Tasnim– A Vienna-based Global Affairs researcher described US President Donald Trump’s foreign policy as baffling, saying that his policy towards other countries is “full of contradictions” and not predictable yet.
“On one hand, Trump shows little interest in involving himself too much in Middle Eastern affairs, apart from what he calls “bombing the hell out of ISIS”, and pushes for confrontation with China instead. On the other hand, he opposes Obama’s agreement with Iran as the Saudi government does. Does the American president want to make the US-Saudi alliance stronger again with the goal of weakening Iran’s position in the region? But then, how would his attempted cooperation with Russia in fighting terrorism in Syria look like, considering that Russia and Iran collaborate on that field? It is probably very difficult to make any sense out of Trump’s foreign policy yet because it is full of contradictions,” Benjamin Schett told the Tasnim News Agency.
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. What is your take on the move? Do you believe that the decision can be reversed? Kindly explain.
Schett: The 9/11 hijackers were mostly Saudi citizens and some from Egypt and from the UAE. None of these countries can be found on the travel ban. More recent terrorist attacks have been carried out by people of Arab or Central Asian origin, who have been socialized in Western countries. Many of them used to be involved in petty crime activities such as drugs and shoplifting before they became radicalized and their family background was not religious but rather unstable. It is hard to imagine that these people had any profound knowledge of Islam at the time they started murdering innocent people. It is much more likely that the mixture of social depravation, gangster rap attitude and primitive Wahhabi ideology would have intoxicated these young men’s minds than any serious interest in religion could have done. It is probably no coincidence that the propaganda videos produced by Daesh show similar aesthetics as the most idiotic Hip Hop spots do. Their PR managers probably know very well how to attract the attention of people who feel like there is no place in society for them. A similar thing could be said about the Saudi hijackers. Many people got confused about the fact that five of the key 9/11 hijackers got drunk in Las Vegas strip bars throughout Summer of 2001. But it is no secret that one of the most consumed Western goods behind closed doors in Saudi Arabia is pornography. Imagining that growing up with Wahabi hate speech while knowing nothing about the West except shopping malls and pornography, what does this do to young minds? There is nothing that could be ever justified about terrorist actions, but it doesn’t help to acknowledge the social aspect, which seems much more relevant to me than the terrorists claiming to believe in Islam. Getting back to the original question, what do all these issues have to do with common citizens from the blacklisted countries? So in case, the ban will be realized in one way or another, no human life will be saved due to this action.
Tasnim: President Trump has excluded Saudi Arabia and certain Persian Gulf states in his order. Back in July 2016, the US government released 28 pages of a congressional report on the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, which show the Saudi government may have had a hand in the attacks. “While in the United States, some of the September 11 hijackers were in contact with, and received support or assistance from, individuals who may be connected to the Saudi Government…there is information, primarily from FBI sources, that at least two of those individuals were alleged by some to be Saudi intelligence officers,” reads part of the report. What do you think?
Schett: The tight US-Saudi connections date back to the 1930s and 1940s when it became clear that the country would have the potential of turning into the world’s largest oil exporter. With these Petrodollars, the Saudi government would finance Sunni fanatical movements all over the world. Currently, the relevance of Saudi Arabia is declining significantly due to Americas rising shale production. But the US banning Saudi citizens from entering the country would still have been too much of a radical shift, especially for a president whose foreign minister used to be a CEO for Exxon Mobil oil and gas company.
On one hand, Trump shows little interest in involving himself too much in Middle Eastern affairs, apart from what he calls “bombing the hell out of ISIS”, and pushes for confrontation with China instead. On the other hand, he opposes Obama’s agreement with Iran as the Saudi government does. Does the American president want to make the US-Saudi alliance stronger again with the goal of weakening Iran’s position in the region? But then, how would his attempted cooperation with Russia in fighting terrorism in Syria look like, considering that Russia and Iran collaborate on that field? It is probably very difficult to make any sense out of Trump’s foreign policy yet because it is full of contradictions.
But in general US foreign policy never minded fanatical Sunni groups when it came to destabilizing states that would be considered as geopolitical challenges, starting with 1980s support for the resistance against Soviet troops in Afghanistan. Also already back in 2012, US government documents confirmed that Al Qaida, the Muslim Brotherhood, and several Salafi groups would be the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria. The possibility of a Sunni caliphate is also being mentioned as well as the involvement of several (Persian) Gulf countries. Apparently, this was no matter of concern to Washington.
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.
Schett: The global economic and political relevance of Europe is facing decline anyhow. Already the Obama administration shifted its engagement more and more towards the pacific space. Maybe the Trump administration is just a little more honest and at the same time irrational in this regard. On one hand, Trump pushes for a trade war with China, on the other hand, he canceled the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, which intended to create an economic counterbalance against Beijing. According to Trump, the canceling of TPP as well as confronting China serves the restoration of jobs in the US. His key advisor Bannon calls this “economic nationalism”. Considering the fact that capitalist accumulation has left the limiting borders of nation-state already decades ago, it is hard to imagine how such a concept can end in anything but in a disaster.
Europe itself will face the question if it still wants to be governed by what populists would call a “liberal elite”: People who do not mind exploiting the European and global economic periphery, but who do stick at least verbally to certain minimal standards of civilization. For example, the Merkel government recently started deporting people back to Afghanistan, even though Germany was involved in the Afghanistan mission, alongside with the US. This means that Germany is partly responsible for what is happening there. Ironically the political right still considers Merkel to be some sort of refugee queen. The EU collaborates with civil war-torn Libya in order to keep refugees from crossing the Mediterranean Sea. Even though some German diplomats have claimed that the conditions the detained refugees have to face there would remind them of those in concentration camps. But the same politicians that don’t mind treating people like that want to stick to the rules of global trade. So they can not surrender to open racism and a complete closing of borders because such actions would hurt business. The capital works on a global scale because capitalism has expanded. National capitalism is not possible any more, even though the far right thinks it would be.
If European voters consider far right politicians a convincing alternative to the status quo, things will end up in chaos and economic decline. Apparently, there is no serious alternative on the rise yet, one that pushes for a more social and more peaceful Europe instead of making people choose either liberal imperialism or xenophobic isolationism.
Tasnim: Some US and European officials have been trading barbs in the past month over Trump’s remarks. The recently inaugurated president has not been shy about sharing his views about the world, in general, and Europe, in particular. In numerous occasions before and after his campaign, he described NATO as “obsolete,” called the EU “basically a vehicle for Germany,” and said other countries would follow the UK’s lead and leave the bloc. In a recent security conference in Munich, US officials attempted to give assurances to Europeans that their ties with them will remain unchanged. Why is the 28-member bloc worried about Trump and his policies? Kindly explain your idea.
Schett: European officials fear that the already mentioned rise of far-right populists might increase due to Trump’s surprising victory. While LePen, Wilders and others propagate open Anti-Muslim racism and favor a return to the concept of nation state, the establishment of Brussels uses a possible declining engagement of the US in Europe as a justification for the future militarization of the EU. Germany is the main economic force within the EU due to focusing on its export economy while many smaller European states are not able to compete with these conditions. At the same time, Germany enforces harsh austerity measure on South European states.
Now there is an increasing discussion among media and politicians in Germany going on if Germany should increase its capability of possible military intervention and therefore become militarily as hegemonic as it already is on an economic level. They might argue with the benefit of the whole of Europe in order to justify their aims, but this will not convince many of its neighbors. German hegemony, without doubt, plays its role when it comes to the people of other European states rejecting the EU more and more. So it could be said that Trump’s victory contributes to the destabilization of Europe, but it is not the origin of the problems the continent is facing.