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Donald Trump: As if the Middle East was not dangerous enough

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump waves to the crowd at the end of a Trump campaign rally in New Orleans, Louisiana on March 4, 2016.

LAYNE MURDOCH JR./REUTERS

Like a good politician, Donald Trump tries to be all things to all people – he does not like the Ku Klux Klan, for example, but how can he say no to their support?

But when it comes to the Middle East, saying different things to different people or, worse, saying different things to the same people, will get you in a lot of trouble.

Mr. Trump has emphasized that, as U.S. president, he would be "very, very good for Israel." Just how good? Well, recently, when asked if he would recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital – a request made by successive Israeli governments – he declined, but added he was "100 per cent behind the idea" of moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.

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Having called Israel "our unsinkable Mideast aircraft carrier," and said the Jewish state is "the cornerstone of our policy tactics throughout the Middle East," Mr. Trump has more recently announced he would prefer to stay "neutral" on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and peace negotiations between the parties.

"I have a real question as to [the sincerity of] one side in particular," he said, not letting on to which side he was referring.

When it comes to Iran and its nuclear ambitions, the real estate mogul has criticized the concessions U.S. President Barack Obama made in negotiating a nuclear limitation agreement with Tehran. He has written that "Iran's nuclear program must be stopped by any and all means necessary." But, in contrast to other Republican candidates for president, he has not said he would tear up the agreement but will simply be "so tough" in enforcing it.

On the question of Iraq, Mr. Trump, a star of reality TV, has listed to the left and the right and then back again. He says he was opposed to the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, although there is little evidence to back up the statement; yet, in contrast to that, he also says Iraqis should pay for the liberation of their country from Saddam Hussein, and that, as president, he would collect the debt from their oil profits.

Most recently, he has argued the late Iraqi dictator was misunderstood. The man was a "no-good guy," he conceded, "but Saddam Hussein killed terrorists" – as if that made up for everything. To which so-called "terrorists" did Mr. Trump refer, I wonder: Iraqi Kurds? Iraqi Shiites? Communists? Thousands of each were killed on his command.

On one thing, perhaps, Mr. Trump may be correct: The Middle East would likely have been "a lot more stable" if the international community had supported dictators such as Mr. Hussein, Libya's Moammar Gadhafi and Syria's Bashar al-Assad rather than helping to bring them down. But the stability this xenophobe craves has only to do with making things stable for him and his fellow citizens, and little to do with the interests of the population in this region.

Mr. Trump shocked many people when he said he would ban Muslims from entering the United States, and also when he said he would order the U.S. military to execute a terrorist's family members – although he later retracted that second statement when it was impressed upon him that he was advocating a war crime.

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While he might have expected some people to welcome such talk, the only ones in the Middle East happy to hear it are the fanatical jihadist groups such as Islamic State and al-Qaeda that want very much to see the world polarized between Muslim and non-Muslim in a true clash of civilizations, and who favour that sort of execution themselves.

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About the Author
Global Affairs reporter

As Global Affairs Writer, Patrick Martin’s primary focus is on the turbulent Middle East, to which he travels regularly. He has twice been posted to the region – from 1991-95 and from 2008-12. More

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