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Trump's Policies and Growing Extremism in the Middle East

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

 

Hossein Kebriaeizadeh
West Asia Analyst


The creation of Takfiri terrorism in the Middle East region and its consequences are now among the most important challenges facing the international community. A review of this phenomenon from terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, which marked a turning point in such attacks, up to the present time, will show that terrorism has experienced many different models and patterns both in theory and practice since that time. The question, however, is what model forms the basis of US President Donald Trump's policies for fighting against extremism and what variables affect those policies?

Extensive changes in terrorism over a relatively short period of 15 years both in terms of model and operational tactics, which vary from al-Qaeda to the unique phenomenon of Daesh that believed in conquering land, prove that this ominous phenomenon is both smart and capable of adapting to new conditions. It is as a result of this condition that fighting terrorism becomes a difficult task.

The United States, as a transregional actor, which plays a role in establishing and strengthening security order in the Middle East, has always had a direct effect on growth of terrorism in this region. The United States has gone through an oscillating course in fighting against this phenomenon, which ranged from George W. Bush’s preventive approaches and warmongering policies to Barack Obama’s policy of forging global consensus against extremism. Trump, however, has made doing away with Obama’s domestic and international policies his priority since he has entered the White House. Analysts predict that Trump's effort to do this will deal the most important blow to processes and approaches used in fighting against terrorism.

Before Trump's visit to Saudi Arabia and his participation in the Riyadh meeting, there was no correct understanding of Trump's Middle Eastern and anti-terrorism policies in this region. However, the meeting between Trump and heads of Arab countries gave some indications of Washington’s new policy. It seems that preventing emergence of a regional hegemony through maintaining the existing balance of forces in the Middle East tops Trump's policies in the Middle East. Trump's insistence on his Iranophobic policy in the region and conclusion of the recent arms deal with Saudi Arabia can be construed along the same line. On the other hand, strengthening suspicions about Iran's intentions in the region and the possibility of regional Shias taking the upper hand in the Middle East has been a major source of instability in the region.

Existence of sectarian differences and emergence of unstable subregions in the Middle East have provided extremist groups with unparalleled opportunities, because Saudi Arabia’s policy with regard to various regional crises has been to employ and equip Takfiri groups as Riyadh's infantry.

Another service to the expansion of extremism by Trump’s sectarian remarks and polices has been to change the global focus and shatter the international consensus on the fight against terrorism. Changing the status of the fight against terrorism from a main policy to a marginal affair on the sidelines of concerned regional powers’ policies will provide jihadist forces in the Middle East with favorable conditions. Therefore, although downplaying the main threat in the region in parallel to magnifying the fictitious threat from Iran by the Trump administration may play a role in bringing prosperity to US economy, the possible hiatus in fighting against terrorism will lead to qualitative and quantitative growth of terrorist groups to an irreversible level.

Trump's policies come despite the fact that his predecessor, Barack Obama, had tried during his eight-year term in office to define comprehensive obligations in a calculated manner to make regional actors show correct behavior in the face of extremist groups. However, as a result of the sectarian rhetoric and the regional arms race encouraged by Washington, indexes of rational political behavior in dealing with extremist groups will lose their importance for regional countries.

In short, Trump is using Iranophobia as a driving force to catalyze an arms race in the region and facilitate military and economic dependence of Arab states on the West, which may bring some degree of economic prosperity to the United States. However, this effort will change the rules of the regional game in favor of the Takfiri extremists. The war on terror needs a high level of security for those actors, who have become united to fight against extremism. Vulnerability of governmental political entities in the Middle East and weakening of the sovereign power of any actor that plays any role under the present circumstances will provide a good environment for the spread of extremism. On the other hand, the beginning of the arms race that Trump aims to start in the Middle East in order to create more jobs in the United States, will reduce the degree of control and supervision on conventional and unconventional weapons in the region and make it much easier for the Takfiri jihadist forces to multiply their weapons.

What Trump is hurriedly doing in the Middle East is to do away with all prerequisites of an alliance against fundamentalism, and changing conditions and the rules regional game in favor of fundamentalist groups and currents. Therefore, a country like Iran, as a driving force in the fight against terrorism, must carefully monitor all effective intra- and extra-regional factors that can help extremism grow in the Middle East.

 

*Photo Credit: Southasiandaily

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