After Trump Visit, the Onus Rests on Us: Isi Leibler, Algemeiner, May 24, 2017 — Overall, US President Donald Trump has delivered.
Trump’s Middle East Trip Was a Big, Surprising Success—and the Iranian Regime is Nervous: Lee Smith, Tablet, May 23, 2017 — “I want to tell you,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said to President Donald Trump during a joint press conference Monday, “how much we appreciate the reassertion of American leadership in the Middle East.”
A Trump Doctrine for the Middle East?: Michael Doran, New York Times, May 19, 2017 — During his campaign, Donald Trump’s Middle East policy seemed to begin and end with his vow to “bomb the hell” out of the Islamic State…
As the Middle East Petrostates Rush into Modernity, Their Indentured Servants Pay the Price: Robert Fulford, National Post, Apr. 13, 2017— The people who control the oil-rich states in the Arabian Gulf have learned that money isn’t everything.
In Sign of Changing Region, Gulf States Float Major Upgrade in Ties with Israel: Tower, May 16, 2017
The Real Middle East Crisis: James L. Gelvin, History News Newtowrk, May 21, 2017
Farewell to OPEC: Daniel John Sobieski, American Thinker, May 24, 2017
Why We Are Surprised by Surprises: Joshua Teicher, BESA, May 16, 2017
Algemeiner, May 24, 2017
Overall, US President Donald Trump has delivered. He will not have satisfied the delusional aspirations of Israel’s radical right but, despite some missteps before he arrived, highlighted by hostile and misleading press reports, the Trump visit was favorable for Israel and outlined parameters of what can be achieved with the Palestinians.
It was disappointing that he postponed transferring the US embassy to Jerusalem but there is still hope that this will happen during his presidency. We appreciate that he is the first sitting American president to visit Jerusalem’s Old City and the Western Wall. We would have preferred him to be more explicit about the extent of terrorism in Israel in his address to the Muslim world. But he more than compensated in his extraordinarily warm address at the Israel Museum. There is also some concern that the substantial commercial and defense relationship with the Saudis ($380 billion in deals, including $110 billion in arms purchases) might impact Israel and will require steps to ensure that we maintain our qualitative military edge.
Trump did not try to force unreasonable or irresponsible concessions. A Palestinian state is not even on the horizon. Neither is there any indication of a return to former President Barack Obama’s policy of freezing all settlement construction. Indeed, the president expressed friendship and support for Israel in a far more open and positive manner than any of his predecessors. In his address to the leaders of 55 Muslim-majority countries, he reversed Obama’s moral-equivalence approach and described the conflict as being between the forces of decency on the one hand, and an evil death cult on the other. He urged the Arab and Muslim states to actively eradicate terrorism and extremism from within their ranks and places of worship. He specifically condemned Hamas and Hezbollah, together with ISIS and al-Qaeda. Notably, he explicitly called on Arab and Muslim leaders to combat antisemitism. No American president has ever spoken directly to the Arab world in such a blunt and forthright manner.
For the first time, the Saudis, backed by the Egyptians and Gulf states, appear to be promoting peace or at least easing the tension between the Palestinians and the Israelis. In his lengthy statement outlining the Saudi position prior to Trump’s address, King Salman only devoted one sentence to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but rather than condemning Israel, expressed the hope that peace will be achieved. This was a clear message as was the fact that Trump flew to Israel on the first ever direct flight from Riyadh to Tel Aviv.
Whereas in the past the Arab states were a major element fanning Palestinian anti-Israel hostility, it may well be that the tide has changed. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Saudis no longer demand that Israel freeze all settlement construction. Instead, they propose that Israel restrict construction outside the settlement blocs and provide additional humanitarian aid to the Palestinians in Gaza. In return, the Saudis would inch closer to partial normalization and recognition by allowing Israeli aircraft to fly over their territory, set up direct telephone connection and even provide tourist visas for Israelis. While this was not officially confirmed, there were no denials, which tends to confirm the veracity of the report and suggests that the Saudis are willing to actively act as brokers by pressing the Palestinians to be more flexible.
To what extent this was the outcome of discussions with Trump’s representatives, or simply because the Saudis now recognize the value of Israel’s support against Iran’s efforts to achieve regional hegemony, is irrelevant. There have already been widespread rumors attesting to covert Saudi cooperation with Israel in relation to Iran and similarly with the Egyptians in the struggle against ISIS in the Sinai Peninsula. Whereas Trump demanded that the Palestinians cease the incitement and bring an end to rewarding murderers and their families with lavish pensions and sanctifying them as heroes, he avoided suggesting that Israel cease settlement activity. But he undoubtedly pressed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to move forward with confidence-building measures such as improving the economic conditions and social development among Palestinians.
