The Obama administration has created a deep gulf between the U.S. and the Middle East by mishandling the situation in Syria. By supporting the Turkish army’s invasion of Syria, they enraged the Kurds instead of pacifying them. This administration also misread the reality of the political turmoil in Egypt. They failed to understand that provoking two important U.S. allies in the Middle East, Israel and Saudi Arabia, would inflict disastrous damage on the position of the U.S. in the region. The White House was unable to grasp the new dynamics of terrorist activity in the Middle East, and could not strike against al-Qaeda when the group was concealed inside Afghanistan and Pakistan. They also underestimated the cost of not intervening in Syria.
This difficult situation means that when it come to policy towards the Middle East, President Trump is clearly starting from an unfavorable position.
The new president has said that when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he does not intend to stick to the established policies of the past. His words caused a media uproar. The reality, however, is already moving away from the “two-state solution” that has been held as the ideal in established foreign policy.
In the disputed area of East Jerusalem, almost six hundred thousand Jews now live governed by the Palestinian National Authority, claiming that the territory belongs to the State of Israel. Area C, where Israel holds all executive and police powers, makes up 59% of the West Bank. The economy of the areas governed by the Palestinian National Authority is entirely dependent on the Israeli economy, including the movement of migrant workers and goods. Saeb Erekat, chief of the Steering and Monitoring Committee of the PLO, has pointed out that a “one-state solution” is already a reality on the ground. Inside Israel, voices opposing the two-state solution are growing louder as well. All this is a result of the obsessive clinging-on to established policies.
What is most important for the new administration is to not follow in the footsteps of the Obama administration, which advanced the wrong counter-terrorism policies. President Trump is already taking a more aggressive stance in the war on terror. But, though this clarifies the intent of the U.S. to destroy ISIL, it is still unknown if U.S. will be able to restore relationships with formerly friendly nations in the Middle East such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, as Trump’s remarks change a lot.
Furthermore, the new executive order that forbids entry into the country by citizens of six countries also hits factions that are dependent on the U.S., such as anti-establishment forces in Yemen and antigovernment forces in Libya and Syria. These people have looked at political asylum in the U.S. as one option for escape if they are left unable to remain in their countries.
Policy towards the Middle East is always at the center of political discourse. The Trump administration should move forward in a cautious fashion.