For Charles Freeman, the obstructions that may take place by the Republicans and Trump in relation to the 2020 election will not only determine the fate of the next presidential term, but also the future of democracy in the United States.

The following are excerpts from an email interview with Charles Freeman, an analyst at the Watson Institute for International Affairs at Brown University, USA:

Q1: What is the main goal for unilateral activation of snapback by the US? Some say that Trump wants to increase the pressure on Iran for an October surprise (whether it would be a temporary deal with Tehran or a crazy act). In addition, others do believe that the White House’s objective is to ruin all the bridges so that if Biden wins he could not easily return the US to the nuclear deal. What is your opinion?

My guess is that it is all the above reasons. Trump needs to distract the public from his disastrous failure to mobilize the federal government to contain the coronavirus, which has now killed at least 200,000 Americans – more than any war other than our Civil War (1861-65) and World War II (1941-5). It would be a success for Trump if Iran gave him a better nuclear deal than it made during President Obama’s Administration.  It would be a distraction if Iran provided him with an excuse to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities.  If Iran exits the JCPOA or the Nonproliferation Treaty, those actions could be used as an excuse for bombing.

Q2: How do you see the differences between this election and the 2016 election? In which voting places and social classes Biden and Trump are doing better?

For most voters, the issue is for or against Trump. In a fair election in which everyone who wanted to vote was able to vote, he would probably lose.  Since a few months after his inauguration in 2017, Trump’s disapproval rating has exceeded his approval rating by about 10 per cent.

This will not be a fair election, however. In states that they control, the Republicans have mobilized to suppress the votes of groups that traditionally vote for the Democrats (minorities, college students, etc.). The Trump Administration is trying to sabotage voting by mail, which is preferred more by Democrats than Republicans.  And President Trump has declared that, if he loses, it will be because of fraud and that he will not accept the results. That has never happened before in the United States. Therefore, in my view, the result is unpredictable. What may be at stake is more than the presidency for the next four years but the future of democracy in the United States.

Q3: Recent polls are all in favour of Biden. Can they be trusted or they are faulty estimations just like the 2016 election?

Because the disproportionate weight of low-population states that tend to vote Republican in the US electoral college, Hilary Clinton lost despite obtaining 3 million (2 per cent) more votes than Trump.  Biden, therefore, needs to win by a larger margin nationally. This, added to the various Republican voter-suppression efforts, makes the outcome uncertain.

Q4: What would be the impact of the four debates that are to take place between Trump and Biden on the outcome of the November election?

A bad performance by Trump is unlikely to affect the votes of his supporters but a weak performance by Biden may result in diminished enthusiasm and therefore a reduced turnout on the Democratic side.

Q5: No matter who wins the election, what do you think about the future US policies toward Iran, Russia and China? What are the chances of restoration of Trans-Atlantic relations in next US administration?

I expect that the biggest foreign-policy difference between a Biden and Trump Administration would be in policy toward Iran.  If Iran is still a party to the JCPOA and willing to return to full compliance, Biden would bring the US back into the JCPOA. Otherwise, I imagine that the Iran-US relationship would be difficult but that the US would not be so blindly supportive of Saudi Arabia, Israel and the UAE as it has been under Trump.  With regard to China and Russia, I think that the relationships would be difficult, with Biden less deferential to President Putin and Xi than Trump but that a Biden Administration would be more interested in nuclear arms control agreements than the Trump Administration has been and more interested in settling trade disputes with China. Finally, I think that Biden would be more committed to the NATO alliance than Trump has been.

Q6: How recent disclosures about Trump like disrespecting military veterans revealed in Bob Woodward’s book about the president, or even making coronavirus pandemic seem insignificant could impact the election?

I don’t know how much of an impact of Trump’s shocking disrespect for the military may have.  His supporters dismiss such things as “fake news” while believing disinformation on social media that the Democrat leadership is involved in selling children for sex.  Trump’s failure to develop a coronavirus strategy or to provide relief for people who have lost their jobs will be the most damaging.

Q7: What are the main reasons behind the normalization of relations between Israel and Arab states in the Persian Gulf region? Can these deals be lasting?

I think the logic is that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” The Persian Gulf Arab states’ fear of Iran has become greater than their concern about the Palestinians – especially as there has been so little progress on the Palestinian issue for decades.

Q8: What consequences the Arabs’ deal would have for the region and how can it affect  Middle East order and stability?

It is difficult for me to judge how important it will be.  More important, I think, would be some type of rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Perhaps that might be more possible under a Biden Administration that was more even-handed in its attitude toward Iran and Saudi Arabia/UAE.

Q9: Considering America’s inevitable desire to leave the region, how could this affect Israel’s status in the region?

I do think that there is a broad feeling that the US involvement in the Middle East has not had positive results – especially the occupation of Iraq and the support of Saudi Arabia in its war in Yemen.  Also, the US faces important challenges at home, including increasing economic inequality and insufficient investment in infrastructure and the need for a more rapid reduction in fossil fuel use due to climate change, which is beginning to have a serious impact on the US.

But, if the US cannot control developments in the Middle East, it is hard to imagine how Israel could. The most Israel can do is to defend its own security.  Israel has interpreted that as preventing the development of threats to its security in its neighbourhood: Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip; and the prevention of other countries in the region from acquiring nuclear weapons.  Israel certainly cannot control what happens in the countries around the Persian Gulf.