New York, Sep 16 : As the US election looms large, US President Donald Trump has pushed through the diplomatic deal in the Middle East between Israel and two Arab states signed at the White House, while feverishly attempting a peace deal between the Taliban and Afghan government 7,000 miles away in Qatar to stake a campaign claim to statesmanship.
Asserting on Tuesday that it was a change in “the course of history”, he presided over the signing of agreements between Israel and the two Arab sheikhdoms, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, to set up diplomatic relations.
While representatives of the Taliban and the US-backed Afghan government were meeting for what Trump hopes will be an agreement to end the conflict in that country, his special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad was trying to assuage India and wrangle from Pakistan an assurance that the terrorist organisation it backed would make the deal.
The Taliban deal will allow him to announce that the US after 19 years would be able to extricate its military from the Afghan quagmire under his leadership and keep the promise made before his 2016 election.
Trump has pointed to his Democratic Party rival Joseph Biden’s support for the disastrous invasion of Iraq and numerous other foreign entanglements over his 40-year political career and claimed to be a peacemaker and leader who brings troops home rather than commit to more military excursions.
The US military has announced that it would be withdrawing several thousand troops from Afghanistan and Iraq before November, leaving only the bare minimum force there.
Under Trump, Washington’s relations with its closest allies in Europe has frayed because of his constant criticism, his demands for them to increase their share of defence spending and decision to move US troops from Germany.
Combined with his commitment to the NATO which was seen as wavering, his foreign policy was criticised by Democrats as well as some Republicans.
Trump’s outreach to North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un with much fanfare to end Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programmes ended in failure.
China has increased its aggressive posture across Asia, taunting Trump, who has not been able to directly confront it.
So that leaves the Middle East and Afghanistan where he can show results before the elections.
The Islamic State terror organisation that had once controlled vast areas in Iraq and Syria has been routed and its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi dead through suicide during a raid by US Special Forces.
Trump couldn’t pull off a peace deal between Israelis and the Palestinians that he said his son-in-law Jared Kushner was pursuing.
So the agreement between Israel and the two countries is a consolation prize – but it could pave the way for more Arab countries to break ranks with the Palestinians and recognise Israel, especially because it appears to have the approval of Saudi Arabia.
It may even get the Palestinians to resume talks with Israel.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said on Tuesday, “I think it’s been very clear that he hopes these agreements will enable the Palestinians and the Israelis to renew negotiations. He also hopes, obviously, it will be a new opportunity to develop regional stability in the Gulf.”
Tuesday’s outdoor ceremony at the White House for Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayan and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan to sign the pact with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, while Trump presided, was meant to signal to his base – especially fundamentalist Christians – what he pitches as his work to secure Israel.
He may even think this may appeal to Jewish voters, the majority of whom back the Democratic Party and do not view him favourably.
Driven more by Christian fundamentalists and Israeli leaders like Netanyahu, Trump ripped up the international agreement reached under President Barack with Iran to stop its nuclear proliferation.
It has isolated him internationally and brought criticism from European allies. But more importantly, it has left Iran free to pursue nuclear proliferation.