With Trump appointing vehemently anti-Iranian warmongers Mike Pompeo and John Bolton – with the latter being famous for praising the 2003 Iraq War as a positive event – to the most important US foreign policy formulating posts it becomes prudent to look into what resulted in the frustrations pertaining to ‘containing Iran’ that likely lead to the enhanced aggression from the American side.
Trump’s election campaign provided a strange spectacle for the world audience, running highly contradictory themes. In comparison to Hillary Clinton’s unabated push for war with Russia, Trump had advocated the only sane stance on Syria, which was to concentrate on ceasing support to ‘moderate rebels’ (Al Qaeda dominated foreign proxies since the very beginning, as confirmed by the DIA back in 2012) in Syria. He insisted on cooperating with Russia to wipe out ISIS, something that did not sit well with the Clinton-affiliated propaganda network that orchestrated the media debacle regarding alleged Russian interference in US elections to favour Trump.
Before he could adequately be portrayed as a revolutionary conservative seeking to end ill-intentioned US militarism abroad, however, he would stick to the most right-wing section of the mainstream US (or more appropriately, Zionist considering the lobbying for Bolton’s promotion to National Security Advisor by Trump’s major election campaign financier and Israeli partisan Sheldon Adelson) establishment narrative on Iran and insist on ‘tearing the JCPOA into shreds’. The contradiction between pushing for a sane Syria policy and an insane Iran policy may, among other things, have shown Trump’s confusion about how ‘containing Iran’ actually works.
Tracing the political will for regime change in Syria (a policy Trump look actual steps to roll back), after all, traces back to stakeholders in pushing the US to combat Iran – the neoconservative strategy espoused in 1996 in tandem with Israel’s right-wing Likud Party and its direct consistency with what was revealed by Wikileaks in 2012 regarding US State Department intentions in Syria vis-à-vis it’s ally Iran. Actually ceasing support to violent rebels in Syria, carrying out military campaigns against ISIS unlike the Obama administration and abandoning the secessionist Syrian Kurds – a base for US military presence in Syria – to their fate at the hands of the Turks acted as strategic bonuses for the Iranian side.
It may be hard to decipher whether these moves in Syria validate the idea of Trump as an isolationist conservative on a secret mission to disintegrate the USA’s militarism, and by extension conflict with Iran, abroad or Trump and his foreign policy team as reckless and foolhardy in dealing with their Iranian enemy. A look at their foreign policy record in other areas relevant to Iran may help make the distinction.
The Qatar crisis of early 2017, a period where Syria and its allies including Iran made rapid gains in their war against terrorists such as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and ISIS, presents yet another foreign policy blunder by the US under the Trump administration. The sanctions and embargos imposed upon Qatar by its former Gulf allies and Saudi-aligned states such as Egypt and Jordan were meant to force it into clamping down on ‘support for terrorism in Syria’ (blatant scapegoating), roll back its relations with Iran and cut off all support to Hamas in Palestine (a group with ties to Iran as well).
The clumsy move seemed yet again to be self-defeating and made the US administration look like a mess; Trump had immediately expressed support for Saudi Arabia while sharply contrasting with the then Secretary of State (and John Bolton’s predecessor) Rex Tillerson’s advocacy of neutrality. The only ‘achievement’ of this venture was to push Qatar into the arms of Iran and provoke military support for Qatar from the increasingly Russian-aligned Turks.
The fact that it had come from Trump’s famous son in law Jared Kushner, a close personal friend to Iran-obsessed and anti-JCPOA Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and partner of Mohammad bin Salman and the UAE in now having Tillerson replaced with the more appropriately anti-JCPOA and hawkish John Bolton meant that the most well placed Israeli partisans in the US establishment had committed another blunder in the favour of Iran and its regional influence. To add salt to the wound, Kushner was recently stripped of his White House security clearance thus curbing his ability to effectively act as a behind-the-scenes conduit between Israel and the new Gulf coalition minus Qatar.
The Israeli-Saudi collaboration during Mohammad bin Salman’s consolidation of authority late last year and arrest of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Harriri to force coerced accusations against Hezbollah (who follow the Iranian clerical leadership) in Lebanon was revealed as a joint effort to stir up chaos in the country not soon after. That this coincided with a number of aforementioned strategic defeats in the Middle East for Israelis and Saudis, such as the Qatar debacle and the Syrian government recapturing most of its territory from Israeli and Saudi backed proxies, it was clear that a lot of hope had been pinned by the Likud Party on shifting the theatre of conflict from Syria back to Lebanon where Hezbollah and its political alliances stabilized the country.
With Saad Hariri’s return to Lebanon and subsequent de-escalation of tensions with Hezbollah and Iran, including an acknowledgment despite years of the rivalry of Hezbollah’s importance as a defense force, the strategy had failed yet again. Hezbollah’s increasing political clout in terms of influence in the Lebanese cabinet leading up to the country’s first parliamentary elections in years and history of successfully warding off Israeli aggression means Iranian influence is strongly embedded very near to Israel.
Testing times surely approach regarding the fate of the JCPOA, but it seems that there is little the US administration and deep-state establishment seem to be doing right when it comes to containing Iran. Iran’s close relations with several Middle Eastern states seem to continuously act as a means for the country to remain locked in pursuing the objectives enshrined in the brand of religiously-inspired politics that form the core tenets of its foreign policy principles. That the US has lost out on major former strategic partners such as Qatar and Turkey contrasts sharply with Iran’s own diplomatic gains since the Trump administration took power.
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy and position of Regional Rapport.
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Agha Hussain is currently attached with Institute of Strategic Studies Research and Analysis at National Defense University. His areas of interest are Middle East Affairs, Geopolitics, and History.