Trump’s Trumpet Resounds Through the Middle East


By Edmond Y. Azadian

President Donald Trump’s maiden foreign trip took him to one of the most troubled and complicated regions in the world, the Middle East, where political ambitions and interests cross each other, even in blocs which are supposedly bound by common interest.

The trip’s endgame echoed the policies of Bush-Cheney administration, which had been put on hold by President Obama. Bush’s policy was to destabilize all the countries which could pose threats to the US or Israel. Thus, Iraq, Libya, and Syria were devastated but the administration did not have time to hit the last target, Iran.

Mr. Trump seems to take up the same policy from that point. This aim is persistent, no matter who is at the helm.

The president made stops in Saudi Arabia and Israel, where he was soft-peddling the US policy in the region. He stated that the US was not going to dictate its views and that the countries in the region were free to adopt their own policies, domestic or foreign, which basically gave a green light to the prospective governments to continue their repressive rules. Before even the president had left the region, crackdowns took place in Bahrain, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

The crowning jewel of President Trump’s visit to the region was an American-Islamic conference of 37 nations to define common policy for the region, characterized by the Washington Post as an Islamic NATO, where the US role would be confined to coordination rather than leadership.

It is hard to conceive of a NATO-type coalition in a region where interests are so divergent and conflicts run so deep, not to mention that such a grouping can survive only if its member countries are democracies.

Mr. Trump also signed a deal with Saudi Arabia to supply that kingdom with sophisticated weaponry worth $110 billion. That should be a shot in the arm for the military-industrial complex in the US, but in no way does it contribute to regional peace. The Saudis are involved in a civil war in neighboring Yemen, committing war crimes, with no exit policy in place. Francis Ghiles, writing in Outlook, on May 27, states, “Militarizing the region further and taking sides in recently concocted sectarian conflict will likely end in tears. … Does any observer in the region believe that by piling up even more sophisticated killing machines, some of which Saudi nationals are not capable of manning themselves, peace can be brought to bloodied, often chaotic, states?”

While the president was in the region and trying to craft an anti-Iranian coalition, two Sunni states — Saudi Arabia and Qatar — vying for regional political leadership, exchanged a public diatribe.

Incidentally, these two kingdoms are most ardently engaged in arming and training terrorists and mercenaries in Syria, but also, as need be in other countries.

Saudi Arabia exports an extreme brand of Sunni fundamentalism called Wahhabism, by building mosques in Europe, the US and Asia.

If Washington is depending on these kinds of strategies — shoring up unelected potentates — to bring peace to the region, it is achieving nothing but chasing an illusion.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar are only two of the contenders for the role of regional leadership; there are also Egypt and Turkey, which are quasi-democratic countries, where elections are held to elect legislators.

The Sunni-Shia divide is an artificial creation to the balance of powers in the Middle East.

This anti-Iran coalition is being reinforced after the election of President Ruhani in Tehran, defeating the extremists in the presidential race. It is also ironic that the West, after long negotiations, was able to make a nuclear deal, which means that dealing with Iran is not like dealing with North Korea’s erratic leadership.

Currently, the Saudis and the Iranians are waging proxy wars in Syria and Yemen, with no end in sight. The possibility of a direct conflict between the two blocs is a remote one at this time. But should that happen, Armenia’s only reliable outlet through Iran will be endangered and Azerbaijan will put in an awkward position because it is aligned with the Sunni coalition and Israel, while home to a majority Shiite population.

Incidentally, Israel is supposed to be a silent partner in the Sunni coalition, although its actions do not seem to be conducted in silence.

The president’s visit to Israel did not shed any new light on the Arab-Israeli conflict. Even the two-state solution which had so far highlighted the US policy about the conflict did not gain any prominence.

By trying to provoke the Sunni kingdoms, whose only lifeline is US support, against their archenemy is Tehran, those kingdoms have all but abandoned the Palestinian cause, which engaged their financial and political backing in the past.

The tail end of the presidential trip was in Europe where Mr. Trump did not conduct himself as deftly as he had in the Middle East, instead triggering a politician storm among the NATO members.

“Merkel saying Europe cannot rely on others and needs to take matters in its own hands is a watershed and what the US has sought to avoid since World War II,” Richard Haas, the president of Council of Foreign Relations, commented.

A commentator in Arabia characterized the visit in the following manner: “[it] will redraw the future road map of the region and divide its history into the era before and after the visit.”

But from all indications, the visit was far short of a success; bypassing Iraq, leaving the Syrian crisis off the agenda and reducing all complex problems of the region into a simple formula of confrontation between the Sunni bloc and Iran indicate a naive perspective of world affairs.

Depending on a shaky anchor of a medieval monarchy and adding fuel to the fire on the problems of the Middle East mean only planting a ticking time bomb in the region. Should that bomb explode, Mr. Trump must not expect any help from Europe, where he has also ruined relations.