime, renewed Brazil-U.S. relations, and countering China's financial takeover of U.S. interests, among others. And his single most symbolic and historic achievement was sponsoring two peace agreements under the Abraham Accords between UAE, Bahrain, Sudan, and Israel. 

Phares admits that not everything was successfully resolved and there are still more critical actions that must take place to secure foreign policy initiatives and strategies in the best interest of the United States, but Trump was able to produce the results he did despite the investigations, obstruction, and impeachment processes. Indeed, mistakes were made, and many staff changes rocked the White House, but Phares argues that the choice in 2020 is between the disastrous eight years of Obama-Biden foreign policy and the four years of Trump-Pence, which took the first steps toward a startlingly successful reversal of those disastrous policies. The title and analysis by the author suggest that the next four years under Biden-Harris would be, in fact, a third Obama foreign policy term, while re-electing Trump would provide opportunity to successfully address the remaining challenges. 

Walid Phares’ bio is as long as it is impressive. He has been influential within circles of think tanks and foreign policy, appearing in media foreign and domestic for years, but most notably, he served as the first foreign policy advisor to Donald Trump in 2016. Prior to the Trump campaign, in addition to advising many members of Congress and the European Parliament, Phares served as Mitt Romney's national security advisor in the 2012 campaign. Phares is a prolific author with 14 books in English, French, and Arabic. Three of his books drew universal attention: Future Jihad in 2005, predicting the evolution of the Jihadist networks, The Coming Revolution in 2010, predicting the Arab Spring, and The Lost Spring in 2014, projecting the rise of post al Qaeda ISIS and the Iran Deal effects. 

In contrast to Phares’ scholarly books on geopolitics, The Choice debuts as his first nonacademic political book, yet it could well prove to be the most important as it reveals two distinct paths for the future of U.S. foreign policy emerging from 12 years of dueling between two diametrically opposed strategies. 

Sarah N. Stern is Founder and President of the Endowment for Middle East Truth, EMET, an unabashedly pro-American and pro-Israel think tank and policy institute in Washington, D.C.

Image: Gage Skidmore, Eliabeth Cromwell

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