Why is Jerusalem so important? (12/6/17)

This week, the 45th President Donald Trump vowed to move the United States embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Trump’s announced intention shook the political world, with allies of the United States and the Arab states warning the U.S. of possible danger and other detractors forecasting increased violence and unrest in the Middle East.

To those of you who are unaware of the full importance of Jerusalem (I don’t blame you) and think that this embassy controversy is being overblown, this proposed move is significant and more complicated than you might think.

Essentially, Jerusalem is the holiest city in the world, being a sacred site to three religions – Christianity, Judaism, and Islam- which arguably also happen to be some of the most prominent religions in the world today.

It’s an extremely risky move, but when analyzing Trump’s move, it is not that surprising.

Trump’s main presidential goal is to be everything the former-President Obama was not. And it’s no secret that U.S.- Israeli relations under Obama had significantly “cooled.” Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s increasing distrust of the U.S. stemmed from the perception that Obama was being a little too “Arab-friendly.”

To the Israelis, Jerusalem is their “true capital,” and many believe that the city rightfully belongs to Israel ever since the Israelis took ownership of it from Jordan following the Six-Day War. Therefore, Trump’s intention to move the U.S. embassy to what he deems to be the “true capital of Israel” can be seen as a complete reversal of Obama’s feelings towards Israel.

Obama was also incredibly weak in the Middle East, with detractors listing numerous failed opportunities in the Arab Spring revolts, Syria, and Libya. While Trump’s action could provoke a violent reaction from Palestine, as well as surrounding Arab states, it can be seen by some as a welcome reversal of Obama’s fecklessness in the Persian Gulf. Seemingly, Trump’s move can be seen as his intention to not let other Arab States “boss” the U.S. around and to be more forceful in the region. That is, after all, what Trump campaigned on.

Overall, the move is very hit or miss. The move could effectively reestablish a more forceful U.S. presence in the Middle East, as well as strengthen the ties of our long time ally Israel. However, the move could also greatly destabilise the region, lead to violent conflict, and disrupt any hope of a peaceful solution to the world’s greatest conflict.

 

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Trump’s Changing Mind in the Middle East and about Islam (5/21/17)

“I think Islam.. hates us.”

“I watched when the WTC came tumbling down. And I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down.”

“Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”

Extreme.

Perhaps that’s the word that best describes Trump’s language when talking about Islam during his Presidential election campaign.

Aggressive.

Certainly this is the word that best describes Trump’s policies towards Muslims and the Middle East. His travel ban sparked protests throughout the world. His choice to drop the “mother of all bombs” on Syria raised questions on his true intentions in the Middle East.

It was clear that Trump was steering towards a more “hostile” policy in the Middle East.

Yet, Sunday, a change of heart seemed to have occurred.

In the early evening in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, President Trump stood and delivered a powerful message of unity to the Middle Eastern world. Trump focused on the subject of terrorism, urging Arab leaders to work closely with the United States to eradicate terrorism.

“This is not a battle between different faiths, different sects, or different civilizations,” Trump said. “This is a battle between barbaric criminals who seek to obliterate human life, and decent people of all religions who seek to protect it.”

This, of course, seems like a complete turn-around for Trump, who claimed that there was a “great hatred over [in the Middle East]” against the United States.

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In a past article I have written on this blog, I raised questions about Trump’s goals in the Middle East.

 

I emphasized Trump’s need to tell Middle Eastern nations that the United States cares about Arab interests.  I felt he needed to show a positive attitude towards solving  problems in the Middle East, especially terrorism.

As someone who has felt very uneasy about some of Trump’s policies, I felt that Trump’s speech today was a step in the right direction, at least in terms of foreign policy in the Middle East.

Middle Eastern leaders are probably suspicious of Trump’s recent calls of unity, but still it is reassuring to know that Trump is looking to improve relations with Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern allies.

Trump’s speech was not all-unifying, though, as he had harsh words for Iran.  Trump pushed for neighboring nations to “isolate” Iran, who he claimed was responsible for “spreading destruction and chaos throughout the region.”

A policy of “isolating” Iran would mark the end of the United States’ recent goals to work together with Iran, most specifically the progress made during the Obama administration.

Still, following Trump’s extreme and harsh rhetoric towards the Middle East, it is good to see Trump making attempts to set a new course and work together with the leaders in the Persian Gulf region towards achieving mutual goals.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is Islamophobia warranted?? (5/9/17)

Since the 9/11 terroristic attacks, and even a little earlier than that, the religion of Islam has been controversial in the United States.

