Last night’s debate will impact the Middle East as well as the US

The issue now is not whether Biden should be president for another term – it’s whether he should be president for the remainder of this term.


Joe Biden and Donald Trump in the CNN Presidential Debate (Photo by Andrew Harnik/Getty Images)

June 28, 2024 15:17

Last night’s US presidential debate between Biden and Trump was one of the most embarrassing, depressing and deeply frustrating political spectacles this century.

Embarrassing, because…well, you don’t need me to explain. Depressing, because how else can one view the choice between a felon who lies for fun and a man who mumbles incoherently, for the leadership of the free world? And frustrating because…dear Lord, how did it end up here?

But more than that, it is deeply worrying. Frightening, even.

The West won the Cold War in large measure because the Soviet Union couldn’t keep up with a strong, resolute US. Pax Americana was not just a clever phrase: the US was respected - both admired and feared - even by its adversaries, and fear of the US has always been key to its superpower role. More recently, we have seen the consequences when the US is perceived as weak – when Assad crossed Obama’s supposed red line over the use of chemical weapons in Syria in 2014, and Obama did nothing, and when Putin invaded Crimea earlier that same year, also to no response, which led eventually to his later invasion of the rest of Ukraine in 2022.

In the Middle East, the JCPOA (the Iran nuclear deal) told Iran that the West was there to be had, with the easing of sanctions allowing the Tehran regime to boost both its terror funding and its nuclear programme.

Which brings us to last night, and the impact not just on the presidential race but on the here and now. The debate will have been watched in Moscow, in Tehran, in Pyongyang and elsewhere and one message will have been heard loud and clear: the US is led by a bumbling fool. Imagine how Hamas and Hezbollah will have reacted. With Iran in control, it was always pretty fanciful to think that US pressure could have much impact on the terror organisations directly. But after last night, the idea that Nasrallah is quaking lest the US be angered by Hezbollah’s increasing attacks on Israel is not so much a sick joke and plain idiotic.

As it is, tensions between Israel and the US have been worryingly open in recent weeks – at the very time when it is most vital that the US is seen as staunch in its support for its key regional ally. Add to that the (now surely impossible to refute) view that the US is as weak and – literally – pathetic as its leader, and the omens for the next few weeks and months are as bad as they have ever been.

Viewed in this context, the immediate issue that arises from last night’s debate is not whether Biden should be president for another term. And it’s not – appalling though the prospect may be – whether it should be Trump. It’s whether Biden should even be president for the remainder of this term.

June 28, 2024 15:17

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