Fareed: Trump’s Middle East Reality Check

Insights, analysis and must reads from CNN’s Fareed Zakaria and the Global Public Square team, compiled by Global Briefing editor Jason Miks.

May 22, 2017

Trump Toes the Sunni Line: Wood

Anyone expecting that President Trump would deliver a clash of civilizations style speech in Saudi Arabia was bound to be disappointed. “He is constitutionally incapable of displeasing a live audience,” writes Graeme Wood in The Atlantic. But Wood says the speech was still divisive.
“Until now, no one suspected Trump of being on the Sunni side. Most evidence suggested he was on the side of no Muslims at all. Now, having earned every single troy ounce of his gold necklace, he may as well be an honorary Sunni.”

  • Reality check. Fareed argues that the Trump administration has clearly decided that it is going to attempt a much more overtly pro-Sunni Arab foreign policy.

“That means supporting countries like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and trying to help solidify the already emerging partnership between the Sunni Arab countries and Israel. The big foe being, in that case, Iran,” Fareed says.
“But the most interesting question about American foreign policy in the Middle East going forward is this: Can you really construct a stable Middle East by completely excluding Iran, by essentially having an anti-Shia foreign policy? Remember, it’s not just about Iran – Iraq is a Shia-majority country that has an alliance with the United States.
“Right now, the Middle East is out of balance, and you have tensions between the Shia and Sunnis playing out in Iraq, in Yemen and elsewhere. So, the United States is really going to have to try find some sort of stability that involves both sides. It cannot just have a policy toward one side.
“The core problem is that radical Islamic terrorism, to say the words that Donald Trump didn’t want to, is a Sunni problem – not least Saudi Arabia, which has funded and fueled so much of the radical Islamic terrorism that the United States has faced. That’s the tension here.”

“One more thing: I think this trip has been something of a reality check. Donald Trump has realized that it’s one thing to tweet certain things out as a candidate, but when you’re president, you do have to show some respect for other countries and faiths.”

Is Rouhani Really a Reformist?

Hassan Rouhani’s sweeping victory in Iran’s presidential election is seen by many as a win for reformists. But reformist is the wrong word to describe the president, argues Ray Takeyh in Politico magazine.
“[Rouhani] has always been part of a pragmatic cohort of Iranian leaders attracted to the so-called China model of offering citizens economic rewards in exchange for political passivity,” Takeyh writes.
“During his campaign, he hinted at better times to come by claiming that he would succeed in lifting all the remaining sanctions on Iran. This is impossible, given Iran’s penchant toward terrorism, its human rights abuses and its imperial ravaging of the Middle East…It is hard to see how the regime can meet the basic financial demands of its people as it insists on spending vast sums sustaining the Assad dynasty in Syria and menacing Sunni monarchy.”

Germany’s “Radical” Military Steps

Don’t be fooled by Germany’s bland sounding “Framework Nations Concept.” The agreement is actually “a radical step down a path toward something that looks like an EU army while avoiding the messy politics associated with it,” writes Elisabeth Braw in Foreign Policy.
“Of course, since 1945 Germany has been extraordinarily reluctant to deploy its military abroad, until 1990 even barring the Bundeswehr from foreign deployments,” Braw writes. But “junior partners — and potential junior partners — hope that the Framework Nations arrangement will make Germany take on more responsibility for European security. So far, Germany and its multinational miniarmies remain only that: small-scale initiatives, far removed from a full-fledged European army. But the initiative is likely to grow.”

China “Crippled” CIA Ops: NYT

China’s government “systematically dismantled C.I.A. spying operations in the country starting in 2010, killing or imprisoning more than a dozen sources over two years and crippling intelligence gathering there for years afterward,” the New York Times reports.

  • China’s “sweeping victory.” But China’s semi-official Global Times praised the Chinese moves — assuming the NYT report is accurate. “Not only was the CIA’s spy network dismantled, but Washington had no idea what happened and which part of the spy network had gone wrong. It can be taken as a sweeping victory. Perhaps it means even if the CIA makes efforts to rebuild its spy network in China, it could face the same result.”

The Truth About Those Border Apprehensions

The steep fall in the number of migrants being apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border during the first months of the Trump presidency might not be all that seems, reports Joshua Partlow for the Washington Post.

For a start, “more Central American migrants are resorting to sneaking across the border” rather than turning themselves in and requesting asylum, Partlow writes.
Meanwhile, any slowdown could prove temporary. “Migrants and their families are watching closely to see if the Trump administration moves ahead with mass deportations, or carries out its threat to prosecute parents for paying smugglers to bring their children to the United States. But the pressures pushing people north have not disappeared.”

What to Watch This Week

President Trump is scheduled to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday. “A senior Palestinian official said efforts to lower expectations follow an assessment on the Palestinian side that the primary goal of Trump’s Middle East visit is to improve ties with the Sunni Muslim world,” Jack Khoury reports for Haaretz.
President Trump’s first overseas trip continues Wednesday, when he is scheduled to meet Pope Francis. The Washington Post‘s Anthony Faiola and Julie Zauzmer write that despite their differences on a range of issues, the meeting is “ripe with potential benefits and risks, particularly for Trump. Should they pull off a congenial discussion, it could serve as a much-needed diplomatic salve for the American leader. A gaffe, meanwhile, could quickly stoke fresh controversy for a president facing a mounting crisis at home.”
On Thursday, Trump will attend a NATO meeting in Brussels. “High on the agenda will be how the new U.S. administration and its European partners cooperate on counterterrorism. That conversation should include how to ensure that torture has no place in counterterrorism efforts,” writes Kartik Raj in Newsweek.



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