The Sunni Gulf States are not on his travel ban, Iran has been put on notice, Israel and Egypt are singing his praises while Saudi Arabia and Jordan meet and plot with his administration. Will we soon be reading the “Art of The Middle East Deal” by Donald J. Trump?
A comprehensive deal for peace (or at least stability) in the Middle East has made many U.S. Presidents’ into a modern-day Tantalus; what they desire is right there for all to see, but once they reach for it, it is taken away. President Donald J. Trump does not seem to be the type to be dissuaded like his predecessors in searching for such a deal. As he explains on page 45 of his magnum opus, The Art of The Deal: “My style of deal-making is quite simple and straightforward. I aim very high, and then I just keep pushing and pushing to get what I’m after. Sometimes I settle for less than I sought, but in most cases, I still end up with what I want.” Trump’s aim for the Middle East is indeed a very high one. Trump has stated he will defeat ISIS, curtail Iranian influence, and try to reach the “ultimate deal” between Israel and the Palestinians. While at first glance the recent executive order restricting travel on Muslim countries may seem in contradiction to getting peace in the Middle East, it could very well be the start of Trump’s “pushing and pushing” to get what he wants.
One of the most notable aspects of the recent executive order attempting to ban people from seven Muslim countries is not which countries are on the list but which countries are NOT on the list. The Sunni Gulf States consisting mainly of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Qatar and the UAE are not on the list. The countries on the list consist of Iran and its Shia proxy states such as Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. By repeating and insinuating this is a “Muslim ban” The media has done a horrendous job of explaining (surprise!) the nuance of the executive order, that this is a message to a type of Muslim country, the Shia ones.
The largest conflict in the Middle East today, the one that has created the massacre in Syria, the destabilization of Yemen, why the Iraq War was harder than expected, the 2013 drama in Egypt, among many other conflicts, is the one between Sunni and Shia Islam. Throughout the Middle East, the Shia country of Iran and the Sunni country of Saudi Arabia have undermined each other in any way possible. Historically, the United States has worked with the Sunni powers to promote stability, with mixed results holding Iran at bay. In an abrupt change of American foreign policy, former President Obama decided to engage Iran and attempt to form a partnership with them. Early on in his term, President Obama made overtures to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei in an unprecedented fashion, turning Iran from part of President Bush’s “Axis of Evil” to a potential partner. The resulting diplomatic thaw produced the JCPOA aka “The Iran Deal” in 2015, which Saudi Arabia (along with Israel) was deeply against.
However, after years of watching Washington, D.C. become closer to their arch rival Iran, President Trump is sending a clear message to the Gulf states with his executive order: Iran is our common enemy, I am banning Iran and its proxies, I am putting them on notice, and the days of the Obama administration cozying up to Tehran are over.
The immediate reaction to the executive order by the Sunni Gulf States has been nothing short of paradigm shifting. The UAE publicly defended it against charges that it was Islamophobic, Saudi Arabia agreed to support Safe Zones, and the CEO of the state-owned Qatar Airways defended Trump, saying that he is “…trying to protect the interests of his country the same way I am trying to protect the interests of my country and my airline”.
The executive order has not been the only way President Trump has been reaching out to the Sunni Gulf States. President Trump met with Jordanian King Abdullah II and seemingly agreed to move slower or not at all on moving the United States Embassy to Israel’s capital, Jerusalem (there were rumors that Israeli PM Netanyahu was behind/aware of the changing U.S. position on moving the embassy). President Trump also got an enthusiastic endorsement from Egypt on his claims that the media is not reporting terror attacks.
While the future of the executive order is facing peril, an underreported consequence is beginning to become clear: Gulf states are warming up to President Trump. This week, the lights will be focused on a jubilant Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu flying to Washington D.C. for his first meeting with the new President. On the agenda is, of course, regional peace and stability. How does the dealmaker see it all working? …“Maybe there is even a chance for a bigger peace than just Israel and the Palestinians”.