Donald Trump’s stunning victory created a new America. The voters repudiated the progressive vision that President Obama had foisted upon us and the world. After pulling off the supposedly impossible task of winning the office, Trump now faces the even greater challenge of delivering on his promise to Make America Great Again. Part of the challenge will involve rebuilding America’s reputation as a strong, capable ally and a powerful, determined adversary.
President Obama’s policies have been particularly disastrous in the Middle East. He alienated Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Egyptian military—all longstanding allies. He embraced the Muslim Brotherhood, abandoned Iraq, handed Syria to Russia and watched ISIS declare a Caliphate and export terror to the West. He spearheaded the return of a still unabashedly revolutionary Iran to the international community, greenlighted its nuclear and missile programs, and handed the Mullahs vast pallets of cash. He has done little to stave off the genocide being heaped upon the region’s Christians and other minority faiths, and has encouraged Muslim refugees to flood into Western countries.
Taken together, Obama will hand Trump a volatile region in far worse shape than the one Obama inherited from President Bush. Throughout the campaign, the anti-Trump press insisted that a President Trump would only make matters worse. They smeared him as an “Islamophobe” unlikely to cultivate regional allies, and singularly lacking in moral clarity and vision. As with so many things about our surprising president-elect, however, our leading media outlets got things exactly backwards. Trump and his equally non politically experienced advisers have already demonstrated greater sophistication, moral clarity and common sense in looking at the Middle East, and a greater appreciation for our needed alliances than we have seen from the political-media-academic establishment in a long, long time.
For all of Trump’s alleged anti-Muslim bias, Egyptian President al-Sisi was among the few world leaders with whom he met while campaigning. Al-Sisi, reportedly a devout Muslim himself, has been resolute in his opposition to Islamists and voiced frustration with the Obama administration’s mainstreaming and protection of the radical Muslim Brotherhood. He has coupled rigorous policing with a philosophical and theological challenge—precisely the combination necessary to defeat Islamism in both the long and short run. By all accounts—including those from the Egyptian side—Trump’s meeting with al-Sisi was warm and constructive. Trump seems perfectly poised to rebuild this important alliance, and he has demonstrated the common sense necessary to do likewise elsewhere. His openness to an independent Kurdistan is similarly promising.
All told, having tossed the politically correct clutter that has corrupted America’s relationship with the Muslim world, Trump may be the first American president since 9/11 to appreciate the difference between Islamists and anti-Islamist Muslims. Trump is unlikely to traffic with, let alone coddle and support, the Muslim Brotherhood. And Trump will do more than reach out to Muslim allies—he will embrace the right allies in the Islamic world. If the extremists are indeed a small minority, Trump will shift the balance toward the moderate silent majority and motivate them to become vocal and powerful. If the extremists have already won their internal struggle, Trump will minimize our chances of collaborating with our own executioners.
Perhaps the greatest evidence of the clarity of Trump’s moral vision is the support that he has expressed for Israel. Trump has stated far more clearly than any other world leader that he appreciates the difference between Jews working to build a decent, prosperous Jewish state and Arabs working to incite anti-Jewish genocide. Trump has made it clear that the American embassy belongs in the Israeli capital of Jerusalem, and that Jews living in Judea and Samaria pose no threat to regional stability and must be free to live, build and thrive. He rejects the moral equivalence that the world likes to draw between Israel and its terrorist adversaries just as surely as he rejects the anti-Israel libels of occupation, oppression, apartheid and genocide.
There is little doubt that a Trump administration seeks to restore Israel’s role as our key ally in the region. And his immediate invitation to Israel’s prime minister set a sharp departure to the long years of unwarranted tension Obama inserted into that relationship. The challenge now is for Israel to rise to the occasion, boldly assert its rights (no matter how that may discomfit an incorrigibly left-wing American Jewry) and make the best of the opportunity. In short, there may never have been a president who will do more for an existentially embattled Israel since plain-speaking Harry Truman ignored all that prevailed as political consensus and common wisdom by recognizing the State of Israel.
Trump’s moral clarity also comes through in his statements about refugees. As the European experience of the past year shows, the folks fleeing the carnage in Syria and Iraq come with a lot of baggage. Even those who harbor few Islamist sympathies tend to bring their culture with them when they arrive en masse, in ways that can devastate the existing social fabric of gracious host states. The proper place to relocate and resettle Sunni Arab refugees—the single largest category—is within the region’s Sunni Arab states, or in safe havens liberated within Syria and Iraq. It is cheaper (allowing for the rescue of exponentially more refugees), more effective, more humane and more in line with the U.S. president’s primary mandate of protecting our country—or putting America first. Trump clearly understands that humanitarian assistance is required. Unlike Germany’s Angela Merkel, however, he will not sacrifice his own people’s safety or his own nation’s future to political correctness masquerading as compassion. He will work with culturally, socially and religiously related host states to absorb the refugees with whom they proudly claim kinship.
Finally, when it does come to admitting refugees to the West, Trump will apply actual humanitarian concerns to show a preference for the Christians, Yazidis and other non-Muslim minorities seeking to escape the genocidal jihadis uprooting their ancient communities. Taken together, Trump has already pointed the way toward a more stable Middle East, where we ally ourselves with locals whose interests coincide with American interests—and where possible (as with Israel), whose values coincide with American values.
Jeff Ballabon is CEO of B2 Strategic (www.b2strategic.com), chairman of the Iron Dome Alliance and a senior fellow at the Center for Statesmanship and Diplomacy. Bruce Abramson (www.bdabramson.com) is vice president for policy at the Iron Dome Alliance and a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research.