If he survives the Mueller probe, Americans may well hold him to account on his foreign policy trail of havoc. Will Trump run in 2020? Steve Bannon, his former chief strategist, who many claim was the mastermind behind his 2016 victory, believes he will, depending on the outcome of 2019 and the Mueller enquiry.
In DC-speak that means if the US can avoid a recession in 2019 and Trump escapes the tentacles of a probe which could finger him as a Russian agent of some sort, then he will come back, likely with an even larger majority. What many Americans will vote for is simply the economy, and no one can take away from Trump the lowest unemployment rates in 50 years which resonates with many blue collar workers in the states. The economy though is a bit more complicated.
But for the US on the world stage, very few will note how the world has changed since Trump took office and how new relationships between old foes are emerging which is making even the most ardent geopolitical experts left scratching their heads.
Syria double U-turn: Just recently Trump did a U-turn on his own policy decision – taken in December – on Syria. Who could forget that phone call to Turkey’s president where he just, at the drop of a hat, told Erdogan he was pulling out? Many geopolitical hacks, including myself, warned of a reversal of this decision in the weeks to follow – which is what we have witnessed – but few of us can explain why he decided to leave some 400 US troops in Syria. The regular pundits in the US are all taking the line that it’s about leaving a contingent military force of some sort in Syria to act as a deterrent against Iran and Russia’s operations on the ground, which makes less sense when you consider the numbers of US soldiers and their capability.
Others are beginning to wonder how much of a role Israel is playing in this decision as Mossad, at around the same time as the first Trump call to pull out, held a secret meeting with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE, and thrashed out a plan to back the YPG/SDF, the Syrian affiliate of the PKK, in a new offensive against Erdogan, while warming relations with Assad. As a consequence, the entire rationale of the West has changed in Syria and the Middle East.
Washington, Israel and Saudi Arabia now believe the only way forward is to use Assad as a broker and communicator with Iran, which they would like Assad to treat more on an equal footing rather than Syria being its client state. Trump’s anti-Iran campaign is seeing winners and losers. On the one hand, it’s forcing Iran’s proxies like Hezbollah to take more power in Lebanon and be more mercurial in how it takes advantage of ministries in government there to help its fighters, while on the other hand making Iran and Hezbollah think seriously for the first time about hitting Israel with strategic missiles. Other unintended consequences inevitably include making the EU a more significant partner of Iran than Tehran could ever have dreamed of, all to preserve the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPA) which Trump’s people recently admitted Iran was respecting.
Khashoggi slap: Add to that, the confusion of the Khashoggi affair which has left Riyadh asking itself whether it can operate in the longer term as Trump’s main arms customer in the Middle East and keep the myth of Iran being a big threat alive. That Trump didn’t go as far as the Saudis had hoped in containing the media scandal, and you begin to understand how delicate the Riyadh-Washington relation is all along. In fact, the tour of Asia by MBS who signed deals with all the big players was both a slap in the face to Trump and a revelation that even the Saudis don’t see Iran as a military threat. But in reality if the Saudis are going to trade with China and Russia on a whole new scale – while they buy S-400s from Moscow – then the farce of Iran being a military threat will be harder to pull off in the long run.
EU stunt: The whole region, rather than settle back comfortably into a 1982 Reagan model of good and bad guys with no one taking the middle ground of those who “don’t know”, has been turned upside down.
What we are witnessing with Trump’s game of super-powers-by-numbers which is primarily based on his foibles and insecurity – and using Fox news as his primary source of world news – is chaos on a new scale. In reality, Trump is playing into to the hands of Russia, Iran and China and creating the hilarious justification for the EU to pull out all the stops and invent a new role for itself as chief ‘talk shop organiser’. EU bureaucrats claim this new idea is to counteract against Russia and China’s influence in the region because that’s just what the Middle East needs: one more talk shop. As for Trump making it to 2020, it may well be the foreign policy which will be a rod for his own back, as voters decide if they are happy about a whole new world which his idiotic ideas have created.