Trump continues to amaze the world with his novel and adventurist foreign policy choices in a world that necessitates a certain level of predictable behavior from a person in the white house as US president. His fortune reveals that he is a successful businessman and terrifically well-versed deal maker. But, his ignorance about politics is earning burgeoning isolation for the US by alienating friends at global arena.
His poor conviction and worst political decision making starts from withdrawal from Transpacific Partnership (TPP) – often regarded as conceding ground to China as the global financial leader, walking out of Paris Climate Agreement,  imposing a travel ban on six Muslim majority countries, having alleged soft corner for Russia, alienating Pakistan by making India a preferred ally in Afghanistan, vehemently opposes Iran nuclear deal as ‘bad deal’,  finally now, Trump has chosen to enrage Muslim world by officially recognizing Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.
Support for Israel has always been the cornerstone of US foreign policy. American presidents have always striven for a long-sought negotiated settlement of Palestine issue, as Middle East (ME) is the too important region for US interests to be ignored. Deals among states sometimes turn into bad deals, but the recent decision in favor of Israel at the expense of Muslim world is no deal, believes many. Trump could have traded this bargain by asking Israeli Premier, Netanyahu to stop expanding the Jewish settlements and given Israel the official US reckoning of Jerusalem as Israeli capital in return. This was to be a perfect quid-pro-quo bilateral deal not only for the US as the global leader and middle eastern peace process but also to the satisfaction of Palestinian Muslims.
This article is an attempt to provide a brief appraisal of US policy towards ME since the dawn of 21st century. Oil has been the major driver of US involvement in the region in second half of the twentieth century. To ensure the tighter control, a wide array of foreign policy instruments including; wars, regime change, and democracy promotion are employed by US elite to reaffirm the unhindered oil supplies to the US and its allies. Bush Jr., in the aftermath of 9/11 while referring to Muslims, when asked naively, “why do they hate us [Americans]”, got a self-serving answer.
They hate us because “we are an open society with democracy at home and women at work”. How could he be given an objective response that Muslims hate the US for her foreign policy? He embarked his freedom agenda towards ME based on his selective conviction, ‘perpetrators of 9/11 had come from the Middle East because they [perpetrators] faced political suffocation at the hands of authoritarian regimes allegedly perceived as US puppets. His democracy promotion ‘from outside’ met its fate when Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza emerged as strong political forces.
Barack Obama also strove to make ME acquainted with democracy but with different modus operandi, contrary to his predecessor Bush, ‘from within’ by siding with the domino effect of Arab Spring. US inaction in the face of Spring and resultant civil wars undermined, nation-state system itself, US prestige, created a rift between the US and regional allies and created a vacuum to be filled by Iran, Russia, and Hezbollah. This did not go well among Sunni Arabs capitals who interpreted these developments as US betrayal leaving behind a fragile region at the disposal of revisionist Iran.
Then comes the populist wave that brought neo-nationalist Donald Trump into White house. His ascendance to the presidency is marked as the retreat of globalization and global appeal for liberal democracy with the rise of strongmen in power. He has no regards to democracy promotion, hence making him a natural ally of Arab monarchs. In case of Saudi Arabia, Trump has found Muhammad Bin Salman (MBS) – both lack experience, prudence, and political acumen but in hurry to do big.
By now, Trump had all set for his naïve optimism in the regional peace process, but he missed the plot. No one knows how costly miss it is going to be in the future. When he took office in January he was informed that ME region had fallen into the hands of Russia, Iran, Hezbollah, and ISIS. Where the US faced unprecedented retreat, Arab allies almost alienated, and even Europe considered Russia as the last ray of hope for regional peace.
Palestine issue is very close to the hearts of the Muslims in general and ordinary Arabs in particular. To the extent that two non-Arab countries, Turkey and Iran, has always used this issue in their bid to dominate the ME and derive legitimacy at home. To deny Iran and Turkey such appeals that strengthen Iranian theocratic regime and majoritarianism Erdogan and revamping dwindling Saudi-US relations to reclaim oil-rich region from the forces opposed to the US and Saudi interests, all he needed to do was; to strive for a peaceful negotiated settlement of the Palestine issue through a bipartisan approach. Since democracy promotion was not on the cards, he [Trump] supported Saudi initiative ‘Islamic Military Alliance’ (IMA) – a balancing act against Iran, approved modernity project, and anti-corruption campaign often cited as consolidation efforts by MBS.
It would have been a nicer going had he possessed the requisite political temperament. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, took bold foreign policy steps though flawed, like getting the resignation of Lebanese premier Saad Hariri to bring Hezbollah and Iran into the international limelight as actors-ready-to-depose statesmen, and in Yemen Iranian-Houthis nexus against Mansoor Hadi.
Noting can be the better demonstration of self-inflicted damage than Trump’s bombshell decision to reckon Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. This is no deal by a man who deals in ‘good deal’ and ‘bad deal’ words. He has bamboozled his own allies to the detriment of US interests. Israelis are overjoyed for what they conceded nothing at all. Notwithstanding, Netanyahu a few months back expressed his willingness to coexist with those [Palestinians] who recognize Israel as the sovereign state. The same was reciprocated by Hamas leadership after two days of Netanyahu’s speech.
The US by husbanding a two-state solution, though lion’s share with Israel, could have rendered Hezbollah and Hamas effect less, thus robbing Iran and Turkey of their regional ambitions and recruitment appeal for Hezbollah and Hamas respectively. This would leave no crisis behind for Iranian clergy to thrive on with weak proxies to play for Iran’s interest. Hence, triggering a crack in impenetrable control of clergy from within.
Unpredictable Trump, with his inflated egos, has torpedoed yet another opportunity of mending fences between US and Muslim world. The resonance of this announcement will continue to haunt the US in multiple ways. This half-baked seismic decision by an impulsive individual will exacerbate the plight of survivalist Arabs against revivalist Persians along with their proxies; thereby, the third intifada is anticipated. In that case, Trump administration might find a justification for pulling out of Iranian nuclear deal.
Anti-American leaders like Erdogan will use this device for further domestic consolidation-cum-oppression. Myopia on the part of US strategic elite will validate global Jihadists’ claim that ‘US is against Islam’. Left populist Trump has fallen into the trap of US war bureaucracy that has strong faith in Huntingtonian ‘Clash of Civilization’ and Trump has provided them an enemy worth fighting by bringing another depiction of the bipolar world.
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy and position of Regional Rapport.
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Zahid Mehmood Zahid is Ph.D. Scholar at National Defence University (NDU). He is also part of visiting faculty as Lecturer at National Officers Academy (NOA) NDU, Islamabad. The U.S. Foreign Policy, Political Islam, and Religious Militancy are among his areas of Interest.