A New Attitude Toward the Middle East?

The stunning election upset in the U.S. will have all the prognosticators and political gurus  pontificating on what next for American Middle East policy. If one went by the off the cuff top of the head, and sometimes  ill-considered remarks by president -elect Trump the changes could be  seismic  and  revolutionary, but the reality is less dramatic. Policy differences will be less than expected and most likely they will be atmospheric rather than dramatic,  however, these will be important. He will represent the viewpoint of middle America, which is that foreign affairs are  of low priority, and the Middle East. a region to be avoided if at all possible. One of the major hindrances  to  more dramatic changes in our Middle East policies will be the  limited options open to Trump, partially as a result of trends in world political dynamics,  and partially because of the grave mistakes of the Obama administration.

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One of the first changes, mostly in attitude, will be the  removal of  the”third worldism” of the Obama administration. Third worldism is an outdated political ideology of the 60’s that put emphasis and importance on the so called underdeveloped countries, gradually evolving into a Western elitist trashing of Western civilization, The proclivity of the Obama administration to apologize for American “sins” while  a exhibiting a reluctance  to to preach “American exceptionalism”  were just two examples of that tendency.

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“HO ho ho, Western Civ has to go.” Elitist student refrain of the 60’s and 70’s and perhaps now.

It was indicative and spoke volumes on the mind set of the Obama presidency toward the West and the Islamic world. He was under the tragic and ultimately disastrous  belief that his empathetic verbal talents would put him in sync with an outdated  relic of the  60’s anti colonialist, anti-imperialistic Islamic world. It was  fundamentally a result of his upbringing and life long association with Western elitists,  and  Leftist agitators.  But he had very little knowledge of the Middle East, or its people. He was of the opinion that symbolic actions, the right  sonorous words, and lofty expressions, would bring about a reset of Islamic-American relations. Nothing could have been more wrong. The Middle Easterners are by nature a cynical and skeptical people, made that way by their history of perfidious and brutal leaders, and a toxic political and societal environment.  It is true, as one Arab historian noted, that Arabs tend to be swayed  more by words than actions, but that is not a permanent condition. They, like all peoples, ultimately want concrete results. And in this their initial enthusiasm for Obama  turned to bitter disappointment.

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Obama in his triumphal visit to Cairo 2008

One of the most important differences  from the Obama administration will be a  more  jaundiced view of the Muslim Brotherhood and fundamentalist Islam. There is little doubt that the Obama administration, for a number of reasons, viewed the Muslim Brotherhood as the wave of the future in the Arab world. This was seen in Egypt and the coddling of the al Morsi regime, made more obvious by the actions of Secretary Clinton when she visited  Egypt.  Obama’s initial and residual love affair with Erdogan of Turkey, seeing him as the model for modern Islam is another example of the Administration’s benign view of the Muslim Brotherhood ( or doctrinal sympathies).  In both cases the Obama vision was fatally flawed.  The Egyptian people, despite their very conservative Islamic beliefs rejected the Brotherhood view of society, and Erdogan evolved into a latter day Ottoman Sultan with pretensions of re-establishing the Ottoman empire. Then , of course, the crowning  “achievement” of the Obama administration was the Iranian nuclear “deal.” Intended to curb Iranian nuclear war making potential. In reality it was part of Obama’s grand strategy promoting  Iran as  the hope of a new Middle East, the Arabs having proven themselves  incapable of that leadership.

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al Morsi and Erdogan Pals.

But reality once again intruded. Iran has increasingly rebuffed the hand of friendship, humiliating Obama and Secretary Kerry again and again. Only in the minds of the amateurish policy makers  of the National Security Council and the  State Department would an olive branch and concessions to Iran bring any benefit to the United States. What  Obama saw as a “re-set”  was simply seen as weakness by the Iranians, who only became more aggressive and hostile. It also set off an increasing and escalating war of words between Saudi Arabia and Iran,  and more dangerously, a war by proxy, between the Gulf Arabs and Iran. and on a greater scale, added fuel to the fire of the on-going  Shi’a  -Sunni war in various places of the Middle East. Some, of course, would say it is simplistic to point to the Shi’a -Sunni confrontation as the cause of the wars in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, but there is no getting away from the fact that the sectarian factor looms large. From social media, for instance, the Gulf Arabs see the Iraqi attack on Mosul as a Shi’a attempt to eradicate the Sunni presence in Iraq, and similarly, the Assad offensive on the “rebels” to subdue the majority Sunni population of  Syria. As the wars in Syria and Iraq drag on this  will become more heated and dangerous, even to the West. Just as the Kurdish- Arab conflict has taken place in Europe so will the Sunni-Shi’a violence. The Jihadist offensive is unlikely to diminish appreciably over the next few years, whatever happens in Mosul.

