Trump picks hardliners and relatives to shape foreign policy

President-elect is relying on hardliners and relatives to shape his foreign and security policy, with possible wide-ranging consequences for Middle East.

US President-elect Doanld Trump with retired US Marine General James Mattis (C) and Vice-President-elect Mike Pence

2016/11/27 Issue: 83 Page: 1

The Arab Weekly
Thomas Seibert

WASHINGTON - US President-elect Don­ald Trump is relying on hardliners and mem­bers of his family to shape his foreign and security policy, with possible wide-ranging consequences for a war-torn Middle East.

After naming former general Michael Flynn as his national se­curity adviser, Trump has hinted that another former general, James Mattis, could become secretary of Defense if confirmed by the US Sen­ate. Republican Congressman Mike Pompeo is in the running to be the next director of the Central Intel­ligence Agency, while Kris Kobach, secretary of State in Kansas, is re­portedly setting his sights on the Department of Homeland Security. Both those positions require Senate confirmation.

Flynn is controversial because of comments describing Islam as “cancer” and fear of Muslims as “rational”. Mattis reportedly said in a speech in 2005 that it was “hell of a lot of fun” to shoot Afghans who “slap women around for five years because they didn’t wear a veil”. Addressing Congress three years ago, Pompeo said Muslim commu­nity leaders were partly to blame for terrorist attacks if they did not condemn acts of violence perpe­trated in the name of Islam. Kobach is reportedly calling for the reintro­duction of a registry for US immi­grants and visitors from countries with terrorist activities; the scheme was shelved in 2011 amid criticism that it targeted Muslims.

Off-setting this parade of hardlin­ers, Mitt Romney, a former Repub­lican presidential nominee, is seen as a strong candidate for the post of secretary of State, while South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, the daughter of Indian immigrants, is being nominated to become Trump’s ambassador of the United Nations. Both Romney and Haley are former critics of Trump and considered moderates.

Trump has also hinted that mem­bers of his family could have a say in his Middle East policy. He named his son-in-law Jared Kushner, an observant Jew, as a possible media­tor between Israel and the Palestin­ians. Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr, held talks about a possi­ble American-Russian cooperation in Syria with pro-Russian activists in Paris in October.

The host of the talks, the French- Syrian activist Randa Kassis, told the Wall Street Journal that Don­ald Trump Jr was pragmatic and flexible. In a Facebook post on No­vember 11th, Kassis said she was hopeful that the outcome of the US election would lead to an Ameri­can-Russian “accord on the issue of the Syrian crisis”.

She suggested that Donald Trump Jr was acting as a messenger for his father. “I succeeded to pass [to] Trump, through the talks with his son, the idea of how we can cooper­ate together to reach the agreement between Russia and the United States on Syria,” she wrote. Trump has repeatedly said he wants to co­operate with Russia to improve the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria.

Thomas Seibert is an Arab Weekly contributor in Istanbul.

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