Home / REGIONS / Americas / Al-Makahleh: A Clash of titans in Atlanta with the shadow of Putin

Al-Makahleh: A Clash of titans in Atlanta with the shadow of Putin

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Dr. Shehab Al Makahleh

The recent debate between former president Donald Trump and President Joe Biden in Atlanta, was nothing short of a political earthquake. Broadcasted live from the heart of the South, this face-off covered a vast array of critical issues — from domestic policy to the intricacies of Middle Eastern geopolitics, the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian war, the Gaza-Israel conflict, and the looming threat of nuclear war. The event was a stark reminder of the deep divisions and high stakes in contemporary American politics.

On domestic issues, the debate revealed the stark contrast between Trump’s promise of a return to his “America First” policies and Biden’s appeal for unity and continued progress. Trump criticised Biden’s handling of the economy, pointing to inflation and rising gas prices as signs of failed leadership. He promised a resurgence of American manufacturing and tougher immigration policies to protect American jobs. In contrast, Biden highlighted his administration’s efforts to rebuild the economy post-pandemic, emphasising job growth, infrastructure investments and expanded healthcare access. The clash underscored the divergent paths each leader envisions for America’s future.

The Gaza-Israel conflict added a new layer of complexity to the debate on Middle Eastern policy. Trump positioned himself as a staunch ally of Israel, reaffirming his administration’s strong support and his role in moving the US embassy to Jerusalem. He criticised Biden for what he called a weak response to the recent escalations and promised unequivocal support for Israel’s right to defend itself. Biden, while also expressing support for Israel, emphasised the need for a balanced approach that includes addressing humanitarian concerns in Gaza. He called for renewed efforts towards a two-state solution and criticised Trump’s policies for inflaming tensions in the region.

The war in Ukraine took center stage, with Trump and Biden presenting diametrically opposed strategies. Trump’s approach was more ambiguous; he criticised NATO allies for not contributing enough to their defence and suggested a need for renegotiation of alliances. He made a bold claim that he would end the war in Eastern Europe if elected in November 2024, promising a swift resolution months before the presidential ceremony in January 2025. Biden stood firm in his support for Ukraine, highlighting the importance of NATO and the United States’ commitment to European security. He outlined the necessity of a unified Western front to counter Russian aggression, framing the conflict as a battle for democracy itself.

The recent debate in Atlanta between President Joe Biden and former president Donald Trump was a spectacle of clashing worldviews and stark contrasts. One of the most striking elements of the debate was the frequent invocation of Russian leader Vladimir Putin, who was mentioned roughly a dozen times during the 90-minute exchange. This focus highlighted the divergent approaches each candidate has taken towards Russia and its controversial leader.

Trump, who has consistently denied allegations of Russian interference in his favour during the 2016 election, argued that a strong, respected leadership in the White House would have deterred Putin from his aggressive actions, particularly the invasion of Ukraine. “As far as Russia and Ukraine, if we had a real president, a president that knew, that was respected by Putin, he would have never, he would have never invaded Ukraine,” Trump asserted, emphasising his belief in the power of personal respect and deterrence.

Trump’s critique extended to the substantial financial aid provided by the US to Ukraine. He characterised Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as “the greatest salesman ever”, questioning the necessity and extent of the support, which has seen Washington approve around $60 billion in aid for the conflict. Trump confidently claimed that he would settle the war between Putin and Zelenskyy before even taking office if elected in November 2024, though he offered no specifics on how he would achieve this feat.

In contrast, Biden maintained a much harsher stance on Putin, labeling him a “war criminal” responsible for the deaths of thousands and with ambitions to re-establish the Soviet Empire by taking control of all of Ukraine. Biden’s narrative framed Putin as a relentless aggressor whose ambitions extend beyond Ukraine to potentially threaten NATO countries, thereby justifying the robust military support for Ukraine and the strategic importance of deterring Russian expansionism.

Biden’s depiction of Putin’s broader ambitions underscores a critical aspect of the current administration’s foreign policy: the belief that unchecked aggression in Ukraine could lead to further instability in Europe, echoing the historical domino effects seen in past conflicts. This perspective has driven NATO’s support for Ukraine, with countries like Finland and Sweden abandoning their neutrality to join the alliance.

Moreover, Trump pledged to secure the release of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, detained in Russia on espionage charges, by leveraging his relationship with Putin. This promise highlights the former president’s focus on personal diplomacy and deal-making as a solution to international crises.

Biden countered Trump’s claims by suggesting that the former president’s engagement with Putin emboldened the Russian leader, referencing Trump’s praise for Putin’s strategy in Ukraine. Biden’s rhetoric painted a picture of a world where autocrats are emboldened by a lack of firm, principled American leadership, contrasting sharply with Trump’s more transactional approach.

As the debate concluded, it became evident that the US faces a choice between two vastly different foreign policy philosophies: one that emphasises respect and deterrence through personal relationships and another that relies on collective security and a firm stance against aggression. This choice will not only shape America’s role on the global stage but also influence how it navigates the complex web of alliances and adversaries in an increasingly multipolar world.

In the midst of this high-stakes debate, the specter of Putin looms large, a reminder of the enduring complexities of US-Russia relations and the critical importance of strategic clarity and moral resolve in confronting authoritarianism. The American electorate will ultimately decide which vision they believe is best equipped to safeguard national security and uphold the values of democracy in an uncertain and volatile international landscape.

Trump has reiterated his hardline stance toward China, accusing Beijing of unfair trade practices and intellectual property theft. He proposed aggressive economic measures, including tariffs and sanctions, to counter China’s rise. Biden, while agreeing on the need to confront China, advocated for a balanced approach that includes engagement on global issues like climate change and pandemics. He emphasised the need for a coalition of allies to present a united front against Chinese ambitions.

Perhaps the most alarming part of the debate was the discussion on nuclear war. Both candidates acknowledged the growing threat of nuclear conflict, particularly with North Korea and the renewed arms race with Russia and China. Trump criticised Biden’s disarmament policies and advocated for a stronger nuclear deterrent. Biden, however, emphasised arms control and non-proliferation agreements, arguing that diplomacy is the best path to prevent nuclear escalation. The mere discussion of nuclear war in such direct terms was a chilling reminder of the stakes involved.

The Atlanta debate was a microcosm of the current American political landscape — deeply polarised, intensely debated, and with enormous implications for the future. It highlighted not just the differences in policy but the profound ideological divide between Trump’s nationalist, hardline approach and Biden’s more globalist, cooperative vision. As the nation digests the debate, one thing is clear: The decisions made in the coming election will resonate far beyond America’s borders, shaping the global order for years to come.

In this pivotal moment, Americans must weigh the visions presented and consider what kind of future they want for their country and the world. The path forward is fraught with challenges, but it is also filled with opportunities for renewal and leadership on the global stage. The debate in Atlanta was a stark reminder that the choices made today will define the legacy of tomorrow.