Was Trump's Middle East Visit a Win? Analysis by APN Policy Consultant Gail Pressberg

At first glance it looks like there are a lot of winners from President Trump's Middle East trip including:

- The Saudis, who got what they wanted.  They heard Trump confirm that the US would be close to the Gulf Arab states and veer away from Iran.  They also sealed an arms deal with the US for $110 billion.  And they never heard the words human rights from Trump's lips!

- Trump, who got what he wanted from the Saudis. President Trump was able to get an arms deal that he declared was great for the US economy.  The Saudis publicly aligned with Trump's rhetoric against terrorism - thus allowing the President to find "moderate" US allies in the region.  And Ivanka Trump got a $100 billion pledge from the Saudis for her women's empowerment program at the World Bank.

- Benjamin Netanyahu, who breathed a sigh of relief as Trump departed Israel for the Vatican. There was no pressure on settlements or significant concessions to the Palestinians. He heard lots of pleasantries from Trump about the strength of the US-Israel relationship. And there was the prospect of a potentially new dynamic for Middle East peace: The Saudis stating publicly their willingness to be partners for peace.

- Palestinian President Abbas, who was able to tell his people that the Palestinian cause is still on the negotiating table if and when negotiations take place.

Looks like a win-win situation, right? Well, not so fast.

The notion that there has been a major turn-around in the Israeli-Arab-Palestinian equation is an illusion. The Saudis have affirmed their commitment to a two-state solution to the conflict since 2002.  While the forward-leaning Saudi posture on Israeli-Palestinian peace - it does not take Israel off the hook from addressing the problem of settlements.  Nor does it promise to "deliver" the Palestinians into making concessions that they do not want to make.

And President Trump's letting the Israeli government get away with continued settlement construction is like feeding opioids to an addict. The Israeli government needs an intervention, not an enabler. Without a genuine freeze on settlement activity and a commitment to make real concessions on settlements, no Saudi pressure on the Palestinians will be forthcoming.

But the most dangerous outcome of Trump's trip to the Middle East is his aligning the US with Sunni Muslims against Shi'ite Muslims in a thousand-year-old struggle since the death of The Prophet Mohammed.

Trump's statements and arms sales agreement align the United States with the Saudis against Iran.  There are many questions to be considered about US interests in this region. What happens to US interests if the House of Saud falls?  Why are we ignoring the results of the recent Iranian election which was a public mandate for opening Iran to the wider world against the interests of those Iranian forces who wanted policies guaranteed to isolate Iran.  What happens to US weapons sold to Saudi Arabia in the case of instability in that country? 

It was clear that with all the hoopla US officials were not ready to answer these questions.  Perhaps indicative of the attitude (and ignorance) of the US Administration's attitude toward our realignment with the Saudis was Secretary of Commerce Ross' comment to the effect that he noticed great change in Saudi Arabia and was pleased that there were no demonstrators on the streets, not even a single guy with a written placard.  It is astonishing that the Secretary of Commerce fails to understand that Saudi Arabia bans demonstrations with harsh punishments for violating the ban.

Let us hope that the media, Congress, and the public ask pointed questions about Trump's Middle East policy when her returns to Washington.


Gail Pressberg, APN's former Washington Director, is a Senior Policy Consultant with APN