Donald Trump, as I have written here before, is itching for a military confrontation with “somebody, anybody”, to enable him to take on the mantle of Captain America – and to re-establish America’s “greatness” in arms. He recently threatened to annihilate North Korea in a speech to the UN General Assembly. And this week he described US-Iranian relations as “the calm before the storm”. When asked to clarify his meaning, he said “You’ll find out”.
Despite his security advisors saying that maintenance of the Iran deal brokered by the US and other international powers is in America’s interests, Donald Trump has apparently decided to “de-certify” the agreement - a step which would allow the US congress to re-impose sanctions on Iran should it choose to do so. Does this matter?
Well, we are not sure whether Congress would in fact follow through with the re-instatement of sanctions.
The Israeli government and its relentless American lobby group, AIPAC (the “America Israel Political Action Committee”) are constantly seeking the abrogation of the Iran deal. Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli premier, has been lobbying Trump hard on this issue since before the 2016 election. Israel alone cannot act on its desire to strike at or wipe out any nuclear facilities in Iran; but with US help, that might be possible.
American antagonism towards Iran has grown with the successes of the Iran-leaning Shiite militias in driving ISIS from the western provinces of Iraq. And across the border in Syria’s eastern provinces, Assad’s forces are also driving ISIS out of their remaining strongholds with backing from Iran-leaning Hezbollah and Russian airpower.
The US fears the emergence of an Iranian “arc of Influence” from the Iran-Afghan border in the East to Latakia on the Syrian Mediterranean coast in the West.
US policy on the Middle-East has become incoherent if not schizophrenic in the last chaotic year. America relied on Kurdish land forces to help eliminate ISIS from its northern Syrian strongholds centred on Raqqa. Israel actively encouraged the Iraqi Kurds’ independence referendum. But Washington has remained ambivalent on the Kurds’ demand for independence – hoping that they will settle for autonomy within present borders.
Turkey and Iran both oppose an independent Kurdistan as a threat to their respective territorial integrities. They each favour the preservation of the Iraqi state for their separate reasons.
Trump accuses Iran of supporting terrorism and “exporting violence and chaos across the Middle East”.
It is hard to see how Iraq could have defeated ISIS without Iranian backing. But that inconvenient truth is now ignored.
Likewise, Iran’s backing and Russian support has allowed Assad to resist the Al Nusrah and Al Qaeda Salafist forces’ attempt to establish an extremist Islamic state in Syria with the backing of Saudi and Qatari oil billions. And who financed ISIS?
Meanwhile, the western media largely ignore the Saudis’ vicious, almost genocidal, war in Yemen which has resulted in 750,000 innocent people suffering from the plague of cholera and millions of others slowly withering before our eyes from malnutrition or starvation.
Ask yourself this: If you were a survivor of a Yazidi family in which the men and boys had been led up mountains to mass graves and the women and girls were raped, married off or auctioned off to their captors as sex-slaves and domestic servants while the babies were left to die, what would you think of Trump, the US, Britain, France, the Salafist Saudis, and the Qataris, who between them spawned, unleashed, financed and armed a quarter century of slaughter on your lands?
Would you blame Iran or the Russians? I doubt it.
None of which is intended as an apologia for the Islamic Republic of Iran, for Putin, for Assad, or for Hezbollah.
The irony of the Trump “bull in a china shop” middle east policy is that Turkey has fallen out of the American sphere of influence and even Saudi Arabia’s King Salman now describes Russia as a friendly state with which he was glad to conclude new arms deals (and an oil-market manipulation accord) on his visit to Putin in Moscow this week.
On the other side of the world, Trump is, I think, preparing for military action against North Korea. He tweeted that Secretary of State Tillerson was wasting his time pursuing a negotiated dismantling of Kim’s nuclear ICBM programme.
Many will see this as a crude “good cop, bad cop” act to persuade the Chinese that they must act now to de-nuclearise North Korea. And it might be exactly that.
But the Chinese are not stupid. They will not fall for an obvious bluff.
On the contrary, I believe that the US are now in the business of planning a military “take out” American strike on North Korea and are going to present it to the Chinese as their intended course of action unless the Chinese make it unnecessary by their own intervention.
Why, in view of the terrible risk of a massive conventional attack on Seoul, would the US take such a course?
I have reluctantly concluded that Trump simply cannot afford to be seen backing down any further or doing nothing effective in the face of Kim’s ICBM threat.
If American cities now become vulnerable to Kim’s nukes, Kim would soon be able to provoke a renewed conventional “war of liberation” on South Korea, and America would then be faced either with involving itself in a very messy and difficult-to-win conventional military war to “save” South Korea or else risking losing cities in a nuclear tit-for-tat with Kim’s regime. That is a choice that America cannot afford to make.
There is a horrible logic to a pre-emptive strike on North Korea. In Trump’s mind it may already have become a political imperative. That would explain Trump’s tweet about the futility of diplomacy. If he forces China to choose between de-nuking North Korea now or having North Korea made subject to a devastating pre-emptive strike in a matter of months, China may well decide on an effective, “comradely” intervention in the affairs of its ally.
After all, how would the Chinese react if an unruly Taiwan were to start building nuclear ICBMs? Would they not tell the US to take action before they did?
Lest you think that there is an element of the “wish being the father of the thought” in this analysis, I wish none of this were probable or true.
But all the signs are that Trump is not going to make America great again with a tax plan to enrich the rich by boosting the paper value of their share portfolios. Nor will he do it throwing paper towels at the Puerto Ricans or by banning bump stocks for the NRA mens’ lethal arsenals.
That explains the great attraction to Trump of the overseas military option.
Will Captain America take on Rocket Man? Or the Grand Ayatollah? Or both?
Here’s hoping I’m wrong.