What a Donald Trump presidency means for the Middle East

Beirut, Lebanon – It’s 7:30 am and the American election results are becoming undeniably clear. I’m caught between stunned disbelief and paralyzing panic as I sit on my living room couch desperately trying to make sense of this brave new world and what it means for the Middle East.

My mind floats back to August 2014 at the height of the war in Gaza. And the bombed out Palestinian town of Khuzaa where I had found the slumped over and decomposing bodies of Palestinian fighters bearing all the signs of a cold-blooded execution: the holes from machine gun bullets dotting the walls in a neat line.

The border village had been crushed by an Israeli advance. There was supposed to be a temporary ceasefire but the exploding thud of Israeli artillery had started again as dazed residents piled bodies wrapped in rugs onto carts and searched for loved in the piles of rubble that were once their shops and homes. Israel wouldn’t relent and the world wouldn’t intervene to stop it.

If they were able to engage in an all-out assault on Palestinians under Obama’s watch, they will be completely unchecked now that Trump is in power. Top officials in Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ultra-conservative government have already declared that Trump’s victory ensures the end of a two-state solution.

But Khuzaa is not the only example of the depth of the violence and devastation that has been fueled by American weapons and insulated by American diplomatic cover in the Middle East. The hellish scenes in Khuzaa mirror the ongoing atrocities in Iraq.

Before the election of Trump, the last time I shed tears for humanity was in Northern Iraq in February 2015 after a horrifying trip to the frontlines of Sinjar Mountain where Kurdish forces were pushing back ISIS. I had just seen the mass graves of Yazidi men, women and children being unearthed in recently liberated villages and heard horrific stories of violence and mass killings from those who survived. I had also visited a previously ISIS-occupied Arab village that had been forcefully emptied by Yazidi fighters.  When Kurdish-backed Yazidi units retook the area, the Arab residents were collectively labeled ISIS collaborators and massacred or expelled.

It was the US-led war and occupation that unleashed Iraq’s sectarian and ethnic divisions and allowed for the emergence of ISIS. After witnessing these scenes, I had no illusions of a Clinton presidency improving the situation. Still, the prospect of what a Trump administration will do in the region has left me petrified.

It is about to get a lot bloodier.

Before the polls closed in the U.S. on November 8, I was in Beirut’s Shia majority southern suburbs, interviewing Hezbollah commanders just back from fighting in Aleppo. They discussed the swell of Assad forces around the besieged rebel-held east part of the city. They bragged about their central role in coordinating with Russian and regime troops in a bombing campaign of the city. Expressing their lack of interest in the results of the U.S. election, they described how they would soon lead the final regime push on rebel Aleppo, where tens of thousands of civilians still live, after the Russians obliterate it from the air.   

All I can think of is Trump’s admiration for Russian president Vladimir Putin and desire to develop a joint policy with him in Syria. I think of his promises to carpet bomb vast tracks of the region. I think of his statements about how he would have stayed in Iraq despite all America had done to the country. I remember his commitment to “doing a lot worse than waterboarding.”

And I’m distracted by the news of the gleeful praise being heaped by Isreal’s most hawkish leaders on a man who used anti-Semitism as a tool to mobilize votes and admires the authoritarian qualities of the tyrants that have spilled rivers of blood to put down the popular revolutions of the Arab Spring.

Overwhelmed by the prospect of expanding war, I think to my time spent a year ago on the Serbia-Macedonia border with the Syrian post-rock band Khebez Dawle (“Bread of the Nation” in Arabic), whose members are made up of draft dodgers and deserters from Assad’s forces and activists from the 2011 revolution. We drank beer on the lawn next to a bus station before they continued on their journey through the Balkans towards a new life in Germany.

The dark days ahead may best expressed by the band’s song Beta’ammer: “They’ve killed me!/And then they blame me for telling/In the darkness, there is no life but for a victim and their tormentor.”

Jesse Rosenfeld is a journalist based in the Middle East. He is the focus of the upcoming National Film Board of Canada documentary Freelancer On The Front Lines.

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