Obama may be enjoying himself on Richard Branson’s private island, but the new White House administration has taken a sledgehammer to the foundations of Obama’s legacy in the Middle East. With the future of the Iran deal in the balance and a renewed fervour of support for Israel, Trump’s America does not bode well for peace in the Middle East. Even ignoring Trump’s controversial travel ban to seven majority Muslim countries, many Arabs fear what the brash billionaire will do next to a region where simplistic solutions have never really panned out too well.
In the Middle
Trump’s dealings with Iran are a case in point. Russia has been a long-standing rival of the US, but despite this Trump has been keen to defend his new friend Putin to almost absurd lengths. The ultimate justification of this is always the help that Russia can offer in defeating IS.
Iran has been just as committed to defeating IS in Syria, yet Trump has not reached out one of his ‘huge’ hands with an olive branch. There seem to be two major reasons as to why this could be the case. Either Trump is sticking to one of his past criticisms of anything under Obama that was vaguely ‘deal’-like, or he is seeking to alienate Iran from Russia.
No in-depth analysis is required to show that the latter is highly unlikely and a foreign policy based on anything but core strategic objectives would be worrying, but perhaps not beyond the new commander in chief.
The Unforeseen Consequences
What is ironic here is that if anything, Trump is drawing Russia and Iran closer together. The hardliner anti-Americans in Iran were on the back foot in the upcoming election, yet with developments in the past few weeks, the architect of the Iran deal, President Hassan Rouhani, will find his position increasingly untenable.
He is left a lame duck in the face of no American reciprocity for his efforts. The moderates are not only a better option for human rights within Iran’s borders but the only sustainable pathway to peace in the Middle East.
The Breaking Point
While the world’s eyes were goggling at the fact that Trump was, in fact, delivering on the promises he made on the campaign trail, Israel took the chance to advance plans for 6000 new settler homes in the West Bank. Comments that Trump made about Israel needing to ‘act reasonably’ pale in comparison to the extremely controversial support that Trump seemed to show for moving the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
This kind of attitude from an Israel that now sees no reason to pursue the two-state pushes the possibility of peace between Palestinians and Israelis even further beyond the horizon.
It has only been a few weeks, but Trump has brought his usual ‘shoot from the hip’ attitude to the Middle East. Cracks are already forming in his administration. Now more than ever the fragile network that holds together Arabic nations will be strained, and one should hope it does not break.