The Trump Presidency is most mercurial and unpredictable in nature. The rapid-fire “hirings and firings” at the Secretary and senior most levels reflect chaos and disarray, weak command and control, fickle-minded team selection, and a rampant lack of confidence amongst his staff. It is also epitomised by impulsive decision making by the President. He has ruthlessly played havoc with immigration to the US, ObamaCare, North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Paris Agreement on climate change et al. He has trashed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)/Iran Nuclear Deal and has antagonized the entire Islamic world by moving the US embassy to Jerusalem! And he has done precious little to placate all those nations unnerved by his unilateral decisions.

The world is aghast as he goes on a single minded spree destroying and reshaping the world order as he in his wisdom deems fit. Is it deliberate or sheer inexperience or simple incompetence? An apprentice in the White House or On-the-Job training as President of the most powerful nation on earth hardly inspires confidence in the international community.

President Trump’s policy for the Greater Middle East Region (GMER), in particular, is multidimensional and seeks to secure US’ national interests by cementing Israel’s singular, unopposed, hegemonic and belligerent primacy in the GMER.

The geopolitical dimension: First, is to “circumscribe Iranian sphere of influence in the GMER” and foreclose all viable challenges to Israel, KSA and to its own interests. Second, is to tackle “conservative/extremist Islam at its origins - KSA (Sunni) and Iran (Shia)” and the third to effect “regime changes in both these countries”. All three are interlinked. Conservative/extremist Islam is now being tackled through an “indirect approach” where direct kinetic confrontation by the US has so obviously failed. With the KSA, the US has already effected a de facto regime change. Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) now calls all the shots in KSA and his progressive, reformist and pro US (pro Israel and anti Iran too) policies are being forcefully implemented. Economic diversification, madrassah reforms and social/female emancipation are the keywords. These steps will have a concomitant influence in Islamic societies/Sunni madrassahs around the world and will hopefully bring forth a much softer and moderate form of Islam in the future. Effecting a regime change in Iran would be far more difficult. President Trump feels that by tearing up the JCPOA and by imposing even harsher economic sanctions he will discredit the Iranian theocratic regime beyond recovery, instigate internal discontent and cause a popular uprising against it. He plans to create conditions where the Iranians themselves revolt and replace this Government with a pro US-led West government of reformists and moderates.

The geostrategic dimension: Iran’s nuclear program and its endeavors to that end had severe strategic connotations for the US and its allies in the GMER. (The Threat Perceptions, by this scribe in The Nation, 15 April 2012). A nuclear Iran would have brought in that elusive “Balance of Terror”, the absence of which is the basic cause of Israeli intransigence and its ruthless, provocative, arrogant and proactive domination of the GMER. Israel’s position as the all powerful ‘regional cop’ would have been threatened and its absolute freedom of action in the ample strategic spaces that it commands would have been nullified for good. Furthermore, a nuclear Iran would have kick started a regional race for nuclear pre- eminence with KSA, Turkey and Egypt leading the charge. It would have destroyed the craftily contrived “strategic (im) balance in the GMER”, nuclearized it beyond redemption and directly impinged upon US-Israeli-Western interests. Thus the status quo had to be retained. Constrained and weakened through punitive and crippling economic and military sanctions by the US-led West, the Iranians have over the years opted for a different military strategy. They have perfected the art of asymmetric warfare to project power in the GMER. They also have a formidable array of ballistic/non-ballistic missiles which makes for an extraordinary mix of capabilities at the strategic level. They are now proactive in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Afghanistan. The US intends to stop Iran from developing nuclear tipped missiles else, the paradigms and dynamics of the geopolitical and strategic environment of the GMER stand to be altered forever to the abiding detriment of the US-Israeli-Arab-Western interests. As Master of the Game the US will persist with its policy of “offshore balancing” in the GMER - (playing the KSA led GCC and Israel against Iran). This allows it to stay out of direct combat and yet lets it employ, manage and maneuver the active belligerents as per the dictates of its own long term strategic designs!

The Economic Dimension: The overall impact of further sanctions would be massive not only on Iran but on all those countries that had engaged Iran in trade, business and other economic activities in the interim period. Oil prices have risen, oil producers will have more dollars now and US and European business circles will have plenty to sell to them, especially military hardware. However, current business contracts with Iran will be in the doldrums particularly affecting US and European businesses/industries. Importantly, these sanctions are unilateral in nature and do not carry the approval of the UN, yet the US will want all to fall in line- will they?

The Nuclear Dimension: The US is engaging the “rogue or peripheral” nuclear weapon states in a self-contradictory manner. It has torn to smithereens the JCPOA with Iran and paradoxically in the same breath expects North Korea to sign an agreement with it - on “total denuclearization”! The inherent dichotomy in their approach and their loss of credibility is perhaps lost on the Americans. Next President Trump is bound to turn his attention towards the now estranged nuclear Pakistan. Relations between the two erstwhile allies have been on a downward slide ever since his infamous tweet. The stage has been set by the unilateral economic and military sanctions imposed on Pakistan and the ensuing diplomatic spats.

Pakistan is in his crosshairs. It is only a function of time when he moves against it!


The author is a retired Brigadier and is currently on the faculty of NUST (NIPCONS).