Some Americans have a negative view of the religion as a whole, mainly due to the recent incidents involving radical Islam, and to several terrorist attacks that have been carried out by “Muslim” perpetrators in the name of Islam.

There have been attempts to portray the Islamic religion in a more positive light.  In the days immediately after the 9/11 attacks, then-President George W. Bush spoke about the importance of Muslims to American society and the need for Muslims to be treated with respect.

However, the issue of Islamophobia still remains large today, with the United States even being called an “islamophobic nation” due to the recent travel ban signed by President Trump.

The ban on Muslims, and specifically profiling Muslims, has become the subject of great debate, with defenders claiming that the “hunt for Islamic terrorism starts by looking at Muslims”, and with opponents claiming that this profiling is wrong and unethical.

This debate came up today and left me pondering the issue for the rest of the day.

I was in my Ethics class today when the issue of the recent travel ban came up. After we discussed the ban, our teacher then switched the topic around a bit, and began to ask us of the ethics behind Islamic profiling. The direct question dealt with the issue of “additionally searching Muslims at airports”, and pretty soon, a very heated debate ensued.

One student defended this action, stating that “if you want to catch Islamic terrorists, naturally you are going to have to look for Muslims, just as if you are looking for members of the Mafia, you go to an Italian neighbourhood.”

I was quick to point out the ethical violations of this problem, most specifically referencing the “KKK” and how the United States doesn’t profile white Christians, even though the KKK is a white supremacist group.

The debate seemed to quell towards the end of the period, but it brought up an interesting question in my mind: Is Islamophobia in the United States warranted?

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Islamophobia has spread to many other parts of the world due to recent terrorist attacks. An anti-Islam poster is seen here in an Australian anti-refugee rally. (Pic: Al Jazeera)

While some would argue that Islamaphobia is justified in view of recent terrorist attacks in the U.S. and elsewhere, I disagree.

First, in regard to the Islamic ban, America is a country built on diverse cultures, immigrants, and many races. Each country or ethnicity  has its share of bad apples, so by banning Islamic immigration because of a few radical terrorists, the ban sets a dangerous precedent.  It bans a certain group of people from entering the United States due to the actions of a few bad apples.

Not to mention, there are millions of Muslim-Americans who not only contribute greatly to this country, but also help fight for it. Army Captain Humayun Khan (who’s family made headlines due to a speech made at the Democratic Convention, and their feud with Trump) is a great example of a Muslim-America who died protecting the nation.

Also, the ban is not applied equally and fairly.  For example, the IRA, the notorious Irish terrorist organization, was known for violent incidents. However, the United States never put a ban on immigrants from Ireland. This proves that the ban is unfair and wrong.   People are letting anger and fear take over their rational thinking.

Now, when it comes to profiling, specifically searching in airports, some argue that this type of profiling would be warranted and would reduce terror attacks.  However, upon a closer examination, this argument is flawed.

First, what does a Muslim look like? How does one know if someone is a Muslim? Is it the stereotypical view of a Muslim which includes a turban and a long beard?

If so, then the method is entirely flawed. It is racist to assume a person’s religion because of the way he or she looks.  Further, even if we can overcome this racism,  finding who to search would be a problem.   There are African-Americans  and Asians who are Muslim.  Muslims do not always fit the stereotypical view of what a Muslim looks like.  Yet because they don’t fit the stereotypical view of Muslims, they most likely would not be searched.  Similarly, there could be Arabs who are Christian or Buddhist or Hindu. Is it right to search people based solely on the way they look?

This isn’t the first time that the United States has had to deal with a radical sector of a certain segment of its population. This also shouldn’t be the first time it treats a certain group differently because of the actions of a few.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The MOAB, Syria, and more airstrikes: Trump’s drastic foreign policy change (4/14/17)

A couple weeks ago, I wrote an article titled “Trump’s Foreign Policy: What exactly are his goals in the Middle East?” which raised questions as to what approaches Donald Trump would take towards the Middle East.

As known from the White House yesterday, the United States dropped the most powerful, non-nuclear bomb in its arsenal on an ISIS stronghold in Afghanistan. The bombing, which was described as a “tactical move” by the United States military, killed 36 ISIS members and destroyed several underground tunnels.

