- A special adviser to the European Union Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini said US President Donald Trump’s administration seems to be in a state of “utter confusion” when it comes to the Middle East.
“In a nutshell I would say that when it comes to the Middle East, the Trump administration seems to be in a state of utter confusion. The President says that fighting terrorism is his n.1 priority, and that he will seek an entente with Russia aimed, inter alia, at strengthening the fight against terrorism. At the same time, his administration has put Iran "on notice", and the President has made vague remarks about safe zones in Syria. Well the truth is that these two sets of statements cannot be easily pursued simultaneously, given the configurations of alignments, alliances and enmities in the region,” Nathalie Tocci, a special adviser to EU foreign policy chief in charge of outreaching to think tanks and coordination of work on a new European Security Strategy, told the Tasnim News Agency.
The following is the full text of the interview.
Tasnim: As you know, US President Donald Trump has signed an executive order that imposes a 90-day entry ban for citizens of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Somalia, blocks refugees from Syria indefinitely, and suspends all refugee admissions for 120 days. The move has sparked confusion and anger across the world, the US in particular. Now, Trump has increased his criticism of the US judiciary, describing the courts as "so political," a day after his travel ban faced close scrutiny from an appeals court. What is the purpose of this travel ban? Do you believe that the decision can be reversed?
Tocci: The purpose of the ban seems to be less connected with making America and Americans safer (let's not forget that none of the terrorist attacks carried out so far in the US were actually perpetrated by nationals of the countries listed in the travel ban) and more to give the impression to his electorate that the president "means business" and is acting in a strong and decisive manner. In other words, the travel ban demonstrates that the president has not exited his electoral mode yet and entered into a normal governing mode in the interests of his country. To the extent that the executive order has serious legal flaws, and that the system of checks and balances still works, yes, the decision can be reversed. Let's wait and see.
Tasnim: It is no secret to anyone that President Trump is unpredictable. His stance on global trade, the Paris climate deal and the Iran nuclear deal threaten to unpick key elements of global governance. His back-and-forth on NATO is deeply worrying for the future of European security. And his travel ban has sown chaos, undermining the international management of the refugee crisis and fanning the flames of extremism. What do you think? Do you believe that Trump is destabilizing Europe? With Trump in the White House issuing erratic executive orders, do you believe Europe will remain “whole, free and at peace”? Please explain.
Tocci: Indeed, President Trump has no time nor sympathy towards that international order which the United States was so pivotal in establishing and sustaining over decades. And the power of the United States to disrupt, fragment and divide should certainly not be underestimated. Said this, even if the president continues upon this path, it is no foregone conclusion that he will achieve his aim, rather than achieving America's growing marginalization in the international system. The effect depends on how others act and react: on climate, a US exit would certainly represent a major blow. But if the EU and China stick to the deal and the "high ambition coalition" is sustained, the Paris Agreement would by no means be dead. Likewise, on European security, were Trump to gradually distance himself from European security, the blow (particularly to NATO) would be huge. But if Europeans get their act together on security and defense through greater responsibility and above all more cooperation and integration between them in defense matters, then the overall effect on European security may actually be positive in the long term. In other words, the international effect of Trump's policies will depend on how others respond and adapt and, fortunately, not only on the decisions of the US president himself.
Tasnim: Officials from the new US administration have started parroting threats against Iran, calling Iran “state sponsor of terrorism”. What makes it more interesting is that the threats are being well received by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who is under global pressure over Tel Aviv’s illegal construction of settlements. What do you think about the threats? What is the purpose of this new American-Israeli anti-Iran campaign under Trump? What might the future hold for the Middle East under Trump?
Tocci: In a nutshell I would say that when it comes to the Middle East, the Trump administration seems to be in a state of utter confusion. The President says that fighting terrorism is his n.1 priority, and that he will seek an entente with Russia aimed, inter alia, at strengthening the fight against terrorism. At the same time, his administration has put Iran "on notice", and the President has made vague remarks about safe zones in Syria. Well the truth is that these two sets of statements cannot be easily pursued simultaneously, given the configurations of alignments, alliances and enmities in the region. At some point, something will have to give if the Trump administration is to pursue the semblance of a coherent policy. At the moment though it seems to be difficult to discern, let alone predict, where the Trump administration's landing place will actually be.