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Trump’s last gasps on foreign policy will lead to more terrorism, not less

The Trump Administration’s rush to get Arab/Muslim states to recognise Israel will paper over historical differences and feed political violence.

If one were to review all the things the Trump administration did poorly on a variety of levels one would need a lot of time. If we were to limit ourselves merely to the damage down to civil society in the US alone, we would be here for ages.

On the foreign policy level as well there is much to bemoan. Kissing up to Russia. Bowing to China (before Trump got all huffy later). Undermining NATO. Withdrawing from the Paris climate accords. Even dissing my own country, Canada!

WTF?

And when it comes to the Middle East there is an equally long list of unforced errors. Whether it was that ridiculous photo with the Saudi king-in-waiting and dismemberer-in-chief MBS or his kowtowing to Egyptian ‘president’ Sisi, Trump has made mistake after mistake.

What Was That Glowing Orb Trump Touched in Saudi Arabia? - The New York  Times
Q: Does this globe make me look presidential? A: Nope. (Photo: Saudi Press Agency)

In all fairness, however, Trump’s relationship with Israel resembles those crafted by every US president since Eisenhower. In other words, it is a stalwart ally and backer of the Jewish state, regardless of what it does.

I am neither a fan of nor an enemy of Israel: I see things that are good and things that are bad. My own country has been critical on occasion as well: the US less so. In Trump, though, policies that had been in place for decades, such as the decision NOT to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, given that city’s disputed status between Israelis and Palestinians, were thrown out the window (Trump made the move in May 2018).

Of late, Trump has been twisting arms all over the Middle East and North Africa to get those nations to recognise Israel and open representations there. The list so far includes Bahrain, the UAE, Oman, Sudan, and, most recently, Morocco. These developments overturned longstanding Arab/Muslim solidarity with Palestine: only Jordan and Egypt had made peace with Israel (back in 1993). Some speculate that the Saudis will not be far behind.

States can do whatever they wish of course with their foreign policy. In the cases of Sudan and Morocco, however, there are implications for terrorism.

Let’s begin with Sudan.

In the US’ eyes Sudan was long listed as a ‘state sponsor of terrorism’. In all honesty, I was always puzzled by this: there are far problematic supporters of violent extremism to my mind, including Iran of course – and Saudi Arabia. Still, the US lifted that status a few hours ago (I am penning these words at 19h00 on December 14). That this move was made after Sudan normalised relations with Israel is no coincidence. There is still an outstanding legal action by the families of 9/11 victims with Sudan:  lawyers representing that group have rejected the deal between Washington and Khartoum, saying the 9/11 victims deserve much more in compensation.

The other deal, with Morocco, is perhaps much more dangerous.

In exchange for inking an agreement with Israel, Morocco has pushed the US to recognise its control over an area known as the Western Sahara, despite the fact that the US has long been officially neutral in this regard. Moroccan forces have been fighting an on-again, off-again war against the residents of that region, some of whom go by the name of the Polisario Front: others are simply called Sahrawis.

I remember SIGINT reporting on the conflict going back to my entry into the spy world in 1983 (and here is a CIA report on this matter from that very year!). Termed ‘guerrillas’ or ‘terrorists’ depending on your perspective, the Front has been active since at least a decade before that.

The fact that US State Department maps now acknowledge American suzerainty over the Western Sahara has led some to speculate that there will ensue more, not less, terrorism. One Spanish Foreign Ministry official – Spain once controlled the area – has stated that some Sahrawis have joined the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) terrorist group. Not good.

I do wish that Israel and its neighbours – and not so neighbours – could eventually agree to get together. Changes are necessary on all sides for this to happen, but the lessening of the perennial ‘Israel question’ would make the region much more stable.

Stable is not what Trump understands. One would think that an outgoing president – news flash! You LOST Mr. Trump! – would not rush through decisions that have longer-term implications. What Trump is doing will make the tasks before incoming US President Joe Biden that much harder. What is the hurry?

Then again, why would Trump care? When has he cared about anything aside from himself? Brace yourselves for a rocky couple of years in MENA (Middle East North Africa).

In other words, plus ca change.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. and Programme Director for the Security, Economics and Technology (SET) hub at the University of Ottawa’s Professional Development Institute (PDI). Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of five books on terrorism.

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