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What foreign policy will the US pursue?

Nov 22,2016 - Last updated at Nov 22,2016

While US President-elect Donald Trump is busy forming his new administration, many observers around the world, and indeed many states, are also busy watching on tenterhooks in their eager search for clues that may allay some of the rising concerns regarding future US foreign policy trends.

The vulnerable Arab region certainly has the highest cause for concern.

Many troubling questions persist, but due to the complexity of the situation and the conflicting interests of the Arab states vis-à-vis the many active crises, what might be detrimental for some could indeed be desirable and advantageous for others.

Consider the examples of Syria, the Arab-Israeli conflict and Iran.

On Syria, Trump seems to be inclined to work closely with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

At the moment, the Russian role in Syria is decisive and it is unlikely that after investing so much in the Syrian crisis, militarily, politically and financially, Moscow would even consider any action other than following through to enable the Assad regime to regain full control of his country, even if little of the country is left to recover.

This certainly is not a new approach. For a while, the Obama administration had reached the conclusion that the Syrian state should not suffer the same fate as Iraq when it was recklessly dismantled following the 2003 war.

Even when the ferocity of the Syrian conflict and the devastation it wreaked, and the barbaric actions of Daesh and other terrorist groups fighting in Syria resulted in the adoption of the same “prevent Syria disintegration” approach, the many parties to the Syrian crisis remained divided on the future of president Assad, with some insisting that he has no place in post-war Syria, while others’ focus remained the protection of the state even if that meant that Assad would remain in place for some time.

The Obama administration remained vague about this particular point that required continued support for the so-called moderate opposition, though barely enough, (putting considerable pressure on Assad), while at the same time condoning the destruction of other terrorist groups battling Assad forces, which obviously played well for the Assad regime.

Aiding both sides, however, has only prolonged and fuelled the continuation of the war.

If the new president were to decide on a single-track policy instead, that could actually help put an end to the war, and hopefully preserve Syria, which would be highly conducive to regional stability.

Pragmatically, if not judiciously, it will be very difficult for any state, other than those on Syria’s side already, to take the side of the Damascus regime, totally discarding the demands of the legitimate Syrian opposition, for obvious and understandable reasons.

The alternative is an internationally supported effort to work out a compromise that guarantees the continuity of the Syrian state institutions while simultaneously endorsing the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian opposition.

The prerequisite for such a possible settlement must consist of clearing the Syrian territory of terrorists and all the other proxy fighting intruders and political opportunists acting on behalf of regional or international actors.

There is good reason to believe that the new Washington administration will be very well placed for such a constructive role.

The second example relates to the situation between Israelis and Palestinians, a much more caustic issue to handle, particularly under the prevailing circumstances.

This leaves the new administration with very limited choices. Either the new secretary of state will take over from where his predecessor John Kerry left off, which would lead him straight to the same dead end Kerry arrived at, or he would have to consider a new approach.

With the initiative firmly held by an ultra-extremist Israeli government, any new ideas will have to favourably lean further towards Israel’s side. 

Not only will that further annihilate the little left for the Palestinians, it will also lead to the same dead end.

Israel’s political and territorial greed shows no bounds. Whichever incentive the new Trump administration may offer the current Israeli government, it is unlikely to be sufficient to unblock the course of negotiations. Israel will continue to come up with new demands.

Israel has been enabled to block any US or international effort to work out a settlement for the chronic Arab-Israeli conflict, which, we need to remember, also includes the Syrian and the Lebanese dimension, in addition of course to the so-called final-status issues: Jerusalem, the right of return, the settlements on occupied Palestinian lands and the borders.

Under the full term of US Secretary of State John Kerry, Israel was fiercely defiant and totally opposed any US proposal to freeze settlement construction, even for a limited time, that would facilitate the process of negotiating with the Palestinians.

It is highly unlikely that the Israeli position will change and it is also very unlikely that the Trump administration will take a tougher stance or subject the Israeli government to stronger pressure than Obama’s.

The consequence of leniency will be more Israeli intransigence.

But another worrying possibility is that the Trump foreign policy team may take Israel’s counsel on this issue, deciding that as its resolution has already been pending for seven decades, it can wait a few more years.

Israel would be very pleased with this outcome that would grant it the time needed to complete its colonisation of the Palestinian land, creating more irreversible facts on the ground, thus physically and practically preventing the establishment of any Palestinian entity on the same land.

Few former US presidents hinted at the beginning of their term that they would limit their involvement in this very difficult conflict.

This can only be possible as long as the situation in the Middle East remains static. Once the fragile order breaks down, due to renewed war, an uprising, a sudden surge of violence or even a ruthless terrorist attack, the US will not be able to maintain its disengagement.

There are countless examples of how the US was drawn into regional crises, even militarily, as a result of local developments, often with terrible consequences.

Like many administrations before it, Trump’s inevitably will at some point have to get involved. Let us hope any fresh involvement will heed the hard lessons and failures of the past.

Finally, with regard to Iran, the promises during the presidential campaign to scrap the Iran deal once in office appear to be highly improbable. 

The Iran deal is not a bilateral arrangement between the US and Iran that can be easily cancelled.

The US did in fact play a vital role in forging the agreement, but that does not detract from the fact that it is an important agreement with all the UN Security Council permanent members plus Germany, which was reached after years of strenuous effort. Its benefits serve the basic interests of all sides.

Because of its vital role, the US will not be short of means to create difficulties even if within the bilateral scope. The process of the new president’s handling of the construction of his administration indicates a clear willingness to take objective considerations as well as wise advice into account.

The tendency to adapt and to consider reasonable factors is more than promising.

In our modern day ways, foreign policy is no more decided independently by any state, in accordance with its own schemes, no matter how powerful a state is.


Global factors and external developments, even when most undesirable, play a decisive role in shaping states’ foreign policies all the time.

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