TWC Talk: Barbara Slavin Analyzes Middle East Foreign Policy Under Trump

TWC Talk: Barbara Slavin Analyzes Middle East Foreign Policy Under Trump

Barbara Slavin, Acting Director of the Future of Iran Initative at the Atlantic Council and Washington Correspondent for Al-Monitor, spoke at the Washington Center about Middle Eastern foreign policy under Donald Trump.

Trump’s Foreign Policy Perspective

Rex Tillerson’s testimony as nominee for Secretary of State provided a hard, cold, realist look at the region. Human rights doesn’t figure to be a priority. Tillerson wouldn’t call Vladimir Putin a war criminal. In fact, the incoming administration views Russia as America’s most important ally in their top foreign policy priority, defeating ISIS in the Middle East.

Trump didn’t rule out working with Iran toward this goal when asked. He could team up with Syria, Russia, and Iran. These rhetorical statements are different than those made by his predecessors, but practically, not that different.

During the campaign Donald Trump called the Iranian nuclear deal “stupid” and said he would tear it up. Tillerson said the administration would review it, ensure compliance, and perhaps pursue additions. Reviewing an international agreement like this is typically how new administration’s maintain the status quo. The deal will most likely stay in place.

Regime Change

President Obama has pursued “regime change light” in countries like Libya. He prevented a humanitarian crisis in Benghazi, which enabled the overthrow of Gaddafi. Trump says he will not be a regime change president. We’ll see whether he can hold to this.

Obama didn’t plan to go into Libya. Presidents typically cannot have a hard and fast rule regarding intervention. This must be case-by-case. If U.S. power is exercised, there needs to be extensive planning and a sustained willingness to stick with it. America is not doing a great job in Afghanistan, but we are protecting gains and the new government. If we left, things would be much worse.


Donald Trump will not allow any further U.N. resolutions condemning Israel. Jared Kushner, his Senior Adviser and son in law, is an orthodox Jew with ties to Israel. Trump has said a peace agreement would be the “ultimate deal.” This isn’t likely unless Palestinians have a change of heart and cut a deal now to avoid a worse bargaining position and control of less territory in the future. Rhetorically, Trump will be very close to Israel and not have the rifts we saw between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Treatment American Muslims and Muslim Immigration

Tillerson didn’t rule out a Muslim registry. America has taken just 12,000 Syrian refugees. This is a “drop in the bucket” compared to the 1 million accepted by Germany. Canada accepted 60,000. Distinguishing people by their religion and ethnic background is fascism.

Tillerson Confirmation Prospects

Tillerson understands the importance of diplomacy even without relevant experience. He has spent a lot of time abroad in international business. He will probably be confirmed and operate in a realist mode like Jim Baker or Collin Powell. The administration will be willing to work with anybody who can advance American interests, including dictators. The implications for advancing human rights is concerning.


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