Well, we’re only a couple of weeks into 2020 and the President of the United States has decided that he needs to make this year kinda crap already by possibly starting a war in the Middle East. If you haven’t been keeping up with the latest happy-go-boom-boom antics of the Trump administration, here’s an incredibly brief summary of what the hell is going on.
Iran and America’s diplomatic relationship has always been rocky to say the very least. It probably doesn’t help that the US helped orchestrate a coup which deposed Iran’s democratically elected Prime Minister and installed the Shah who was friendly to the US. He lasted until 1979 when he was overthrown by Ayatolloh Khomeni and his followers. Following this, Iran was turned into an Islamic theocracy. Tensions rose further when Americans were taken hostage inside the US embassy in Tehran during the fallout of the revolution.
There looked to have been a breathrough in relations when Iran signed a deal to limit its nuclear programme in exchange for the lifting of severe sanctions. But that was thrown into doubt when Trump won the presidency. He has publically expressed his hatred of this accord ever since it was announced and has called it ‘ the worst deal ever negotiated.’ He abandoned the deal entirely in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions on Iran to try and force them to agree to a new deal, which they rejected. More incidents occured which only strained relations further. All of which led to a US led drone strike that killed top Iranian General Qasem Soleimani. This has led to retaliation from Iran on air bases housing US forces in Baghdad. Both have justified their actions as self defence.
Most things Trump says in public, especially when he goes off script, sound downright insane. But what he said when announcing the drone strike and assassination of Soleimani was something out of the top draw of crazy. Apparently this action, which could be seen as a declaration of war or certainly as an action predecating war, was taken to stop war. I’m sorry, what?! The claim from the Trump administration is that they took the action to kill Soleimani and attempted to kill another senior Iranian official to prevent a serious imminent attack against the interests of the United states. But not many are too convinced by this. It’s far more likely to be the re-establishing of a line of deterrence. But Trump is still signalling he wants to withdraw from the Middle East even as he warns of bringing devestation to Iran. He views it as someone else’s problem and that will only undermine any message or signal of deterrance.
The subsequent attack on air bases housing US staff in Iraq has also brought the question of US troop presence in Iraq sharply into focus. Many Iraqis are unhappy with both the US presence and Iranian influence. But US involvement matters. When they were deployed to fight IS, it was always seen as a long term deployment. Once IS were destroyed, they were expected to remain there for years. If they are forced out, it will be that much harder to contain any resurgence or to continue their presence in Syria which is largely supported from those Iraqi bases. If the US forces leave, Iran will have gained a huge advantage.
And while there has seemingly been a step down from Iran following the bombing of air bases in Iraq and the shooting down of a Ukranian passenger plane, that does not mean that the tensions have decreased or that the crisis is over. Iran’s strategic goal remains to push the United States out of the Middle East and remove their influence entirely. They are chomping at the bit for revenge. And they may be closer to achieving that than ever. Most of America’s allies in the region are starting to look for alternatives because of the contradictions in US policy.
Depending on who you ask, Qasem Soleimani was a terrrorist with the blood of countless soldiers and innocents on his hands and was gearing up to attack US and UK interests throughout the region. To others he was a hero of the Ayatollah regime and a freedom fighter. His killing has sparked real worries for the stability of the region. IS has welcomed his death as helping them to recover from defeats in the region, particularly in Iraq. Iran has also walked back from several commitments in the nuclear deal. If the deal collapses, Iran will start sprinting towards completeing a nuclear bomb. Before the deal, there was a real possibility of war. The only reason the deal is still in place is because no one else besides Trump wants to see it collapse.
All that can be certain is that President Trump’s actions have reignited tensions across the Middle East and drawn the US back into the mire, right as their policy is take them out.