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Michael Jansen: Trump’s see-sawing stunts
February 11, 2019
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

Donald Trump’s modus operandi involves declaring a policy without consulting aides and officials and leaving them to work out how to deliver. This is a very taxing and destructive way to operate and has prompted several of the less impulsive, more informed members of his administration to quit.

This region has suffered more than any other from his off-the-cuff proclamations beginning with his December 2017 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Claimed also by Palestine as its capital, the thrice holy city is regarded by the international community as disputed and its fate subject to negotiation between Palestinians and Israelis. He also declared that he would move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and remove the city from issues meant to be resolved in negotiations.

The embassy was shifted to the existing west Jerusalem consulate; no one but Trump has taken Jerusalem off the agenda of negotiations if ever they resume.

No thought was given by Trump, aides, or Republican party loyalists on the all-too-certain negative response of Palestinians, Arabs, Europeans, and others.

There was no consideration because Trump and his underlings knew they were safe on the Zionist-dominated US domestic scene and with Israel. Trump and company did not predict the reaction.

The Palestinians rebelled and cut ties with Washington. Trump responded by ending more than $500 million for humanitarian assistance to UNRWA, the UN agency caring for Palestinians made refugees by Israel.

He followed up by cutting off the cash-starved Palestinian Authority which normally does Israel’s bidding, and assistance programmes which serve US interests by providing schools, roads, and water projects for Gaza and the West Bank. The latest outrage is the State Department’s gratuitous cancellation of scholarships for young Palestinians from the occupied territories studying at the American University of Beirut and the Lebanese American University in Beirut.

The hapless students have nothing to do with the Palestinian Authority and its reactions to Trump’s destructive initiatives. By punishing vulnerable Palestinians at the command of Israel and its US friends, Trump is certain to boost Palestinian anger and incite Palestinians who feel they have no future to mount violent suicidal attacks on Israelis. They will also pay a price for Trump’s mindless policies.

A year after his Jerusalem declaration, Trump announced that the battle against Daesh has been won and US troops could immediately begin withdrawing from northern Syria.

Once again he did not consult before issuing his edict. Defence Minister Jim Mattis and Syria envoy Brett McGurk resigned and General Joseph Votel, head of the US Central Command which is in charge of the Syrian deployment, told Congress he had not been advised of the policy.

Washington’s Syrian Kurdish allies and US-coalition partners were not told what he intended. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was the only person informed and he promptly launched preparations for a Turkish military campaign against the US-sponsored Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (PYD) which are based along the Syrian-Turkish border and in Syria’s Raqqa and Deir al-Zor provinces where they continue the fight Daesh.

This declaration stirred up a new hornet’s nest of trouble. Trump had to admit, reluctantly, that although Daesh had lost 90 per cent of the territory it once controlled in Syria and Iraq, the group’s fugitive fighters remain a menace.

Despite multiple attacks mounted by Daesh remnants, Trump says he will once again announce its defeat in the coming week. The Wall Street Journal reports he has relented on the early timing of the US troop pullut to fix an end of the April deadline. He has promised to “protect” the Kurds but Turkey remains determined to invade and drive out the YPG. This would precipitate a massive wave of fleeing Kurdish civilians.

At least 130,000 of the Kurdish civilians living in the north-west Syrian district of Afrin were expelled a year ago when the Turkish army and its allies conquered this strategic area. If the Turks create their promised “safe haven” south of the border, there will be millions of refugees.

Trump has lately decreed that some of the 2,200 US special forces leaving Syria could join the 5,400 based in Iraq in order to “watch,” or spy on, Iran.

This has united the normally divided Iraqi political establishment. It was not consulted and has rejected this proposition as a violation of the status of forces agreement between Iraq and the US and of the 2005 Iraqi constitution which was drawn up during the US occupation. Both prohibit the US use of Iraqi territory for operations against that country’s neighbours.

When he revealed his intention to “watch” Iran, Iraqi politicians were already angry over Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the 2015 deal downsizing Iran’s nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief. They insist Iraq should continue buying Iranian natural gas, electricity, food, machinery and other goods on which Iraqis depend. Washington has said it would rebuild Iraq’s electricity plant — but over the past 16 years the US has failed to repair Iraqi facilities.

Trump’s domestic declarations are no better prepared than those dealing with this region. He is obsessed with the notion of building of a “wall” along the 3,200-kilometre long US-Mexican border. There is already a barrier made of steel bollards and other materials along 1,126 kilometres and the remainder of the territory is either privately owned or not suitable for a “wall.” He did not bother to find out the facts before proclaiming the “wall” as a priority of his presidency.

He argues a “wall” is essential if the US is to keep out unwanted “criminal” and “drug peddling” gangs “invading” from south and central America. He refuses to acknowledge that the number of legal and illegal immigrants from these countries has dramatically fallen in recent years. Consequently, there is little need for the “Great Wall of America.” Perhaps he simply wants to bequeath to posterity a monument equal to Hadrian’s Wall between England and Scotland or the Great Wall of China, if he knows of their existence.

He is demanding $5.7 billion. The Republicans who dominated both houses of Congress from 2016-18 did not give him the money. The Democrats, who now control the lower house, have so far refused to do so but may reach a compromise with Republicans next week on a far smaller sum to tighten border security without building a “wall” along the entire or even parts of the border. It remains to be seen if Trump will agree.

Trump’s decrees on recognition of Jerusalem and the shift of the US embassy to the holy city, withdrawal of US troops from Syria, unilateral renunciation of the Iran nuclear deal, and insistence on the infamous “wall” hark back to campaign pledges he made to his electoral “base,” about 30 per cent of US voters. He cares nothing about the foreseen, unforeseen and unintended consequences of his actions and the people who could be harmed by what he does. Trump first and foremost is his motto. He remains in campaign mode as he intends to run for re-election in 2020.

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East
affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict

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