'America First' Works in the Middle East

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

At Law and Liberty, I argue that President Trump’s “America First” stance is a positive for peace in the Middle East. The Israel-UAE peace agreement is the best thing that has happened to the region since Anwar Sadat made peace with Israel forty years ago. Key takeaway:


More than his personal diplomacy, Trump’s “America First” policies deserve credit for the agreement, the administration’s clearest achievement in foreign policy. By eschewing American military intervention in the region, Trump pushed the regional players to rise to the occasion. The mortal leap was more difficult for Prince Zayed, and will be for the Saudis and others who follow his lead, because Sunni radicalism remains a formidable force in the region—with funding and encouragement from Qatar and Turkey. The fact that energy-self-sufficient America no longer needs to play policeman in the Persian Gulf, and has wearied of sacrificing blood and treasure in regional wars, compels the Gulf states to act responsibly as a matter of self-preservation. As long as the Gulf States remained de facto US protectorates, they could claim that the “Arab Street” stood in the way of relations with Israel. Now that they have to take responsibility for their own defense, they look to Israel for help.

Trump drew fire in October 2019 when he announced that the small contingent of US forces in Syria would leave, effectively leaving Russia as the dominant outside power. The widely-predicted disaster never happened. Russia has limited the scope of Turkish influence among the remaining radical Sunni fighters and allowed Israel to pound Iranian positions throughout. The UAE-Israel agreement opens new possibilities for Syrian reconstruction.


“America First” has worked wonders in the Middle East. The utopians who tried to remake the Middle East into a set of Western-style democracies created a disaster. When George W. Bush forced majority rule onto Iraq, he got a sectarian Shi’ite state that allied with Iran. The Sunni minority who had ruled Iraq under Saddam Hussein lost its state protection, and inevitably sought the protection of “non-state actors,” that is, al-Qaeda and ISIS. As Mike Flynn warned in 2012, the Obama administration’s support for Sunni radicals fighting the Assad regime in Syria helped ISIS emerge. Russia intervened in Syria in 2015–as a former Israeli national security advisor explained to me–because the country had become a Petri dish for terrorists who threatened Russia’s Muslim southern flank.

Donald Trump rejected “endless wars” to export democracy to countries that had no clue what it might be. He wants to get American soldiers out of harm’s way. And guess what? The locals figured out that without America around as global cop, they had better come up with their own solutions. The Trump administration used its good offices to help the Gulf States to act in their own best interests, and the UAE’s Prince Sayed stepped up to the plate.


The whole essay can be found here.

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