My two worlds of covering the US Presidential election and the Middle East came colliding this week in an absurd political twist, as Hezbollah, a designated terrorist organization, used the words of the Republican nominee Donald Trump to attack the United States.
In his speech on Saturday, Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah went straight for the jugular, quoting Trump’s latest outlandish assertion that US President Barack Obama and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton “founded ISIS”. While Trump said later he was only being “sarcastic”, for Nasrallah and many in the Middle East it was a validation for an acute rallying slogan that America (aka the “Big Satan”) created the monster ISIS.
“This is not a simple speech,” Nasrallah said of Trump’s statements, adding “this is an American presidential candidate. This was spoken on behalf of the American Republican Party. He has data and documents.”
Yes, politics makes strange bedfellows, but for an organization like Hezbollah, that has American blood on its hands since 1983, to be echoing Trump, should be a wakeup call for the Republican Party on the reckless and dangerous nature of its nominee.
Fodder for conspiracy theorists
In theory, Hezbollah’s convergence with Trump on the issue of branding Obama and Clinton as founders of ISIS is not a political departure for either. In fact, it is hard to tell if Trump was referencing pro-Hezbollah media when he first made his assertion last week, before getting recycled again by Nasrallah.
Conspiracies of the like floated by Donald Trump that the American President founded ISIS run amuck in the Middle East. In August 2014, while Trump was still hosting his show The Apprentice, a more skilled pro-Iranian media operation ran a fraud story that Clinton confessed in her memoirs “Hard Choices” to creating ISIS.
The story had fake dates, imaginary meetings for the former Secretary of State, and went viral in the Arab world as the evidence that America is behind ISIS.
Conveniently, the same circles of, autocratic sympathizers, extremists propagandists and anti-American zealots are enthusiastically today circulating Trump’s claim as the US acknowledging it created ISIS. On Twitter, versions of “I told you so” were the answer from many Arab Tweeps to Trump’s claim.
For Hezbollah, Trump’s narrative serves three purposes, one in validating that America is the root of all evil in the Middle East, two that the party is fighting both Uncle Sam and ISIS, and three it lays the ground to attack Clinton if she were to win the Presidency.
Tool for anti-Americanism
For Trump and an American audience that is now used to his inflammatory and non-fact based rhetoric on Muslims, ISIS and taking Iraq’s oil, this has become a casual occurrence followed by media outrage, a slip in the polls, and sometimes a mild retraction in the form of “sarcasm”.
But for those on the receiving end in the Middle East, Trump’s statements have triggered anti-American reactions, and are often taken as a reflection on the United States as a whole, not on an erratic nominee of a major party.
From the very early days of his campaign, Trump’s trash talking of Muslims was seen by some in the region already suspicious of the United States, as a mirror of true America.
Cartoonist Alaa al-Lakta, a political cartoonist with al-Araby al-Jadeed, drew Trump as the face of America “with no embellishment”. Others saw in him after the Humayun Khan controversy, a KKK zealot attacking Muslims.
ISIS, hungry itself for a emphasizing the notion of clash of civilization, has repeatedly used the vile rhetoric against refugees as proof that the West is against Muslims, while al-Qaeda’s branch al-Shabab featured the Republican nominee in one of its videos.
Now that Trump receives classified briefings, what he says in public carries even more weight on the global stage. Nasrallah wittingly used the word “data, facts, and documents” while quoting the Republican nominee. It is rather ironic for the 2016 Presidential nominee of the Party of Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan to become a point of reference for a US designated terrorist organization.
Trump may never realize this, but sarcasm, and erratic behavior are not in the playbook of how the Middle East interprets the United States. A long history of grievances, unfair blame by some of the autocratic regimes has shaped the negative portrayal of the US in the region.
Trump’s claims that the US created ISIS will only enforce this negativity, undermine US interests long after one election.