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The Middle East Through Trump’s Eyes | The Daily

trump in the world migdal
Joel Migdal gives a lecture on Trump & the Middle East as part of the "Trump in the World" lecture series. Photo Credit: Jaya Harrell

October 11, 2017

This article originally appeared on The Daily at the University of Washington on October 11, 2017.

UW JSIS professor breaks down the intricate history of the region in new “Trump in the world” lecture series

When someone at the UW talks about the Middle East, everyone wants to hear what they have to say. Last Monday night was no exception.

People from all walks of life — not just students — gathered in Kane 110 on Oct. 9 to listen to professor Joel Migdal’s lecture on the history of Middle Eastern conflicts and President Trump’s influence on the region today. This lecture was a part of JSIS 478 A: “Trump in the World.”

Migdal is a professor in the UW’s Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies (JSIS). He has taught numerous courses on the Middle East, particularly the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He recently spent two years in Israel, where he conducted research.

 Aware of the popular notion that the Middle East may be too complex to understand, Migdal first introduced a list of main conflicts that have occurred in the area. Giving reference to Syria, the Islamic State group, Israel-Palestine, and Iran.

“[Iran] is the most important country in the Middle East,” Migdal said. “Without a doubt.”

Migdal placed the prominence of Iran today in the context of the Iranian Revolution of 1979. The overthrow of the monarchy and its replacement with an Islamic republic led to the establishment of many extremist groups, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The emergence of these organizations exacerbated animosity between the U.S. and Iran, Migdal explained, since the U.S. has long been weary of the potential of these revolutionary regimes to undermine its economic and strategic interests in the area.

President Trump doesn’t seem to be making the situation any better, especially due to his plans to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal. Officially deciding not to recertify the deal, Trump is now passing onto Congress the decision of whether or not to reimpose the sanctions previously lifted from Iran in exchange for the de-escalation of its nuclear program.

When the floor opened up for questions from the audience, there was a prominent interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. To many, Migdal added a certain nuance to the Trump administration’s relationship with Israel which they have not been so familiar with before.

“[Israeli Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu really believes that Israel is better off now without a [peace] deal … he sees this issue as something for the far future,” Migdal said, “Trump on the other hand [is] pushing this deal, sending emissaries to the Middle East, trying to get something going.”

This misalignment of goals and values between the two countries has created an air of dissolution among the Israeli right, leading many to think that Trump is no longer on their side, and does not share their interests.

Migdal sensed the same type of Israeli animosity toward President Obama when he was in office, and is curious to see whether or not Trump will face the same backlash if he continues to push for change.

 One audience member asked of Migdal’s perception of White House innovations director Jared Kushner’s role and contribution to peace talks with Israel and Palestine.

“I think Jared Kushner could really benefit from taking this class,” Migdal said to a roar of laughter from the audience. “There’s a lot of complexity in the world which he has not been trained in … we’re talking about a lot of subtlety, and [in this lecture] I’m trying to point out ongoing conflicts that are overlapping and intertwining with each other in unexpected ways.”

Migdal’s lecture was enlightening, no doubt. He managed to break down the Middle East into “bite-sized” pieces, allowing the audience to understand how different conflicts affect each other. But something is also inevitably lost when a topic is discussed in the sterile environment of the classroom. Migdal reflected on his experience in Israel, and how it has shaped his work.

“There’s an advantage to both [experiences]. When you go directly, you’re immersed in a million details, people’s lives, how they’re living and interacting with each other,” Migdal said, “When you’re in a classroom … you have the ability to see an overview that maybe others can’t see. I think it’s a very valuable experience for students.”

JSIS 478 A: “Trump in the World” meets every Monday from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

Reach reporter Niva Ashkenazi at Twitter: niva_ashkenazi