By Mohammad Mazhari

Trump embraced authoritarian allies: Georgetown University researcher

January 27, 2021 - 17:20

TEHRAN - An American academic says Donald Trump’s administration embraced authoritarian regimes like Saudi Arabia and Egypt and made efforts to undermine democracy and human rights around the world. 

“For the last four years, the Trump administration had no interest in democracy promotion abroad and embraced authoritarian allies including Saudi Arabia and Egypt while also repeatedly undermining rule of law and democracy in the United States,” Dr. Mara Redlich Revkin tells the Tehran Times.

Political observers believe that the U.S. wars and presence in West and Central Asia has not had tangible results for the region’s stability. 

Hayatollah Alami, an Afghan parliamentarian, told the Tehran times on Tuesday that “after twenty years of U.S. presence in Afghanistan, we are back to square one.”

I don’t think it’s possible for the United States or any country to successfully “export” democracy in the absence of authentic, local demands for democratization and human rights. However, Revkin, a national security law fellow at Georgetown University, claims that “nearly two decades of U.S. intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan have had some success in degrading the capabilities of al-Qaeda and later the ISIS in Iraq.”

The following is the text of the interview:

Q: How do you assess the impact of Trump’s policies in increasing extremism in West Asia?   

A: Former President Trump’s Islamophobic policies and rhetoric (such as the “Muslim Ban” that banned citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries from visiting the United States) have fueled many different forms of extremism not only in the Middle East (West Asia) but also in the United States, where violent attacks by white supremacist and nationalist groups against Muslims, immigrants, and other minorities increased during The Trump administration.

 ISIS has long exploited Islamophobia in Europe and the United States to claim that the West is engaged in a war against Islam. Before the 2016 election, ISIS supporters on Telegram were hoping that Trump would defeat Hillary Clinton because he would be, in one person’s words, “the perfect enemy” to inspire new recruits, as I wrote in Foreign Affairs at the time: https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/middle-east/2016-11-14/isis-perfect-enemy.

One of President Biden’s first acts in the office this week was to repeal Trump's Muslim Ban, which I hope will be seen by the international community as a strong signal of the new administration’s commitment to promoting tolerance and engagement with the Muslim.

Q: How do you see the repercussions of the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? 

Former President Trump’s Islamophobic policies and rhetoric (such as the “Muslim Ban” that banned citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries from visiting the United States) have fueled many different forms of extremism not only in the Middle East (West Asia) but also in the United States, where violent attacks by white supremacist and nationalist groups against Muslims, immigrants, and other minorities increased during The Trump administration.
A: Nearly two decades of U.S. intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan have had some success in degrading the capabilities of al-Qaeda and later the ISIS in Iraq and to a lesser extent the Taliban in Afghanistan. 

Although the Taliban agreed to stop attacks on international forces as part of a February 2020 deal with former President Trump’s administration, they have continued to fight the Afghan government following the withdrawal of most U.S. forces from the country. 

But despite some significant victories—particularly the assassination of Osama bin Laden and other high-level al-Qaeda and ISIS leaders—these groups have planned for and are very resilient to leadership decapitation. Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State know how to operate underground, reinvent themselves, and are always ready to replace leaders as they are killed.

Furthermore, these groups elevate assassinated leaders as martyrs, bringing them more attention and potentially inspiring new recruits. Research by Professors Santiago Segarra (Rice), Ali Jadbabaie (MIT), and Richard Nielsen (MIT) suggests that when jihadist ideologies are killed, their ideas do not die. On the contrary, their ideas actually become more popular with increased traffic to jihadist websites driven by what the authors describe as a “martyrdom bump.” 

My view is that there is no sustainable military solution to the problem of violent extremism, which flourishes in environments where states fail to provide effective governance, security, and justice for their citizens. Citizens who cannot rely on the state to meet their basic needs and protect their basic rights then become vulnerable to recruitment by armed groups who promise change through violence.
The only way to sustainably reduce the risk of violent extremism in the long-term is to address the underlying grievances that terrorist groups exploit to build support, including weak rule of law, bad governance, state repression, and corruption. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, by exacerbating these root causes of extremism and generating new grievances—most tragically the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan—have counter-productively increased the likelihood of future instability in these countries. 

Q: Can Washington export democracy to West Asia?

A: I don’t think it’s possible for the United States or any country to successfully “export” democracy in the absence of authentic, local demands for democratization and human rights. But the U.S. can and should support these local demands for democracy and human rights through diplomacy and foreign assistance, as former President Obama's administration did during the Arab Spring. “Supporting" local demands for democracy in these ways is very different from “exporting” or imposing democracy on a foreign country through regime change, which rarely succeeds and often results in greater instability and future conflict or state failure. 

For the last four years, the Trump administration had no interest in democracy promotion abroad and embraced authoritarian allies including Saudi Arabia and Egypt while also repeatedly undermining rule of law and democracy in the United States.

 These policies were very harmful to the legitimacy of the United States in the eyes of the international community. One of President Biden’s greatest challenges will be to rebuild relationships with allies and reassure them that the United States will again support democracy at home and abroad as it has done historically. But the United States’ rapid descent toward authoritarianism and armed conflict in 2020, although ultimately averted with the peaceful transfer of power this week, will not be easily forgotten. 



 

Leave a Comment

3 + 15 =