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Iran the new hegemon

On Iran, Trump’s pronouncements to the effect that he  will undo the Iranian “deal” will not be necessary, in that the Iranians themselves will end it. It is based on a continuing flow of largess and favors of the West and the U.S., not just those which have been previously provided.  In other words it should be viewed as an international blackmail scheme in which the victim, after assurances that a one time payment will be enough finds he will be paying forever. Once these end, as Trump as indicated he will do,the Iranians will abrogate the “Treaty” unilaterally.

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Despite the peripatetic travels of Secretary Kerry to bring peace to the Palestinian cancer, he, like all before him, failed completely. The only new   attribute was the rather obvious distaste exhibited by Obama and many on his team for the state of Israel, and especially the Israeli prime minister Netanyahu, . The occasional pronouncements of permanent  friendship with Israel enunciated by the Obama regime, for domestic political political reasons,  did not obscure their general aversion to Israel.

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A problem?

The Jihadi phenomena was never  quite understood by the Obama administration, and exacerbated by its excessive forbearance for Islamist provocations. Obama concentrated on the Islamic State,  seeing its destruction as the virtual end of the Jihadi movement. The Jihadi/ Islamist movement is a world wide phenomena, not confined to just Iraq and Syria, nor to just the Islamic world, as the  massive refugee wave into Europe has brought the problem there as well.

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Muslim Brotherhood and ideological allies

Probably the greatest difference  will be the Trump administration’s attitude to domestic Islamist and fundamentalist organizations. Organizations such as the Council for American- Islamic  Relations ( C.A.I. R)  will no longer will seen as the source of supplying candidates for jobs in the government.  Certainly the frequent visits to the White House of questionable Muslim leaders will be ended. In terms of U.S. information and propaganda efforts the prohibition against the term “Islamic terrorism ” will end. It is imperative that Trump ramp up the ideological propaganda/informational war against the Jihadi movement, and that includes the “shirt and tie” version of the Jihadi  movement, as typified by the Muslim Brotherhood. This should not be confused with any sort of “crusade” against Muslims or Islam. At present a good deal of this contrived hype is being orchestrated by the organizations depicted above in conjunction with far leftist agitators…. one of the ironies of our era…the symbiosis of far left and Islamist movements.

Hopefully, and I do hope, because I am not sure, that the  Trump administrations will recognize efforts of the many Muslims to reform or moderate the supremacist views of the fundamentalists, an effort desperately needed to provide an alternate view to the Islamic population, particularly the venom of hate being voiced by too many Imams from too many Mosques.. Wahhabi Imams and Saudi money flowing into the Islamic community has to be be monitored more carefully and curtailed..

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In Iraq and Syria,  there are contradictions. His  distaste for “foreign wars” will be put to the test. His military  and Middle East  advisors will strongly recommend a continuation of the operations against the ISIS. However sending troops to new outbreaks of wars in the Middle East, will be problematic for the Trump team.  In order to continue to fight in Afghanistan and the Levant, and possibly North Africa, he will have to make the case to the American people. He will, however, build up the military from the threatening abyss it now faces in equipment and numbers. This too will put a strain of promises of tax cuts and no cuts in current government  health and social programs

Overall the Obama  pretensions of setting a new relationship with the Islamic and Arab world  was a failure and left the region far worse off than  before. His benevolent view of the Islamic supremacists, ignorance of Middle Eastern culture, and  incompetence of his advisors, particularly the “aspiring novelist,” Ben Rhodes.
all contributed to his grievous mistakes. and limiting the options of his successor.  We will have to wait and see how he handles these massive problems in addition to those which the American people demands on the domestic front.

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About Tex

Retired artillery colonel, many years in a number of positions in the Arab world. Graduate of the US Military Academy and the American University of Beirut. MA in Arab studies from the American University in Beirut along with 18 years as Middle East Seminar Director at the JFK Special Warfare Center and School, Served in Vietnam with 1st Inf Division, Assignments in Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt, plus service with Trucial Oman Scouts in the Persian Gulf. Traveled to every Arab country on the map including Iraq, Syria, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.
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