At this potentially historic turning point, Netanyahu must stand firm against the radicals in his coalition and impose a limited freeze beyond the settlement blocs. The majority of the nation would endorse such a policy and if it brings down the government and forces elections, the nation will support him. We talk endlessly about the need for unity. At this crucial time, decision-making must reflect the views of the majority who are effectively the political centrists. No minority groups should be able to veto our national interest. Yair Lapid and his party, Yesh Atid, also embrace this centrist view. They should either join the government or support it on this issue. Even the non-delusional elements in Labor should support this process.
Of course, this is only the beginning. Before we engage in negotiating details, let us see Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas make some concessions. Let him recognize Israel as a Jewish state and abrogate the Palestinian refugee right of return. Then we can discuss borders and a demilitarized state. But in the meantime, we must demonstrate to the world and to Trump that we are reasonable and respond positively toward genuine Arab gestures…
[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]
Tablet, May 23, 2017
“I want to tell you,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said to President Donald Trump during a joint press conference Monday, “how much we appreciate the reassertion of American leadership in the Middle East.”
So how is Trump’s first foreign trip as president playing out? Suddenly, the scandal-mired President seems like a plausible world leader. He is certainly a more welcome guest in the capitols of America’s traditional allies than his predecessor, President Barack Obama. In addition to enjoying the show, viewers at home—the ones who voted for Trump last fall—likely appreciate the $110 billion arms deal Trump struck with Saudi Arabia. With another $350 billion to come over the next decade, those contracts will certainly help put assembly-line Americans back to work.
Trump’s speech before a worldwide audience about terrorism and Islam was a useful initiative that will also put some of the dozens of Muslim leaders who attended the speech on notice. Acknowledging that Jerusalem is in Israel is a break with strict Obama policy. Trump became the first sitting U.S. president to visit the Western Wall. But having spent nearly a decade living in Cairo and Beirut, and traveling throughout the Middle East, I can easily imagine the spin that the region’s intellectuals are putting on the trip as they sit in their coffee houses and smoke Gitanes:
“Habibi, the Saudis just paid the Americans nearly half a trillion dollars to keep them safe from Iran, right? But Iran was nothing before Obama built them up with $150 billion. It’s only because Obama kept paying Iran—first to stay in negotiations over the nuclear program and then as a reward for signing the deal—that Iran was empowered. Obama and his pallets of cash helped Iran extend its reach from the Persian Gulf to the eastern Mediterranean.
Iran thought that it got the better of the Americans, but the Americans played them for suckers! The CIA had something up their sleeves the whole time! They just wanted the Arabs to pay even more to defend them from Iran. So the Americans created this Iranian bogeyman and then they sent the Arabs a bill to make the Iran problem go away. They drove up the price! It’s a protection racket, don’t you see? And the Americans cleared nearly $300 billion. Oh man, you can be sure Trump and Netanyahu are laughing it up in Jerusalem. Very clever, those Americans!”
No, of course it wasn’t really a CIA shakedown orchestrated over two presidencies. And yet Trump’s maiden foreign presidential venture, or at least the first two stops, is indeed all about the new Administration’s determined recalibration of American Middle East policy after eight years of Obama’s adventurism—especially regarding Iran. Trump made his intentions toward Iran pretty clear in his Riyadh speech. “For decades, Iran has fueled the fires of sectarian conflict and terror,” said Trump. “It is a government that speaks openly of mass murder, vowing the destruction of Israel, death to America, and ruin for many leaders and nations in this room.”
The visuals from Riyadh and Jerusalem were even more important than the speeches. After all, you can reassure your allies on the phone—to scare your shared adversaries, you create a photo album and broadcast it on Facebook and Twitter. Here’s the president of the United States being celebrated in Saudi Arabia with a sword dance. And clearly, this is not the secretary of state’s first ardha. As a famous oil man who is always welcome to visit the global swing producer of oil, Rex Tillerson knows all the steps already. See him dancing with Wilbur Ross? The Americans and Saudis are like family.
And look—the president of the United States actually has Jews in his family. Here is a picture of his daughter praying at the Western Wall. Here is a picture of the president also at the Western wall wearing a kippah. And oh, look—Trump has made it his status picture on Twitter. The Iranian regime isn’t very happy. Trump’s photo ops stole the entire foreign policy news cycle from an Iranian regime that wanted a few days of good press after its rigged presidential elections last Friday. The message that Tehran received from the presidential pomp and circumstance in Riyadh is that things are different now.
The Obama administration moved quietly behind the scenes to reorient American policy toward Iran, while it pulled the rug out from under traditional American allies. Among other things, the Obama White House leaked Israeli strikes against Hezbollah convoys, it coordinated operations with Iranian-backed militias in Iraq, and it stood aside as Bashar al-Assad waged a genocidal campaign in Syria so as not to affect the prospects of the nuclear deal with Iran. The Iranians know how much they owe the Obama administration—whether it was air support for Qassem Soleimani in Tikrit, legitimization of Iranian interests in Yemen, deterring Israel from striking their nuclear facilities, turning a blind eye as they built a highway from Tehran to Baghdad to Damascus to Beirut. Now the Americans are dancing with the Arabs and praying with the Jews, and Iran is on its own again.
