Trump and the Middle East Cauldron

DENVER – One of the hallmarks of a presidential transition in the United States is a comprehensive policy review, aimed at determining which policies to retain and which to eliminate or change. As President-elect Donald Trump moves toward taking office, he seems eager to make plenty of changes – some more positive than others.

Some US policies seem destined not even to receive their day in court. The fate of the 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement seems already to have been sealed, with Trump assuring the public that he would shelve that deal – concluded but not ratified by the US Senate – on his first day in office. This is unfortunate, as the TPP would have revolutionized intellectual property rights and boosted transparency to unprecedented levels, while lowering tariff and non-tariff barriers. But Trump seems unlikely to reverse course.

In another crucial policy area, however, change by the incoming Trump administration would be welcome: the Middle East. The incremental approach to the region taken by the last two administrations, under George W. Bush and Barack Obama, has meant that the US has failed to keep pace with events.

The Obama administration, in particular, often hesitated to expand its role, anticipating a time when the US would not be absorbed in a region that, to paraphrase Winston Churchill’s line about the Balkans, had produced more history than it has consumed. Nonetheless, Obama understood the value of maintaining a consistent stance in Iraq – something that his critics often fail to recognize.