Since, the assumption of presidential office, U.S. President Donald Trump chose Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as his first destination abroad and inaugurated the unprecedented US-Arab-Islamic summit on May 21, 2017. The Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition (IMCTC) has become a new reality in the fast-changing Middle Eastern security dynamics and KSA feels emboldened by the support of USA in its regional supremacy. The Riyadh Declaration states that the representatives of 55 Arab, Islamic countries and the US have forged closer unity to counter terrorism in the region. The coalition has now been referred as the ‘Muslim NATO’ under the leadership of KSA.
The entire world had seen how previously President Trump adopted a hostile and anti-Muslim stance in his entire election campaign and after getting elected he imposed a travel ban on six Muslim states. His hostile stance was so deeply embedded in the perceptions of not just the Americans but the rest of the world as well. In fact it seemed something like a new version of ‘Clash of Civilizations’. It was half expected that a man with beliefs like Trump would perhaps attempt at addressing an Arab-Islamic Summit. But President Trump made another surprise by highlighting the US role in bringing peace and stability in the volatile Middle East to counter terrorism.
The US President in the Summit made it clear that US will stick to KSA and words followed action. The two states embarked two separate deals; one of around $400billion and another of $110 billion. The first deal comprises of certain economic advantages to both states while the latter deal was a mega defence deal between the two states.
This statement in a summit meant that the US is perhaps giving certain warning signals as well as invitations. The US was warning the states which are antagonistic towards the US-KSA duo to beware, because the defence deal will give KSA a new kind of edge in Middle East as well as the Gulf. It might as well serve a way of breaking the new rising hegemony of Iran and put KSA in the frontline again. Moreover, it will also serve as a blow to the Russia-Iran duo and set them somewhat back. The announcement was an invitation to the states which wish to ally with the US in a bid to oust Iran and other states affiliated with Iran. It was an invitation to forge a larger coalition in the much versatile and shaky Middle Eastern region in order to make the US and its allies relevant again.
However, cracks have started appearing in the Gulf Cooperation Council members, as Qatar and Oman have shown unwillingness to become part of the anti-Iran alliance in the regional security environment. In the post-Iran Nuclear Deal, Iran has emerged as an important player in the regional context backed by Russia and China. Moreover, the much-needed military support from the Muslim States is still without any concrete action. Previously, the Coalition against Terrorism was without any direction but now Iran has been signaled out as a state ‘sponsoring’ in the region. It would be interesting to see how many Muslim States would openly go against Iran, as has been done by Qatar and Oman.
The main point which the US President made known in the Summit was the US antagonism towards Iran. Trump claimed that Iran is the actual bane in existence in the entire world as it is a ‘terrorist’ state which propagates radicalism. Moreover, he also claimed that Iran is a state which is the main reason the Syrian and the Yemeni crises are going on in full swing. He also claimed that US will take appropriate action against the ‘terrorist’ state.
This means two things; one that this is coming from the same US, which was rather anxious at one time to jot down a nuclear deal with Iran. Thus it means that the antagonism is coming from the Trump Administration and their ‘conservative’ agenda. It also points to the fact that the Trump Administration as was feared would launch schemes which will deteriorate its relations with Iran, holds to be true. Secondly, it means that the situation has become horridly alarming, it seems like a cycle of history repeating itself. In the late 1990s and almost throughout the 2000s, Iran and its ally states were the main targets of antagonism from the West. They faced so many things, sanctions which crumbled the economy, war threats and other shenanigans. Now it seems that the Trump Administration is making sure that the same status is reverted back.
Though they have miscalculated one thing; Iran is no longer the same weak state. It is now a formidable Middle Eastern power, which plays a hardcore hand at diplomacy. Thus the Iranians have retaliated with equal dissonance and threatened that if any action is taken, they will fight back. This is cause for alarm throughout the Muslim world, because Iran is a valid and important part of it. It also points to the fore-mentioned paradox of peace; wherein Trump asks the entire Muslim world to unite and at the same time, asks them to stand against their own brother state, Iran. If anything, it is US being astute once again by playing the divide and rule among the Muslim world, which already is going through many cracks.
