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Trump’s team

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

So far, Donald Trump’s picks for top Cabinet positions have largely been in alignment with his bellicose campaign rhetoric.

One can generally describe at least four of the five nominees that were announced this weekend as a bunch of “white angry men”.

These selections send a worrying message to Americans, the rest of the world and especially to the region. 

His national security adviser, US Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, is a man credited for his national security background, but he is more known for his bitter attacks on Islam, which he once described as a cancer, and who is believed to be behind Trump’s repeated declarations that the US was in a war against “radical Islamic terrorism”.

Flynn’s choice has been criticised by mainstream media because of his positive views on Russia, which he visited following his dismissal by the Obama administration at the invitation of the Kremlin. 

His lobbying activities have also been seen as reasons for his disqualification.

As national security adviser, Flynn, who has been dubbed by former secretary of state Collin Powel as a “right-wing nutty”, will be in a position to shape America’s foreign policy under Trump.

The war against Daesh, rapprochement with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, European security needs, standing up to Iran’s belligerent regional activities and confronting Beijing’s South China Sea territorial ambitions will be among the top challenges for the new president.

The Syrian crisis and Moscow’s leading role in supporting the regime will be one immediate issue that Trump and his national security adviser will have to deal with. 

Trump bitterly criticised President Barack Obama’s policy on Syria, but offered no clear vision of where he stands until recently when he hinted that he might stop arming the Syrian opposition.

It is widely believed that he will lean towards the Russians on Syria, scrapping demands for the removal of President Bashar Assad and working with Putin to defeat “Islamist terrorism”.

But Trump has also said that he will work with regional countries, such as Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf states, to combat Daesh and radical Islam.

Building alliances is easier said than done, and with these countries having their own agendas, maintaining such an alliance will be a challenge. 

On Iran, many believe that Trump will be dissuaded from the campaign promise to scrap or renegotiate the multi-party nuclear agreement, despite Flynn’s exceptionally hard-line position on Tehran.

It is on Iran that Trump and Putin will have a tough time agreeing.

The latter used Obama’s uncertain policy in the region to bolster strategic relations with both Turkey and Iran.

Russia’s presence in the region, traditionally an American domain, has never been so deep and dominant.

Putin’s close personal relations include Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The president-elect’s choice for the CIA head, Congressman Mike Pompeo, has also raised questions.

Again, he is a right-winger with some controversial views that support intensive surveillance through wiretapping, waterboarding to extract information from terror suspects and keeping Guantanamo detention camp open.

Under Pompeo, the CIA’s role in the war on terror will intensify, bringing back memories of the George W. Bush administration’s post September 11 policies, which gave prominence to the so-called neocons and their interventionist ideology. 

But such views may clash with Trump’s own. He is believed to be against America taking a leading role in policing the world, and pointed that the war in Iraq is directly related to the region’s present chaos and the eventual rise of Daesh.

Trump’s pick of a known white supremacist and key figure in the so-called Alt-Right movement, Steve Bannon, as his chief strategist and senior counsellor has enraged both liberals and many conservatives. 

Bannon is a fiery populist, believed to be the man inside the president-elect’s head.

His controversial positions on minorities, women, immigrants, free trade, Jews and liberal America are believed to be embraced by Trump, who has no clear ideological stand of his own.

He could well be the most dangerous man on the Trump team, and the most influential.

But his role may well focus on changing America from the inside than altering how Washington conducts its foreign policy.

One of Trump’s most divisive actions as president could be his decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem and his reversal of America’s long-standing bi-partisan position on illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Netanyahu is already preparing the legal ground in the Knesset for such a move, one that will drive the proverbial last nail in the coffin of the two-state solution.

Trump’s hardline Cabinet is not expected to prevent such a move. His Cabinet team of angry white men will be the most hawkish and ideologically committed in decades. 

But the harmony that Trump is hoping to maintain inside his White House is unlikely to last.

Aside from fighting radical Islam, Trump and his team will soon discover the complexity of maintaining alliances and responding to crises around the world while ruling a divided country.

 

 

The writer is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.

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