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Trump still crying havoc and letting slip a few dogs of...



Trump still crying havoc and letting slip a few dogs of war

US President Donald Trump, left, and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. (Illustrative image | sources: Getty Images / Chip Somodevilla | Bloomberg / Getty Images / Ali Mohammadi | Flags via Wikimedia)

‘Well, Here’s Another Nice Mess You’ve Gotten Me Into.’ Thanks, Donald. The catchphrase above usually accompanied Stan Laurel’s exasperation with his sidekick, Oliver Hardy, amid a particularly tangled plot. By the end of each of their short films, however, everything always worked out, no matter how improbable it was. But real life is not a movie.

It is now perfectly clear Donald Trump has gotten a whole raft of results in the Middle East, in this, the latest episode of the long-running show, “The Middle East Follies”. By ordering the killing of Iranian Quds Force and Revolutionary Guard big guy, General Qasem Soleimani, through a lethal drone strike while the general had been consulting in Iraq with his “business partners” about their revolutionary militia endeavours and terror activities, Donald Trump has achieved a nearly impossible litany of feats.

The drone strike killed Soleimani, yes, but in so doing, he also achieved the following:

  • Iranian citizens who only recently had been engaged in protests across the country over their theocratic government’s corruption, economic failures and harsh police actions against earlier protests, came into the streets by their hundreds of thousands — if not millions — to publicly mourn the return to Iran of their newest martyr.
  • Because the drone killing took place in Iraq, a good chunk of the Iraqi parliament has now voted to instruct the country’s prime minister to inform the Americans and other coalition military forces that their time in Iraq was now done. Finis. It was time to say farewell, have one last round of too-sweet tea with their erstwhile compadres in the Iraqi military, bundle up their equipment and board the transports home. Iraq was now fully open to the possibilities of becoming a kind of satellite to Iran, given the fact that more than half the Iraqi population shares a religious orientation (Shia Islam) with the Iranians, and the fact many Iraqi militias are already in Iran’s fold.
  • Moreover, the US president has also riled up millions around the world and within the US itself over the president’s ham-fisted threat that if the Iranians harmed even a single hair on the chinny-chin-chin of yet another American, he, Trump, would order the destruction of iconic cultural sites all over Iran.

Totally unsurprisingly, given that warfare in this manner is an express violation of the norms of “civilized warfare” and international treaties signed by the US, there has been a growing tide of horror and indignation by scholars, international law specialists, cultural figures and the leaders of other countries normally supportive of the US over such a threat.

Oh, then there was the shock and horror expressed by Iranian leaders. They had benefited from this own goal by Trump, but they managed simultaneously to say that such acts would be repaid sixfold upon America — and that Donald Trump was an uncivilised barbarian — in contrast to Iranians and Iran, a centre of civilisation for millennia.

  • If all if this were not enough, the two American secretaries of state and defence, Mike Pompeo and Mark Esper, found themselves forced to find a way to disagree publicly (but oh-so-politely and extremely gingerly) with their president over the threatened destruction of Iranian cultural treasures — if the Iranians did so much as look at an American crosswise. The goal had been for the two men to present a united public face, but in making their presentations, their words looked rather more like a verbal version of that party and drinking game, Twister, than finely honed, close-order governmental cogency.
  • Concurrently, the defence secretary also found himself awkwardly defending his government against the words of one of his generals whose (albeit unsigned) letter to subordinates had told them to prepare for the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq. This generated yet more chaos and burnished the image of a US government at sixes and sevens with itself.
  • Meanwhile, if it were possible, Trump has managed to get the backs up of Democratic (and a few Republicans) senators and congressmen even more than they already were after Trump’s brushing off the responsibilities of briefing and consulting with the Congress and in being aware of the government’s legal responsibilities vis-a-vis Congress under the War Powers Act, with regard to attacks such as that drone strike.
  • In all this, Donald Trump has wrestled with how he can avoid looking weak, just like, in his mind, two predecessor presidents he despises — Barack Obama and Jimmy Carter. One was for the presumed lack of requisite, manly strength in dealing with the Benghazi ambassadorial killing in 2012, and the other with the hostage crisis in Tehran in 1979-80. Such mental gymnastics are presumably one way Trump sees his assertions of strength that presumably play well to his core supporters.
  • In addition, while the US president’s position has been that, consistent with years of his efforts, Soleimani had been planning imminent, dangerous attacks against America and American facilities in Iraq and elsewhere, so far, there has been virtually no effort to make this case in any visible way to the American public, the Congress, and America’s coalition partners in the Middle East. Not surprisingly, the Trump administration’s assertions in the current moment have been compared — equally unfavourably — to those demonstrably false assertions, back in 2003, that Iraq was on the verge of possessing weapons of mass destruction, the casus belli for the second Gulf War.
  • Finally, given the growing solidarity of Iran with Iraq, and the burgeoning ties between Iran and Russia and China, and the growing strength of Iran’s militia affiliates in Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere, the nations with which the Trump administration has strengthened alliances, such as Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Gulf States, are now left in more difficult circumstances than before this most recent affair. Along the way, the president withdrew the US from the six-power accord with Iran and as part of the current imbroglio, Iran has itself taken the country further from the terms of the accord. This makes it more likely still Iran will move down the road towards the development of a viable nuclear device, to be paired with its missiles.

On Tuesday night, Iran fired a dozen or so missiles at military bases housing American forces, claiming that this strike represented a fair and appropriate response to the earlier drone strike. Not surprisingly, the Americans claimed there were no casualties, while the Iranians said there were — perhaps to give its citizens the sense of adequate retribution for the drone strike.

If one looks closely, and squints one’s eyes, it is just possible to see this crisis easing a bit. Just perhaps there will be no open, overt hostilities, no sunken ships across the Strait of Hormuz blocking the shipment of up to a third of the globe’s total oil shipments, no trading of barrages of long-range missiles and drones, and no fast convoys of armoured troops moving swiftly across the desert. Perhaps, instead, the two nations will return to their previous state of glowering, snarling hostility, without much real bloodshed.

But one thing has truly changed. That overwhelming American presence in the Middle East is now flowing out, ebbing away; and the responsibility for guaranteeing this outcome now lies squarely at the feet of Donald Trump. He has nearly achieved his campaign promise to bring back the troops from that foreign war in Iraq, but in a way that virtually guarantees outcomes antithetical to the ones he had hoped for.

The middle stanzas of Rudyard Kipling’s poem, Recessional, composed in 1897 for the Diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria’s reign, would seem to be the sobering words for today:

The tumult and the shouting dies;
The Captains and the Kings depart:
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget ― lest we forget!

Far-called, our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget―lest we forget!

As a footnote, late on Wednesday, Donald Trump spoke to the nation — and the world — about his strategy towards Iran. He spoke from the strong side, justifying the drone strike on General Soleimani by virtue of that general’s evilness; blamed the current mess on former President Obama because of the six-nation nuclear accord; talked about the weaponry available that could be used if needed; called on Nato to step up; noted America’s petroleum independence; and added that there was the possibility of a “better” deal with Iran in the future.

If you had to score this one, consider that it was a tiny ratchet back from confrontation, although he announced an intention of imposing more economic sanctions on Iran as well. What was remarkable, however, was the absence of any effort to set out or explain the “imminent threat” that had been the initial impetus for this crisis.

Similarly, there was no setting out of a larger vision — or a reconciliation between his political instincts to draw down on American forces in the region on the one hand, and his emotional DNA that demands he always sounds strong, resolute, determined, and never, ever, weak. As veteran New York Times reporter David Sanger called the remarks, they were “a muddle”. DM


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