After inauguration, President Donald Trump will be challenged with complex decisions regarding Iranian imperialism and America’s relationships with its regional allies and enemies.
Trump articulated two contradictory approaches to foreign policy during his campaign. He spoke about a more isolationist approach to American engagement, while also warning would-be enemies that anyone challenging the US should expect a vigorous response. Time will surely tell whether or not this president’s red lines are to be crossed with impunity.
With regard to Iranian expansionism, the administration will have to decide whether the Iranian ambition for a contiguous Shi’ite-dominated region stretching from Tehran to Beirut is something that affects American national security interests enough to warrant a significant response.
Will a Trump administration risk unraveling Obama’s nuclear deal if Iran continues to act blatantly to destabilize the region? The Iranian strategists can be expected to test the new president to see how far they can go.
1. Will the new administration continue the Obama administration’s indifference to Iran’s support of Assad’s genocide?
2. Would Trump consider no-fly and safe zones in Syria, and then go into the business of nation building to prevent safe regions turning into statelets of terrorism?
3. Will he ally with Russia and Syria to bring down Islamic State (ISIS)?
4. Will the new administration impose limits and consequences, with teeth, for Iranian actions compromising American security interests?
5. What will Trump do about the American hostages taken by Iran since the JCPOA was signed?
6. What will Trump do the next time Iranian speedboats threaten American naval ships in the Straits of Hormuz?
7. If Yemen’s Houthis again use Iranian- provided missiles to threaten a US Navy ship in Bab el Mandeb, will the response be weak, or will it send a message?
8. Will the administration continue to allow Iranian adventurism in Iraq? Iran and the rest of the Middle East are watching.
As for Trump’s policy proposals regarding Israel, they are overall very positive, but the question is will they be a priority issue for the president, or remain a wish list that gets put on the back burner?
President Barack Obama coerced Israel into accepting a reduced MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) that included provisions hurting the Israeli defense industry, not allowing Israel to ask for more aid even if it is endangered, and gave no extra funding to balance the danger to Israel inherent in the Iran deal. Trump’s advisers have said the new administration will allow Israel to ask for more aid, but what about the rest of the MOU’s provisions?
The promised move of the US embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv would send the right message to the world: Israel is here to stay. The move to the western part of Jerusalem should have never been postponed indefinitely by administrations of both parties, but will Trump act decisively to move the embassy in his first year?
Cutting funding to the antisemitic UN Human Rights Council is a no-brainer, and should be a slam-dunk for this president. Obama’s reengagement with the UNHRC was a disgrace. Trump’s team also promised to veto any UNSC resolutions that single out Israel; something the Obama administration might not be doing in its final months.
As for the promise to fight the insidious boycott movement, by having the Justice Department “investigate coordinated attempts on college campuses to intimidate students who support Israel,” this will be a challenge. Many will claim it is an infringement of the First Amendment’s freedom of speech.
Finally, Trump’s promise to demand the Palestinian Authority recognize Israel as a Jewish state makes complete sense, as it is the ultimate litmus test of whether the Palestinian Arabs could ever accept Israel within any territorial parameters. He should also throw in a demand for an end-of-conflict resolution as a prerequisite both parties must agree to before negotiations begin.
America is a divided country, easily manipulated by its media that views the Middle East through the prism of America’s adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. Trump has repeatedly said that American intervention in the region was a mistake. So how will he respond to new threats from Sunni or Shi’ite Islamists?
In today’s Middle East, America is perceived to be a power on the decline, without the resolve to put its soldiers in harm’s way. What is needed from the new president is a clear articulation of a coherent foreign policy, for America to show leadership for its allies, and repair its image as a toothless superpower.
This will not be an easy task for any president, especially one who must now define which type of foreign policy he wants for his country. Being president is very different from being a candidate.
The author is the director of MEPIN™. He regularly briefs members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, members of the Knesset and journalists on issues related to the Middle East.