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Donald Trump’s Choices in the Middle East

TEL AVIV – US President-elect Donald Trump has said a lot about foreign affairs, without really saying anything at all. His muddled statements offer little insight into what kind of foreign policy he will actually pursue, and there is not much reason to believe that, when his approach does become clear, it will be what the United States – or the world – needs.

Trump is a businessman, not a statesman. He thinks in terms of immediate profits and losses – a worldview that is exemplified in his declarations that US allies need to contribute more to security alliances. At a time of evolving challenges and growing threats, adhering to this narrow-minded, isolationist approach is unlikely to do anyone much good.

One region that Trump will not be able to ignore is the Middle East. The crisis in Syria, in particular, will draw the US in, though Trump’s choices there are limited. After all, America’s “moderate” jihadist allies are no more palatable than President Bashar al-Assad, and the so-called Islamic State is far from defeated.

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a close Trump adviser and possible member of Trump’s cabinet, has identified defeating ISIS as the administration’s first foreign-policy priority. Trump has claimed that he knows “more about ISIS than the generals do.” But that is unlikely. After all, the only way fully to defeat a movement that thrives amid chaos is to build strong and competent states, a task for which Trump lacks both the inclination and the patience.