Trump and the Middle East

ct-donald-trump-middle-east-20161119Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential election sounded like a brutal and dangerous shock for the US and the world, including the Middle East. It is true that Trump’s varied and contradictory foreign policy statements make it difficult to predict what will happen as a result of his election. He himself declared “I want to be unpredictable,” in his only speech on foreign policy last April.

The case of Iran is a good example. Trump has repeatedly announced that he wants to dismantle the nuclear agreement reached in 2015, which he described as “catastrophic” and “worst deal ever negotiated” during his campaign, while he had previously criticized sanctions that prevented US companies from doing business in Iran. Given the perspective of working more closely with the Russian administration on other issues, such as Syria or Ukraine, the U.S. agreement with Iran will most likely not be broken, but will be subject at most to some pressure.

In the case of Syria, some trends however seem to emerge, which will very likely lead to more suffering for the Syrian people. Trump is indeed much more willing than his rival Hillary Clinton to conclude agreements with Russia on Syria, seeing in Vladimir Putin a man capable of fighting terrorism. He expressed several times during the campaign his will to bring the two countries closer together. In October 2015, he praised the direct military intervention of Russian aviation in support of the Damascus regime. Under the presidency of Trump, Russia and the United States appear to be more inclined to collaborate in the so-called “war on terror”, strengthening and legitimizing the Assad regime and other authoritarian powers.

That is why Donald Trump’s statements in favor of a “security zone” funded by the Gulf monarchies on the borders of Syria, where Syrian displaced people would be concentrated rather than to be allowed to seek refuge outside of the country, are unlikely to materialize, as this would run counter to Russian interests in Syria. The policies regarding refugees in the United States will be severely restricted in view of Trump’s Islamophobic and racist rhetoric.

As part of a closer collaboration with Russia, the Trump administration would also urge US allies in the region to stop supporting Syrian opposition armed groups. This would accelerate the establishment of a so called “coalition government” co-sponsored by Moscow and Washington, headed by Assad, which would include some very conciliatory opposition members or so-called independent but personalities close to the regime. This would also pave the way for US collaboration with the Assad regime, again in the name of the “war on terror”.

More generally, US support for authoritarian regimes, in the Middle East and elsewhere, is likely to increase. Trump repeatedly expressed his respect for “strong men”, on the model of the authoritarian, macho and white man, stating that even “the bad guys” like Saddam Hussein and Muammar al-Qaddafi could be useful in the fight against terrorism. Thus, during his meeting with Abdel Fattah al-Sissi in New York in September 2016, Trump praised the efforts of the Egyptian dictator in his “war on terror” and stated that if elected, the United States would be more than an ally, a “friend of Egypt.”

A similar rapprochement is likely to occur with the Turkish AKP government headed by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, despite the growing authoritarianism of the AKP’s government. The pro-government media in Turkey have openly shown their sympathy for Trump during and after the campaign. A smaller US intervention in the region would allow Turkey to have even more free hands regarding its ambitions in the Middle East. Following Trump’s victory, Erdogan spoke with the new elected President and declared “we agreed that there are a lot of things we are going to do between Turkey and the United States”. Erdogan also denounced the wave of Anti-Trump protests in the U.S. and deemed them as disrespectful of democracy.

The Palestinian people will also be another victim of Trump’s victory, since the latter will be silence and even support the authoritarian, racist and expansionist policies of the extremist government of Benyamin Netanyahu, in particular the expansion of the colonies in the occupied territories, while putting an end to the minimum two-state solution. Moreover, during the campaign, Trump promised to transfer the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and said that when he becomes president, “the days will be over when Israel was treated as a Second-class citizen “.

Although Trump’s foreign policy is based on a form of so-called “isolationism”, traditionally associated with the US right-wing populist and extreme right-wing politics, which do not want to get involved in the political affairs of the world, regardless of the dangers and suffering faced by other peoples, in fact, ultimately, the imperialist power of the United States is likely to remain one of the most important in the world. It will express itself differently, but its dangerousness will be no less.

Joseph Daher

23 November 2016

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in French by the Swiss Newspaper, Le Courrier

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