The bombing yesterday joins the United States’ airstrikes on Syria last week as another major military operation in the Middle East. There are also numerous reports that a misfired US airstrike killed 18 Syrian rebels early Thursday morning.

These military actions in the Middle East mark a drastic foreign policy change for Donald Trump.  Trump, who during the campaign season aggressively advocated for an “America First” policy, has recently overseen some of the most aggressive military action taken by the United States towards the Middle East in the past few years.

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Trump spent much of the campaign season advocating with an ‘isolationist theme’, arguing his priority would be “America First.” (Pic: The Realist Report) 

From the looks of it, Trump will look to be much more involved militarily in the region than his predecessor, Barack Obama. Trump blasted the former President last week, blaming the severity of the Syrian conflict on the Obama administration. Trump was critical of Obama’s “red-line” speech, citing that it was a “blank threat”, and that it caused America to lose a lot of ground globally.

Interestingly enough, old tweets surfaced from the current President that showed that he was against military action in Syria, back when the first chemical attacks occurred in Syria in 2013.

Trump’s new foreign policy stance has been drawing questions, even from his supporters. While the majority of Americans do believe military action must be taken to combat ISIS, many are also hesitant of getting bogged down in a large conflict in the region due to the possibility of high casualties and heavy economic consequences. The current crisis in Syria eerily resembles the situation Iraq was in under the Bush administration, and Americans have made it clear that they do not want another type of Iraq War.

As for the conflict in Afghanistan, the decision to use the MOAB was apparently agreed upon once fighting in the country intensified between the Afghan-US allies and ISIS. While the war in Afghanistan has become less notorious over the past several years, largely due to other crisis in the Middle East emerging, it is still a country in which the U.S. is involved in counter-terrorism operations. The recent spread of ISIS to Afghanistan has caused an escalation in fighting, with ISIS setting up numerous underground camps and tunnels in the country.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leaping over the Red Line: Syria launches another chemical attack (4/4/17)

This past Tuesday, a deadly chemical weapons attack was launched on the Syrian people.

The attack, which occurred in a region in northwestern Syria, has killed at least 70 people and injured hundreds more.   The death and injury counts are still growing.

The United States was quick to blame the Syrian government for this all too familiar atrocity.  It also accused Syrian allies, Russia and Iran, of taking part in the attack.

The U.S. government immediately called for Russia to condemn the attack and told Russia to restrain Syrian leader Bashar Al-Assad from carrying out any further chemical attacks.

Over the past several years, U.S. policy in Syria has shifted, initially focusing on deposing leader Assad to eventually a more singular focus on combatting ISIS.

The attack is raising serious questions about President Donald Trump’s policy in the Middle East, and whether or not his administration will effect a policy change in regards to the crisis in Syria.

In a recent press conference, United States Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, stated that, “ the priority is no longer to sit [in Syria] and focus on getting Assad out.” Ambassador Haley  added that while Assad is a “war criminal”, the United States might need to work with him in the fight against ISIS.

Sean Spicer, the White House spokesperson, echoed the statements of Ambassador Haley, stating that “The United States has profound priorities in Syria and Iraq and we’ve made it clear that counterterrorism, particularly the defeat of ISIS, is foremost among those priorities.”

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A young baby is treated by a medical team. Reports have stated that at least 15 of the deaths have been small children. (Pic: Chicago Tribune)

Naturally, Spicer and Haley’s comments spurred some controversy, with some Congressional members being “deeply disturbed.”

Among those disturbed was Arizona Senator John McCain, who felt that the main goal of deposing Assad was being pushed aside in favor of new goals with no real strategy. McCain added that the Syrian people could not fight the power of Assad if they are too busy being slaughtered by [Assad].

Once gain, President Trump was quick to point the finger at the Obama administration (shocker), asserting that the chemical attacks and the oppressive Assad regime were the result of the past administration’s “weakness.”

While it is easy to blame Barack Obama for the crisis in Syria, it is completely heinous for Trump to blame the disgusting actions of the Assad regime on the previous administration.   It cannot be disputed that Assad is a war criminal who has  absolutely no regard for human rights or international laws.