New York Times, May 19, 2017
During his campaign, Donald Trump’s Middle East policy seemed to begin and end with his vow to “bomb the hell” out of the Islamic State — a pledge that played well with his base but unsettled establishment foreign policy experts, who worried that the collateral damage would include everything else America has been trying to build in the region.
The establishment was giving itself too much credit: Our policies in the Middle East have been blowing themselves up for a good while. As Mr. Trump embarks Friday on his first foreign trip, including stops in Israel and Saudi Arabia, he has a chance to put in place a new long-term vision. In fact, the outlines of one are already in place. Despite the controversies at home, Mr. Trump may come away with a legacy-cementing achievement: a Trump Doctrine for the Middle East.
The Middle East is complex, but Mr. Trump’s predecessors stumbled for a singular reason: the rise of Iran. As a senior official in the George W. Bush administration, I saw firsthand how President Bush’s democracy project in Iraq diverted attention from countering Iran and its proxies. Mr. Bush seems to have believed that a robust democracy in Iraq would serve simultaneously as a bulwark against Sunni Islamic extremism and Iranian power. In the end, Iran slipped into Iraq under Mr. Bush’s nose, subverted the project, and recruited proxy militias to promote its interests.
Mr. Bush let Iran in by miscalculation. President Barack Obama, by contrast, embraced Iranian ascendancy with open arms — and not just in Iraq, but in Syria as well. Mr. Obama dropped efforts to contain Iran and sought a nuclear accord that would allow the West to normalize relations because he was convinced that recognition of an Iranian sphere of influence would persuade Tehran to function as a partner in stabilizing Iraq and Syria. This was another miscalculation, and it led directly to the Russian-Iranian military alliance in Syria.
Mr. Obama, like Mr. Bush before him, put a lot of effort into resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict — a worthy but useless undertaking that diverted them further from addressing Iran’s regional ascent and, later, Russia’s. We still don’t know the full details of Mr. Trump’s approach to the Middle East, but his hard-nosed ethos and willingness to question foreign policy dogmas offer an opportunity, in principle, to dispel several fallacies that led to these strategic blunders.
First, it is false that American “soft power” is the key to stabilizing the region. Our ideals, such as promoting democracy, will work to our advantage only if we first restore order — a project that rests on American hard power. What’s more, the use of force is not inherently counterproductive. Look at Russia’s campaign in Syria, which shows that in the hands of a good tactician like President Vladimir Putin, military superiority produces results.
Next, it is false that our support for our longtime friends is a cause of instability, and that by distancing ourselves from them while reaching out to our enemies we can make the world a safer place. (It’s an even worse fallacy to imagine that we can create a Middle East without enemies.) And it’s just as wrong to assume we can cleverly pull Russia away from Iran in Syria. The tensions between them are insignificant compared with their shared interest in propping up the Bashar al-Assad regime and eroding American influence.
Finally, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is not the center of gravity in the Middle East, nor is it ripe for solution. It is not clear that Mr. Trump recognizes all of these fallacies. If he does, he will be far ahead of the game. But recognizing mistakes is just the first step. Step 2 requires rejecting the temptation, to which Mr. Obama succumbed, of defining the defeat of the Islamic State as the pre-eminent strategic goal. If Mr. Trump destroys the group, but fails at the same time to build a stabilizing regional coalition, his victory will be very short-lived. The next Islamic State will rise from the rubble, and Russia and Iran will exploit the ensuing chaos.
The third step is to build that coalition. Jordan, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates can help, but only three American allies can project power beyond their borders: Turkey, Israel and Saudi Arabia. True, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are not always trustworthy, because their interests do not align seamlessly with American interests. Sidelining them, however, will make them only more, not less, troublesome. Their saving grace is that, unlike the Russians and Iranians, they will accept an American-dominated order.
By embarking for Saudi Arabia and Israel close on the heels of a meeting in Washington with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, Mr. Trump is clearly signaling an appreciation of this elemental fact. He must now build on that fact to develop a Trump Doctrine, based on shoring up traditional allies against Iran. Such a plan, built on painstaking coalition building and maintenance, isn’t glamorous or inspiring. But good statesmanship requires recognizing the limits of what is possible. The choices in the Middle East are between very bad and much worse. Mr. Trump promised us steely-eyed realism. Here’s hoping he delivers on that pledge.
