ARAB WORLD – Trump, the USA and the Middle East

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Donald J. Trump, the President-elect, burst into the political scene of the United States and the world at large with his impressive triumph over the Democratic Party’s candidate, Hillary Clinton.

The truth is that American domestic issues, in one way or another, influence the international issues of states thousands of miles away from American shores. The United States’ ascendancy in the international scene could derive from its undisputed power in today’s world, or from its questioned illustrious legacy of human rights and democracy. This position is not, however, without limitation.

Historically, the United States have established controversial ties in some regions. In fact, the United States have been harshly criticized for supporting oppressive regimes, regimes that are contrary to the constitutional and moral commitments of the United States to democracy and good governance.  However, the United States is no longer the only world player in this regard. Many newcomers share a role in the game of regulating the global economy and the political landscape.

In terms of United States foreign policy, the political plans of the President-elect are difficult to forecast. Mr. Trump’s background is in business, not politics. In his recent election campaign, he bluntly, if not undiplomatically, pledged to institute radical changes in foreign policy towards states, peoples and international agreements that his country has supported for decades. Such blatant cues indicate an unprecedented shift in the world order unlike any one seen since the creation of the League of Nations. The interests of the United States extend well beyond theoretical or moral principles rooted in soft power discourse and conventional realpolitik.

Now that Mr. Trump has triumphed, what changes in foreign policy can be expected in the Middle East?

To the United States, the Middle East is, by definition, a strategic transcontinental link that threatens the interests of US allies and oil suppliers. This has been a pivotal area for US foreign policy since WWII. Former Secretaries of State, from John Foster Dulles to Henry Kissinger and Secretary Hillary Clinton, Trump’s defeated rival, took a keen interest in this necessary yet troubled region.

Before the President-elect’s dramatic victory, the Middle East boiled over in a series of demonstrations and uprisings instigated during the Arabic Spring. The United States took on the role of silent observer despite its history of bold interventions in the region. The stability of many Arab states was threatened while others have catastrophically collapsed. To further the debacle, new radical movements have taken hold and control large quasi states. These movements, fundamentalist in nature, target the extinguishment of US involvement in the region.

The Middle East is no longer a controlled area with vast oil reservoirs maintained by US military and political capacities. So what shifts can the world expect in the new American foreign policy? Will this policy take into account the nature of the emerging Middle East, or will it stay mired in historical ties to the region?

The crisis in the Middle East is complex and encompasses sectarian conflicts, monstrous Islamic movements throughout the region and, in the case of Iran, nuclear weapons. A plethora of both Sunni and Shiite militias are clashing in Syria, not to mention Russia’s military intervention and ambitious expansionism.

During the campaign, the rhetoric of the President-elect was confusing in regards to American foreign policy challenges in the Middle East.

In terms of the US relationship with Iran, he once stated his intention to refute the agreement about the Iran Nuclear Deal Program reached by the President Obama administration and six western powers. Later in his campaign, he talked about amending this agreement. Major historical crises, such as the Israeli-Palestine conflict, the Egypt-Israeli Peace Accord and the like, have been deferred as priorities in US foreign policy.

Before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Mr. Trump reassured his audience that he would move the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem in recognition of the Israeli claimed historical capital. Such a step can safely be attributed to Trump’s bombastic personality rather than any anticipated policy. Yet throughout the US presidential election, Israel and its security warranted more discussion than any Arab states. In the eyes of traditional Arab leaders, the United States invented and continues to protect Israel.

A percept common to both Democrats and Republicans is that over the long term, foreign affairs policies reflect not only American idealism, but also American interests and security. From the Iraqi invasion during the Republican era to the military operations against ISIS in Syria and Iraq during the Democratic era, the Middle East has experienced the policies of both parties. The result has a price. Many analysts and politicians believe that the US is responsible for the current turmoil in the region, in particular for the emergence of radical and barbaric Islamic movements.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is not a controlled state per se to be dealt with by some specific plan implemented by which the new administration. Indeed, this amorphous adversary has posed an unrelenting challenge for more than two years. Trump has been hazy about the details of his plan to defeat ISIS and put a decisive end to region’s crisis. Yet he is committed to putting American security first, and aggressively pursuing strategies to defeat ISIS.

With lessons of 9/11 in mind, counter terrorism occupies a considerable agenda in US-Middle East policy. Even though Al-Qaeda is no longer a dangerous threat to US security, the region is still a breeding ground for lethal terroristic groups with mostly anti-American agendas.

The President-elect has pledged not only to change US domestic policies, but also international trade coalitions committed to by the US. These changes could result in new threats, particularly as a result of policies towards the Middle East.

Mr. Trump’s polices will not bring about a lasting peace either for the Middle East or the United States. Indeed, the huge legacy of tense relations between the two regions guarantees that Mr. Trump will not create Pacem in Terris.

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Nassir AL-SAYEID AL-NOUR

(Riyadh - SAUDI ARABIA) Philologist

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