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Publish Date : 14 May 2017 - 12:59  ,  
News ID: 1932
TEHRAN (Basirat):Donald Trump was the first American president to enter the White House with no political or military experience. He is temperamentally unfit for the office, is not intellectually curious about the world, and is not concerned about the intricacies of policy and policy-making

BASIRAT POLITICAL CENTER- James L. Gelvin

James L. Gelvin is a professor of History at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Understanding Donald Trump’s Policy in the Middle East

TEHRAN (Basirat):Donald Trump was the first American president to enter the White House with no political or military experience. He is temperamentally unfit for the office, is not intellectually curious about the world, and is not concerned about the intricacies of policy and policy-making

"I loved my previous life,” he recently told Reuters. "I had so many things going.” "This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier.” It is difficult to predict what he will do next because he is impulsive and visionless. He has already backed away from a number of core policies articulated during the campaign—policies that made him attractive to voters in the first place.

While it would be an exaggeration to state that Trump has a strategic vision—or, for that matter, a coherent foreign policy—he does seem to have a roadmap for his policies. Although it seems unbelievably shallow, when it comes to foreign policy Trump thinks back to how Obama handled an issue when he was in office and then do the opposite.

During their first meeting, Obama warned Trump that retired general Michael Flynn, who had supported Trump during the campaign, had been compromised by Russia and was thus a security threat who should not be appointed to high office. Trump nevertheless appointed him to head his National Security Council, one of the most sensitive positions in government.

Obama had warned the Syrian government that the United States would retaliate if it used chemical weapons against its own people. When American intelligence reported that he had, Obama took no action. When a similar report came to Trump, he launched 59 cruise missiles at Syria, violating his campaign pledge, "America first.”

And while Obama’s policies alienated the leadership of Israel and Saudi Arabia and his personal relationship with heads of state there was testy, Trump announced that his first trip would take him to Jerusalem and Riyadh.

So what, then, might we expect from this un Obama?

  • Although he denounced the Iran nuclear deal during the campaign and pledged to "rip it up” on the first day in office, he did not. And the very complexity of the deal, and the support lifting sanctions has in the American business community and among America’s European allies, means he probably won’t. But since there is no domestic risk for maintaining a rhetorical hard line against Iran, Trump will probably do so.
  • Trump has pledged to make the greatest deal of his career by settling the Israel-Palestine conflict. This was something Obama had tried and failed to accomplish so, of course, this is something Trump aspires to. Israeli intransigence will prevent that deal from being made, of course. Nevertheless, it is probable that Trump will continue to tilt further toward Israel than any president in American history. After all, his foundation (and the foundation of his son-in-law’s family and his ambassador to Israel) have donated to the Beit El settlement in the occupied West Bank. In other words, there will be no peace treaty and more Israeli settlements built on his watch.
  • Considering the fact that his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, is an oil man, Trump’s administration will undoubtedly be compliant to Saudi Arabia’s wishes. It is probable that the United States will take a more direct approach to assuring Saudi security and increase its presence in the Gulf—repeating the mistake made by every administration since George H.W. Bush’s except Obama’s. The United States will also remain complicit in Saudi war crimes in Yemen, and may even increase its assistance to Saudi military actions there.
  • Trump has pledged to expand the battle against ISIS, but given the fact that Obama has done as much as militarily possible without putting "boots on the ground,” it is hard to see how.
  • Trump seems to be on the verge of handing over America’s policy toward Afghanistan—another "complex situation”—to the Pentagon.
  • Trump has already embraced many of the despots Obama kept at a distance, including Recep Erdogan of Turkey and Abdel Fatah el-Sisi of Egypt. Because Egypt’s economy is so ailing, that embrace will do nothing to benefit ordinary Egyptians.
  • Trump’s cruise missile attack on Syria does not point toward greater American involvement there. It was, to use an American idiom, a "one off.” By the time Trump took office, the United States had already been effectively sidelined as a player in Syria. American diplomats are barely present at the ceasefire talks in Astana (which will probably fail to secure a ceasefire anyway, for all the same reasons ceasefires have broken down in the past). Besides, the Syrian regime, with foreign help, has driven back the opposition to such an extent that the only thing it will be willing to negotiate is the opposition’s terms of surrender.

Overall, barring some unforeseen crisis, Trump’s policy in the Middle East promises to be an erratic series of ad hoc encounters without sustained engagement. The one bright side for Americans is that the damage he might do will be limited by the fact that his presidency promises to be as inept and ineffective in the future as it has been for the past four months.


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