The Middle Eastern Conundrum
The point of importance on Middle East in the 21st century was made very clear and categorical throughout the Summit. It was conjoined with the idea that the region is important for two reasons; its strategic prominence as well as ripe with conflict and terrorism. The President stood by the US ‘no-tolerance’ policy of any form of terrorism. Here the reference was towards ISIS, Al-Nusra Front, Hamas and Hezbollah. The US here wanted to take the entire Muslim world in confidence against the brutality of terrorism and invited them to fight against them. Eradicating terrorism from the area has been one of the US foremost policies throughout decades. Now it was clarified that even though, Trump had claimed otherwise, it will remain to be the case.
President Trump combined this idea with another policy point which the US has always considered to be a forefront one; that of the economical and the strategic importance of the region. The President throughout the speech kept on talking about the Strait of Hormuz and the Suez Canal which only reiterated the idea that the US will never step back on the idea of utilizing the strategic points of the region for its own prominence. This perhaps, if taken in bulks, could be another alarming bell for the Middle Eastern states because the US is not the only one which is interested in the strategic location of the region.
There is now China, Russia and even Turkey joining the battle of supremacy through geo-economical gains of the region. The Middle Eastern states must be cautious because it could mean that the prospects of peace will now only slowly die down because perhaps new excursions are just beginning which surround themselves on their location and turfs. If anything, the history of wars will tell them that geo-strategic and geo-economic reasons are enough for states to go to war.
Paradoxes and Expectations
The President was of course, as he claimed, a representative of the American people but the rest of it seemed carried away from reality. While the President claimed that there is a valid kind of optimism amongst the American people and that their government is striving for peace, the facts are somewhat miscarried. President Trump embarked on a mission to put an ultimate end to the Assad Regime not by the road of diplomacy but rather openly attacking the Syrian air-base. Herein lies the great paradox that when in the summit, he claimed that World Peace is the ultimate aim of the people and the American policy makers, it seems that either he wished to chew on his word, or his actions.
Moreover, while in Israel, his declaring Jerusalem as the eternal capital of Israel and negation of ‘Two State Solution’ is tantamount to create more hatred and antagonism among the Palestinians and Arabs. No US Administration has committed so much openly with Israel on this issue than President Trump. This means expectations of Arabs/Muslim states vis-à-vis Palestinian Statehood cannot become reality, which would generate more deprivation and hence ‘terrorism.’ Thus the dream of regional peace and stability is shattered within days of its infancy.
Since 9/11 nobody is sure what terrorism constitutes; there is state-terrorism, NSA-terrorism, terrorism against terrorism etc etc. Surprisingly, combating the extremist ideology in his speech also seemed blurry, clearly he was referring to the extremist ideology of Militants but it surpassed the extremist mindset which has now been embedded in the world against the common Muslim. But the very fact that Trump considered a peaceful world must mean something, it just seems unclear that if it is the US version of peace or actual peace.
Overall, the US-Islamic-Arab Summit was something of a grey area which cannot be explained easily. It was at the same time expected and unexpected while the entire world was told that the US is a power and it will be there to make its presence felt; either by hook or by crook. It will handpick its enemies and make them seem the enemies of mankind. That is, things will be the same as they were previously.
However, the Summit has drawn the new battle-lines and divided the region as well as the Muslim-Arab States. The ‘Muslim NATO’ is being seen to have ‘Muslim Warsaw’ and the cold war between Iran and KSA has come into open to the detriment of the entire Middle East and the Muslim unity. The region has become more insecure and more instable leading towards uncertainties and paradoxes.
Co-Author: Amna Javed is a graduate of School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad. Presently she is engaged in her post-graduate research focused on Turkey.