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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 September 2018

Experts verdict on Trump’s security strategy: singles out Iran but 'suffers from an Israel first lens'

Donald Trump's National Security Strategy (NSS) proved divisive 

Trump's NSS has been described by one expert as having an “Israel first lens”. EPA/JIM LO SCALZO
Trump's NSS has been described by one expert as having an “Israel first lens”. EPA/JIM LO SCALZO

With the release of its first national security strategy on Monday escalating against Russia and China and Iran, the Trump administration has experts split over their assessment of the current strategy.

Speaking to The National, experts agreed that the 70-page-document prioritises security over sustainable development and open economies. On the Middle East, one expert described it as welcome news to the Gulf countries, while another noted it’s driven by an “Israel first lens” and should alarm the Arab world.

Benjamin Haddad, research fellow at the Hudson Institute specialising in European and transatlantic affairs:

This document is in line with much of the administration's policy over the last year: a focus on advancing US interests in great power competition, both military and economic, and against rogue regimes. This substitutes the traditional impetus of upholding the liberal world order, or multilateral institutions. It's thus clearly not an isolationist document even though it is in rupture with many pillars of US foreign policy thinking.

It is important to note that Russia is cited as a challenge to the US, NATO and the EU. Commitment to NATO and Article V are emphasised while reiterating the president's concern over burden sharing. Despite the controversies over Russia's role in the campaign, this is also in line with the administration's tough policies on Moscow: reinforcement of US participation in the European Reassurance Initiative, strengthening of sanctions, debate over sending weapons to Ukraine, and so on. It's always hard to know to what extent these documents — products of long inter-agency processes — really guide the actual policy, but we see a clear convergence between a traditional commitment to US leadership and some of the president's deepest concerns including trade, terrorism and burden sharing.

HA Hellyer, senior non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council in Washington, DC:

The Trump administration’s published National Security Strategy is as interesting for what it says as much as what it leaves out. When it comes to the Arab world, the framing is clear — it suffers, as this administration does more generally, from an 'Israel first' lens. There is virtually nothing that can be gleaned from it that supports the notion that a comprehensive security paradigm for the region means truly sustainable development, and the upholding of fundamental rights.

But that's not altogether surprising for this administration — after all, the number of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim voices that have been accorded senior positions [in the administration] leaves little room to the imagination. At the same time, it's difficult to take the document with much seriousness, given that this is an administration where a random Tweet can lead to a crisis in relations with long standing US allies. All US allies ought to be constantly on alert — especially those within the Arab world.

Lori Boghardt, Senior Fellow, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy:

By and large this document is going to resonate extraordinarily well with our Gulf partners. It singles out Iran as a particularly nefarious actor in the Middle East whose malign activities need to be neutralised, which our Gulf partners strongly agree with. It talks about needing to clamp down on what the Gulf states fundamentally view as their own most critical security challenges: Iran and the jihadists. Almost across the board our Gulf partners will be very happy with this strategy. At the same time, what the Gulf states really want to see is more aggressive action to match the strong language, especially against Iran. They’re hoping to see concrete signs of this.

Karen Young, Senior Resident Scholar, Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington

The NSS prioritises economic growth as a security priority, but labels other countries with state-led growth models as unfair and aggressive competitors. The liberal economic order of post-WWII was built on international organisations that facilitate co-operation, yet the Trump administration has privileged bilateral engagement over multilateral or institutional support, and has made a point of prioritising relationships with state-led authoritarian capitalist states over democratic open economy allies in Europe and East Asia. Fairness in economic relations is a concept built on shared institutions and values, not a unilateral enforcement. The NSS further isolates the US in its transactional view of diplomacy, shared prosperity and development.

The document supports gradual reforms and open economies, and explicitly supports reforms in Saudi Arabia and Egypt as large regional economies. It seems, however, that the cohesion of the GCC is more of a US security priority for defence co-operation, than for economic integration.

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