President Trump needs to stop blaming other people and start working to solve the problem in Syria. He accuses Obama of being weak, yet Trump hasn’t done anything to combat problems in Syria. Is he going to draw a red line?  Is he going to condone Assad’s unconscionable attack because Assad is helping to fight ISIS?  Blaming previous administrations does nothing to advance U.S. interests and policies in Syria.  President Trump needs to stop the rhetoric of blame as though he is still in campaign mode and must focus on crafting a real strategy to deal with Assad if there is going to be any progress in the region.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trump’s Foreign Policy: What exactly are his goals in the Middle East? (4/2/17)

There are A LOT of questions President Trump has to answer.

Thus far, the 45th president has had a tough time in office, with allegations of ties to Russia constantly dogging him.   His recent health care bill, to put it mildly, was a “disaster”, and his executive travel ban appears to be indefinitely suspended.

While the American people have certainly had a glimpse of how Trump will run the country for the next few years in some areas, there are still other areas that are still murky.

One of these areas is foreign policy, specifically, U.S. policy in the Middle East.

While the travel ban gave the American people an idea on how Trump might try to keep them safe, there are still many questions on how Trump will deal with issues in the  Middle Eastern region.

Trump has revealed very little about how he will deal with ISIS, the continually escalating Palestine-Israeli conflict, and Syria.

Trump’s predecessor, Barak Obama, was extremely reticent when it came to real, physical American intervention in the Middle East.

Obama chose to keep American troops in Afghanistan, but in other areas of the Middle East, he decided to use drones and bombing airstrikes to eliminate terrorist threats. While Obama did decide to send troops to Libya and Syria, they were very small in number and were mainly used to gather intelligence.

During the Obama years, the United States seemed passive concerning issues in the Middle East, and it hurt America’s position in the Middle East greatly. Obama’s lack of strategy in the Middle East and his reluctance to use military power allowed Russia to gain considerable influence in Syria, saw the rise of the Islamic State, opened up a divide between Israel and the United States, and destabilized the Middle East, as the Middle East went through arguably its most violent period since the years following the end of World War II.

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Obama’s disagreements with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over various key issues hurt the U.S. relationship with Israel, its greatest ally in the Middle East. (Pic: AP)

It seemed that on the front lines, the United States was missing when its allies were trying to combat the problems of the Middle East. Not only did this hurt the United States’ reputation with its allies, it damaged its reputation globally, as America failed to be the “world deterrent” that it had once established itself to be in the years since the Cold War.

It wasn’t Obama’s intentions in the Middle East that were entirely wrong, but rather his attitude toward the region that was the problem.

During his presidency, Obama was bogged down with many domestic issues and he attempted to address them.  This focus on domestic issues gave the impression that Obama wasn’t concerned with the Middle East and didn’t care about its issues.

Most notably, Obama failed to help the Green Movement in Iran, which dealt with the issues in Iran’s presidential election.  He failed to follow through with his “red-line” threat in Syria, after chemical weapons were used.

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Obama’s refusal to support the Iranian “Green Movement” protests in 2009 allowed the corrupt regime to retake power and ended any hope for change in the country. (Pic: Reuters)

Under Obama, the United States failed to be the stabilizing presence that it had been in the Middle East for years.  Now that we have a new President, what role will the United States play in the Middle East?

Trump’s goals in the Middle East are unclear. During his election campaign, he bombastically promised to “bomb the hell out of ISIS” and to “kill terrorists and their families”.  He also promised a complete and total “Muslim ban.”  Further, he appeared to be cozying up to Israel and Netanyahu.   His campaign rhetoric gave small glimpses into his future strategy in the Middle East.  With Trump as President, it is unclear what his strategy in the Middle East is. He appears to have backtracked from some of his campaign rhetoric and does not seem to be in lockstep with Netanyahu.

The most important thing for Trump is his attitude towards the Middle East. He needs to let the Middle Eastern countries know that the U.S. is very concerned with their interests and concerns and that America is devoted to addressing the region’s issues. Trump also needs to rebuild the trust between the U.S. and some of its Middle Eastern allies- mainly Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

It is vital that Trump establishes the U.S. as the strong stabilizing presence it once was in the Middle East and reassure its allies of its commitment to fighting terrorism and its cooperation to ensure peace in the region.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The cries of Syria: What can the world do? (3/19/17)

It has been nearly three months since the infamous siege of the Syrian city, Aleppo, ended.

While the war in Syria still rages on, and more recently, tensions are rising between Israel and Syria , it is clear that the Syrian human crisis is far from over.

