THE Middle East is going through a painful and chaotic phase of transformation, one
that is not going to end any time soon.
The region needs to be reshaped, and there is no doubt that this should be done with a strong leadership and collaboration of all regional countries. Military moves or strategies alone will not be sufficient in reshaping the region. A diplomatic and political plan is required to reconfigure it.
The processes of regional transformations often start after an international conference in which stakeholders play their last cards.
More than half a century ago, the situation in Europe was not much different than the Middle East of today. Back then, the reconstruction and reconfiguration of Europe were only possible with the combination of a well-planned military and political strategy.
The current reality in the Middle East and the historical context of the regional countries do of course differ from the situation seen in post-war Europe. However, the question here is how a similar achievement can be reached in today’s Middle East, particularly when taking into consideration the situation in Syria and Iraq.
Where are those leaders to take initiative for the reshaping of the region? Is Donald Trump, who today takes his seat in the Oval Office, the long-awaited leader to change the balance of the Middle East?
Obama is leaving a very complicated Middle East to his successor. Trump is going to have a heavy file in his hands, and it is a region that he will not be able to ignore. The region’s challenges range from the fight against Daesh in Iraq to the multi-sided war in Syria, from fruitless Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to the US’ strained relations with its other regional allies, and from the deal on Iran’s nuclear program to an increasingly assertive Russia.
At this point not much is clear regarding Trump’s Middle East policy; however after taking the office, Trump is likely to find himself in a difficult position: Should he keep the promises he made during his campaign, or should he pursue a realist and pragmatic policy based on realpolitik in the region? Considering that Trump is a businessman, not a statesman, it becomes even harder to predict his steps. As many may remember, in one radio interview during his campaign he could not even distinguish between Hezbollah and Hamas.
Trump and the Middle East Many of the predictions about President Trump’s stance toward the Middle East are shaped by his campaign statements.
These include: His harsh criticisms over the 2015 nuclear deal negotiated with Iran; his plans to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which he called “the eternal capital” of the Jewish people; his plans for less military involvement in the region, particularly Syria; his approach for close Russian cooperation in the region; his comments about stealing Iraqi oil for the US; and his Islamophobic comments and threat to ban all Muslims from entering the US.
Trump said a lot of things during his campaign, often using very strong language aimed at rallying his supporters, without thinking of the global ramifications. So whether all of the above will happen is still in question. But for the region, it would be best for Trump to avoid taking steps that could further escalate the situation in the Middle East.
In the past few years, US regional allies have expressed clear displeasure with the Obama administration’s passive stance toward crises in the region. Riyadh in particular was uneasy with the Obama administration due to its deal with rival Iran, which vies with Saudi Arabia for regional influence.
Turkey, also a NATO ally, was frustrated with the policies of the Obama administration, which hesitated to act when necessary in Syria. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also slammed the US for not standing firmly against the failed military coup, and accused it of harboring Fethullah Gülen, a cleric living in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania whom Ankara accuses of being behind the violent coup attempt.
Turkey, along with some other traditional US allies, wants to see a US commitment that sends clear signals to regional allies. With the hope that the incoming administration will change the Obama-era policy of leading from behind, regional countries — with the exception of Iran — offered their support to Trump when he was elected. So at this point, countries in the region expect Trump to be more decisively ahead of challenges in the volatile region.
Only time will tell how the Trump presidency will keep everything on track in the region, particularly with regard to Turkey and Saudi Arabia. We do not know what policies Trump and his team plans for the region; but there is a need for a strong leadership and collaboration in reshaping the region.
• Sinem Cengiz is a Turkish political analyst who specializes mainly on issues regarding Turkey’s relations with the Middle East. She can be reached on Twitter @SinemCngz.
—Courtesy: Arab News