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Trump’s Middle-East Trip Takes Policy Priority Despite Arab Disdain for American Involvement

posted on: May 10, 2017

BY: Daniel Gil/Contributing Writer

The month of May will come to mark President Trump and his administration’s current priority in the realm of international politics: The Arab World.

In a departure from recent American tradition of visiting either Mexico or Canada before visiting another country, Trump’s very first trip outside of the United States will be to Saudi Arabia, and then to Israel and Rome.

Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia was announced the day following his meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas where Trump emphasized that a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be one of his top priorities.

His administration announced last Thursday that the President’s tour was meant to symbolize the coming together of the world’s religions in a battle against radical extremism and intolerance; however, his plan to meet with key government officials in the Middle-East suggests a trip more motivated by international affairs and politics.

Trump is expected to meet with the Saudi King in his first meeting then meet with leaders from around the Gulf states and prominent officials within the region.

“The trip is mostly based on showing the flag in the region,”  says Doctor Khalil Jahshan, Executive Director of the Arab Center in Washington D.C.

Dr. Jahshan continues, “It’s a show of colors and a way of reasserting American leadership in the region after the previous administration’s attempt at rolling back intervention in the Middle-East.”

Trump’s visit marks a stark shift in policy from the previous administration which was criticized for lack of military involvement in Arab countries. Obama and his administration stood on a platform of military de-escalation; however, Trump has made it clear that he plans to do exactly the oppositeTrump vowed to step up military involvement in the Middle-East while on the campaign trail last year and while in office has done exactly that. His military strike against Syria, last month, came following a chemical weapons attack supposedly administered by Assad’s forces and signaled that the United States still has a vested interest in the region.

United States interest in foreign countries is exactly what Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia is about, says Jahshan.

“Trump’s objective and the United States’ broader foreign policy interest is to combat ISIS in the region and maintain control… The Saudi Arabian government along with other countries in the region have the same goal so it’s really a shared interest,” said Dr. Jahshan.

However, despite the administration’s emphasis on its broader goal of eliminating ISIS and the popularity that may garner among constituents, Arabs living in the region are wholeheartedly dissatisfied with the United States’ policy towards the Middle-East.

The Arab Center in Washington D.C. released the 2016 Arab Opinion Index last April less than a week after Trump’s Syrian strike. The index, which measures opinion across the Arab world surveyed 12 countries in total and included face to face interviews with 18,310 respondents from Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Mauritania, Morocco, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Tunisia. Among other key findings, the index demonstrated a disdain most Middle-Eastern countries currently harbor for American foreign policy.

Arab Center -DC publication reports that sixty-three percent of respondents believed the United States to be the greatest threat to stability in the Arab region, beating out Iran, Russia, and China, while falling short behind Israel. Over a quarter of respondents believed the United States’ policy towards Palestine, Syria, and Iraq to be either negative or very negative while almost a quarter believed the same of the U.S.’s policy towards Yemen and Libya.

Despite this, the governments of the Middle-East plan to develop a coalition against ISIS and bring more in more Western support for the cause no matter how unpopular Trump’s visit may be.

“Governments have their own interest despite public opinion,” says Jahshan. “The United States is disliked there and it has everything to do with their foreign policy.”