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Where does Donald Trump stand on the Middle East? Open in fullscreen

Taufiq Wan

Where does Donald Trump stand on the Middle East?

Despite clearly lacking political experience, Trump is still the GOP's candidate to beat [AFP]

Date of publication: 18 February, 2016

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Donald Trump has made no secret of his ignorance of Middle Eastern affairs, but with Trump-mania continuing unabated, where exactly does he stand on the key issues affecting the region?

Having billed himself as the gun-toting champion of American greatness who will save his nation from Mexican 'rapists' and keep Muslims out, Donald Trump has led a campaign that only seems to strengthen in the face of negative media coverage. The 69-year-old businessman's latest foray into politics has shaken his more experienced opponents with his tough talk on immigration and other domestic issues, but where exactly does the real-estate mogul stand when it comes to the Middle East?

A 'Harvard for terrorists'

In recent days, Trump has tried to position himself as a staunch critic of the US invasion of Iraq, and has described the region as having become a "Harvard for terrorists" since the Bush administration’s intervention.

"The war in Iraq was a big, fat mistake, all right?" Trump asked the audience at the South Carolina debate on Saturday.

"We should've never been in Iraq. We have destabilised the Middle East…You call it whatever you want. I wanna tell you. They lied. They said there were weapons of mass destruction."

For many, this may seem like a reasonable assessment, yet his posturing as a day-one critic of the war is somewhat disingenuous. Indeed, prior to the invasion, Trump once commented that war would be, "good for the stock market", and his constant criticism of Obama for failing to defeat the Islamic State group does not suggest that he wants a more limited role in the Middle East.

In this atmosphere of terrorism-related hysteria, Trump has capitalised by framing himself as the good guy who will catch, kill and even torture those bad guys.

"They're chopping off our heads in the Middle East," Trump said on Wednesday.

"They want to kill us, they want to kill us. They want to kill our country. They want to knock out our cities."

Perhaps it isn’t the idea of intervention itself that bothers Trump, but rather the failure of the mighty US to defeat terrorism once and for all. It also seems that the businessman is quite irked by the idea of America doing the region’s policing whilst the countries enjoy the 'free' service.

"If we're taking care of Saudi Arabia, they’re going to have to pay us", Trump told MSNBC on Wednesday night.

'Neutral' on Palestine and Israel

On the issue of Palestine, Trump has expressed a great deal of skepticism about the chances for peace, telling an audience in South Carolina that, "I was with a very prominent Israeli the other day. He says it’s impossible, because the other side has been trained from the time they’re children to hate Jewish people."

He did, however, promise that he would remain "neutral" if he becomes president, and pledged to give the peace efforts, "one hell of a shot."

Despite his claims of neutrality, it is clear to see that Trump certainly does have closer ties to Israel. In the past, he has boasted that he would, "do more for Israel than anybody else", and in 2013 even recorded a 30-second video in support of Benjamin Netanyahu’s election campaign.

Having never been one to watch his words, however, Trump has also at times upset members of the pro-Israel lobby. On December 3, Trump seemed to play into anti-Semitic stereotypes of Jews as rich, scheming financiers when he told members of the Republican Jewish Coalition that he suspects that many of them won't back him because he doesn't need their money. This ill-advised joke caused a stir in the Israeli media, who didn’t receive the comments too favourably.

Hassan Nasrallah, who?

For a man whose foreign policy gaffes range from failing to explain the difference between Hezbollah and Hamas, to admitting that he did not know who Hassan Nasrallah or Abu Bakr al Baghdadi were, perhaps trying to identify a clear line of thinking when in comes to the Middle East is asking too much. 

Thus, it comes to no surprise to see Trump avoiding difficult questions on foreign policy by saying that the element of "surprise" is key to his foreign policy plans.

"I don't wanna get into it", Trump said on Wednesday when answering a question about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"Because if I do win, there has to be a certain amount of surprise..our country has no unpredictability."

For many watching from the outside, however, the spectacle of US party-politics in this year's run up to the presidential race has been the epitome of unpredictability. From telling a TV host that he gets foreign policy advice from "the shows", to threating a fellow candidate with a lawsuit, to now launching public attacks on the head of the Catholic Church, Donald Trump has risen to political notoriety in America whilst the rest of the world has looked on in shock, if not horror.

Yet, in the insular world of US party politics, it doesn't matter how much Trump knows about the countries he intends to stick up for protection money, nor whether he is familiar with the names of the bad guys he wants to blow off the face of the planet. For a country struggling with its own delusions about its declining grandeur in a world bound by immigrant and terror-related hysteria, Donald Trump is the man to beat in what has become the Republican race to become America's biggest, most-baddest presidential candidate.

Perhaps we should be worried that a man with Trump's degree of knowledge of the Middle East is with a chance of becoming a key player in the region's affairs. Indeed, Trump criticises Bush for having messed up the Middle East, but one can only imagine what a Trump-led White House would unleash on the region.

In the meantime, however, all we can do is sit back and watch as the circus turned bar-brawl that has engulfed the Republican party continues, and perhaps hope that "the shows" guide Trump to an enlightened view on international affairs. 

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