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The GCC, Jerusalem and the Middle East: A review of Trump’s first year in power Open in fullscreen

Usaid Siddiqui

The GCC, Jerusalem and the Middle East: A review of Trump’s first year in power

Trump, the 45th President of US, has been in office since January 20, 2017 [Getty]

Date of publication: 27 December, 2017

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Comment: As the credits begin to roll on 2017, President Donald Trump’s first year in office concludes, tainted with uncertainties and division, both at home and abroad.
As the credits begin to roll on 2017, President Donald Trump’s first year in office concludes, tainted with uncertainties and division, both at home and abroad.

Domestically, the Russia investigation has dogged the former TV star as one news item after another accuses his former campaign staff and current administration officials of collusion with the Kremlin during the decisive 2016 presidential election.

On the international level, his bizarre outbursts towards adversaries, particularly North Korea, has the rest of world worried that a potential nuclear conflict maybe on the cards.

In the Middle East, despite his election rhetoric, Trump attempted little to change course of detrimental and decades old US policies – which under him remain steadfast – albeit being pursued with greater recklessness, showing open contempt for international laws and institutions that previous US administrations at least pretended to care about.

Saudi-led blockade of Qatar

During this year's GCC predicament in June, sparked by the Saudi-led blockade of Qatar, Trumps first real chance at showcasing his self-touted deal making skills, the former TV star could only muster a set of contradictory statements and a series of incoherent tweets.

The president squandered the opportunity to help resolve the crisis amongst the GCC neighbours, taking sides with the Saudi bloc in singling out Qatar for allegedly supporting terrorist groups, a nation that hosts the biggest US military base in the region; a fact some say Trump may not have even been aware of.

Trump’s muddled rhetoric added to his administration’s woes in trying to conjure up a consistent position regarding the blockade, amid their bosses mixed messages – including undercutting his own Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, on more than one occasion.

While Tillerson sought a more diplomatic approach, rightly demanding in one speech that the Saudi-led bloc ease a crushing blockade that has torn apart families across the Middle East, the Secretary of State within hours found himself sitting in front of his boss assailing Qatar as historically being “a funder of terrorism at a very high level”.

Trump’s unpredictable nature, has forced Qatar, and justifiably so, to cement relationships with the likes Turkey, Russia, and more strikingly with Iran – a nation Trump has consistently attempted to isolate at the international level, especially from its Mideast neighbours.

The president squandered the opportunity to help resolve the crisis amongst the GCC neighbours, taking sides with the Saudi bloc in singling out Qatar for allegedly supporting terrorist groups, a nation that hosts the biggest US military base in the region; a fact some say Trump may not have even been aware of

The Jerusalem move

Read more by Usaid Siddiqui:

- Israel's assault on Palestinian children: Will US Congress act?

- The Vietnam War, the War on Terror and the lessons not learned

- America, not Pakistan is to blame for failings in Afghanistan

- Efforts to smother BDS are only empowering it

Trump’s announcement to officially recognise all of Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital, and announcing to move its embassy there, has shed any doubt that the US was ever a neutral arbiter in the conflict.

Internationally the move was panned by allies and foes alike, whose patience has been worn thin by Israel’s never-ending occupation and colonisation of Palestinian land.

The UN General Assembly vote on December 21, with a 128-9 majority  denouncing the US decision has added to America’s increasing isolation on the global stage, with close allies looking to shed dependency on it to play any meaningful role in mediating conflicts in the Arab world.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas recently instructed Palestinian Authority officials to boycott contacts with US consular officials and allegedly calling Trump a "lost cause".

Instead of alleviating fears of its partners, the Trump administration has doubled down. In a remarkably childish stunt, akin to school yard spat, America’s ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley prior to UN General Assembly vote threatened that it will be “taking names” of those who voted for the resolution and warning that future aid to those nations could be withheld.

This level of immaturity in the pursuit of unconditional supporting Israel displays the short sightedness of the Trump White House; one that is ready to cast out any meaningful relations with the wider global community over a nation that has only become more belligerent in its illegal colonising pursuits, while permanently closing all diplomatic avenues to establish a Palestinian state.

This level of immaturity in the pursuit of unconditional supporting Israel displays the short sightedness of the Trump White House; one that is ready to cast out any meaningful relations with the wider global community over a nation that has only become more belligerent in its illegal colonising pursuits

Even if the White House’s Jerusalem move is an opportunistic one to gain points domestically, the decision makes little sense. While Haley proclaimed the embassy relocation was made as per the wishes of the American people, according to a CNN poll, only 36 percent of US citizens supported the move with 49 percent opposing it.

Combating the Islamic State group 

As far as US military engagements go, Trump has arguably kept his one promise of using brute force with little regard for civilian life in pursuit of Washington's enemies.

In its fight to dislodge the Islamic State group (IS) from Iraq and Syria, US attacks have left thousands dead and vast destruction of civilian infrastructure this past year, surpassing anything seen under the previous Obama administration –which itself had dropped a staggering 26,171 bombs in seven countries in 2016.

An Associated Press report estimates that over 9,000 civilians were killed in a nine month long battle led by the US to liberate Mosul, an estimated 10 times more than what was previously thought, or what the US and Iraqi governments have officially claimed so far.

A New York Times investigation last month came to a similar conclusion, that civilian casualties in Iraq were grossly underreported, with non-combatants being killed in every one out five airstrikes, despite claims by the administration of leading a very precise air campaign.

“In terms of civilian deaths, this may be the least transparent war in recent American history,” New York Times reporters Azmat Khan and Anand Gopal wrote.

In terms of civilian deaths, this may be the least transparent war in recent American history

Amnesty International Head of Research for the Middle East Lynn Maalouf in statement said: "We are horrified, but not surprised, by these new figures," further adding that the “the failure of Iraqi and coalition forces to acknowledge and investigate civilian deaths in Mosul is a blatant abdication of responsibility."

To be fair, despite Trump’s embarrassing lack of knowledge and tact in handling world affairs, many of his actual policies are a more of an escalation of former US administration’s politics, rather than a unique set of initiatives.

The lack of transparent warfare, support for Middle East despots and being a lone defender of Israel – are all hallmarks of American foreign policy that under Trump, or otherwise, will remain steadfast in the foreseeable future.

All things considered, perhaps Trumps biggest accomplishment has been to take off the Velvet gloves completely, revealing the iron fist of US Mideast policy that was barely hidden before.

Usaid Siddiqui is a freelance Canadian writer. He has written for PolicyMic, Aslan Media, Al Jazeera America and Mondoweiss on current affairs. 

Follow him on Twitter: @UsaidMuneeb16

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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