It is a well-known fact that Donald Trump does not understand the Middle East. It is an equally well-known fact that diplomacy is not Trump’s strong suit … in fact, I rather doubt the word ‘diplomacy’ is in his vocabulary. He is a bully who thinks that “might equals right”, and that has not changed simply because he is now in a position where it matters more than ever.
There are a number of people who have dedicated much of their lives studying the Middle East, who understand the dynamics in play, but those people are not in Donald Trump’s administration. However, those experts have something to say about Trump’s ignorant ‘maximum pressure’ policy toward Iran.
The fight began in May 2018, when Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal, leaving our allies scrambling trying to keep the deal intact, for by all accounts the Iranians were upholding their part of the deal. The tensions intensified last spring, when the U.S. designated Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization and moved to shut off Iran’s ability to export oil. Middle East experts warned that Iran would meet America’s escalation with escalation of its own. The Revolutionary Guard Corps designation was opposed by even some top Trump administration national security officials who said it could incite retaliation by Tehran against American troops and intelligence officers.
These predictions have proved correct. In May, the United States accused Iran of attacking oil tankers in the Persian Gulf. Then, in June, Iran shot down an American drone.
Then last week an Iranian-backed Iraqi militia, Kataib Hezbollah, fired on an Iraqi military base, wounding four American servicemen and killing an American contractor. Trump foolishly responded with force: On Sunday, the U.S. military launched air strikes against the militia’s forces in Iraq and Syria, killing 24 people and wounding 50.
On Tuesday, thousands of supporters of Kataib Hezbollah and other pro-Iranian militias stormed the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, shouting “Death to America”, a chant reminiscent of the Iran hostage crisis in 1979, 40 years ago. Outraged by the U.S. attacks, many of Iraq’s top clerics and politicians are now demanding the withdrawal of all American troops. So, what does Trump do now? Just what Trump always does when he doesn’t know what else to do, he threatens and bullies.
“Iran will be held fully responsible for lives lost, or damage incurred, at any of our facilities. They will pay a very BIG PRICE! This is not a Warning, it is a Threat.”
He seems to be ignorant of the fact that he does not have the power to force other nations to act according to his will … remember the “Mexico will pay for the wall” statement that he screeched over and over? How well did that work out? Former U.S. officials who are experts in Middle Eastern foreign policy are critical of Trump’s “maximum pressure” initiative, saying it is far too heavy on economic sanctions and military deterrence, far too light on serious diplomatic outreach, and not focused enough on the other countries caught in the middle.
“It’s not working because the administration has no idea why it’s applying pressure or what it wants.” — Ilan Goldenberg, a former Pentagon and State Department official
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has reportedly cancelled a trip to the Ukraine in order to closely monitor the situation. I can imagine he is chewing his fingernails, for he was one of the biggest critics, blaming Hillary Clinton almost exclusively for her handling of the 2012 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, including a U.S. ambassador. Secretary Clinton was absolved of any wrongdoing.
When you play a game without understanding the rules, you will almost inevitably lose. That is what Donald Trump is doing in the Middle East … the only difference between this and a game of Battleship is that real lives are at stake. This is likely to end in one of two ways … war or loss of face. War is unthinkable, but to Trump, loss of face is even worse. His ego trumps human lives, at least in his mind.
As often happens, Jeff from On the Fence Voters and I were on the same page tonight, and he reminds us that this is an election year, Trump has just been impeached, and Kim Jong-un is rattling his saber once again, all of which adds up to … sigh. So I would ask you to hop over and take a look at his post, too!