The old cracker barrel wisdom inside the Beltway (if there had been a country store inside the Beltway) used to be “This is a Presidential Election Year, so don’t believe anything you hear.” What we’ve been hearing recently are media spats about U.S-China immoral equivalency that could produce “a new Cold War.” Don’t believe it. Presidential year politics has Trump shaping his re-election around “I’m tough on China; Biden is soft”.
Ankara's handling of the COVID-19 outbreak has left Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan falling behind the wheel, also revealing competition among advisors inside his presidential palace (known as Saray in Turkish) in Ankara. Meanwhile, popular initiatives to battle the pandemic, launched by recently-elected opposition mayors of key cities, including Istanbul and Ankara, have allowed these politicians to emerge as problem-solvers in the country.
The United States has been badly hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, but so has the Middle East. While combating the virus at home is the priority, foreign policy is entwined with the overall strategy. The Pentagon and Department of State – and other agencies – are still hard at work keeping a watchful eye on the Middle East’s response to the virus and how adversaries could potentially take advantage of the pandemic.
The public health crisis and challenge of COVID-19’s impact on most of the Middle East, as on other parts of the non-Western World, has been limited. While the extent of the pandemic in Iran and Turkey has been significant, the figures cited by and for most of the Arab World have been low, certainly low when compared to the early concern that high density (in countries like Egypt and in the Gaza Strip) and weak public health systems could lead to an exponential spread of the disease.
The coronavirus pandemic is not, by the standards of the great plagues of the past, a particularly deadly disease. The plague that struck the Athens of Pericles seems to have had a much higher mortality rate, though its geographical reach was restricted. The epidemic that wrecked the Emperor Justinian’s drive to re-establish imperial authority in the west was similarly responsible for more death than the current outbreak – so far.
“A plague has occurred that is unprecedented and the likes of which we have never heard of before … it has spread throughout the country, east and west, and we have seen wonders from it in its phases and conditions for it has annihilated most of the people in the country … and the markets were closed … and the call of prayers from mosques has been disrupted … and crops have been left unharvested and dried up on the face of the earth because there was no one to harvest it.”
Halford Mackinder began his sketch on a spare map in 1904 by putting his pencil down on a point near the seas north of Russia’s St. Petersburg, by the Kanin Peninsula. From there, he laid down a southward graphite trail, bending west to incorporate Moscow, then heading south once more, threading between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea until he stopped barely above the Persian Gulf.
In the democratic West, many expect there to be a post–Covid-19 reckoning. That politicians who did poorly in handling the pandemic will fall from office. There isn’t a clear understanding of what virological competence in a leader ought to look like (Angela Merkel appears, for now, to be the exemplar), but many executives in the more severely infected nations—for example, Donald Trump, Emanuel Macron, and Boris Johnson—aren’t role models and should be punished.