America First: How Trump’s Policies Could Reshape the Middle East
By Luis Sánchez
Photograph of Donald Trump courtesy of CNN
Since Donald J. Trump started his campaign for president he has offered a vociferous variety of ideas about how to approach the current issues in the Middle East. Yet a coherent foreign policy platform has been missing. His campaign website itself offers his positions on issues such as Healthcare Reform and a platform entitled “Pay for the Wall” but nothing on the Middle East.
To resolve such vagueness, Trump gave a foreign policy speech (beginning his General Election pivot to appearing more presidential) last Wednesday in which he went into more detail about his ideas for the future of US involvement in the Middle East.
He started off by pointing out the mistakes the US has made in the Middle East and how they led to the rise of ISIS.
“We went from mistakes in Iraq to Egypt to Libya, to President Obama’s line in the sand in Syria,” Trump said. “Each of these actions have helped to throw the region into chaos, and gave ISIS the space it needs to grow and prosper.”
Trump declared that President Obama “negotiated a disastrous deal with Iran, and then we watched them ignore its terms, even before the ink was dry.” Trump vowed to make sure Iran didn’t develop a nuclear weapon but still didn’t lay out a strategy for how to do so.
Criticism of the Obama administration’s actions in the Middle East rang throughout the speech. Trump criticized Obama for not being “a friend to Israel” and said his actions in Iraq, Libya and Syria had helped unleash ISIS.
“He has treated Iran with tender love and care and made it a great power in the Middle East – all at the expense of Israel, our other allies in the region and, critically, the United States,” Trump said.
Trump also did not refrain from attacking Hillary Clinton, the current frontrunner for the Democratic Party nomination for president and President Obama’s first Secretary of State.
“After Secretary Clinton’s failed intervention in Libya, Islamic terrorists in Benghazi took down our consulate and killed our ambassador and three brave Americans,” Trump said. “Then, instead of taking charge that night, Hillary Clinton decided to go home and sleep! Incredible.”
Concerning ISIS, Trump said: “I have a simple message for them. Their days are numbered. I won’t tell them where and I won’t tell them how. We must as, a nation, be more unpredictable. But they’re going to be gone. And soon.”
He said the US should work very closely with our allies in the Muslim world and those threatened by ISIS but our allies must remember “this has to be a two-way street – they must also be good to us and remember us and all we are doing for them.”
Much of Trump’s speech, and overall discourse, on Middle East foreign policy has focused on what the US has done wrong in the past. He pointed out how he was “totally against the War in Iraq, saying for many years that it would destabilize the Middle East,” a claim Politfact has found to be false.
But Trump’s speech on Wednesday and especially his focus on the Middle East are a microcosm for how he has run his entire campaign: He simply points out past mistakes and spreads fear while giving murky, if any, coherent policy platforms besides a wall along our southern border.
For Trump “containing the spread of radical Islam must be a major foreign policy goal of the United States,” yet he fails to outline any plans on how to combat terrorism and instead resorts to fear and chauvinistic rhetoric.
Trump favored sending American troops to fight ISIS and has also said the US should “let them [ISIS and Syrian President Assad] fight each other and pick up the remnants.” His often contradictory statements concerning about Middle East show that Trump could be a very dangerous to the pursuit of stability in peace in the Middle East.
In a radio ad he said he will “quickly and decisively bomb the hell out of ISIS” and while the line triggers many headlines and applause from voters disillusioned with the current Establishment, it is an example of how Trump’s foreign policy still hasn’t shifted towards a more “presidential” level and hinges on abstract ideas.
Absent from Trump’s speech was mention of his previous proposals to allow allies like Saudi Arabia to develop their own nuclear arsenals. Trump had previously proposed such a policy as a way of cutting U.S. expenses in the region. Nevertheless, actively supporting nuclear proliferation would represent a profound shift in America’s post-War foreign policy.
The fear mongering that has gotten Trump to be the leading Republican candidate won’t do much to solve the issues in the Middle East. It demonstrates that, while he may be a master at getting press coverage and winning over right-wing voters tired of the current political structure, Trump is not ready to pursue the serious policy construction necessary for any candidate who aspires to be the President of the United States.