Trump’s Muddled Mideast Policy

Trump’s Muddled Mideast Policy

Jewish Light Editorial

Almost completely ignored in commentary on President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address were his passing references to what could mean significant developments in the Middle East. 

In his wide-ranging remarks, which included some very positive support for Israel and strong condemnation of anti-semitism, Trump referred promisingly to peace talks with the Taliban to end the 17-year war in Afghanistan. He also indicated that the Islamic State, or ISIS, was on the verge of defeat in Syria, with its former caliphate reduced to a tiny fraction of the 24,000 square miles it once controlled.

These two comments are a mixed bag of encouraging developments and what could be called wishful thinking.  The administration’s Middle East policy might be more properly described as a Muddle East policy.

Let’s examine just how credible the president’s hopeful statements on ISIS and Afghanistan really are: 

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• In last week’s remarks to a joint session of Congress, Trump said that ISIS in Syria was on the verge of collapse.  At one time, the ultraviolent terrorist group had established a caliphate on a swath of land from Syria and Iraq the size of the state of Indiana. Concentrated military action by U.S. troops and brave Kurdish allies have reduced that once sizable ISIS region to control of just two cities, Deir ez-Zor in eastern Syria and al-Qaim in western Iraq.  

According to a Mideast newsletter called The Strait Times, the United States-led international coalition has been bombing ISIS and supporting ground allies on both sides of the frontier. As a result, ISIS has just a few thousand fighters left in the two cities.

The apparent defeat of ISIS in Syria and Iraq is indeed welcome news, but it’s not time to open bottles of champagne quite yet. As ISIS has been driven out of Syria, the army of Syria’s brutal dictator Bashar Assad has moved in to take control.  

Trump’s earlier announcement that he intended to withdraw the 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria took our Kurdish allies by surprise and left the Kurdish troops in Syria vulnerable to attacks by neighboring Turkey, which considers Kurds to be terrorists. The Trump administration has issued contradictory reports on whether the U.S. forces would be withdrawn quickly or would remain until the region has been stabilized.

In addition to the facts on the ground, ISIS has reverted to its attacks on soft targets and has dispersed its fighters throughout the Middle East and Africa.

A Time magazine article by Joseph Hincks states: “It had always seemed an unlikely boast. But the ISIS-claimed terror attack that killed four U.S. troops in the northern Syrian town of Manbi this week proved the hollowness of U.S. President Donald Trump’s repeated claims of victory over the miltant network in Syria and Iraq.” 

It is far too early to proclaim anything like a victory over ISIS.

• In another brief reference in his speech, Trump announced peace talks with the Taliban to end the war in Afghanistan that has already gone on for 17 years, the longest war in U.S. history.

A piece last week in The Wall Street Journal by Craig Nelson in Dubai and Thomas Grove in Moscow said, “A delegation of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s political rivals discussed Afghanistan’s postwar political arrangements with Taliban representatives in Moscow on Tuesday, thrusting the country’s stormy electoral politics into the middle of its peace process and further weakening the current Afghan leader.”

How can anyone take seriously a meeting on the future of Afghanistan that is held in Moscow? The current legitimate government of Afghanistan has been pointedly eliminated from these bogus peace talks and, by hosting the negotiations in Moscow, Russian dictator Vladimir Putin is expanding his influence in the region at the expense of the United States and its allies.

During his presidential campaign, Trump did promise he would end “pointless” and endless wars in the Middle East; he said in his State of the Union address that “great nations do not engage in endless wars.”  

That sounds good as a goal, but to turn the peacemaking over to Russia, which seeks only to expand its foothold in the Middle East, can best be described as folly.

How has the Taliban shown any sign of moderation? It is the group that imposed one of the most draconian regimes in history, practically reducing women to slaves of their husbands. And it hosted Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida within its borders.

More than 2,300 Americans have died in the war in Afghanistan, and more than 20,000 more have been injured, many severely. More than 1,700 U.S. civilian contractors also have lost their lives. The Taliban has demonstrated no moderation in its extremist views and terrorist actions. The current Afghan government, like its immediate predecessor, is weak and does not have the support of the Afghan people. 

Yes, it is past time to bring our troops home in an orderly and safe process. But let’s not do it under the fog of a false narrative of victory.