Don’t get me wrong—I’m no fan of Donald Trump and, given his ego- and anger-driven foreign policy-by-Twitter, much could change. But… Trump policies are having a positive influence in the Middle East.
Take this article from an Egyptian daily, for instance. It shows that Arab media are recognising that Israel is not the priority of Arab states; Iran is. It also shows that Egypt will be halting its rapprochement with Iran, and that Trump recognises Egypt as a Middle Eastern leader. This should help shore up the Status Quo Bloc, especially given the announcement that US troops will soon fight in Syria. It shows that the US is no longer retreating from the region. It’s this perceived retreat under Obama that created the vacuum allowing for Iran and Russia, in particular, to become bolder.
Speaking of policy, here’s a suggestion for US policy in regards to Iran by a former bigshot at the CIA: don’t focus on what Iran does, and certainly don’t rattle the sabre, but focus on what hurts Iran. The article points out the three times (1988, 2003 and 2015) where Iran changed course. Two of those three times were because of intense pressure on its economy.
The sanctions that brought Iran to the nuclear negotiating table in 2015 should be incrementally put back in place, not to prevent nuclearisation, but to stop Iranian terrorist-supporting activities. The sanctions (and here I’m going beyond what the article suggests) need to have an out—’stop doing this, or we’ll put sanctions on you. And we’ll lift sanctions once you stop doing it’. The out is sponsorship of terrorism, of course.
The article talks about the need to engage with US allies. And that’s important. But I’ve been reading The Iran Wars, which describes the sanctions against Iran that brought it to the negotiating table in 2015. Those sanctions took the country to the precipice. And while there were increasingly strident rounds of UN Security Council-imposed sanctions (which require acquiescence from other countries that would probably not happen now), the sanctions that made all the difference were the Congress-imposed (i.e. not Obama-imposed) sanctions that prevented any company from doing business in both Iran and the US—companies had to choose, and they all did. By ultimately excluding Iran from the international financial system, Iran could no longer sell oil for cash, but had to barter exchanges (i.e. oil for goods). Things were so dire, they entered into negotiations with the Great Satan.
It’s possible, it’s been done before, and Congress would likely get on board. And while the purpose would be to make Iran stop supporting terrorist proxies, it might ultimately bring about a popular revolution.
I wrote back in November 2014 that success for the Islamic State requires continued success—that, jihadi doctrine aside, the loyalty of its fighters will be decided by success on the battlefield (not the other way around) and the ability of IS to pay them.
Now, as IS is reeling from successive battleground defeats, fighters are claiming sick leave!
George Friedman, founder of StratFor, but now of Geopolitical Futures (there’s surely an interesting story as to why he left) has written an article worth reading about the strategic options facing the US. The maps in the article alone make it worth the click.
And while this blog welcomes such a discussion, it disagrees with his suggestions. First, he divides the Middle East into ‘Sunni’ and ‘Shia’, whereas this blog divides the Middle East into three main blocs. Second, he concludes the US should align with Iran, something I disagree with entirely. And while I have made some suggestions as to strategic policy in the past, the article prompts me to re-visit it. I’ll see what I can come up with in the next little while.