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“Billionaires,War Mongers and Climate Change Deniers: Donald Trump’s Emerging Middle East Foreign Policy: Interview with Ibrahim Kazerooni and Rob Prince. KGNU Boulder. “Hemispheres – Middle East Dialogues” November 29, 2016. Part One

December 6, 2016
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KGNU – November 29, 2016. Transcript. Part One

This is a partial transcript from an in-depth interview with Kazerooni and Prince looking at some of the main lines of what can be expected of President Elect, Donald Trump’s Middle East foreign policy. Part Two will follow in a few days. Jim Nelson is the program host. 

Do you think you’ve hit bottom?
Do you think you’ve hit bottom?
Oh, no.
There’s a bottom below.

There’s a low below the low you know.
You can’t imagine how far you can go down

Malvina Reynolds “There’s  A Bottom Below

Jim Nelson: We’re going to move on to the topic of this evening: what Trump’s Middle East policy might look like. We’re about three weeks into this transition; on January 20, 2016, Donald Trump will be inaugurated. As is the tradition, President-elect Trump is naming different people to fill his cabinet posts and named a number of his main advisors. This evening we’ll be looking at some of these appointments and how these individuals might influence U.S. Middle East policy.

Trump has announced Michael Flynn to be his national security advisor and Nikki Haley to be UN Ambassador. Michael Flynn was fired from his position as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency by Barack Obama. Nikki Haley really has no foreign policy experience. ..but it could be worse as she seems to be one of the more reasonable of Trump’s appointments.

The Secretary of State has not been chosen yet but there are a number of candidates for the job, among them, former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, former New York City mayor, Rudy Giuliani, former C.I.A. head and U.S. military commander, General David Petraeus.

So the question is: Where to begin?

Rob Prince: Let me briefly outline what we hope to cover tonight. I’m going to begin by looking at what is shaping up to be the Trump foreign policy in general and then what it is could look life for the Middle East with Ibrahim (Kazerooni) joining in and commenting. Then Ibrahim will address some of the specifics we see emerging in the region, how some of the different regional personalities have responded to Trump’s election and what might be in store for the region in the period ahead.

With that in mind, I just wanted to not at the outset that today is the 152nd anniversary of the Sand Creek Massacre which took place on November 29, 1864. And as is generally known, two days ago Cuban leaders Fidel Castro died. Other than here in the United States, tributes for him are coming in from around the world. I simply want to add my voice, my respect for a leader I think to have been a great man. Cuba is not a model for the United States, but it is an example, that a country within the world system can change in a mostly positive way.

Jim Nelson: I would like to add something in regards to Castro’s passing. Helene Cooper who writes for the New York Times, their Pentagon correspondent, She mentioned that originated from Africa that she had a different perspective than that presented by much of the mainstream media in the United States. She noted Cuba’s contribution to African decolonization, the work of the Cuban medical teams, most recently in helping end the ebola epidemic in West Africa. For praising Castro and Cuba, Cooper took a great deal of flack from others in the press, especially the Wall Street Journal which came down hard on her.

Rob Prince: Before moving on, let us just note that throughout his career, Fidel Castro has been a firm supporter of the national movements of Middle Eastern peoples, a critique of U.S. machinations in the region and is a highly respected figure there.

Having said that – here we are. The United States has a new president, Donald Trump. All indications are, despite some resistance, that he’s going to be inaugurated on January 20, 2016, beginning a new era. A number of songs come to mind, which I’ll leave aside. The Dickens’ quote of its being both the worst and the best of times.

In terms of Trump’s foreign policy, our main focus tonight, there is a kind of model that will help us understand its main themes, and what Trump is about to do in the Middle East and elsewhere. It’s Naomi Klein’s ‘Shock Doctrine’. I want to briefly review how that works.

The notion of the Shock Doctrine is to take advantage of a political event or natural disaster to ram through a program of – as it is sometimes referred to – cowboy capitalism. Such a process took place in Chile after the September 11, 1973 coup d’etat that overthrew Salvadore Allende. Essentially the Shock Doctrine was applied there, one of the earlier implementations. Another example , from here in the United States, is what happened in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina hit the city, the way that the city was reshaped in the aftermath, with so much of the city being privatized, gentrified.

