Voices from the Arab press: The mess Trump created

A weekly selection of opinions and analyses from the Arab media around the world.

SYRIAN DEMOCRATIC Forces celebrate the first anniversary of the Raqqa province’s liberation from ISIS, in Syria on October 27. (photo credit: REUTERS)
SYRIAN DEMOCRATIC Forces celebrate the first anniversary of the Raqqa province’s liberation from ISIS, in Syria on October 27.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Asharq al-Awsat, London, December 22
The White House’s announcement of the pullout of all of US forces from Syria caught most pundits by surprise. The practical implication of this move is that more territory – and, thus, more political power – will be handed over to Russia and Iran. The messages coming out of Washington are as confusing as the pullout decision itself. While the Pentagon reaffirmed the need to maintain US boots on the ground, President Donald Trump, in a series of tweets, announced his plan to return all forces back to the United States. The resignation of secretary of defense James Mattis in response to the president’s decision further complicates the messages coming out of the White House.
Granted, the number of US soldiers stationed in Syria was never large to begin with. At its peak, the American force in Syria reached some 2,000 personnel, including CIA and State Department employees. However, what was important about this force was its symbolic presence, not its magnitude. America’s presence in Syria sent a message to Iran that it isn’t free to do as it pleases in the region. It also posed a direct threat to Islamic State and helped push many of its members into hiding.
Therefore, I believe that one of the first implications of the move will be the resurfacing of the terrorist group. This will severely undermine US interests in the region. More specifically, it will undermine Trump’s recent announcement about the defeat of ISIS.
It remains unclear what guided the president in his decision. Perhaps it is domestic considerations and an attempt to gear up for the next presidential election, which is set to take place in just two years. Yes, it is true that Trump has done more to curb Iran’s activity than any other US president, especially his predecessor, Barack Obama. That said, the president’s current announcement spells more fighting and bloodshed for the region. It empowers Russia and Iran, which are two of America’s worst enemies. Above all, it will prolong the Syrian war and come back to haunt Washington in years to come.
– Abdulrahman al-Rashed
Al-Ahram, Egypt, December 23
They say that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. This proved to be true at the Netanyahu household, where the Israeli prime minister’s son Yair has been busy spreading hatred and hostility toward Arabs and Muslims. In a recent Facebook post, the young Netanyahu called to expel Palestinians from their lands, stating that there is room for only one nation in the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. This was just one post in a long series of statements that are rife with abhorrent racism and ignorance. Unfortunately, these statements come at a time when more and more Arab countries have chosen to normalize their ties with Israel, including Egypt. What a shame on the Arab world. Yair openly declares whatever his father thinks but refuses to say out loud. He represents the true intentions and sentiments of the Israeli leadership, which has no interest in peace or coexistence but, rather, in the annihilation of the Palestinian people and their expulsion from their homeland. This is a representation of everything the Israeli state, with all of its terrorism, racism and bloodshed, stands for.
Thankfully, normalization is determined not by government representatives but by the people on the streets. The Arab public’s commitment to Palestine will never be forgotten or ignored. We will therefore never accept the normalization of ties with the Israeli enemy. – Muhammad Hussein
Al Mada, Iraq, December 20
One question that repeatedly occupies the thought of historians is how the Roman Empire succeeded in conquering most of Europe, North Africa and large parts of Asia – including the Levant. The simple answer is hierarchy. The Romans established a large and disciplined army with a clear, rigid and hierarchical command structure. This enabled soldiers to receive clear orders and execute them right away. It also created a centralized culture that could be shared throughout the entire empire.
In a multiethnic, sectarian and religious country such as Iraq, with no cultural or social connection between most of its cities and regions, such a model of a Roman- style army became a necessity.
The absence of paved roads, bridges and railways prevented the intermingling of Iraqi tribes. Even interactions between the residents of the three largest cities – Baghdad, Mosul and Basra – were historically limited. Thus, the establishment of the Iraqi Army, which brought together people from across the nation, was an essential step toward the formation of modern Iraq. Thanks to compulsory military service, tribal boundaries were broken down between social and religious groups that otherwise would never have come into contact. More importantly, the military service fostered a cohesive Iraqi culture. Soldiers and officers who had not been previously educated were able to gain a profession in, for example, construction, plumbing, electrical work, driving, mechanics and many other fields.
Indeed, the army continued injecting skilled workers into the workforce for many generations. Above all, it established a clear rule for everyone: a common law that discouraged disobedience and disorder.
Unfortunately, following the US invasion of Iraq, the Americans decided to dissolve the Iraqi Army. Over half a million people who had been employed by the armed forces were dismissed. Salaries were unpaid. The result was the migration of leading army commanders from the military to irregular militias associated with different Iraqi tribes. Former comrades began fighting each other. Indeed, a recent report in Time magazine revealed that much of the sectarian strife unfolding in Iraq between 2006 and 2007 could have been avoided, had US forces empowered the Iraqi Army instead of dissolving it.
More alarmingly, the Americans established institutions based on sectarian quotas, with the aim of representing people from all parts of society. Unfortunately, this created a culture of patronage in which law and order are enforced on the basis of one’s social or religious affiliation.
What Iraq desperately needs is national cohesion. The Iraqi Army was one of the key institutions that generated a sense of belonging, among all parts of Iraqi society, to one nation. Therefore, it is time to terminate the quota system in Iraq.
– Louay Abdallah
Okaz, Saudi Arabia, December 21
As usual, US President Donald Trump changed the global scene with one unexpected decision. Trump decided to withdraw all American forces from Syria, forces that, together with their local Kurdish allies, formed a physical barrier that blocked the advancement of Iranian militias toward the Mediterranean. The last remaining reason for the American presence in Syria was to fight and eliminate the poisonous Iranian activities in the region.
Trump claimed that he was simply implementing his election promise to end all US foreign military interventions. But the puzzling thing is that the global scene has not changed, so why rush out of Syria right now? Is there a clear new pretext? ISIS still exists, and Iran is increasing its activity in the region. Trump’s explanation is therefore confusing.
In his Twitter post, the president stated that “Russia, Iran, Syria & others are the local enemy of ISIS. We were doing their work. Time to come home.” Simply put, Trump wants to let the Russians, Iranians and Syrians deal with the terrorist threats emerging in the region, instead of framing them as US threats alone.
But the Pentagon was clear to state that the “war on ISIS” still isn’t over. Russian President Vladimir Putin has been similarly quoted saying that there is a difference between declarations and actions on the ground. The United States claimed that it withdrew from Afghanistan, but has remained in the country for 17 years. Therefore, we will have to wait and see what action the Department of Defense actually takes as a result of Trump’s announcement.
In the meantime, the biggest losers of this move are the Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of Kurdish and Syrian militias fighting mainly against ISIS, and Trump’s closest Mideast ally, Israel. The former already announced a plan to establish a security base following the American withdrawal. The latter has been a little less optimistic, claiming that there is still an eminent threat posed by Iran’s activity in Syria, which necessitates a presence of troops on the ground.
The only way to make sense of Trump’s move is to believe that there are secret motives, which we aren’t yet aware of, at play. This could be an agreement reached between Trump and his Russian and Turkish counterparts.
– Mashri al-Zayidi