In an article for this newspaper published on 3 December 2016, I had noted that it was well nigh impossible to predict what exactly the Trump administration would do, given its misleading agenda, combining isolationist populism with elements of neo-conservatism, libertarianism and militarism. The highly personal style of the President often conflicts with the priorities and concerns of his Cabinet and the Congress to produce a confusing and unpredictable scenario, whose most visible effect has been to anger and alienate even further a majority of the US population and most of the outside world with few exceptions which include India so far, despite the concern in Delhi about new restrictions on work visas and the growing pressure to buy more arms from and give more business to American firms.
From Russia to Africa, from Latin America to Europe and the Far East, Trump’s policies and statements have made nations habitually suspicious of the US even more hostile, while traditional allies and satellites are dismayed, put off or confused by sudden about-turns, humiliating words and callous treatment. Even all-weather partners like Israel and Saudi Arabia are in turmoil, partly because of the White House’s policies.
Above all, Donald Trump remains committed to his pledge to drastically change the long-standing globalising agenda of the US liberal ruling elites which he mostly hates and despises, notably because of the disdain in which they hold him. He is outspoken about the ongoing implosion of the American world-spanning control system and brutally unapologetic about his desire to accelerate this process also by shaking up traditional “protectorates” like Pakistan, Japan, South Korea and European countries. His “America First” motto, evocative of the old saw “The business of America is business”, implying a purely transactional, commercially driven foreign policy purged of ideological norms, freed of imperial obligations, harks back to the anti-internationalism of early America and to the implicit white and Christian supremacism of the country’s founding principles.
Trump’s purported slurs about troubled “coloured” nations in Africa and Latin America show that the vulgarity of speech in conversation and in most Hollywood films has invaded the sphere of statecraft, but they unfortunately reflect the views of most of his supporters and also of many people in Europe, still holding on to old colonial and religious superiority complexes and increasingly worried by the massive immigration of people from poorer regions which is changing the demographic and ethno-cultural identities of their countries.
Conversely, the President’s appeal for Evangelicals and Zionists stems from his very public and Biblical espousal of Israeli hegemony in the Middle East, made manifest in his decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state, while helping the Saudi Crown Prince to demolish his country’s almost centennial state structure and replace it with one-man rule invoking “Wahhabism light”, westernization and reconciliation with Israel for a joint anti-Shia crusade as the principles for a new national polity.
Mohammed Bin Salman has been given leeway to pursue the war with Yemen— which he explicitly wants to prolong as long as needed, in the belief that time is on the side of the Saudi-led coalition—thanks to a continuing supply of mostly American and British weapons and technical advisers, provided he mends fences with Israel, but Trump made this turnaround harder by announcing the US Embassy’s transfer to Jerusalem which the Kingdom was forced to officially oppose. Meanwhile, deep cracks have surfaced between the Saudis and their main allies, the UAE which appear to support a new division of Yemen into one or more states.
Trump’s reliance on Saudi capital investments in the US economy coupled with his wish to please powerful Zionist backers is leading him to embark on a new campaign against Iran, the bête noire of both Saudi Arabia and Israel. The President has shown an intention to destabilise and subvert the Islamic Republic through economic sanctions and covert operations, while extricating the US from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (better known as the Nuclear Agreement) concluded by the P-5 + 1 with Tehran and endorsed by the UN.
The recent violent agitations in Iran were partly triggered by economic grievances, but there is little doubt that the US-Israeli-Saudi troika played various roles in fomenting and boosting the unrest as documented by Tony Cantalucci in an article dated 6 January 2018 which quotes verbatim from a 200-page, 2009 Brookings Institution report entitled “Which Path to Persia?”, dedicated to the prospects for overthrowing the Ayatollahs’ regime through a popular uprising, by “inspiring and assisting an insurgency”, with military force if needed.
After Trump appointed veteran Black Ops expert Mike d’Andrea (whose wife is a Shia Muslim and who is a convert to Islam) to head the clandestine cell tasked with undermining the Tehran regime, a secret agreement was signed between the US and Israeli governments on 12 December 2017 to coordinate their actions against Iran in Syria, Lebanon and inside the country, with special regard to the Islamic Republic’s missile development programme. It was reported by the Kuwaiti site Al Jarida and echoed in the Times of Israel of 1 January 2018 that the Netanyahu government secured the White House’s green light to assassinate General Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guard, while the CIA smuggled weapons to anti-government protesters through Iraqi Kurdistan. Since then, Iran has officially accused the US of helping to smuggle Daesh fighters from Syria and Iraq into its territory through Kurdistan and Afghanistan. Some armed encounters have taken place between Iranian forces and infiltrated terrorist units.
