'This is where the United States should be putting its efforts. People in the region understand that until there is a serious US interest in a political solution, it won’t happen. Even if Trump is only interested in “putting America first”, he would do well to stop being involved in dropping bombs on Yemenis'
-America will regret helping Saudi Arabia bomb Yemen, Guardian, June 20 2017When it comes to US foreign policy, the 'ought' is very far from the 'is', one reason Washington elites have contempt for him and would prefer it if he was removed. His foreign policy is quite in continuity with that which came before and, if anything, it was probably less aggressive over Syria than Hillary Clinton's.
Had Clinton won the 2016 election, it is possible she would have responded to the alleged Assad gas attacks with much more of a military escalation than Trump's 'shot across the bows' when he fired 59 Tomahawk missiles. Likewise, the US military assistance to the Saudi bombardment of Yemen was Obama's policy.
The problem with Trump is that he doesn't even know how to use US influence to balance between Tehran and Riyadh. The decision to back Saudi Arabia against the Houthis was partly about reassuring Riyadh that Washington was not tilting towards Tehran too much over the 2014 nuclear weapons deal.
This strategy was necessary as Iranian backed forces were needed to shore up the struggle against IS in northern Iraq. It was also about instilling in the minds of the Saudis that while the US was a staunch military and security ally, the tilt towards Tehran mean support for the Saudis was not completely unconditional.
Trump sees Iran as a top US enemy. As the Caliphate disintegrates, the prospect of Iranian backed militias filling the void has led to a scramble for control not just in northern Iraq but also in eastern Syria. If Iranian proxies were to seize that region, Tehran would have a land bridge through to Damascus and Southern Lebanon.
Hezbollah would stand to have a direct supply line from Iran and the 'Shia crescent' is regarded as a direct threat not only to Saudi Arabia but also to Israel where simmering tensions over control over Eastern Mediterranean gas reserves and geopolitical antagonisms have threated to start a Third Lebanon War.
This connects to Yemen as Hezbollah has aligned with the Houthis against the Saudis who all along feared covert Iranian attempts to assert control over the Bab El-Mandheb Strait, a major geopolitically significant chokepoint through which oil tanker traffic flows. It would also threaten the integrity of Saudi Arabia from within.
The Qatari support for democratic Islamism across the Middle East since 2011, but existing before the Arab Spring, created fear of Shia Muslims rising up in eastern oil producing regions within Saudi Arabia. It was for this reason Riyadh rolled the tanks into Bahrain to crush the uprising in 2012 as part of an Iranian plot.
With Syria's Sunni rebels being crushed by decisive Russian and Assad military force in east Aleppo in December 2016, Qatar realigned back towards Iran over developing Persian Gulf gas fields. That, and Qatar's readiness to thumb its nose at the GCC states over democracy promotion, has lead to the diplomatic war and blockade.
Decisive in driving the probability of conflict with Iran, is Trump's demonization of Iran as the regional force plotting against it, even in trying to align with Qatar. As IS becomes less of a threat to regional interests and with Assad ascendant in Syria, Trump and his generals could see degrading Iran's regional force as an aim.
The Globalised Impact of 'Extremism'
The shooting down of a Russian aircraft could be subjected to 'deconfliction' and diplomatic wars of words in so far it has been regarded as newsworthy in the Western media at all. Equally as omitted is the scale of the civilian casualties in letting the generals off the leash as the US bombed its way from Mosul and towards Raqqa in Syria,
The deaths, according to Airwars, stand at 3,800 and casualties increased by 60% in 2017. As ISIS declines it has lashed out through terror attacks claimed for it in Manchester and London Bridge, though there has generally been a media and political elite consensus that downplays the role of Sunni Salafi jihad in favour of 'extremism'
The reason British PM May goes on about 'extremism' is it doesn't mention the connection between the Wahhabi and Salafi version of Islam promoted by Britain's strategic partner in the Middle East-Saudi Arabia. It's a right wing political correctness that the Conservative Party holds to so as not to defend its lucrative commercial ties.
These include BAE arms deals, the military industrial complex which both it and the US has carefully interwoven together so as to bind the Special Relationship across both Labour and Tory parties. Of course, the big threat to this comes from Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader and who is ranged against both the Saudis and 'US Imperialism'.
The handy rhetoric about 'extremism' is it could be used to conflate domestic political opposition with that of insufficient zealotry for British foreign policies. This is not least the case where Corbyn is assumed to be siding with Britain's enemies, not just the Soviet Union and Russia but Iran and even in the past appearing as a Press TV host.
Domestic Instability in the 'Anglosphere': Atlanticist Militancy as 'Escape Forwards'.
