Throughout his presidency, Donald Trump has prioritized Middle Eastern policy. Despite this, the results of his policies have been largely mixed. On one hand, President Trump has advanced the interests of Israel through the momentous Abraham Accords, which has the potential to foster relative stability in the region. On the other hand, President Trump has adopted a maximum pressure strategy with Iran and abandoned the 2015 JCPOA deal aimed at curbing Iranian nuclear weapons development. His decision-making regarding the assassination of Qassem Soleimani was questionable and reckless. His Iran policies risk reversing any steps towards peace. Because of these reasons, President Trump deserves a grade of C+ for his Middle Eastern policy.
Trump must receive credit for facilitating the Abraham Accords across the Middle East. The significance of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain finally recognizing the sovereignty of 72-year-old Israel must not be overlooked. The Abraham Accords signify the beginning of Arab nations normalizing relations with Israel. While some elements of the Accords have yet to be tested, such as military support, these Accords are a tremendous step in establishing relative stability within the region. Since the Abraham Accords were signed on August 13, Israel and the UAE have already agreed to reduce travel restrictions. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced further progress: “We are exempting our nationals from visas and this will offer a huge boost to business, tourism, and people to people contacts.” The stabilizing effect of these Accords is undeniable, and Trump must receive credit for his role in facilitating them.
President Trump’s approach to Iran can be characterized by blatant disregard. In 2018, he withdrew the U.S. from the JCPOA, citing repeated violations by Iran. Despite pleas from Germany, France, and the United Kingdom, President Trump withdrew U.S. support. In fact, a Reuters poll found that only 29% of Americans supported withdrawal. President Trump followed his abandonment of the JCPOA with full reinstatement of economic sanctions, a strategy that is hardly effective in preventing nuclear build-up. To properly prohibit Iranian procurement of nuclear weapons, the U.S. would need the cooperation of the international community. Additionally, Trump’s abandonment of the JCPOA further isolates the U.S. and decreases the likelihood that it might compel other countries to follow their policy proposals. President Trump’s swift abandonment of the JCPOA and his harsh criticism of the Iranian government will surely decrease their cooperation in future negotiations with the U.S.
If abandoning the JCPOA didn’t provoke Iran enough and disrupt diplomatic relations in the Middle East, President Trump’s rash order to assassinate Qassem Soleimani certainly did. In response, Iran promptly retaliated by attacking U.S. bases in Iraq and fully abandoning all JCPOA obligations. Trump’s decision to target Soleimani unintentionally silenced democratic movements in Iraq. After a series of missile attacks, Iraqi government leaders were able to unite protesters under anti-American sentiments. Iraqi civilians grew increasingly irritated by both U.S. and Iranian presence and interference in their country, allowing leaders to remind domestic opposition of a larger common enemy, The decision to assassinate Qassem Soleimani was not only shortsighted and ill-advised, but it has caused further unnecessary unrest in the Middle East.
President Trump has largely been successful in his pro-Israel agenda. The Abraham Accords will likely be one of the defining achievements of his administration. However, his grating policy against Iran exposed a lack of consideration for the broader, long-term consequences of his actions. In doing so, President Trump has shown that he lacks an understanding of the complex web of Middle Eastern relations. Thus, for the mixed successes of President Trump’s Middle Eastern policies, he deserves a C+.