Iran crisis may make Trump look like Lord of War. But can he take the blowback?

Clearly, the US president is keeping a safe distance from the Middle East in the run up to 2020 presidential elections.

One of the problems of surrounding yourself with ‘yes men’ is that when you really need sound advice to get yourself out of a hole, there’s no one in the room who is even qualified to speak, even if the will is there.

Welcome to Donald Trump’s world. In recent weeks, he might be happy about what he is seeing on his TV screens. No, not the customized gorilla network, but news channels which are reporting that Iran is facing a new wave of political turbulence due to the economic crisis there, following crippling US sanctions. Gasoline price hikes are seen by many analysts as the last straw for an economy on the brink of collapse, with some protestors calling for Tehran’s regional policies of funding Hezbollah and Palestine to be withdrawn, given the desperate situation in Iran itself.

Concurrent to that, is yet another withdrawal step which Tehran has taken with regards to the JCPOA deal, which initially restricted it from developing nuclear weapons – but of which Trump pulled out in May 2017 after what we now know is a gargantuan sulk which is really about being seen to be better than Obama (who signed off the deal with Iran).

Tehran, despite holding on for one whole year to the terms of the deal, when the US was out, is now going back to enriching uranium which is expected to place huge burdens on the EU to compensate Tehran in cash and political support.

What Trump can’t get his head around

Yet this shouldn’t be music to Trump’s ears, who can’t get his head around the fact that his own unique blundering, bellicose style of bullying governments of countries which not only have 4000 years of rich history, but more importantly a contemporary resentment of US foreign policy engrained in its peoples’ minds, isn’t working. And it’s not only not working with the Iranians whose younger generations are increasingly becoming anti-American and supporting a more hard line approach to the US, as they see their loved ones suffer through having no access to expensive drugs, let alone having to live like rats in an economy with both spiraling inflation and unemployment. 

It’s not working in North Korea, China, Turkey, Syria and Venezuela.

The cat is out of the bag. The Art of the Deal is a mere pulp fiction fantasy of a real estate broker who even before his election had a terrible reputation as a failed businessman and dishonest landlord who had to resort to habitually cheating contractors and architects just to make a profit on ill-conceived real estate ventures, with a trail of havoc around the world of failed businesses and both investors and humble people left without their savings. In the case of Americans, CNN recently exposed one such scam whereby Trump himself rents his name – with no legal responsibility – to crooked real estate deals which invariably fail. Even his son-in-law’s property deal in New York City is a total disaster which led Jared Kushner to Qatar to seek help in 2016.

Trump Towers?

Wherever you look in the Middle East, where there is Trump there is property, or, failing that investors in his own family’s deals in the US. Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the UAE. The list goes on. But how can any sense be made of US foreign policy with regards to Iran, if there is so much to be gained by keeping, in particular, Gulf Arabs happy with their anti-Iran stance? Recently, former national security advisor John Bolton told an exclusive conference that Trump’s foreign policy is almost entirely guided by his own, or his family’s feted greed.

And so how much of that greed is responsible for what we are witnessing in the region, in Lebanon, Iraq and now Iran?

While Trump took a strong stand against Iran from the off, in May 2017 when he attended that banal fancy dress circus in Riyadh, he also took a firm position against Qatar. Only for this to be withdrawn when he got cold feet over a 2.5 million dollar donation to his re-election campaign from the UAE and probably realized he was being coerced into being part of a war between Qatar and the UAE. Or was it when it emerged that Qatar was in fact financing Kushner’s failed New York City office block venture through a loop hole in US law which allowed a Canadian subsidiary of Qatar’s to whitewash the money?

It’s a similar story in Turkey where Trump has a property in Istanbul. According to Bolton, this building alone, has clouded Trump’s judgment and handling of the tumultuous and opaque relationship which he has with Erdogan over a wide range of issues ranging from his decision to pull out of Northern Syria to threatening Ankara over its decision to buy the infamous Russian S-400s in preference for US defence systems. Even this special relationship between Trump and Erdogan won’t save either of them from the crisis which is heading their way as their administrations clash.

‘Brown-brown’

Iran’s economy crashing is not a victory for Trump and his beleaguered idea of a strategy to in rein its leaders. Both Washington and Tehran are banking on the EU taking a new initiative in a fresh set of talks and financial aid to Iran, which will alienate the EU further from Washington in a period of high tension during a EU-US trade war – and where such clashes might even possibly succeed in Trump 2.0 being an isolationist period in office post-2020, which sees the US pull out of NATO and gives more power to Jared Kushner and Ivanka. Furthermore, Trump simply doesn’t understand the region and the impact that bankrupting Tehran would have in that draining Hezbollah in Lebanon of funds during an extremely tense realignment of power there is like playing with fire.

Trump probably sees himself as the Lord of War Hollywood movie star Nicholas Cage character Victor Bout who has no idea of even the names of the countries he sells arms to, or even the geopolitical ramifications. Trump’s ‘maximum pressure’ policy is only going to end up with ‘maximum blowback’ as even respected Israeli analysts are now not only referring to this strategy as “dangerous” - as it has led to Iran now embracing the potential of nuclear weapons – but also looking to the next US president to sort the mess out.

Ironically, John Bolton who was very much part of the Iran strategy (although egged Trump for a tougher stance) was the last non ‘yes man’ in Trump’s team and may well be part of his downfall if he cooperates with Democrats and their impeachment escapade. What would it take?