Much like its predecessor, the Trump administration came into office rhetorically committed to reducing the American military and political footprint in the Middle East and left office with the American role in the region largely unchanged; like its predecessor, it came into office ready to engage diplomatically on Arab-Israeli questions, with an eye toward a final settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian issue, and it left office with little progress on that core conflict of the Arab-Israeli arena. It succeeded in expanding the number of Arab countries that diplomatically recognize Israel, but those recognitions did little to change the immediate geopolitical dynamics of the Arab-Israeli issue. They were more a testament to the enduring centrality of the United States in the Middle East, a backhanded acknowledgement that Trump’s initial desire to de-emphasize the region in American foreign policy had failed. Unlike its predecessor, the Trump administration increased pressure on Iran, in the failed hopes of either renegotiating the 2015 nuclear deal or, more ambitiously, bringing about regime change in Tehran. The new Biden administration is seeking to restore dialogue with the Islamic Republic. The Trump administration privileged relations with Saudi Arabia even beyond what previous administrations had done, but with the result of making Saudi-American relations a more toxically partisan issue than in the past.
Tag: Middle East
It may not have been Donald Trump speaking, but it was perhaps the best possible statement of the case for his achievements in the Middle East. Addressing the Republican National Convention on August 25, 2020, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke in front of a backdrop of the old city of Jerusalem, praising Trump’s “America First” foreign policy. The Middle East took up most of the four-minute speech. Among the successes touted was the killing of “the Iranian terrorist Qasem Soleimani,” who, he claimed, was “most responsible for the murder and maiming of hundreds of American soldiers and thousands of Christians across the Middle East.” The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) caliphate, Pompeo boasted, was “wiped out,” while U.S. troops were “on their way home.” Trump exited the “disastrous nuclear deal with Iran and squeezed the Ayatollah, Hezbollah, and Hamas.” The U.S. Embassy in Israel had been moved to “this very city of God, Jerusalem, the rightful capital of the Jewish homeland.” American mediators had brokered a “historic peace deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.” To end the talk, he invoked the release of “[a] n American hostage, imprisoned in Turkey for two years, Pastor Andrew Brunson, [who] said upon his release that he survived his ordeal with these words of scripture, ‘Be faithful, endure, and finish well.’”
With one very important exception, and despite a number of rhetorical and stylistic differences, the Trump Administration’s approach to the Middle East is not substantially different from that of the Obama Administration. President Barack Obama prioritized the fight against Salafi jihadist groups (al-Qaeda, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria [ISIS], and their offshoots) above other regional goals, as does President Donald Trump. Both came to office evidencing a general reluctance to get involved in large-scale military actions, reflective of their common perception that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was a mistake, though in both cases they proved willing to use military force in the region. Both publicly committed their administrations to finding a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, though Obama’s efforts there failed and the first ventures by Trump do not look promising. While Trump criticized Obama during the 2016 campaign for ignoring the interests of traditional American allies in the region, it is hard to sustain the proposition that the Obama Administration substantially altered American policy toward Israel and Saudi Arabia and that the Trump Administration is thus ‘restoring’ past ties.
The election of Donald Trump as President of the United States has prompted deep reflection, even soul-searching, by scholars of international affairs. For the historians among them, the natural tendency is to connect the past to the present, and even the future. What major historical continuities in U.S. Middle East policy is Trump inheriting from his predecessor? Will his administration represent a continuation or a break from these policies? Thinking ahead four or even (dramatic pause) eight years, what legacies will the Trump administration leave?
It seems obvious that an understanding of the nature and value of diplomacy should be of central importance to the study of international relations. However, as Brian Rathbun argues in his important new book, the sad reality is that international relations theorists have devoted little time or attention to systematically exploring the value of diplomacy. In his view, the main reason for this lack of emphasis on diplomacy can be explained by the discipline’s traditional focus on structural elements of the international system, such as anarchy and the distribution of power. Drawing on psychological theories of motivation and negotiation, Diplomacy’s Value offers important arguments about why leaders adopt various negotiating styles and how these styles facilitate or impair the negotiation of international agreements. These arguments are then applied to two of the more fascinating examples of twentieth-century international diplomacy: the Locarno era negotiations of the 1920’s and the Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy of the 1990’s.
I want to thank H-Diplo for publishing this response, and James A. Russell for taking the time to read and review my book. I also want to thank Robert Jervis for the additional comments on Russell’s review. Because the review did not fully address the book’s main arguments and findings, thereby missing the main points of the book, I wish to briefly describe and clarify the book’s main goal, as well as some of its important findings.
In 1959 Bernard Brodie’s book Strategy in the Missile Age augured in an interesting but relatively short-lived debate over the impact of nuclear weapons on the prospect of war between the United States and the Soviet Union. It appeared amidst a spasm of scholarship on nuclear strategy, deterrence, escalation ladders, limited war and coercive bargaining frameworks. Brodie sensibly concluded that the presence of these weapons had inevitably led the United States into a strategy of deterrence, in which the overarching goal was to prevent the occurrence of war between the United States and the Soviet Union.
Mark L. Haas is, along with his mentor John M. Owen, part of a two-man wrecking crew exposing the ideological foundations of international politics. His latest effort, The Clash of Ideologies: Middle Eastern Politics and American Security, expands on previous work Haas and Owen have done on “ideological distance” and applies these ideas to three decades of international politics in the Middle East. In so doing, Haas has written a book that is theoretically innovative, scientifically progressive, empirically wide-ranging, and policy relevant. Anyone who wants to understand the interplay of ideological and realist variables or the intricate politics of a region central to American foreign policy needs to read this book.