Trump and the Middle East: A Disaster Happening

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Introduction

Recent actions by
Trump suggest that has no understanding of the Middle East (ME). He lacks any
sense of what the US could do to reduce tensionsand court favor with at least some ME countries. In what follows,
Trump’s policies are contrasted with what would make more sense.

Background

Understanding the
relationship between the US and ME countries starts by recognizing how
troubling it was to create the Israeli state in the middle of Arab lands. This
was made more problematic by the US making Israel its “policeman” in the ME.
Israel then went on the offensive that resulted in UN Security Council condemning
it for aggressive acts 29 times, far more times than any other country. And the
takeover has continued by building settlements in what were intended to be
Palestinian lands under all two-state proposals.

And of course, the
aggression has not been only by Israel. Other countries in the ME responded militarily
with Iran and other nations calling for the elimination of Israel.

Trump

So Trump becomes
President. One of his first actions was to appoint Jared Kushner, who is
Jewish, to mediate between the Israelis and the Palestinians. This step unnecessarily
provoked the entire Arab world. And Trump follows up by moving the US Embassy
from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This action worsened the relationship between the
Palestinians/most ME countries and Israel. Many believe this has effectively
ended any hope for a two-state solution.

More Background

Table 1 provides
data on where power resides in the ME. The countries are ranked by numbers in
the military. The Sunni/Shia breakdown is of great significance in understanding
how things play out. Saddam Hussein was a Sunni who ran Iraq, a country that
had more Shia than Sunni. Bush’s ill fated invasion of Iraq resulted in it
becoming an ally of Iran.

Of course, the
Shia/Sunni classification does not explain everything. Right now, Turkey and
Saudi Arabia are at odds over who killed Khashoggi, while Saudi Arabia, Egypt,
the UAE and Bahrain are blockading Qatar, claiming it is promoting terrorists.

Table 1 also
indicates what countries are powerful because of their oil reserves. Saudi
Arabia is at the top. But Iran, Iraq, Kuwait and the UAE also have large
holdings as well. As a point of reference, Venezuela has the largest holdings
of proved reserves with almost 300,000 million barrels.    

Table 1. – Middle East Power

Source: GFP

US Troop Deployments in the Middle East

As Table 2 indicates, the US has deployed troops in a number of ME countries. Kuwait has the largest number, in part a residual of the US forcing Iraqi troops out back in 1990. There are also approximately 2,000 troops in Syria and another 14,000 in Afghanistan. The ostensible reason for this large a presence has been to keep the peace, something they have had limited success in doing.

Table 2. – US Troops in ME Countries

Source: Press TV

Syria

Obama’s actions
effectively “lost” Syria to Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime. So Trump quite
legitimately decides to pull US troops out of Syria. But why immediately and
why announce it? Pulling out leaves the Kurds at the mercy of Damascus and the
Turkish military. Fortunately, Trump has back pedaled since announcing the
immediate withdrawal.

Iraq

Because Iraq has
established close ties with Iran, Trump’s relationship with the leaders of Iraq
has been rocky. And it did not help when Trump failed to meet with the Iraqi
Prime Minister when he visited US soldiers in Iraq in late 2018. Things were
made worse when Trump said the US would stay in Iraq to watch Iran and ISIS.
Trump is also pressuring Iraq to stop buying oil from Iran. Iraqi politicians
are now calling for the US to leave.  

Obama’s actions
effectively “lost” Syria to Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime. So Trump quite
legitimately decides to pull US troops out of Syria. But why immediately and
why announce it? Pulling out leaves the Kurds at the mercy of Damascus and the
Turkish military. Fortunately, Trump has back pedaled since announcing the
immediate withdrawal.

Iran

Trump pulled the US
out if the Iran accord that was intended to keep Iran from developing a nuclear
capability. The defiance of Iraqi leaders underscores the lack of support among
many nations for the sanctions and the US goal of crippling Iran’s government. It
is highly unlikely that China and India will stop their purchases of Iranian
oil even after the 180-day waivers allowed by the US expire. And late last
month, Britain, France, and Germany announced a mechanism to allow countries to
do business with Iran in a way that does not violate sanctions.

Saudi Arabia

It is apparent that
Saudi Arabia has been the launching pad for many terrorist groups, including
those who carried out the 9/11 attacks. And as is the case with Russia, many
are mystified by Trump’s unwavering support of Saudi Arabia. The US Congress
has finally recognized that its brutal bombings in attacks on Yemen should stop
and has passed legislation to that effect. And the apparent murder of Khashoggi
apparently with the approval of the Crown Prince is yet another example of its
militant activities.

As with Russia,
Trump’s apparent unwavering support of Saudi Arabia and the Crown Prince is
mystifying.

Conclusions

The
US has a troubled history in the Middle East. Rather than taking actions to
ameliorate the issues the Arabs and Iran had over creating the Israeli state in
their midst, the US has either abstained or vetoed many of the UN’s condemnations
of Israel for aggressive acts. More foolish decisions followed such as getting
into a ground war in Afghanistan. And then it removed Saddam Hussein who was a
foil to Iran. One wonders if and when US policymakers will take a more balanced
view of the ME.

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