This is what Donald Trump will attempt to do both nationally and internationally. In applying the Shock Doctrine – it is a kind of political blitzkrieg – that is exactly what is actually. The important thing is what happens in the first days and months of his administration, what is referred to as the first hundred days. The idea is to push through as many neo-liberal policies as possible and as fast as possible. In so doing it sets the tone for the entire presidency, be it four, or eight years. That makes this current period, between now and the end of Trump’s first hundred days in office, a very critical one in terms of damage control both nationally and internationally.

Billionaires and War Mongers

That said, there are some initial points to be made about this administration.

• Donald Trump is, easily, the most reactionary American president in modern times, worse in many ways that Ronald Reagan, than George W. Bush. He is elected in the most powerful country in the world at this moment in time, even if it is in decline. This is pretty frightening
• His cabinet is shaping up to be the most ardent militarist administration in history. It is an extremist cabinet. All the positions haven’t been filled but the names that are being suggested in the media – both on domestic and foreign policy – are all heavily weighted from the extreme right. Billionaires and war mongers in the main.

A song comes to mind from an old folksinger, Malvina Reynolds, “There’s A Bottom Below”

Do you think you’ve hit bottom?
Do you think you’ve hit bottom?
Oh, no.
There’s a bottom below.

There’s a low below the low you know.
You can’t imagine how far you can go down

We, the country and the world, are on the verge of a long-term period of darkness and we’re all going to have to learn how to live in this world, do damage control for this administration’s initiatives and to turn the situation around so we can aspire towards a more positive, livable world. I sympathize with people who are really in shock but it’s important to move beyond the shock of this election …because we have a lot of work to do.

That’s the dark side; it’s there. I don’t think I’m exaggerating.

Ibrahim Kazerooni: Now we go for the darker side!

Rob Prince: Well there is a brighter side, a brighter side that is emerging. What is happening, Ibrahim is unprecedented both nationally and internationally. A global upsurge against the Trump agenda is already, very quickly coming together. Here in Colorado there are demonstrations virtually every day. This true all over the country. Different constituencies are gearing up, taking to the streets, mending fences with former adversaries and taking to the streets. I’ve been to four demonstrations over the past ten days in Denver alone. There is a seriousness about the different communities that have taken to the streets; their demands are focused and concrete.

Probably the most significant of all the struggles taking place in the country at present is what is happening in North Dakota – the Standing Rock protests to try to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline from being completed. This is not only a Native American issue – of course it is that at its heart and soul, but it is much more.

• It’s a time when the Native American peoples themselves have come together – more than 280 tribes – in a way that they haven’t cooperated for centuries.
• It’s a moment when the Native American movement as a whole has made alliances, connections with the environmental movement both nationally and internationally.

These movements are coming together with great speed; can crystallize into an overarching social movement that brings together all the different strands into one big political fist, to save the environment, for peace and justice both nationally and internationally.

So the situation is not entirely bleak Ibrahim, just mostly.

Ibrahim Kazerooni: Rob, once the situation becomes so bleak, by default it creates opportunities for those who can rise to the occasion and challenge it. Every disaster could be looked at as an opportunity for change.

Rob Prince: Briefly explaining how it was that Trump won, I know that many people have suggested many reasons for Trump’s victory, I just want to throw out a few ideas for listeners to think about.

No doubt Trump’s election was a surprise. I join those legions of commentators and political scientists who didn’t see it coming – and should have.

Some factors leading to his victory:

– the decades of Republican Party gerrymandering and voter suppression that limited the participation of many.
– election fraud appears to have been widespread from the recent suits that have been filed
– not clear just how much the Wikileaks revelations about the Clinton Foundation, Clinton emails, played a role, but on some level, they probably did
– for some Trump supporters, no doubt, misogyny was a factor.

But in the end, more primary factors were at work: Despite his billionaire background, his crooked business dealings, his cynical bigoted comments against virtually everyone – be it women, physically handicapped, people of color, Muslims, immigrants – he won the electoral vote and thus the presidency. Few – if any – presidents-elect are less qualified for the job, with less foreign policy experience. Be that as it may…Donald Trump will be inaugurated as this country’s 45th president.

He was able to tap into the fundamental structural factors that have been developing in this country for decades:
– the continued decline in the living standard of most Americans – the so-called 99% – a process of erosion that began as early as the mid 1970s and has included both Democratic and Republican presidents.
– Trump was able to mobilize the base of the Republican Party, itself having moved to the right over the past decades while Hillary Clinton did not do likewise for the Democrats.
– Interesting enough, Trump “played the same card” that Barack Obama played to win in 2008: he promised change. In 2008 the American people were willing to elect a rather unknown Black politician from Illinois because he promised change. But for the most part, the Obama Administration failed to deliver on that promise. Donald Trump picked up the same theme – he promised a break, change from the political status quo. In 2008 voters didn’t care that Obama was a Black politician with left-liberal leaning. He didn’t deliver. In 2016, voters didn’t care that Donald Trump is a billionaire realtor with an awful record as both a businessman and, frankly, human being. He promised change. It is notable that many of the same people who voted for Obama in 2008 in the swing states (Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania) voted for his political opposite in 2016.

