Failing promises, failing projects: Trump in the Middle East
One can’t avoid the impression that to become US President, you have to reject the existing US politics. Barack Obama had made “change” to the key word of his campaign and Donald Trump pursued his presidential campaign on the notion of not belonging to “the establishment”.
In his campaign as well as during the first period of his government, Donald Trump was the rejecting president. Trump’s slogan of “Make America Great Again” was immediately followed by his rejection of being the president of the world:
“I’m not running to be President of the world. I’m running to be President of the United States – and as your President, I will fight for every last American job.” (Trump, 15th of September 1016)
Trump stated on various occasions a decline of the American economy. But according to him, this is over, because he personally represents the American people taking power:
“January 20th 2017, will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again.” (Trump, inauguration speech, 17th of January 2017)
Nationalism or patriotism, as Trump prefers to call his position, didn’t appear with the current President of the US, but it certainly developed a much more coherent and policy defining program.
And nowhere else than in the General Assembly of the United Nations was that Trump declared this program to the world in the clearest words.
Trump rejected “US-responsibility for the world”, reiterating again that he is only responsible to his own people. With this stand, the whole international system initiated by the US after World War II and brought to expected perfection with the dissolution of the Soviet Union was questioned by Trump – not according to ‘global needs’ as desired by the ideology of Globalization, but according to domestic needs of the US.
Instead of the globalized capital, domestic economic classes dominated Trump’s evaluation of the international system. This lead to the questioning of international institutions, international agreements, free capital flows, free trade and free migration as well as US projects of nation-building.
These projects of nation-building had been on the way since the End of the Cold War in form of military interventions in several states, starting with Afghanistan, followed by Iraq and currently Syria.
Concerning Afghanistan, Trump gave clear orders to develop a plan of retreat from this country, just to be left without any report from his own military. This constituted the first indication of the establishment’s opposition.
Military interventions in Iraq and Syria may be evaluated as an example par excellence of nation-building: Over first destabilizing and then occupying Iraq and than lighting the fire of civil war and participating in it with own troops, proxy wars, the US followed the steps to found the “nation of Kurdistan”.
As the expert on Kurdish nationalism, Henry Barkey puts it, “Washington, unintentionally and in service of its own strategic needs, has midwifed Kurdish nationalism.”
The notion of unintentionally may be questioned, as the occupied Iraq received a new, US written constitution exactly for the needs of a Kurdish entity herein.
And in Syria, negotiations with President Assad were thinkable; interventions in the planned Kurdish zone in the opposite were answered by US military power.
But then came Trump. For Trump, Iraq and the politics of the Bush family were nothing less than a catastrophe and a huge waste of money. The issue in Syria was “just” fight ISIS – and retreat.
Consequently, Trump announced December ‘18 the retreat of troops from Syria within months, rejecting exactly “projects of nation building”.
The conflict between the US President and the so called establishment or the “deep state” as his followers calls it, was already alive concerning relations with Russia, so called environmental politics, politics of free migration into the US and free capital outflow from it.
With the announcement of withdrawal from Syria, these conflicts started to be fought openly between the Administration and the military complex. The latter, via its officers in duty declined first any concrete plans of withdrawal and then moved to a withdrawal without timetable.
Neocons lead by Lindsay Graham, an important ally of Israel in Washington appeared in domestic and international politics vividly fighting against any withdrawal plans. Meanwhile, calls for impeachment and the case of Russia Collusion were brought to a climax.
Powerful pressure from neocons and the pro Israel lobby in Washington not just halted the withdrawal for the time being, they also pushed the Administration to conflictive, unilateral politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. After Jerusalem had been recognized by the Administration as Israel’s capital, Trump legitimized Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights, following the visit of Graham into this conflict zone.
Parallel to the stop of withdrawal and the Golan decision, the Russia Collusion investigation suddenly and surprisingly was dropped.
For the time being, it seems therefore that the foreign policy establishment in Washington had succeeded to push Trump into line. But this is a misleading impression for various reasons.
In domestic politics, Trump’s rejection of nation-building and military interventions in the Middle East has gained popular support. Several declared presidential candidates already appear on the scene with the prospect to fulfill, what Trump had promised. Democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren supported Trump’s withdrawal plans, meanwhile another candidate, Tulsa Gabbard even met with Syria’s President Bashar al Assad.
In Middle Eastern politics on the other hand, regional cooperation rejecting US interference is gaining momentum day by day. The recent meeting of the Chiefs of staff of Iran, Iraq and Syria in Damascus, followed by the Russian Chief of Staff to the capital of Syria on the one hand and the continued cooperation of Russia, Iran and Turkey in the Astana Process on the other reflect a tendency. According to this, retreat as well unilateral actions of the US in the Middle East are a reflection of a reality on the ground: that the major, today more and more unwilling world power is left alone.