Humphrey School News—December 1, 2016

Professor Ragui Assaad: The Middle East Under the Trump Administration


Professor Ragui Assaad
Professor Ragui Assaad (Photo: Bruce Silcox)

Ragui Assaad, professor in the global policy area at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, was one of several faculty members from the School to participate in a November 30 panel discussion on key issues facing the incoming Donald Trump administration. Assaad spoke about Trump's approach to terrorism and the Middle East. Here are his complete remarks on the subject:

Donald Trump has focused on the threat from ISIS (the Islamic State), as has the Obama administration, but he has done that with a much more strident rhetoric that can be construed as broadly anti-Islamic.  His National Security Adviser, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, has been quoted as saying that Islam is the threat and not just ISIS. 

This kind of language that associates the vast majority of Muslims with terrorism plays right into the hands of the extremists who want to portray the United States as being at war with Islam rather than just with terrorism. While they may lose the military battle, they might make inroads in the fight for "hearts and minds" which will maintain their ability to radicalize and recruit Muslims from around the world.  

This spills over into other Mideast conflicts, such as the Syrian civil war, where President-elect Trump has vowed to make the fight against Syria his main focus even if this means cooperating with the Assad regime and his Russian allies.  And that means there will be less emphasis on the part of the U.S. on Assad's human rights record or the massacres he commits against his own people, emboldening him to commit further atrocities and to go for total victory over his enemies rather than a political solution. 

We are already seeing that with the escalation of bombing raids in Aleppo and other locations by the Syrian government and Russia, who aren’t facing any penalties from the U.S. for doing that.

Paradoxically, the end result of this policy toward Syria is to further increase Iran's influence in the Arab World, which has been one of Assad's main backers, similar to what happened after the US invasion of Iraq. This is in direct contradiction to Trump's pronouncements on wanting to abrogate the Iran nuclear deal, which he claims was unduly favorable to Iran.

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