In January, Soleimani secretly left his reported location in Syria and moved back to Tehran where he took charge of the operations to put down the riots. The US called a meeting of the UN Security Council about the violent Iranian protests, but found itself isolated once again and even ridiculed by other members who pointed to similar troubles, recent or current in several countries, including Israel, Tunisia and Bahrain, not to mention the US, that have never been deemed worthy of the attention of the world body.
As usual, the professional inexperience and arrogance of the novice US ambassador Nikki Haley (for whom Trump is said to have scant respect) was on full display, but even veteran allies of America saw through the charade as yet another pretext to tear up the nuclear agreement. Some cynics and hardcore supporters maintain that Trump is using Nikki Haley’s neo-conservative rhetoric as a mask for his real policy which is not seriously intended to start a war with Iran. He merely placates the warmonger party with strident declarations not followed with effective action, as is the case also vis-a-vis North Korea.
Saudi Arabia has resumed funding certain Syrian Sunni Islamist fighting group, even though Trump himself appears to have washed his hands of the Syrian civil war and implicitly acquiesced to the joint Russian-Iranian-Turkish role in the country by reducing US support to the Syrian Kurdish militias which are now being pummeled by Ankara’s forces. Yet, the Pentagon has made it clear through the State Department that it wants to retain a military presence in Eastern Syria without the authorisation of the country’s legal government and the State Department lately raised again the murky issue of use of chemical weapons in Syria, though it refuses to accept another investigation, under UN auspices this time as proposed by Moscow, and prefers to rely on reports from Syrian Opposition groups unverified “in situ”.
Meanwhile, Israel’s government, given the White House’s ambiguous position, is playing a perilous brinkmanship game with the Russian armed forces in the region. The Kremlin has invested considerable resources to prop up the Syrian regime and is not about to let the Jewish state undo that achievement. Whatever the outcome of the planned 2021 general elections, there is little doubt that the Baath Party will remain the centrepiece of any Syrian ruling coalition in the foreseeable future, thereby ensuring continuity with the present dispensation and maintaining the alliance with Moscow and Tehran. Meanwhile, Russia has established herself anew in Egypt and in Eastern Libya to challenge western dominance of the Mediterranean.
Comments by the Russian President to the press on 11 January 2018 supported accusations raised by his general staff against certain unnamed forces, reported to have equipped some of the terrorist outfits with sophisticated drones to attack the Russian military bases in the Idlib province of Syria. The suspicion, confirmed by Putin, although he gave no names, is that certain sections of the US Intelligence community are responsible for those underhand moves intended to sabotage the stated position of the Trump White House.
Russia’s ruler, after noting that the sophisticated drones were supplied to the insurgents and supported by radio location and satellite targeting technologies, pointed out that the instigators of such a ploy wish to pit Turkey against Russia and Iran again in order to resume the war of attrition against the Syrian government despite the US President’s orders to stop aiding rebels. Washington is in serious trouble on that theater since President Erdogan moved to crush the US-trained and supported Syrian YPG “Kurdish terrorists”. We are indeed far from NATO concord and Ankara is effectively out of the western alliance and even rumoured to have taken control of the tactical nuclear weapons earlier deployed by NATO at the Incirlik Base. Erdogan is pursuing his customary balancing act between the USA, Russia and Europe and the recent downing of a Russian jet, apparently with a MANPAD missile smuggled in from Turkey, also in Idlib province, has cast a new shadow on the precarious alliance of convenience between Moscow and Ankara. Putin knows that the “Sultan” is playing a double game and could turn against Russia and Iran again at any time in his desire to keep a part of Syria, overthrow Assad and win back America’s goodwill.
The US neo-conservatives and many in the Trump and Netanyahu Cabinets still wishfully think of somehow enforcing regime change and unilateral disarmament in Iran. There are visions of restoring the Pahlavi monarchy or triggering an Army coup by some pro-western generals. Yet, the main tool that the aforesaid Brookings report selected to spearhead a revolution in Iran is no other than the exiled Mujahedin I Khalq militant organisation, listed as a terrorist organisation guilty of killing Americans by the State Department until 2012.
Next week: The situation in the Korean peninsula is no less confusing.