Trump and the Mideast: Looking at the bigger picture
It is too easy to forget all the fearmongering that swept through the Arab world and among Arab activists in anticipation of US President Donald Trump’s surprising election victory last November and the impact it would have on the future of “peace.” All the predictions were critical, portending an ominous shift toward Israel and against Palestinian and Arab interests.
Pundits and partisan political activists warned that Trump would undermine peace, seal the coffin on Palestinian rights and undermine Middle East stability, creating havoc that would fuel extremism. Yet we have seen the opposite. Trump not only demonstrated his support for Palestinian rights, but also went to great lengths to prove that he is committed to strengthening ties with the moderate leadership of the Arab world.
Rather than doom and gloom, he has given the Arab world and Palestinians a vision of hope and promise. Trump’s style contrasts with that of his predecessor Barack Obama, who began his presidency with a “New Beginnings” speech to the Muslim world in June 2009 from Cairo that was filled with optimism and hope, but lacked substantive follow-through.
More Palestinians died, more settlements were built and more rights were lost while Obama was president than under any prior administration, demonstrating that his style of flowery rhetoric and good intentions did not always achieve much.
Trump is a president of tough words who does not easily share details of his plans, which is a good thing. Too often, Obama and others would openly explain how they hoped to achieve something, only to be confounded by opposition forces that were handed detailed blueprints on how to be obstructionists.
It is not Palestinians, Arabs or Muslims who should fear Trump’s policies, but extremists and fanatics such as the regimes in Iran and Syria, as well as Hezbollah.
Obama was predictable. Trump is not. Obama was measured by his words. Trump clearly wants to be measured by his achievements. That is the difference between a politician and a businessman. A politician seeks applause and praise before achievement. A businessman seeks achievement first, while treating every challenge as an important negotiation.
What was the most significant achievement of Trump’s first foreign trip as US president to the Arab world this past week? It was not the $110 billion deal he signed with Saudi Arabia that will benefit both countries, although that was important.
It was not that he managed to shatter the perception that he would embrace Israel tightly at the expense of Palestinian rights. The fact that Trump went to Bethlehem to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was a significant contradiction to the false expectations pawned by his political critics.
The most significant aspect of his trip — during which he met with the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Palestine and Jordan, then participated in a summit of 50 Arab and Muslim nations — is that Trump rubbished the lie that he is anti-Muslim. How can he be anti-Muslim when his first official overseas trip began with respect, agreement and empowerment in Saudi Arabia, the heart of the Muslim world?
How can he be called anti-Muslim when he reinforced trade with the Kingdom and the Muslim world, and signed a 28-point agreement covering everything from trade to security, confronting extremism by Iran, Syria and Hezbollah, and strengthening Iraq and Lebanon?
It makes no sense because criticism of Trump is driven by the politics of failure. Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may have talked the talk of Arab and Muslim needs, but they failed to back up their words with substantive action. Palestinians and Muslims may not see how Trump will support their nations, but his actions so far paint a clearer portrait of a president who is not what his critics claim him to be.
His priority is to defeat extremism and terrorist violence. Instead of worrying about how his words will be interpreted by his friends, he has proven he can take the actions his enemies fear. It is not Palestinians, Arabs or Muslims who should fear Trump’s policies, but extremists and fanatics such as the regimes in Iran and Syria, as well as Hezbollah.
• Ray Hanania is an award-winning Palestinian-American former journalist and political columnist.
Email him at [email protected]