Will Trump as US President be able to bridge the Gulf?

Published: Wed 9 Nov 2016, 7:09 PM

Last updated: Wed 9 Nov 2016, 9:11 PM

By mid-day on Wednesday, November 9, it was clear that Donald Trump had obtained the mandate of his people to be the 45th president of the United States. This unexpected result had initially sent world stock markets reeling as the US and international community entered unknown territory, as a highly divisive and controversial person, with no experience of government, prepared to assume the reins of what is often referred to as the most powerful nation on earth.
Since the campaign was mostly about character rather than policy, hardly anything is known about foreign affairs under Trump. What is known is not comforting: he spouted deep suspicion of foreign interactions and highlighted fear and rage against foreigners in general. Islamophobia shaped most of his understanding of the Muslim world, which he frequently conflated with terror and promised the harshest possible reprisals against terrorists and their family members.
Many Arab commentators have earlier been critical of the Obama presidency for its lack of leadership and its withdrawal from the region during a period of widespread contention and conflict. Now, based on past alliances, some regional players may seek understanding from the Trump presidency for their interests and sympathy for their concerns. But, the ongoing contentions are so convoluted that it is difficult to see what positive contribution the new president can make.
Syria, for instance, has attracted several players to its battle-fields, with hardly any consensus amongst them on their long-term interests: while Saudi Arabia prioritises regime-change, its partner Turkey is intent on curbing Kurdish aspirations. Iran, on the other hand is backing the Assad regime, in alliance with Russia, with the Lebanese militia, Hezbollah, an active part of this cauldron. These contentions have ensured the death of nearly half a million Syrians, the destruction of the major cities, the displacement of millions, and the strengthening of various jihadi militia in the country.
The Yemen situation is no better: while the Saudis wish to de-fang the Houthi militia and restore the government of President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, the Houthis are agitating for their place in the government in Sanaa, and are backed in this by the forces loyal to former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, and possibly Iran. The UN remains a helpless bystander, coming up with peace plans that garner little support, the Yemenis continue to suffer the consequences of war and destruction, while Al Qaeda and Daesh continue to flourish.
Iraq is another front in the West Asian war theatre: here, the Haidar Al Abadi government has put together a temporary coalition of national, Shia and Sunni fighters to liberate Mosul from Daesh. But, it is the aftermath of the liberation that will decide whether Iraq emerges as a united and pluralistic state where all its diverse peoples enjoy a place of dignity, or whether it will remain a bastion of ethnic and sectarian competition and distrust.
The US's military interventions and its divide-and-rule policies have encouraged the present-day divisions in Iraq and the region, leaving countries in conflict, its people divided, and West Asia unstable and insecure. There is nothing in Trump's background that would suggest he can contribute to bringing peace and camaraderie in the region.
This in fact could be an excellent opportunity for regional powers to set their house in order through their own efforts. They can and should address the issues that foster distrust and, in time, build mutual confidence and shape initiatives to address concerns that they share: internecine conflicts, extremism and energy interests. The answers to these challenges lie not in Washington but at home.

The writer is the former Indian ambassador to the UAE

By Talamiz Ahmad

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