Clinton, Bush, Obama, Trump Continuities

In some ways of course, there will be “differences in emphasis” between Obama and Trump’s M.E. policies…but as surprising as it might seem to some – actually the continuities are more important than the differences.

The fundamental approach is the same –

“The garrisoning of the globe with a staggering number of military bases in a remarkably blanket fashion” – as TomDispatch puts it.
– it is nothing short of “an empire of bases” and no great power, not even Britain at its imperial height had ever had such a global military footprint..
– And yet not only was this not an election issue, but it is as if this vast global network is of any importance; it is rarely even acknowledged.
– the past decades – Democratic or Republican – the administrations have just “built” and “built” and “built”.
– at one point there were something like 1000 military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan alone, from bases large enough to be small American towns to smaller, tine combat outposts.
– In 2015 there were at least 800 significant U.S. bases in foreign countries and many more smaller ones and places where U.S. military equipment was pre-positioned for future use.

The continued bipartisan worldwide military build up will continue unabated; it seems to make little difference whether a Democrat or Republican is in the White House.

Besides the global base build up, what other continuities will continue:

1. The reliance and heavily arming and attempted coordination of regional allies – Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan and unleashing them militarily.
2. The continued policy of breaking down strong Middle Eastern centralized states – a la Iraq, Libya and what is being attempted in Syria – the partitioning of countries so that their resources can be more easily exploited and controlled
3. Visavis Syria – the continued attempt to partition that state with a view of strengthening the positions of regional allies Turkey and Israel, and at least as the theory goes, weakening Iran by taking out one of its key regional allies

ie – there will be no strategic changes in U.S. policies in a Trump Administration – none that we can foresee…

The differences in the policies – as there are – can be explained in terms of those who want to continue to build and protect this system of global domination “rationally” – ie, the Obama approach – and the “ideological approach” – which essentially is the re-emergence of the neo-cons as masters of U.S. foreign policy

Trump’s Middle East Policy – He has none; no clear or even foggy vision.

Problem with analyzing Trump’s “Middle East Policy” – is that he has none. No clear vision.

He’s made contradictory statements about just about everything, no experience – beyond cutting business deals…just a few examples

● Concerning the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), known informally as “the Iran nuclear deal” – During the campaign he threatened to cancel the deal calling it “

“They are laughing at the stupidity of the deal we’re making on nuclear,” Trump said of the Iranians, in an interview last summer with CNN. “We should double up and triple up the sanctions and have them come to us. They are making an amazing deal.”

But since being elected he has backtracked some on this

● Much has been made – much too much actually – of Trump’s “friendship with Putin” and Putin’s supposed influence on the outcome of the elections – this is, pardon me, Cold War nonsense. Could get into it more in questions and answers if you like, call ins…but in any case the Putin-Trump “friendship” suggests that together they could craft some deal on Syria. …

– Trump has made it emphatically clear that he will work for the destruction of ISIS in a more aggressive manner than did Obama. Perhaps…

But once it comes to changing the strategic U.S. goal of essentially partitioning Syria, Trump will find that the realities of U.S. foreign policy, and the U.S. foreign policy and military establishment will not tolerate a change in direction

● To understand where Trumps Middle East policy might go – since he has none – we must look at the team that he is assembling for it is they, rather than he, who will have great influence on the direction of U.S. policy in the region.

– There is a certain comparison that can be made with the George W. Bush days:

On foreign policy, shaping up to be the most trigger happy “imperial” team as in the worst days of George W. Bush when the likes of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld were in the cabinet and John Bolton as U.S ambassador to the United Nations..If that was a sorry chapter in the “W” years, we are now entering a darker period.

The goals are the same as are most of the tactics interestingly enough – what is different is the pace…

End, Part One.

Part Two

Part Three


Ibrahim Kazerooni received his phd. from the University of Denver Korbel School of International Studies – Iliff Theology Joint PhD Program. He and his family live in Detroit Michigan. Rob Prince is a retired Lecturer of International Studies at the University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies.

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