Until now Donald Trump has proceeded with relative impunity in foreign affairs. But his imposition of a terrorist designation on Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, which numbers some 11 million strong, could change that. Iran is promising to respond by labeling the American military as a terrorist organization. These moves could lead, willy-nilly, to a fresh conflict in the Middle East, the very thing, incidentally, that Trump promised to avoid when campaigning for the presidency in 2016.
But then again Trump made a lot of promises. A wall would be built and the border secured. Obamacare would be nuked. Coal would make a big comeback. America would experience a Great Leap Forward. And so on.
The contradictions of his presidency are now catching up to him. Trump is afraid of a war but his moves, championed by the lurid duo of John Bolton and Mike Pompeo, are impelling him into a fresh conflict. The move also savors of political calculations. The main beneficiary is Benjamin Netanyahu, who has for decades been depicting Iran as Public Enemy Number One.
But is it worse than Saudi Arabia, the source of the 9/11 hijackers and promoter of the militant Wahhabi faith around the globe? Iran was abiding by the terms of the nuclear deal. In his zeal to overturn anything endorsed by the dreaded Barack Obama, Trump has allowed himself to be captured by a neocon contingent, housed at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, that is thirsting for a new crusade to vanquish the mullahs in Tehran.
For his part, Trump is clearly eager to help hoist Netanyahu into another term in office as well as try to sever, if possible, the umbilical cord between Democrats and American Jews. Trump may refer to ‘your prime minister’ but he knows potential votes when he sees them.
Then there are the Saudis. They have been pushing Washington to oppose Tehran and feting Trump’s own princeling, Jared Kushner. The House of Saud, which is bombing Yemen to smithereens, will view Trump’s move with complacent satisfaction.
Russia, by contrast, is likely to seize the opportunity to bolster its links to Tehran. So is China. Oil prices will go up. Trump won’t like that. But the more unstable the Middle East becomes, the greater the threat to the world economy.
If Iran takes a potshot at an American ship in the Persian Gulf, Trump’s native bellicosity may kick in. Trump is in deeper waters, so to speak, than he may realize. A war in Iran would make Iraq look like a tea party.