Ever since becoming the President, nearly every step Trump has taken or vowed to take, whether at home or abroad, creates turmoil, instability, and controversy at multiple levels. And since assuming the Presidency, Trump has been under pressure for alleged transgressions in his private and public life, presently facing the just-released report of the Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller about the various charges against him and his associates.
It would therefore not be off the mark to attribute some of his abrupt foreign policy moves to diverting attention from his domestic woes and to strengthening his position at home. However, the problem goes deeper than being a balancing act between domestic troubles and foreign relations. It has more to do with Trump’s state of mind and his own view of himself. Undoubtedly this is a man in considerable trouble, personal and otherwise, but one who continues to act with impunity as if everything was going his way. Hence for him to call Mueller’s report as “complete and total exoneration” is perhaps no surprise. But, while he is not found guilty of collusion with the Russians, many legal experts say that Mueller did not clear him of “obstruction of justice” charge and that his legal troubles are far from over. Yet he claims he has done no wrong and asserts he can do no wrong.
So, how do we know President Trump? He is first a businessman and a Christian. He is a professed believer who acts as if he takes his religion seriously, a mindset reinforced by the Evangelical cohorts such as Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Moreover, his Christian faith is coated with a veneer of pronounced anti-Muslim pre-disposition. He also nurtures a strong Israel streak in his family. All these go a long way, for example, to explain his seamless support for Israeli hawks, including Prime Minister Netanhayu. So much so that Pompeo recently remarked, “it’s possible God raised Trump to protect Israel from Iranian aggression.”
Trump is also a businessman, conducting the Presidency literally as a business enterprise. This streak partly explains his continuing backing of the Saudi regime despite the stigma of the Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi murder.
Saudi Arabia is attractive to the US not only because it is an opponent of Iran, but also a lucrative market for American arms. Moreover, the US needs the SA relationship to keep global oil supply and prices under control. Overall, his main drive is to negotiate better – for the US – trade deals with the rest of the world. His proudest moments are when he signs big contracts for arms sales or for other US products.
One could live with these features of Trump’s character if he were not the President of the most powerful country in the world. But his acts have serious consequences for his country and the international community.
Thus, Trump’s move on the Golan Heights is the latest example of yet another misstep that will likely have dire consequences for the Middle East region already grabbed in the throes of turmoil and conflict.
Trump’s decision to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights is a flagrant violation of a basic tenet of international law, namely, the inviolability of the territorial integrity of states, and its corollary, the non-recognition of the annexation of an occupied territory. The move is also in violation of the relevant UN Security Council Resolutions, including in particular UNSCR 242. Accordingly, like many other capitals, Ankara too reacted instantly and sharply, condemning the US decision.
With this move, the US effectively blesses the portioning of Syria, “awarding” a chunk of Syrian territory to Israel. This step also provides fodder to the proposition that the US seeks to establish a Kurdish state in the region, a prospect much coveted by Israel. Firmly rejecting the announcement, Syria will however surely attempt to reclaim the Golan Heights, paving the way to an armed confrontation between it (together with its regional allies) and Israel.
For Damascus, the Golan Heights decision eliminates any US role in the restoration of peace to Syria or in the reconstruction of post-war Syria. It also preempts any chance of success of any US “peace plan” to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, especially coming at the heels of the decision to declare Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The countries of the region must understand that Trump’s concern is not peace, it is not stability or democracy, his primary concern is to defeat Iran and protect Israel.
While Trump keeps talking about the withdrawal of American troops from Syria, his Jerusalem and Golan moves have in fact vastly increased the extent of unilateralist US intervention in the region. These steps will serve to further isolate the US in the region and diminish its ability to apply its soft-power there. Trump’s love for Israel is bad news for Israel. These one-sided, misplaced gestures may please some in Israel, but there are also many sane minds there who understand the harm these missteps are doing to the future and security of Israel.
Peace with Palestine now is a distant prospect. There may be another war with Syria (and other Arab countries, even with Iran). The good relations Israel have developed with certain Arab countries in recent years may be lost as they will reject these US steps. Trump’s heavy-handed love may not be a good investment for Israel and may create strains in the US-Israeli relationship itself at some unexpected juncture. This could, in theory, happen if and when Trump fails to deliver on a point of importance to Israel.
As for Turkey, Ankara has reacted correctly with respect to Trump’s Jerusalem and Golan decisions. Though it was correct, Ankara’s response was unduly harsh and should have been more subdued. But the rhetoric is not enough. It must be followed by concrete and remedial action. Golan controversy provides a suitable opportunity for Ankara to swiftly establish diplomatic relations with Syria and work with others to form a front of solidarity with Syria, in line with our support of the territorial integrity of our neighbor.