The Trump administration is operating within the confines of the perverse alliances and investments Obama made in the Middle East, contradicting everything the president said during the campaign.
The adage of “personnel is policy” is one of the few political bromides that actually holds true. And because Trump does not have a single constitutional conservative advising him or overseeing national security and foreign policy issues, it’s not surprising that many of Obama’s appallingly backward priorities are continuing.
The end goal of foreign policy is protecting our nation first and then protecting strategic assets and interests abroad second. If we actually understood those strategic interests, the nature of Islam, and what can and cannot be redressed in the Middle East, we could improve our security outlook. Using soft power against adversaries, making the right alliances and foreign aid choices, and preserving our resolve and resources for military action when there is actually a threat that must and be redressed with hard force would go much farther than sending our troops into endless Islamic civil wars. Sadly, the latter approach is continuing under this administration.
Here are seven recent developments that demonstrate the wrongheadedness of Trump’s foreign policy and how it is a continuation of Obama’s presidency:
Cutting off aid to … Sisi in Egypt! The Trump administration has finally cut foreign aid, except this time it’s to the one Arab regime in the Middle East we should be supporting. Because the State Department has “humanitarian concerns” with President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi’s administration, it is now withholding $290 million in aid to the regime that is killing more terrorists than anyone else. While we continue to arm our enemies or unreliable and infiltrated Afghani military, we won’t help the one regime that has stabilized a country post-Arab Spring and is pro-West. It’s hard to come any conclusion other than that Muslim Brotherhood sympathizers, who still run this administration, want to punish Sisi for fighting their compatriots in Egypt.
What message does this send to other potential allies or regimes that are on the fence? This would be an easy use of soft power to demonstrate to the Middle East that we will stand behind those who truly fight Islamic supremacism. But we reject it and instead plunge head-first into Islamic civil wars.
Keeping aid for PLO and UNRWA: While Sisi and the Egyptian military, the only stabilizing Arab force in the region, see their aid diminish, Tillerson has refused to suspend any aid to the PLO. In fact, Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt are in the region this week, continuing to promote the discredited peace process. As Kyle Shideler from the Center for Security Policy points out, Greenblatt met with Khalil Shikaki, a Palestinian involved with the Islamic Jihad, a group stained with blood of Israelis from the intifada of last decade. At a meeting with Kushner, Abbas pledged to continue paying pensions to families of terrorists until his “dying day.”
Meanwhile, Nikki Haley is lobbying to keep all the $300 million in aid to UNWRA, which has served as a front group for Hamas. Thus, while we are sticking it to Sisi, who is fighting terrorists, we are funding Iran’s terrorist allies and promoting their agenda of a Palestinian state. Hamas is now boasting about its relationship with Iran in preparation for war with Israel.
Bailing out Iran from ISIS and directly handing it western Iraq and Syria: Unlike the Taliban, which really poses no existential threat outside its landlocked borders, Iran is our mortal enemy. The regime has attacked us numerous times over the years and captured our ships and sailors without facing reprisal. Not only have we failed to respond and instead forged the nuclear “deal” with the nation, we are wasting our resources and resolve in Iraq and Syria, essentially bombing ISIS so that Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC) fighters and Hezbollah Brigades can create an Iranian corridor from Tehran to the Mediterranean. Last week, Maj. Gen. Rupert Jones admitted that we were “incidentally” helping the Iranian-backed militias in Iraq.
Continuing to send weapons to the Lebanese military: Why not just hand over weapons to Iran? That is essentially what we are doing by arming the Lebanese military, which is completely subservient to Hezbollah and the IRGC. Meanwhile, Hezbollah, unlike the Taliban or ISIS, has a vast network inside of the United States.
Directly capitulating to Iran: The administration has become so supportive of the Iran deal, contrary to Trump’s campaign promise to end it, that even John Bolton has publicly said he is persona non grata in the administration.
Kissing up to Qatar: Although Trump has been morally clear about the need to use the Arab state momentum against Qatar to fight terror funding, that memo hasn’t gone out to his secretary of state. Rather than using every diplomatic statecraft tool to pile the pressure on Qatar to end its support for terrorists and the Muslim Brotherhood while terminating its relationship with Iran, Tillerson is pressuring Saudi Arabia to back off! The biggest terror threats are those backed by money. The money is not in Afghanistan; it’s in places like Qatar. Cut off the spigot of funding in Qatar, and we will accomplish more than any military intervention in a civil war in any theater.
Allying with Erdogan instead of holding him accountable: Sitting at the nexus between Iran and Sunni terrorists, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is the face of the enemy. He is the biggest threat in the Middle East. He is regarded as the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood but is also allied with Iran, especially against the Kurds. Instead of threatening him with expulsion from NATO, Mattis visited him last week and continued Trump’s friendly posture. Rather than fully supporting the Kurds, we are giving in to the demands of Erdogan and also the demands of the Iranian-backed government in Baghdad to oppose Kurdish independence. The Kurds are having a tough time receiving our weapons because we are allowing Baghdad to hold up the shipments.
Furthermore, now that the Kurds have successfully beat back ISIS, they are in position to win back more territory in Northern Iraq, including greater Kirkuk. But rather than support them, we are capitulating to the enemy government in Baghdad and not supporting the Kurdish referendum on independence. Why would we rather Iranian proxies hold the land instead of the Kurds? We support nation-building for Baghdad and for the corrupt Afghani government but won’t do it for the one stable, pro-western, non-jihadist buffer against all our Islamic enemies.
The Afghani government and Shiite militias in Iraq are responsible for thousands of U.S. military casualties over the past decade. Yet we are investing our military resources and resolve to help them while we snub the Kurds and Sisi, the only stable Muslim allies in the region. We are cutting off aid to Egypt while funding the Lebanese military, the PLO, UNRWA, and flushing billions every year in Afghanistan.
Trump is continuing almost every facet of Obama’s perfectly backward foreign policy, in which we support enemies over allies and invest heavily in failure instead of making the right choices that cost us very little. He is nation-building for our enemies in unwinnable theaters while undermining stable allies that could potentially place all our enemies on defense. This has distracted us and weakened our deterrent against North Korea, the one regime that has directly threatened us and has the capability to hit our mainland.
Trump must learn that while he is confronted with a lot of countervailing forces in the political class, he will never succeed by abandoning his base or by repeating the utterly discredited policies of his predecessor.