The leading US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump recently announced his team of political, security and economic advisors; the – unfortunately interconnected – Middle East, Muslim world and terrorism files were given to Dr Walid Phares. On the Democratic side, Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard resigned as Vice-Chair of the Democratic National Committee, decrying what she regarded as the DNC’s attempts to bolster the position of Hillary Clinton against Leftist Presidential challenger Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, subsequently joining the latter’s campaign.
Dr Phares, for those who do not know much about him, is a right-wing Christian Lebanese-American academic and political activist, who for a long while was very close to the Christian militias which fought the Lebanese War (1975-1990), and metamorphosed after bouts of infighting, schisms and reorganization into The Lebanese Forces party. As there may be no need to dwell much on the history of that war, its various groups, or the “achievements” of these fighting groups regardless of their slogans, it is worth mentioning what follows:
Firstly, The Lebanese Forces in its current form is a civilian political party, represented in Parliaments by a bloc of deputies (MPs), and it was one of the fighting groups that gave up and handed over their arms after the Taif Accords.
Secondly, The Lebanese Forces was initially an umbrella militia created by Bechir Gemayel, the former commander of The Lebanese Phalange (Kata’eb) and Lebanese president-elect, as the fruit of his plan to “unify Christian guns” against the then Pan-Arab and Leftist “National Movement” and its Palestinian allies. This means the “Forces” were, from an organizational aspect, a group made up of several militia that included in addition to the Kata’eb’s, the National Liberal Party’s ‘Numour’ (i.e. Tigers) and The Maronite Organization’s Tanzeem.
Thirdly, following the assassination of Bechir Gemayel in the autumn of 1982 – shortly after being elected president – many aspiring factional leaders emerged and competed to succeed as the Christian strongman at the helm of the “Forces”. Some were defeated and left, others were killed, the rest deserted politics altogether. Dr Samir Geagea, a former Kata’eb young militia commander emerged victorious and became the leader of the “Forces”, however, many of the disgruntled veterans never recognized him, and remained outside the re-formed party.
Conservative political commentator
Dr Phares, who at one juncture in his career was Secretary of the Maronite World Union, left Lebanon in 1990 and pursued post-graduate studies in the US. He earned a PhD from the University of Miami, and became a well-known conservative political commentator and TV pundit specializing in terrorism and Islamic radicalism.
His works and comments have always been very close to those of the Christian right now dominating the Republican Party. Being chosen by Trump as an advisor on the Middle East, Muslim world and terrorism, especially, following Trump’s controversial anti-Muslims positions, confirms that these positions did not come up by accident.
If Dr. Phares has had an input in Trump’s positions, this is surely a worrying sign for the future relationship between Donald Trump’s Washington and a frustrated and disappointed Arab world.Eyad Abu Shakra
With this said, it is worth noting that Trump’s anti-Muslim sentiments are not much worse than those of Senator Ted Hughes, his main rival in the GOP field. The latter caused furore during the three-day conference – In Defense of Christians – held from September 9/11, 2014 in Washington, D.C. when he insisted on saying that the Christians of the Middle East won’t have a better ally than Israel.
Among those who felt obliged to leave the main dinner in protest was the Melkite Catholic Patriarch Gregorios III Lahham, born in the now besieged Damascus suburb of Darayya. Still it was Trump’s call for a “ban on Muslims” entry to the USA that made even Cruz look like a moderate in comparison.
In fact, if Dr Phares has had an input in Trump’s positions, this is surely a worrying sign for the future relationship between Donald Trump’s Washington and a frustrated and disappointed Arab world which the policies of the last two administrations have caused him to lose faith and goodwill in America.
On the opposite side, it is fascinating to read the resume of Ms Gabbard, the first Samoan and the first Hindu member of the US Congress, and a member of both Armed Services and Foreign Services Committees. Gabbard, 34, who in the late 2014 visited India’s hard-line prime minister Narendra Modi, has been vociferous in opposing any attempt to bring down Syria’s Bashar Al-Assad, arguing it was “counter-productive to overthrow Assad” and asserting that “the Syrian government is a powerful anti-ISIS force in the region and toppling it would only serve to bolster the presence of terrorist groups in Syria and neighboring countries”!
Furthermore – like many liberal democrats – despite her professional military experience, Gabbard has linked her opposition of using force in Syria to opposing the invasion of Iraq, a position taken by Sanders in 2003. Thus, we are faced with two contradictory extreme cases, one absurdly too conservative, the other absurdly too liberal. As Arabs – albeit from an American standpoint – we share the position of the old poet Duqelah al-Manbiji in his famous poem The Orphaned when he said:
“Two extremes, when coming together …. each enhances the beauty of its opposite”.
This was absolutely true, at least as far as the average American is concerned – let alone Democratic voters – with the hawkish Neo-cons’ led Republicans. It has been true too with Obama’s passive, retreating and appeasing policies which are now fuelling an ultra-conservative Republican reaction bordering on blatant racism and sectarianism benefitting Sanders’ ‘leftist’ Democrats.
Given the above, I dare say that it is in America’s interest first, and the whole world’s second, that neither the dogmatic extreme right as represented by Trump, or the dogmatic utopian left as represented by Sanders wins.
Indeed, one hopes that in the coming months we witness some logic and a lot of realism, and this is what both Republican and Democratic establishments feel and are working for before it is too late en route to the two parties’ National Conventions this summer.
The world, of course has the right to criticize America, but America is still the greatest world power, even its people forget this fact!
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Apr. 06, 2016.
Eyad Abu Shakra (also written as Ayad Abou-Chakra) began his media career in 1973 with Annahar newspaper in Lebanon. He joined Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper in the UK in 1979, occupying several positions including: Senior Editor, Managing Editor, and Head of Research Unit, as well as being a regular columnist. He has several published works, including books, chapters in edited books, and specialized articles, in addition to frequent regular TV and radio appearances. Eyad tweets @eyad1949