Late Sunday night, Donald Trump went to twitter and started beating the war drum against Iran. He did so in retaliation to the President Hassan Rouhani’s remarks in a speech that if the U.S. launches a war against Iran, it would be the mother of all wars. We heard that same phrase from none other than Sadam Hussein the week before the liberation of Kuwait in the 1990s.
The Middle East has a unique language of its own when it comes to diplomacy. I am fluent in the diplomatic-speak of the region having represented many despots and dictators, as well as assisting in implementing a communications strategy preparing America and the Coalition for war in Gulf War I.
The best way to understand Middle East Diplomacy is to study kids at recess on an elementary school playground. Everyone runs around and plays, but there is always this one bully who tries to impose his will on everyone. If there is a second bully with the goal of imposing an opposing will, then the stage is set for conflict.
The two bullies begin a strut to measure the opposition. Before long, the kids start calling one another names. Things escalate when one bully raises his voice and screams at his foe: “YOUR MAMA!” That horrible term is the last straw, and fisticuffs ensue.
The mother of all wars, followed by Donald Trump’s tweet in retaliation is the same scenario exactly, like the bullies in the schoolyard above. President Rouhani might as well have said “your mama,” to Trump. The problem is the Middle East has a lot of overgrown bullies. Introducing our own bully to the mix is toxic.
How do we know Trump means business? It is all in caps. As any veteran of social media debate knows, typing in all caps, and more than likely pounding his phone with his thumbs while creating his own “your mama,” reply means serious intent.
Why are we even discussing war?
Bill Kristol, a pundit for whom I have enormous respect, has a theory. Mr. Kristol, Editor-in-Chief of the conservative The Weekly Standard posted the tweet on the right as his thoughts as to why the war drums are sounding along the Potomac. His argument is plausible.
It is a time-honored tradition to use wars and threats of wars to distract the public during times of domestic crisis. I recall President Nixon taking the nation to Defcon III, one step below nuclear war, during the Yom Kippur War. His presidency was crumbling, and he was drunk at the time. I don’t recall seeing Trump drink, and that is a good thing. He’s nuts enough without adding alcohol to the mix.
I think Mr. Kristol is onto something, but there is more to this story. For the past few months, Benjamin Netanyahu has been speaking about when the war with Iran comes. Notice, he is saying it will happen, not if it occurs. For Netanyahu, it is a foregone conclusion. Bibi has problems of his own. His wife under indictment for corruption, and he is under investigation too.
Trump likes Netanyahu. They share many similar views. They are especially close when it comes to ultra-Nationalism. Israel passed a controversial law which plays into the hands of her critics. By law, they have disenfranchised all who are not Jews inside Israel.
Iran surrounds Israel on three of four sides. Iran is in Gaza and provides the terrorists there with a means to strike Israel, as well as Iran's long-term sponsorship of Hezbollah in the north. With the Syrian Civil War, Iran now occupies Israel’s eastern flank. If I were an Israeli, I would be concerned too.
It isn’t just the Israelis who are pushing Trump. The Saudis have Trump’s ear, and they despise the Iranians as much or more than the Israelis. The Saudi/Iran rivalry goes back a long way, to the year 632. The Shi’ite/Sunni split happened soon after the death of Mohammed. It creates problems in the world 1,386 years later.
Dragging the U.S.A. into a war is not a good solution for anyone.
What does this have to do with Helsinki?
The events are connected. Iran feels emboldened by Donald Trump’s apparent weakness which was on full display in Helsinki. The USA under Trump has strained our military alliances and impeded our ability to make war decisively, due to the loss of our allies.
Moreover, Iran has a great relationship with Russia. They see that Putin controls Trump, so for all of Trump’s bluster on Twitter, Rouhani can rest easy that conflict with America will never escalate beyond Trump’s use of capital letters on Twitter.
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