The Middle East. Could there be a more perilous place on Earth, including North Korea? Not likely. The planet’s two leading nuclear-armed powers backing battling proxies amply supplied with conventional weapons; terror groups splitting and spreading; religious-sectarian wars threatening amid a plethora of ongoing armed hostilities stretching from Syria to Iraq to Yemen. And that was before Donald Trump and his team arrived on this chaotic scene. If there is one region where a single spark might start the fire that could engulf the globe, then welcome to the Middle East.
As for sparks, they are now in ample supply. At this moment, President Trump’s foreign-policy agenda is a package of contradictions threatening to reach a boiling point in the region. He has allied himself firmly with Saudi Arabia even when his secretaries of state and defense seem equivocal on the subject. In the process, he’s come to view a region he clearly knows little about through the Saudi royal family’s paranoid eyes, believing staunchly that Shia Iran is hellbent on controlling an Islamic world that is 85 percent Sunni.
Trump has never exactly been an admirer of Iran. His growing hostility toward Tehran (and that of the Iranophobic generals he’s appointed to key posts) has already led the US military to shoot down two Iranian-made armed drones as well as a Syrian jet in 12 days. This led Moscow to switch off the hotline between its operational center at the Khmeimim Air Base in Syria and al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar, the major American military facility in the region. According to the Russian Defense Ministry, at the time the Syrian warplane was hit by the US fighter, Russia’s Aerospace Forces were carrying out missions in Syria’s airspace. “However,” it added, “the coalition command did not use the existing communication line…to prevent incidents in Syria’s airspace.”
At the same time, the incorrigibly contradictory Trump has not abandoned his wish to cultivate friendly relations with Russia, whose close economic and military ties with Iran date back to 1992. The danger inherent in the rich crop of contradictions in this muddle, and Trump’s fervent backing of the Saudis in their recent threats against neighboring Qatar, should be obvious to all except the narcissistic American president.
No one should be surprised by any of this once Trump inserted himself, tweets first, in the violent and crisis-ridden Middle East. After all, he possesses an extraordinary capacity to create his own reality. He seems to instinctively block out his failures, and rushes headlong to embrace anything that puts him in a positive light. Always a winner, never a loser. Such an approach seems to come easily to him, since he’s a man of tactics with a notoriously short attention span, which means he’s incapable of conceiving of an overarching strategy of a sort that would require concentration and the ability to hold diverse factors in mind simultaneously.