Since American President-elect Donald Trump does not have a political record that clearly shows his stances about what’s happening in the world, different parties are trying to bring their positions closer to the general opinions he previously declared.
This is an academic test that won’t be easy. For instance, he said that he considers Iran’s regime to be responsible for problems in the region and he blamed the current American administration for letting it defy the US. At the same time, he says he will cooperate with Russia to fight terrorism in Syria. Contradiction can be seen here by those who know that Russia is Iran’s ally and supports the Assad regime and that it’s also behind the chaos in Syria and responsible for the murder of more than half a million Syrians, mostly civilians, and the displacement of more than 12 million people.
Trump’s stance may ring true if he considers that fighting terrorist organizations, like ISIS and the al-Nusra Front, part of a bigger operation that levels the ground among murderers, i.e. the regime and terrorist groups.
The problem with Barack Obama’s administration is that it separated between the cause and the effect. Obama said that his only task in the region was to fight terrorist organizations and he thus let chaos, murder, displacement and destruction spread in conflict zones - such as Syria, Libya and Iraq - which provide major nourishment for terrorism. The Syrian regime and its allies facilitated the environment which allowed for ISIS’s expansion in conflict zones and led to it fighting the Syrian opposition. Obama, whose term is about to end, admitted that he was wrong in his estimate of the size of the threat and - as per presidents usually do - blamed that on information provided by security apparatuses. However, those who watched the news on television and looked at ISIS practices did not need the CIA’s opinion to realize that terrorist groups are steadily growing in a frightening way. The reason behind Obama’s leniency and why he did not address the aspects which nourish terrorism, such as chaos, is that he’s been concerned over his only political project in the region, which is reconciling with Iran and not angering it during a phase when it was using its militias in Syria and Iraq.
Once Trump sees the connection between chaos and terrorism, it will not be difficult for his administration to adopt a policy that’s more decisive and braverAbdulrahman al-Rashed
Although Trump’s orientations in the region are unannounced and unclear, it’s not difficult for the region’s countries to find common ground with him when it comes to fighting terrorism which is a dangerous disease that requires major superpowers to take a decisive stance against chaos. Terrorism is present in Iraq and it will grow as long as Iran sponsors it and insists on the presence of extremist Shiite militias at the expense of the Iraqi government’s independent decision making authority and sovereignty of its military institutions. Iran’s intervention and approach will lead to more sectarian rivalry and angry people will join al-Qaeda and ISIS. This is expected amid the weakness of the central government and considering Iranian-backed groups’ control of power.
In Syria, however, the situation is more complicated and difficult than Iraq’s as there’s no central authority that’s popularly recognized. As long as there more than seven million Syrians who are displaced inside Syria and five million Syrians who are displaced outside it, there’s almost only one entity that can embrace the majority of the Syrian people who desire to confront the regime, and that would be extremist groups. The solution to this problem is political and it requires eliminating both parties of this war. Without a fair solution, ISIS will invest in the huge human resource pool to recruit members to perform its terrorist activities. Trump will realize that without acceptable peace in Syria, the world will not be safe from the evils of terrorism which are a result of chaos and loss.
In Libya, searching for something common with Trump will not be difficult compared to Syria. Chaos in Libya is also a source of terrorism but it’s possible to influence the different struggling parties and to restrict and besiege extremist groups which are not supposed to be part of governance as including them in power means granting them legitimacy and it will prolong the cycle of violence. When it comes to Libya, there are no major opposition forces, therefore, Trump’s administration, in cooperation with its European and regional allies, can tip the balance of legitimacy there and impose a new phase that ends chaos and eliminates terrorism.
These issues are related to terrorism which Trump pledged to wipe from the face of the earth, although implementing this promise seems almost impossible. However, once he sees the connection between chaos and terrorism, it will not be difficult for his administration to adopt a policy that’s more decisive and braver and the majority of countries in the region and the world will be willing to support it.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on December 22, 2016.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed