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US – Trump’s bad record in the Middle East

BY NAJLA M. SHAHWAN –

The assault on the heart of U.S. democracy on Jan. 6 caused a great shock not only to Americans but to the whole world as the U.S. has been a stronghold of self-rule by a free population for many centuries.

The chaos and division in the U.S. that former U.S. President Donald Trump and his supporters caused both during the Capitol attack and the 2020 presidential elections process were horrific.

Amid the severe situation of the coronavirus pandemic when the American people needed safety and security, Trump was leading the country to dangerous unrest forgetting his actual position and responsibility toward his people, strongly clinging to his presidency blinded by his arrogance.

The Capitol attack showed that Trump’s unbalanced actions were clearly heading to an unknown but dangerous situation which the U.S. had never experienced before.

Trump tried to convince his supporters that Democrats stole the presidency, actively delegitimized the Joe Biden team in the process and condoned all forms of civil disobedience and public unrest related to the election results.

The Republican Party became divided as never before between those willing to do Trump’s bidding and those thinking it has gone too far.

The impeachment

After the Capitol attack, Democrats pushed for Trump’s impeachment for his role in inciting the incident that sacked the Capitol.

The White House officials were scrambling for the exits, and during just 24 hours, more than half a dozen of White House staffers resigned.

U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi gavels in the final vote of the impeachment of U.S. President Donald Trump, for his role in inciting an angry storming into the U.S. Congress, Washington, D.C., Jan. 13, 2021. (AP Photo)
U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi gavels in the final vote of the impeachment of U.S. President Donald Trump, for his role in inciting an angry storming into the U.S. Congress, Washington, D.C., Jan. 13, 2021. (AP Photo)

Some Republicans including many former allies blamed Trump for the chaos and wondered whether some more days with him in office would be a tolerable prospect.

The House of Representatives made Trump the first U.S. president to be impeached twice, formally charging him with inciting an insurrection just a week after the violent mob of his supporters.

Foreign policy failures

Trump’s policies during his presidency were disruptive, unilateralist, personal and erratic, shaped by his gut feelings and continuous Twitter feeds.

He ignored his responsibilities as a leader and turned his back on American values and democracy, acting beneath what should be expected from any president in his place.

Trump’s administration failed greatly in the public health sector and mismanaged the pandemic. The administration also failed to respond to the economic crisis, which has led to an economic fallout that set the U.S. apart from other high-income nations as the unemployment rate reached 14.7% in April 2020.

Since Trump came to power, he created great problems for the U.S., the world and in particular, the Middle East.

As soon as he was in office, Trump removed the U.S. from multiple international organizations and has not hidden his frustration with international trade groups and security alliances.

Besides, he nearly ruined the U.S.’s reputation among its allies overseas especially the EU causing great damage to the U.S. role as a leader in the world.

As for climate change, Trump saw tackling global warming as a threat to the economy and has promoted fossil fuels and rolled back scores of environmental protections and climate regulations.

The Trump administration withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018, saying the arms control agreement was too narrow to cope with the threats posed by Iran and too weak in its limits on nuclear activity, which expire over time.

On the other hand, Trump reimposed sanctions and continued to pile on economic pressure and recently blacklisted almost all of Iran’s financial sector.

In his last days, the Trump administration named Cuba a “state sponsor of terrorism” and said that it would designate Yemen’s Houthi rebels as a foreign terrorist organization and upended decades of U.S.-China diplomacy by lifting restrictions on contacts between American officials and representatives from the self-governing island of Taiwan.

Problems in the Middle East

Under Trump’s presidency, the U.S. shed long-standing policy on the Middle East and accelerated existing, troubling trends.

In the Middle East, Trump followed his desires, instincts and interests denying realities and facts on the ground, ignoring issues he found uninteresting, undermining what is supposed to be a calculated foreign-policy process.

Without a coherent or clear strategy, Trump worked with authoritarian Arab leaders and closed his eyes on their violations of human and political rights and quickly trumpeted an approach in which three of the Sunni Arab Gulf monarchies, namely Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain, were brought into a de facto alliance with Israel to stand together against Iran, and these Middle East peace deals embraced by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were interpreted as a free pass to advance all of the Israeli prime minister’s policies.

From left to right, Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. President Donald Trump and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan during the Abraham Accords signing ceremony, Washington, D.C., Sept. 15, 2020. (AP Photo)
From left to right, Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. President Donald Trump and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan during the Abraham Accords signing ceremony, Washington, D.C., Sept. 15, 2020. (AP Photo)

This initiative was coordinated closely with these regimes, via the mediation of presidential envoy extraordinaire Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and chief advisor.

Trump has abandoned any pretense of playing the honest broker in the Israel–Palestine conflict. Most notably, he unilaterally recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, denying the city’s role as the center of the Palestinians’ history, identity, culture and worship and its Eastern part as the capital of their future Palestinian state. Besides, he moved the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The Deal of the Century

Following that in January 2020, the Trump administration unveiled its so-called peace-plan, “the Deal of the Century,” which, instead of ending the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, involved a noncontiguous, nonsovereign entity without removal of any of the existing illegal Israeli settlements. This entity would be demilitarized and under full Israeli security control and therefore be a state in name only besides, excluding sovereignty or control over Jerusalem.

When the Palestinians refused the deal, Trump exacerbated an economic stranglehold on Palestinians by cutting off U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA) and to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

Trump’s ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, in an interview declared that Israel has the “right” to annex “some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank.” Jason Greenblatt, the envoy for Israel-Palestine negotiations, stated that the West Bank settlements “are not an obstacle to peace” and rejected the use of the term “occupation.”

Greenblatt also endorsed Friedman’s views regarding annexation, which kept on encouraging the building of settlements, which encouraged Netanyahu during Trump’s final days to announce the construction of 800 new housing units in Jewish settlements in the West Bank, launching a potentially provocative expansion in the Israeli-occupied territory just days before U.S. President Joe Biden’s inauguration.

Netanyahu has been one of Trump’s most steadfast global allies and has seen his own political standing boosted significantly by Trump’s policies in the Middle East, which have diverged sharply from decades of U.S. norms in the tumultuous region.

On the other hand, Trump left the Arab region flooded with arms as during his final year in office sophisticated fighter jets were sold to the UAE, drones and munitions to Morocco and precision bombs to Saudi Arabia – actions that may feed the growing conflicts in the region and irreversibly shape the Mideast in the years to come.

Biden’s challenges

After the tense and lengthy electoral and exit battle, what the next four years might look like for the U.S., the Middle East and the world sure will be better than under Trump’s administration.

Biden is expected to seek to pull back from the authoritarianism seen under Trump and to reinstate democratic norms in the U.S. through, cooperation and diplomacy rather than aggressive coercion.

Biden’s immediate focus will likely be on the troubled domestic situations such as:

  • Combating the pandemic,
  • Fighting against the political polarization
  • Aiding the economic recovery
  • Improving racial equality
  • Confronting climate change

However, U.S. foreign policy will still be an important element and Biden will most certainly address many issues and new diplomatic dilemmas that Trump had created.

Biden will face a Middle East gripped by dynamics that are different from those of four years ago thus he is expected to demilitarize U.S. policy, rejoin climate agreement, rejoin the Iran deal, bring most of U.S. troops home and give attention to the Middle East especially the Palestinian-Israeli conflict where Palestinians look for better days in their just mission for freedom.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

* Palestinian author, researcher and freelance journalist; recipient of two prizes from the Palestinian Union of Writers

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