The probability of a war by the autumn of 2017 cannot be dismissed. Trump is under domestic siege and could see an 'escape forwards' through a conflict against Iran to remove it as an effective player in Syria, not least given the fact that it cannot do so by conflict with Russia, which is a nuclear armed state.
The other factor is the Qatar-Turkish alliance. It would be impossible for Saudi Arabia to invade Qatar if Turkey, a NATO state, had a military presence in addition to the US. The consequence of the widening gulf between the Sunni powers of the Middle East is an upgrade of Russia and Iran's relative bargaining power.
Trump has little understanding of regional complexities between Sunni and Shia. His decision to support Saudi Arabia at the Riyadh Summit in May 2017 and hostile tweets supporting the Saudi's hypocritical attacks on Qatar's support for 'extremism' came as it an the GCC states planned to bring about an 'Arab NATO'.
Naturally, Trump is hardly acting independently and certainly not alone. Much of the hawkish position with regard to Iran is bipartisan as the Saudi lobby is influential in Washington and Trump has surrounded himself by those ageing politicians and generals who take a more aggressive stance towards Iran.
The attempt to push through fresh sanctions on Russia for supporting Assad, is repellently hypocritical given its support for the Saudi regime in a war pushing 17 million to the brink of famine and slaughtering many more as the bombs blast civilian targets relentlessly and ruthlessly. Few take seriously US talk of 'moral leadership' anymore.
The sanctions came with ones on Iran too, having nothing to do with morality but with purely geopolitical power play in the Great Game for predominance in the contest to advance militia assets in Iraq and Syria. The task has been to lever Sunni Arab militias forward against Iranian ones while destroying ISIS.
Once ISIS was destroyed, there is no telling whether the US would not want to take Iranian assets out as part of a regional Cold War style proxy war, with Iran rather than Russia as the object of 'existential struggle'. Propaganda regarding Iran's status as a 'mountain fortress of Islamist extremism' is a staple of the US and UK right.
Iran as enemy since 1979 is one current on the neoconservative right and involves an uncritical support for the Israeli Likud administration under Netanyahu. Typical of this stance is support within Britain for Israel as a form of both foreign policy united to a domestic cultural warfare against the hard left's hostility towards it.
With a DUP-Conservative coalition needed to shore up Brexit, the potential for polarisation and the prospect of figures such Michael Gove, who retains close links to Trump and media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, launching attacks on enemies within such as Corbyn, PLP members and Momentum cannot be discounted.
The DUP are ardent Christian Zionists just as much as Corbyn and his allies are sympathisers with Irish Republicanism and Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA. The Republicans see in the British state and imperialist entity that was as responsible for the Northern Irish settler state just as much as Israel after the 1914-18 war.
Gove has accused those who blocked military action by Britain to join a 2013 move by the US to launch a military action against Assad's state in Syria as 'smiling over the spilt blood'. The PLP was both anti-Israeli and pro-Iranian and so 'appeasers' of terrorism and state sponsors such as Iran, ignoring the Saudi support for Sunni jihad.
In fact, Iran's backing for Hezbollah or Hamas pales into insignificance when compared with Saudi Arabia's backing for jihadi factions in the Free Syria Army, including those affiliated with Al Qaeda and those which broke from the FSA to join ISIS and to create the Caliphate. It's alleged Riyadh even covertly supported ISIS.
Those in Trump's team remember the heyday of US superpower in the 1980s against the Soviet Union with Saudi Arabia onside. It won against the USSR by supporting Sunni militants in Afghanistan and standing firm against Iran's threat to the Persian Gulf by backing Iraq's war against it between 1980-88.
This is the great danger: ageing paranoid men fearing their superpower status is being menaced and faced with internal domestic threats. The same is true of Britain with Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson being a reheated version of a Cold War Warrior against enemies without united to enemies within as a 'seamless totalitarian movement'.
With Brexit stalling, the economy in decline and political turbulence ahead in both Great Powers in the 'Anglosphere', the crisis in the Persian Gulf could be one that precipitates a war as disastrous as the 2003 invasion of Iraq and has global consequences. One of these would be global economic instability due to threats to oil supplies.
The other would be the decline of the post-1945 global order led by the US. In Britain any move towards greater intervention would be deeply contested by Corbyn's Labour in revival of his role as chair of the StWC. It could be that May's national security state would be moved into deeper manoeuvres against Corbyn.
While this is a worst case scenario, a clash with Iran might be averted. But it could be preceded by a Third Lebanon War which would see polarisation in Britain over it and the US position, not least as Corbyn has been part of radical groups supporting Hezbollah and his spin doctor, Seumas Milne, has lauded them as heroic resistance fighters.