Why the Middle East may understand Trump more than his own people

The Iranians and other Middle Easterners understand that every tweet Trump puts out is for domestic consumption, even if it concerns international affairs.

Tense relationship. US President Donald Trump (R), trailed by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, arrives to speak to reporters at Trump’s golf estate in Bedminster, New Jersey, last August. (Reuters)

2017/10/22 Issue: 128 Page: 7

The Arab Weekly
Claude Salhani

Middle Eastern leaders might be better positioned to understand US President Don­ald Trump than his fellow Americans. Why?

Trump’s constant and contro­versial tweeting, often against the counsel of his closest advis­ers, has created confusion in the political sphere of Washington’s politicians and installed a degree of uncertainty regarding his administration’s ability to function in a cohesive manner.

Why the confusion? The president’s tweets offer one point of view — his — often contradictory to what the official US line is meant to be.

Foreign politicians must be asking themselves whether they should bother talking diplomacy to an American secretary of state when his own president tells him he is wasting his time, as was the case when Rex Tillerson was trying to establish a political solution to the crisis with North Korea.

Trump’s tweeting has created conflict within his own Republi­can Party and has been the cause of turmoil and uncertainty within the US administration. Some of the president’s tweets make him seem like a competing high schooler. In one tweet, Trump boasted that his IQ was higher than that of his secretary of state.

This level of immaturity at the highest level of government negatively affects the United States and the credibility of its secretary of state. Such squab­bling hampers the secretary’s ability to conduct US foreign policy in the troubled regions of the world, primarily the Middle East.

Trump’s shenanigans — his groundless accusations, veiled and cryptic threats through his daily Twitter barrages — are more the doings of a reality TV show host, which Trump used to be, than the behaviour of an American president.

Beneath the return rhetoric lobbed at Trump, some of the accused seem to accept the accuser’s bombast far better than his fellow countrymen. The reason is simple.

The Iranians and other Middle Easterners understand that every tweet Trump puts out is for domestic consumption, even if it concerns international affairs. They know and under­stand the need a leader may have to address one line of policy to a domestic audience and another to an international one. They know Trump’s behaviour because they do the very same. From the ayatollahs in Tehran and Qom to the political leaders in Damascus, Cairo and Beirut, many Middle Eastern leaders often reserve one set of words for local audiences and another for international ones.

On the other side, when Trump dislikes something said about him, he calls it “fake news.” His counterparts in the Middle East call it “propaganda.” Sometimes the word “propa­ganda” is preceded by “Zionist,” “capitalist,” “imperialist” or “reactionary.” How you arrange them depends on which group is the villain of the day.

This is what Trump does, too, except he uses slightly different terminology.

Claude Salhani is the Opinion section editor of The Arab Weekly.

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