Trump’s Iran Obsession Wrecked His Foreign Policy
Andrew Bacevich comments on the recent escalation of tensions with Iran and what it tells us about Trump’s presidency:
Again, the precise numbers are almost beside the point. In effect, Trump has drawn his own line in the sand, one that says: “We ain’t leaving, no sir.” His decision—was it really his?—is in effect a capitulation. Trump has deferred to the institutions, interests, and individuals intent on perpetuating the forever wars. Devious and diabolical and brilliant, the war party, abetted by its foreign auxiliaries, has prevailed. Trump will now surely bequeath those wars to his successor—that’s the significance of the Iran war scare.
I agree with all of this. I would just add that this was a predictable outcome for a president who chose to make antipathy to Iran the centerpiece of his foreign policy. Trump could not extricate the U.S. from the region while simultaneously pursuing a more aggressive anti-Iranian policy than his predecessor. The pursuit of that anti-Iranian policy has had a great deal to do with the failure to bring U.S. involvement in multiple unnecessary wars to an end. This was not something foisted on him by others, but has been his own doing from the beginning. When his subordinates disagreed with him about the nuclear deal as Tillerson and McMaster did, he replaced them sooner or later, and he chose even more bellicose and aggressive people to take their place. He has signed off on every aggressive anti-Iranian and pro-Saudi move he could. When faced with unprecedented Congressional opposition over the war on Yemen, he chose to use his veto for only the second time in his presidency to reject Congress’ demand that he withdraw the U.S. from that war.
Ever since he embraced the Saudis and Emiratis early in his first year in office, he has been increasingly bound to them and has been eager to cater to their preferences as much as he can. His determination to be even more pro-Saudi than the average president has guaranteed that U.S. foreign policy has had less and less to do with American interests and has instead become a vehicle for promoting the ambitions of regional clients at our expense. It isn’t possible to disentangle the U.S. from ceaseless war in the Middle East when the president abases himself to such an extent before despotic clients and takes their enemies as ours. The Iran obsession has defined and wrecked Trump’s foreign policy, and it has led him to make most of the worst foreign policy decisions of his presidency.
Trump knows very little and had no foreign policy experience to speak of, and that made it extremely easy for hawkish advisers to fill his head with their own terrible ideas. Those advisers are undoubtedly responsible for egging Trump on to take destructive and aggressive actions, but ultimately it is Trump’s responsibility for surrounding himself with people that everyone knew would give him such awful advice. No one made Trump choose Pompeo and Bolton. It was his own vanity and his preference for flattering yes-men that led him to choose such unworthy and dangerous people for important positions at the highest levels of the government. Trump doesn’t have the wit, knowledge, or conviction to take U.S. foreign policy in a different, better direction, and to the extent that he occasionally has impulses that point in that direction they are just as easily canceled out and overwhelmed by even stronger, contradictory impulses that drive him toward confrontation and escalation. The war party prevailed because the president sided with them from the beginning, filled his administration with hard-liners, and fought against every effort in Congress to rein in and end our government’s illegal and unauthorized involvement in the war on Yemen.