Analysis: How the king of Jordan brought the Middle East to Trump

The metamorphosis of Trump’s views on the Middle East not only pour cold water on the Israeli Right’s celebrations, but it also foreshadows a new engagement.

By
April 7, 2017 21:01
3 minute read.
US President Trump

US President Trump greets Jordan's King Abdullah II during joint news conference at the White House. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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“You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you,” Soviet leader Leon Trotsky is reputed to have said.

US President Donald Trump, who expressed little interest in foreign policy before his inauguration, has since experienced this truth.

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During a debate with Hillary Clinton last October, Trump rambled on about Syria. Aleppo was a disaster and humanitarian nightmare, he said, but it had fallen. President Bashar Assad had “turned out to be a lot tougher than she thought,” he asserted, claiming Clinton had erred in thinking the regime could be toppled. The rebels were a disaster, “because we’re backing rebels. We don’t know who the rebels are... but if they did overthrow Assad, you might end up with – as bad as Assad is and he’s a bad guy – but you may very well end up with worse than Assad.”

When Trump was sworn in, there were fears among Middle Eastern leaders that his brash and spur-of-the-moment personality would lead him to act the way he spoke.
US president Trump and Jordan 's King Abdullah meet at White House; condemns Syria attack , Apr/5/17 (REUTERS)

King Abdullah of Jordan was particularly concerned about Trump’s plan to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

On February 2, he was the first foreign leader to rush to Washington for a meeting.

An official told Reuters he planned to press Trump to keep up the fight against Islamic State and “secure resources to help ensure the insurgents would not be allowed to move toward our borders.”

The kingdom has taken in one million refugees from Syria and its economy is in tatters because of it. Aside from that, there is a risk that extremism will grow among the refugees. It fears political upheaval over an embassy move among its Palestinian citizens and it fears that if Assad wins the Syrian civil war more refugees will pour in. In 2015, the US boosted aid to Jordan to $1 billion to help it pay for refugees, and in 2016 that amount jumped to $1.6b. to boost its security and economy.

On Wednesday, the king made a second trip to Washington, this one more high-profile. Trump condemned the recent suspected chemical weapons attack by Assad as an “affront to humanity,” and said that the Middle East is in crisis. He added that the US “looked to Jordan as a valued partner, an advocate for the values of civilization and a source of stability.” He also touched on the need for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The king stressed similar themes, claiming that the scourge of terrorism has “no borders, no nationality, no religion,” maintaining that the Arab peace initiative with Israel is relevant and declaring that the “savagery” in Syria should “not [be] allow[ed] to happen.”

Trump has increasingly listened to the counsel of the king of Jordan. He has toned down his rhetoric against “radical Islamic terrorism” which he had vowed to “eradicate from the face of the earth.” He also recently met with Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and his adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner visited Iraq. His special representative Jason Greenblatt visited Jordan for the Arab summit in March and has sought to press Israel on Gaza and the peace process. Iraq won concessions from the administration on the travel ban, getting itself removed from the list.

The metamorphosis of Trump’s views on the Middle East not only pours cold water on the Israeli Right’s celebrations, it also foreshadows a new engagement. In some ways, this will mean reinventing the wheel on a new peace process push, the war against Islamic State and US military commitments in Syria and Iraq. But it also shows that Trump is capable of change and mollification. Of particular interest is the possibility that US policy may see things more through the eyes of Amman than of Jerusalem and Riyadh, the way it has in the past.

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