Trump’s America seen by insiders Ambassador Frank Wisner and Dr. “Shibli Telhami”
As part of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs’ interest in discussing regional and international changes affecting Egypt internally, it organized a panel discussion on 31 January 2017 at the Egyptian Diplomatic Club over a working lunch in honor of Ambassador Frank Wisner, former US Ambassador to Cairo, and Dr. Shibli Telhami, distinguished Middle East expert in the United States. The importance of the meeting is largely due to the explanations made by figures in direct touch with American political life, at a time questions about the orientations and foreign policy of President Trump’s administration have not stopped.
The meeting was attended by ECFA Chair Ambassador Dr. Mounir Zahran, ECFA Honorary Chair Ambassador Abdel Raouf Al-Reedy, and ECFA Director Ambassador Dr. Ezzat Saad. ECFA members Ambassadors Nabil Fahmy, Mohamed Shaker, Mohamed Abdellah, Mohamed Al-Orabi, Mohamed Tewfik, Ihab Wahba, Marwan Badr, ElSayed Amin Shalaby, Mohammed Anis Salem, Mahmoud Al-Saeed, Mr Makram Mohammed Ahmed and Dr. Mohamed Kamal.
Speaking on the depth of the current political situation of Trump era, Ambassador Wisner raised several points for consideration:
The United States is now experiencing a challenging phase after President Donald Trump won the last presidential elections, which were greatly controversial both inside and outside the United States, especially after his decisions to prevent citizens of seven Arab Muslim countries from traveling to the United States. This decision has significant implications at the local, regional and international levels, as well as for American public opinion and media in particular, and diplomats too.
Ambassador Wisner continued at the beginning of the meeting to explain all the dimensions of the situation in America during the Trump era as follows:
The United States always allows opposition. More than 100 diplomats have signed a memorandum against the President’s intransigent decisions to prevent the citizens of seven Muslim countries from traveling to the United States. Wisner stressed that, the US law protects any opposition entity, insures all rights to free expression of opinion and guarantees that it is applied fairly.
The Washington is undergoing a period of deep and radical change he had never seen the like of in his diplomatic career, or perhaps before that. The United States has not seen a state of anxiety and tension, as it did over the past few days.
He noted that everything that happened in the United States recently, is pushing for a revolutionary change that will lead to a deep and radical change in the US political reality to form a new political order.
Wisner emphasized that these movements are driving a profound change in political forces within the United States, not only from Democrats but also from Republicans, and that things are changing in the United States, are no longer as they were in previous years, and that these conflicts will produce a new political base within the United States. He called it a “revolutionary” situation in the American political reality.
Adding that there are certain principles must be taken into consideration when we are evaluating the current period, Wisner said President Trump is very strict, especially in sending direct signals internally, by reviewing some trade and economic agreements, as well as externally. He pointed out that Trump was extremely vocal in his speeches when he said that he would put the war against extremism – especially Islamic extremism – among his priorities during his tenure, and that he was interested in strengthening relations with Israel, Egypt and some Gulf countries, but with the exception of some countries.
On the Middle East, Wisner said he is confident that the new US administration does not have a strategic vision for the region, but only has some impressions thereon. In his view, this represents a real opportunity for Egypt and other countries in the region to come up with a new scenario to renew the course of relations with the United States, especially since there are many points that can be agreed upon.
Frank Wisner said that the next period for US – Egyptian relations, represents a real opportunity and a new challenge for each of the two countries, noting that, the new US administration has no real knowledge of Egypt, except the Minister of Defense,James Matisse.
Therefore, Egypt has a real opportunity to reshape its relations with the United States as it sees fit. He said that this must be arranged in a very good and precise manner, and Egypt has a real opportunity to write its own scenario, including what is the most appropriate form of relations between the two countries within the framework of its strategic vision on the importance of these relations and their impact on the region, and what contexts Egypt wants for the course of bilateral relations in the next period.
He stressed the need for Egypt to be very cautious in that, noting that there are a number of issues which the two countries have different issues in it, adding that, it must keep that into consideration and try to find common grounds and deepen points of convergence with the US on several issues such as the war on terrorism, Palestine-Israel reconciliation, and conditions in Jerusalem and in Syria and Iraq, as well as in Iran and some Gulf countries and other issues which require constant consultation.
Mr. Wisner then gave the floor to Dr. Shibli Telhami, praising his extensive contributions to Arab-American affairs.
Dr. Shibli Telhami began his speech by thanking the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs for its hospitality, praising its unique team of ambassadors, academics and experts in international affairs.
On the current American situation, he explained that the American people are in a state of division, stressing that the conflict is not only a partisan struggle between Democrats and Republicans, but there are many factors within the United States that support divisions and differences in American views held by people with their different categories.
Telhami added that, politics change and will continue to change, especially since it is known for those interested in foreign policy that the President is only one player among foreign policy players. He also pointed out that any country has several tools and factors of foreign policy. In this regard, he raised an important question about the reasons that made Americans vote for Trump.
Talhami stressed that matters are not as they seem to be in America. There are discontent and dissatisfaction among the people. But beyond that, Telhami stressed, the American people no longer feel safe, and have come to realize that the American dream is no longer achievable for several reasons. The most important things are growing poverty and increasing number of the poor, a widening gap between the poor and the rich, and an erosion of the middle class.
He explained that opportunities were greatly diminishing. In this respect he said he and his children are a case in point. He considered himself more fortunate than his children who did not find the same opportunities he found when he immigrated to the United States several years ago.
He added that more than 80% of the American people want radical change in the American system, not just a gradual change, which is interpreted as one of the main reasons for Trump’s victory. Most of the American people – even those who did not vote for him–think he is able to make aradical regime change, while only one third of the people agree with him on different issues.
Dr. Shibli concluded by emphasizing that we must be very careful in dealing with the new US administration, especially as the White House policies are expected to be mostly sudden and unexpected.