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Biden transition, Gulf leaders should start talking about Iran

Saudi Arabia and the UAE should reach out to the Biden team now, creating a back channel to promote both Gulf and US security interests in the final months of Trump's presidency.
US President-elect Joe Biden shows a face mask as he answers questions about COVID 19 from the press at The Queen in Wilmington, Delaware on November 16, 2020. - US President-elect Joe Biden expressed frustration on November 16, 2020 about Donald Trump's refusal so far to cooperate on the White House transition process, saying "more people may die" without immediate coordination on fighting the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by ROBERTO SCHMIDT / AFP) (Photo by ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP via Getty Images)

To avoid war, President-elect Joe Biden's administration in waiting may need to start talking. In December 2016, there was a breach of protocol in New York when members of the incoming Donald Trump administration, including then-President-elect Trump, met with Emirati leadership in Trump Tower. It caused a bit of a stir and began a process of deinstitutionalization of foreign policy within the Trump administration that lasts to this day. Before Jared Kushner and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman were WhatsApp buddies, there was the quiet outreach by Gulf Arab monarchies to get a read on Trump and cement open channels of communication outside of the halls of the State Department or National Security Council. To facilitate those channels, especially before the inauguration, was bad policy and bad precedent. But it may be exactly what needs to happen again, with better intentions under extreme circumstances.

We are in a strange moment in American history when a sitting president who has lost reelection refuses to acknowledge his defeat and at the same time has two months to, at the least, throw sand in the gears of his successor's administration, and at the worst, propel the United States into needless conflict. Attacking Iran in the twilight of his presidency would wreak havoc on the Biden administration's objective of re-entering the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), but it would also wreck the potential growth and recovery of the Middle East from its long-term structural economic malaise worsened by the current impact of the pandemic and the collapse of oil prices. A regional war with Iran does nothing for the future stability and prosperity of the Middle East. In fact, it would usher in a lost generation, throwing away its chance at a demographic dividend, arresting a young, relatively healthy and decently educated population and condemning them to poverty, immobility and silence — perhaps the greatest missed opportunity since the discovery of oil.

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