On the one hand, anyone hoping for the success of President Trump’s America First foreign policies (which, as I’ve written, could be a lot more America First-y), would be dumb as a post to jog a victory lap following Mr. Trump’s remarks this morning about the situation in Iran and the Middle East.
On the other hand, any American genuinely hoping for the security of his country and not blinded by Trump Derangement Syndrome can’t help but be impressed by how encouragingly events in the Middle East have unfolded since the killing of Qassem Soleimani, who had commanded Iran’s military efforts to expand its influence throughout the region.
First, all signs indicate that the Soleimani killing has delivered to Iran (and probably its proxies) two messages as vital as they’ve been convincing: If you kill Americans, or attack American embassies and other regional and other foreign assets, the leaders who planned these actions will get the axe. If this interpretation is wrong, then the Trump critics will need to explain why Iran retaliated by “targeting” Iraqi bases with accurate ballistic missiles but then missing the mark – conveniently avoiding striking the U.S. forces housed there.
The Never Trump-ers will also need to explain a stunning statement from an Iranian government that has never displayed any hesitancy about personalizing its conflict with the United States: Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s claim that the President has been fed misinformation about Soleimani and his country’s foreign policy. If that wasn’t a peace, or de-escalation feeler, I don’t know what could be.
Therefore, the immediate bottom line seems awfully favorable to the United States: Iran lost a leader described as the country’s second most important political figure, and an American ally (for lack of a better term for Iraq) lost some structures.
Moreover, Iran hasn’t even entirely gotten away scot free with last night’s actions. Mr. Trump announced tighter sanctions against an economy that’s already being decimated by U.S.-spearheaded curbs on trade and investment. He announced a pressure campaign to secure more involvement in the Middle East by America’s NATO allies – who defied many Never Trumper predictions and generally lined up with the United States both on the Soleimani killing (over which they shed no tears) and on Iran’s retaliation, and who have a much greater stake in Middle East stability. And the President declared that further U.S. responses haven’t been ruled out (although if they take the form of cyber assaults, we may never hear about them, at least for many years).
Meanwhile, let’s review – for now, anyway – how many Never Trumper talking points stand as truly loony and indeed downright disgraceful:
>that the President is too psychologically unstable and specifically insecure to avoid plunging the United States into an endless cycle of retaliation and counter-retaliation;
>that the Soleimani killing was a “wag the dog” effort to distract the nation’s attention from impeachment and even to spark a rally-round-the-flag popular reaction that would aid his reelection campaign; and
>that because of the President’s incompetence, the Trump administration’s foreign policy decision-making apparatus is dangerously chaotic.
This Trump success doesn’t validate the President’s entire Middle East policy by any means. First and foremost, the region remains too dysfunctional and explosive to justify confidence in any optimistic predictions.
More specifically, however, as I’ve complained elsewhere, Mr. Trump still seems wed to the globalist goals of both protecting the Middle East against Iranian aggression, and fostering the region’s “peace and stability” – through a combination of more U.S. forces for the near-term future, anyway; more effective cooperation with regional allies; more of that aforementioned involvement by America’s fellow members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). In a phrase, “Not gonna happen.”
Additionally, this conviction is all the more puzzling given the President’s statement today that
“Over the last three years, under my leadership, our economy is stronger than ever before and America has achieved energy independence. These historic accomplishments changed our strategic priorities. These are accomplishments that nobody thought were possible. And options in the Middle East became available. We are now the number-one producer of oil and natural gas anywhere in the world. We are independent, and we do not need Middle East oil.”
Even better, the observation was made in the context of seeking a greater regional role for countries remaining highly dependent on these energy supplies.
Yes, a terrorism threat remains. But as I’ve also written, it’s ultimately (meaning ASAP) much better handled by further securing America’s own borders rather than by chasing endlessly mushrooming Jihadist groups around a completely failed region. And if you’re worried about Israel, there can be no legitimate doubt that the Israelis can handle themselves with continued American military aid – especially since Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu just again made clear (if accidentally) that the country has a nuclear arsenal.
In other words, Mr. Trump’s latest Iran-related gambit combined some elements of operational America First-ism (a focus on actions that affected American lives) and of rhetorical globalism. The more closely he hews to the former, and relegates the latter to political cover for an eventual wind-down of decades of often disastrously counterproductive U.S. intervention, the more grateful his countrymen will have cause to be.