Jawad Falak |
US president Donald Trump’s first official visit to the Middle East has been making rounds among nearly all the media circles of the world. Experts, academics, and observers were waiting to see how the first foreign visit of Trump would turn out. No less pressing was the firebrand rhetoric sprouted by Trump while on the campaign trail in which the Muslim community within and outside the US was systematically targeted.
Largely belonging to the extremist alt-right movement, Trump’s conciliatory and appreciative words towards Islam and Muslims were met with horror and hatred.
Trump had called for a “Muslim Ban” and singled out Islam as a religion hostile to the United States of America by stating “I think Islam hates us” in a TV interview. Yet on ground in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where the holiest sites of Islam are situated, he was a completely different person. While the Muslim ban was already discarded by the judiciary of the US, not once but twice, Trump seemed to have done a backflip on his earlier statement by declaring Islam to be one of the world’s greatest faiths.
This turnaround was not a surprise to many who had cynically argued that Trump’s campaign during the elections was nothing but a cluster for votes. However, there were some who were shocked and those were mainly Trump’s political supporters. Largely belonging to the extremist alt-right movement, Trump’s conciliatory and appreciative words towards Islam and Muslims were met with horror and hatred. Many of his supporters bemoaned on social media how they had been betrayed by their “chosen one”.
Trump’s staff members did try to bring a spin to Trump’s visit by portraying US First Lady’s uncovered head as a defiance of Saudi (read Islamic) customs. Yet this assertion goes against the reality on the ground as the Saudi protocol does not enforce covering of the head by visiting female dignitaries. Several female dignitaries have not covered their heads in previous visits among them Michelle Obama who was criticized by Trump for not covering her head and disrespecting the Saudis.
His policies were met with extreme opposition not only from the American civil society who have been denigrated as “Liberals” by his support base but from American institutions themselves.
There are some who attribute Trump’s drawdown in the Middle East to the usual crimes of a career politician but it can be asserted that it has more to do with the infighting of the political system of the USA. Trump’s recent decisions have more to do with the resurgence of the US establishment than the personal choices of a single person. Trump came with the promise of “draining the Swamp” and exhibited himself as the anti-establishment candidate from the Republican side as opposed to the Democrat’s Bernie Sanders.
Trump’s victory was seen to be a triumph over the establishment and Trump seemed to have followed on his promises to “drain the swamp” by appointing outsiders such as Steve Banon, an alt-right leader in his cabinet. However recent events have seen the establishment emerge back in the corridors of power. His policies were met with extreme opposition not only from the American civil society who have been denigrated as “Liberals” by his support base but from American institutions themselves.
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Steve Bannon, the alt-right mastermind guiding Trump, was removed from his NSC role in early April 2017 in a reorganization by U.S. National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster, who Bannon had helped select. After that a scale down of Trump’s policies has been witnessed; Trump ordered a mass cruise missile attack in Syria despite his campaign promises to not intervene in that country. He backed off from his anti-China trade position and met with the Chinese president Xi Jinping to formalize a trade deal.
The time of Trump, the fire-breathing maverick on a campaign trail, is over and the time of the pragmatic establishment candidate has arrived.
This all points to a resurgence of the US establishment in US politics. The contours of Trump’s Saudi deal all point towards that fact. Trump’s turnaround from outright hostility to appreciative praise was more in line to woo the Saudis, a key ally of the American establishment in the region. His massive weapons deal with the Kingdom will help bolster the industrial military complex back home as well as strengthen the battered Saudi Royals in their quagmire in Yemen. His speech targeting Iran for terrorism is more in line with establishment policy that views Iran as the main local threat to waning US hegemony in the Middle East.
It can be concluded that the time of Trump, the fire-breathing maverick on a campaign trail, is over and the time of the pragmatic establishment candidate has arrived. The US establishment, despite the wishes and votes of millions of disgruntled American voters, is still firmly in control of the White House and is here to stay for the time being.
Jawad Falak is a Research Associate at Center for Strategic and Contemporary Research, Islamabad. He is an M.Phil scholar at National Defence University, Islamabad and writes on events taking shape in the South Asian region. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.