National Post, Apr. 13, 2017
The people who control the oil-rich states in the Arabian Gulf have learned that money isn’t everything. For one thing, it doesn’t impress the world, since the world assumes (wrongly) that it’s easy to dig oil from the ground or the ocean floor. So in recent years the Gulf princes and their advisers have decided they want something more. Prestige, for instance, and culture, and influence. They want others to think well of them. They want to be civilized and they think they know how to do that: buy some civilization from countries that have too much of it but not as much money as they think they need.
Qatar, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi and other states in the Gulf are frantically busy re-inventing themselves, changing their image. They are becoming up-to-the-minute modern states with universities, museums, skyscrapers, high-quality architecture and European-style tourist hotels. The 2020 World Expo is coming to Dubai and the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. Even the Louvre Abu Dhabi is there, with the help of the Louvre Paris, “Bringing Cultures Closer Together in the First Period of Globalisation” — a unique and universal museum, according to their website.
Everywhere new buildings are rising, with more promised for the future. The Gulf states see themselves as winners among the nations but unfortunately the losers are the people who literally build the buildings — the many thousands of exploited, indentured migrant workers who lack the protection of governments or unions. They come to the Gulf, make a pittance to send home and eventually depart, still poor. Foreign architects, designers and planners who work in the Gulf try to avoid labour issues. The late Zaha Hadid, the Iraqi-born British architect who was the first woman to receive the Pritzker Prize, was asked about it in 2014. She replied: “I have nothing to do with the workers. I think that’s an issue for the government to take care of. It’s not my duty as an architect to look at it.”
This week New York University’s Stern Center for Business and Human Rights released a highly negative report, Making Workers Pay: Recruitment of the Migrant Labor Force in the Gulf Construction Industry. The Gulf Cooperation Council — Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Oman — are developing with the furious energy of states that have glimpsed their destiny and want to achieve it as soon as possible. The workers, typically from small villages in Bangladesh and India, are often illiterate and not hard to scam.
They are most obviously cheated when they pay for their own recruitment, according to the Stern report. Agents are commissioned to find them, screen them for appropriate skills, arrange their visas and travel. The agents demand that the workers pay the bill for everything, roughly one or two thousand dollars. That often requires that the worker take out an expensive loan, which puts him in the category of indentured labour. In a recent interview a 24-year-old Pakistani talked about arriving in 2014 to work on the Louvre Abu Dhabi. He reported that he had paid more than $2,200 to a Lahore-based recruiter, which meant it would take him four years or more to break even. Outside the job, he said, “I have only time to eat and sleep.”
In all the Gulf countries, the Stern report says, local employers automatically acquire significant power over their workers. It becomes difficult for a migrant to change jobs, lodge a complaint or even return home without permission from the employer (who may be holding the migrant’s passport). The housing for workers is cramped and uncomfortable, the meals inadequate — and there’s no authority to negotiate for better conditions. There are laws protecting the workers, but they are at best unevenly enforced. In some cases the planning for much of this development has been so grandiloquent that it turns into a kind of comedy. Nobody in the Gulf seems to believe that slow and easy does the job but Abu Dhabi has set new records for hurried, exaggerated plans, royal pomposity and sheepish apology.
A few years ago the crown prince, Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan, set forth the future for Saadiyat Island, a $27-billion development. He decreed that it would include luxury hotels and a boutique shopping quarter. But the crucial section was a cultural district with a Guggenheim museum at its core. It would, if everything worked out, stimulate a modern Arab Renaissance. What could go wrong? Everything…
[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]
In Sign of Changing Region, Gulf States Float Major Upgrade in Ties with Israel: Tower, May 16, 2017 —Arab Gulf states have offered to improve ties with Israel if it intensifies efforts to reach a diplomatic agreement with the Palestinians, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday. The potential steps could include allowing Israeli planes to fly over their territory, establishing direct telecommunication access to Israel, easing some limits on trade, and issuing visas to Israeli sports teams and trade delegations.
The Real Middle East Crisis: James L. Gelvin, History News Newtowrk, May 21, 2017 —Poison gas. ISIS. Terrorism. The Arab Middle East has experienced more than its share of attention-grabbing horrors. But the twenty-four hour news cycle, with its relentless focus on the here and now, obscures the greatest problem the region faces: The threat to human security.
Farewell to OPEC: Daniel John Sobieski, American Thinker, May 24, 2017—Maybe the fly on the wall knows, because nothing was leaked to the New York Times or Washington Post, but one of the topics that may have come up in meetings between American and Saudi officials during President Trump’s historic visit is the energy revolution unleashed by President Trump that is sure to make the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries an energy relic.
Why We Are Surprised by Surprises: Joshua Teicher, BESA, May 16, 2017—Researchers and decision-makers are regularly taken by surprise by the collapse of regimes and by military moves with long-term geopolitical and traumatic consequences. They are hit “out of the blue” and awakened from their status quo illusions. This trend is in fact likely to accelerate during times of increasing uncertainty, when there is a greater likelihood of potential danger.