It is easy to view some of the more infamous images of the war and to chastise both sides of the war for letting the crisis spiral out of hand.

But how about the millions of people that have become homeless, or are dead, that the public will never know about?

The city of Aleppo has been evacuated, and while at first, that seems great, as the citizens of Aleppo will no longer have to suffer from the unceasing violence, when examined closer, it is terrible, as thousands of Syrians have been cast away from their homeland.

While it is clear that the conflict in Syria has erupted into a global crisis, it is not so clear as to what blew this conflict out of proportion.

Is it the failure by the former President Obama and the United States to provide sufficient aid to the country years ago or the failure to take a tougher stance? Is it Bashar Assad’s refusal to step down? Is it Russia and the United States’ fault for trying to one up the other and not work together to solve the problem?

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A look at some of the devastation that the city of Aleppo has endured. (Pic: Patriot Press)

The answer, to all three, is probably.

It’s too late to change anything, as the city has since been evacuated, and is now controlled by the Syrian Army.

But for the future, what can the world do to ensure that situations like Aleppo don’t happen?

For one, the realization of larger scale problems rather than smaller scale country goals is would be a start. While that seems like a tall order, as the world shifts and continues to become increasingly democratic, the realization that nations must help other countries in need will become more and more prominent.

But second, much of the problem with the Syrian crisis is the Syrian people who have become victims.

The people who used to live in Syria and who are now refugees need the world’s help.

Recently, I’ve provided supplies for care packages that will be used by Syrian families who are in the process of relocating.  These care packages include basic cleaning supplies, books, and school supplies for kids. I encourage you to take whatever action you can to help out. If you visit a local Syrian relief website, you too can create a care package, or donate money to provide for these kits.

Other things you can do are to join the Good Neighbor policy group, which helps refugees adjust to life in the U.S., or start a campaign to spread the word and knowledge about the crisis.

While it might be too late to save Syria, we can still save the lives of its former citizens, and hope that one day, they can return home.

The Immigration Ban: A continuation of the disconnect between the Middle East and the United States of America (2/12/17)

7,108 miles.

The distance between the United States and the Middle East region.

While the distance between the two regions is large, the disconnect between the two is even larger.

In the past fifty-or so years, the United States’ foreign policy has been dominated by the Middle East, with various struggles-small scale and large scale- becoming areas of problems for America.

The problems in the Middle East have increasingly evolved into the problem of terrorism, as terrorism rooted in the Middle East has continued to be an increasing threat in the 21st century.

Americans saw the horrific 9/11 terrorist attacks under President George Bush and struggled through the Iraq War and the threat of Al Qaeda. Under President Barack Obama, Americans saw increased terrorist attacks at home and against its allies overseas, the rise of ISIS, and the escalating conflict in Syria. Other notable incidents include the Benghazi terrorist attack in 2012, the Iran nuclear deal, and the increased divide between the U.S. and Israel. The Middle East has and continues to be the driving focus of the United States foreign policy.

So under Donald Trump, Americans should expect nothing different.

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Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the increased threat of terror has only added to the US interest in the Middle East. (Pic: BI)

Trump’s immigration ban marks the first of what will be many policies regarding the Middle East in the Trump administration. Trump has also recently condemned the settlements of Israel, in regards to the Israeli-Palestine conflict.

Even though the courts have not yet ruled on the constitutionality of  Trump’s ban, the ban is controversial for several reasons.

Firstly, the seven countries covered by the travel ban (Iran, Syria, Sudan, Yemen, Iraq, Somalia, and Libya) have no real ties to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Countries involved in the 9/11 attacks, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, are not included in the ban. This raised eyebrows of many Americans who felt that Trump might be protecting his own business interests in Saudi Arabia and Egypt by excluding those countries from the ban. Controversy arose as to whether or not Trump, as President, could make policy decisions independent of his various business interests.

Secondly, what kind of response will the Middle Eastern/Islamic nations have to this ban? Won’t a ban of such proportions sever any hopes the United States has of establishing amicable and cooperative relationships with these nations? It has been made clear in the past two decades that war will not solve the problems between the United States and the Middle East. If a diplomatic approach is utilized, won’t the ban surely hurt this?

It is difficult to believe that we are only three weeks into Trump’s Presidency.  The actions the Trump administration takes to solve problems in the Middle East will be witnessed over the next four years. Trump’s travel ban just might be a sneak preview into how Trump will handle issues concerning that region.