Despite early reassurances from Donald Trump’s team that anti-Muslim rhetoric would not match his actions in office, Arab allies tell me that they are increasingly concerned by developments in the past 48 hours. They are trying to understand just what Steve Bannon’s appointment would mean for their alliances with the U.S.
Another name that caused them alarm was Frank Gaffney, a former Reagan administration official who has a record of anti-Muslim speech. But on Wednesday, Trump transition spokesman Jason Miller denied that Gaffney had any role in the transition.
“[H]e’s a nice guy, but he’s not part of the transition team,” Miller said on MSNBC. Arab allies are worried about Bannon, whose office will likely be a few steps away from the Oval Office.
“We are in unchartered waters. God help us all,” as a diplomat from a key U.S. ally told me.
Alienating them could have consequences as Mr. Trump will need Gulf allies like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, as well as Jordan to continue carrying out the U.S.-led military campaign against ISIS and Al Qaeda.
“It is unclear what the allies are supposed to expect,” another Arab ally said to me.
Arab allies had hoped to repair ties frayed when the Obama Administration held secret talks with Iran about its nuclear program. However, Trump’s inclusion of Bannon -- is heightening concern.
The perception that former New York City Mayor and Secretary of State contender Rudy Giuliani is anti-Palestinian adds to their trepidation. He famously had Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat forcibly removed from Lincoln Center in 1995 during a concert for world leaders.
The ardent pro-Israel beliefs of Bannon, as well as transition team member Sheldon Adelson, add to worry that the Trump administration might move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to the disputed city of Jerusalem. Their support for the recent expansion of Israeli settlements further into the Palestinian-held West Bank (strongly condemned by the Obama administration) already has European and Arab diplomats worried that it could irreparably damage the chance of carving out a two-state solution and peace deal.
Yet another issue is Trump’s outreach to Russia’s Vladimir Putin. That not only concerns European diplomats, but also may be a threat to the moderate Syrian rebels being bombed by Moscow-backed dictator Bashar al Assad. Attacks on the moderate rebels, this diplomat warned, will not stop and in fact may increase the weapon flows to extreme militants.
The Obama administration is trying to calm rattled allies. With Mr. Obama personally meeting world leaders in Europe, Secretary of State John Kerry has discussed many of these issues with leaders in Oman, the UAE and Morocco in recent days.