Donald Trump is correct on Middle East policy – opinion

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Micromanaging the Middle East remains difficult, especially given its volatility. Nevertheless, US President Donald Trump has produced relative success through his doctrine – characterized by increasing on-the-ground divestment from the Middle East’s “endless wars,” accelerated drone strikes, anti-terrorism financing, and bold diplomacy challenging an obsolete status quo. Trump deserves credit for combating terrorism, its greatest state-sponsor Iran, and perceptions of American weakness, while also sowing seeds for regional tolerance towards Israel. Trump’s counter-terrorism efforts command plaudits for their success and resourcefulness. Despite previously operating a caliphate the size of Britain, ISIS-controlled territory exists no more. In part, Trump is to thank for his intensified airstrike campaigns and backing of pro-US militias, such as the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces, who liberated the last of ISIS’s territory. Advancing this outcome without endangering additional US troops on the ground has made Trump’s share in this achievement become even greater.  Trump has also undermined terrorism by targeting terrorism’s lifelines – its leadership and its finances. He neutralized the irreplaceable leaders of four powerful organizations – ISIS, the IRGC, Kata’ib Hezbollah, and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula – and did so all in his first term. The IRGC killed 500 US troops from 2005-2011, and sponsors “training, funding and weapons” to Hamas and Hezbollah. Kata’ib Hezbollah dominates a pro-Iranian paramilitary force of 100,000 that regularly attacked US troops. Through strategic ops, Trump undermined the strategic capabilities of some of America’s greatest enemies, advancing US security, but also regional stability.  Trump also challenged his predecessor, Barack Obama, in defunding key sponsors of terrorism; a bold, overdue decision. In 2019, the administration cut all funding to the Palestinian Authority, which in 2018 allocated $330 million to terrorists and their families. While the Obama administration blunted Israel, funding the PA $221 million in the administration’s final hours, Trump has set a precedent for defunding sponsors of terrorism, a precedent reiterated by withdrawing from the JCPOA.  In withdrawing from the JCPOA – Obama’s deal that allowed Iran eventual nuclear capabilities – Trump suffocated the world’s largest sponsor of terrorism, leaving Iran 10 billion fewer dollars to fund terrorist orgs like Hezbollah. Despite once being the highest-grossing terrorist organization, Hezbollah has since had to intensify fundraising efforts due to Iran’s funding shortfall. Thus, Trump’s efforts to combat terrorrism have thrived by targeting terrorism and its roots. Trump’s policy toward Iran has also restored the perception of US strength in the region, which was compromised in Benghazi – where four US diplomats, and the US ambassador to Libya were murdered – and by Obama’s broken promise to address Syrian President Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons. When Iran-backed Kata’ib Hezbollah protesters stormed our embassy in Baghdad, Trump challenged that perception by demonstrating strength and commitment to defending US nationals and outposts. As thugs sought to destroy “the lobby,” and replicate the 1979 Tehran hostage crisis, Trump authorized the assassinations of Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, showing that Iranian antagonism would no longer go unchecked. THE ASSASSINATIONS exposed Iran and its weakness, which has had to deal with protests against itself and its proxies in Lebanon and Iraq. Hence, hoping to avoid escalation and before it rocketed the Ain Al-Asad Air Base, a gesture made to merely save-face, Iran forewarned Iraqi intelligence, knowing that it would reciprocally warn US troops to vacate. Therefore, although there were injuries, no deaths resulted from this “worst kept [secret].” Ultimately, Trump’s displays of strength have intimidated Iran and tempered its antagonism, which explains why its foreign minister immediately declared a conclusion to its retaliation following the strikes. Trump’s challenge to Iran, while advancing regional stability, also sowed seeds for prospective Arab reconciliation with Israel. Withdrawing from the JCPOA allowed Trump to reconcile with the Gulf states, which alongside Israel perceive Iran’s nuclear future as an existential threat, and Obama’s deal as a betrayal. Trump has leveraged his relationship with these states, helping them realize their common interests with Israel, especially against the Iranian threat, and forcing all to convene over such at US-led security conventions like the Warsaw Conference. Breakthroughs that are a likely product of US diplomacy and policy on Iran have propelled key leaders – from Bahrain, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the UAE – to de facto recognize Israel or to express a will for relations. Israel has since received recognition from Chad, and could normalize ties with Sudan, predominantly Muslim, sub-Saharan countries. Thanks to Trump, a brighter regional future awaits. Trump has also promoted Israel like no other president, being the first president to combat the baseless anti-Israel status quo that has long corrupted global institutions. Moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, in recognition of it being Israel’s capital, Trump inspired others to pledge likewise, such as Brazil and Romania. His administration also challenged the myth that Israeli settlements are illegal. Finally, Trump’s “Deal of the Century” prompted Palestinian leaders, for the fifth time since 2000, to refuse peace and a two-state solution. With many now realizing that the Palestinian leadership entertains ulterior motives, the UN, despite being infamous for demonizing Israel, has grown increasingly impatient with the Palestinians. It recently refused to support a UN initiative to condemn Trump’s partition proposal, which was humiliatingly withdrawn. Thus, Trump’s efforts have normalized support for Israel and relations with it, while exposing the bad-faith negotiation efforts of the Palestinian leadership. This cycle has propelled other countries to become more sympathetic toward Israel. Having undermined terrorism and its largest sponsor, restored the image of American strength, promoted regional acceptance of Israel, and challenged long overdue misconceptions and policies, Trump has paved the way for a more peaceful and stable Middle East. Criticism still surrounds Trump’s decision to vacate troops from Syria, which wrongfully enabled Turkish President Recep Erdogan’s ensuing invasion and displacement of Kurds. Nonetheless, Trump deserves credit for his many overlooked successes that have maximized US interests at a minimal and sustainable cost, an outcome Obama and George W. Bush could only dream of. The writer is a law student at the University of Texas, and a published author on themes including counter-terrorism and the Middle East.

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