Daniel DePetris

Can Trump the peacemaker convince US voters?

Can Trump the peacemaker convince US voters?
Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)
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President Donald Trump has been running from rally to rally like a headless chicken ready to cluck about his accomplishments. The only issue is there aren’t many accomplishments for him to run on.

His campaign advisers are begging him to focus all his energy on the prospects of an economic comeback in the last two weeks of the campaign. The candidate, however, doesn’t take orders from his staffers very well. Rather than making his case for another four years in the White House, Trump is using this critical stretch of time calling the nation’s most respected doctor an 'idiot' and a 'disaster', unconcerned about the notion that assaulting Anthony Fauci’s character will further bleed his weak support among swing-state independents.

Trump is trying to compensate his lack of domestic achievements by moving outside America’s borders. The President has seen a number of foreign policy accomplishments over the last two months, some of which Joe Biden’s top foreign policy adviser even recognises as beneficial for peace and security. 

It started this August when the Trump administration announced a normalisation accord between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. While it was an open secret that the two Middle Eastern nations have had a pragmatic relationship with one another for years, the written agreement formally unveiled in September brought that relationship out into the open. The small Gulf sheikdom of Bahrain quickly followed the UAE’s lead and signed onto a diplomatic agreement with Israel shortly thereafter. Trump was so pleased about the deal that he scheduled a signing ceremony at the White House in the style of Bill Clinton’s 1993 event with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat. The entire affair elicited eye-rolls from veteran US peace negotiators, who reminded anybody and everybody that Israel, the UAE, and Bahrain were never at war in the first place. Yet there was at least a document Trump could point to that finally validated his dealmaker image.

Trump isn’t done with the peacemaking file. His administration is now discussing a similar normalisation deal with Saudi Arabia. While nobody expects Riyadh to sign a declaration with Israel anytime soon — at least as long as the old King Salman is alive — the fact that Saudi tone on Israel is getting softer is a reflection that the monarchy is moving in the right direction as far as Washington is concerned. It should be noted that Saudi Arabia is now allowing Israeli flights going to and from the UAE to traverse its airspace.

Then there is the imminent deal with Sudan, the large African country that has been an international pariah for the past three decades. After months of talks between US and Sudanese officials, President Trump took to Twitter on 19 October to announce the removal of Sudan from the US state sponsors of terrorism list. In return, the transitional Sudanese authority agreed to pay $335 million (£257 million) in compensation to US victims of the 1998 East Africa Embassy bombings and the 2000 attack on the USS Cole. The deal also brings Sudan and Israel closer to striking their own peace agreement, which could be inked in a matter of days. In the event that agreement is signed, Trump could actually toot his own horn for being the key player in getting two sworn enemies to move on from their decades-long rivalry.

Then there’s Russia. Throughout his term, Trump has repeatedly expressed his wish to add a dose of pragmatism into a US-Russia relationship, which is struggling to produce anything constructive for either nation. For the most part, his quest for an improved relationship with Moscow has failed to materialise. Russia’s own actions, domestic US politics (hammering Russia with sanctions is the one thing Republicans and Democrats can come together on), the Mueller investigation against Trump’s 2016 campaign, and classic geopolitics have largely impeded Trump’s proclamations to 'get along' with the Russians.

Yet this week produced a potential breakthrough. After initially refusing Washington’s demands for a new arms control deal, the Russian Foreign Ministry released a statement on 20 October stating its interest in extending New START — the last bilateral accord limiting the US and Russian nuclear arsenals. The Russians also said they were willing to cap the number of nuclear warheads at its current level provided Washington reciprocates and doesn’t introduce more conditions. Trump, who has lambasted the Obama-era New START agreement as a bad deal, now presumably has the opportunity to build on it.

Will any of this matter for the 2020 presidential election? American voters tend to cast their ballots on domestic issues like the economy and healthcare. This year, Covid-19 will be the top concern for most of the electorate. Foreign policy is traditionally a middle-tier concern.

However, the recent wave of foreign policy action could prove to be a gift for Donald Trump, who would prefer to shift the discussion to anything other than the coronavirus. Heading into the final debate this Thursday, the President can now talk about something other than Hunter Biden, Anthony Fauci, the deep state, and the big, bad media.