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Trump Has Said All the Right Things About Iran, When Will He Act?

In the heat of the 2016 presidential elections, then-candidate Donald Trump stated that he considers the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran the worst deal in history and would rip it up as president. While that did not yet happen, President Trump indeed took steps to show his personal displeasure with the Islamic Republic. In particular, he finally decertified Iran as non-compliant with the terms of the deal in October, and ordered Congress to deal with any additional sanctions on their end. He also signed into law a package of additional Congressional sanctions, formally declared the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to be a terrorist organization.  In recent days an agreement between the United States and Israel to fight Iranian aggression in the Middle East was reportedly signed, and Trump tweeted his support of the growing protests against the regime. The optics may seem promising on the surface, but unfortunately, every other action taken (or not taken) by the administration contradicts these efforts to reign in the worst aspects of the past administration’s inexcusable collusion with the regime.

An unknown number of wealthy figures connected to the regime, including those who have entered the country with student visas remain in the country with no effort made to determine who they are, or how they got here. Nor has any effort been made to reexamine their bonafides for remaining in the United States – all that against the backdrop of seemingly endless litigation over the new administration’s immigration Executive Order, restricting entrance from six countries including Iran, and imposing a waiting time period pending better vetting procedures.

Despite months of warning, the United States failed to stop Tehran from co-opting Baghdad and invading and taking over oil-rich Kirkuk province, under the pretense of responding to the unwelcome Kurdish independence referendum.

Not only has the Trump administration left its Kurdish allies hanging out to dry, but they took no action to prevent the increasingly obvious human rights violations by Iran-backed militias, to make an arrest of the United Nations sanctioned leader of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC)-Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani, or push back against Iran-backed militias in Syria.

Despite warnings by multiple experts, the U.S. has allowed Iran to complete the land corridor from Tehran to Syria, which facilitates entry and smuggling efforts by the Hezbollah. Furthermore, Iran is building a naval base in Syria and growing closer to U.S. NATO ally Turkey, which likewise is hosting IRGC drug traffickers and human smugglers, among others,  and turning over dissidents to Iran.

In other words, the United States has willfully allowed the Iran to pursue its expansionist ambitions unhindered, while paying lip service to crackdown on Iranian geopolitical strategy. While in theory, President Trump is understands the threat presented by the Islamic Republic, the free-for all its intelligence and armed thugs have enjoyed thanks to the cooperation of the Obama administration, appears to be continuing during his administration.

Part of this rather bizarre inconsistency may lie in the fact that the State Department is run largely by career diplomats, most of whom have been the proponents of the nuclear deal and thus support the deal. Likewise, the Pentagon, until recently has prioritized focusing on the elimination of ISIS.

However, none of the above factors explain lack of strategic coherence with respect to tackling Iranian expansionism in the recently unveiled National Security Strategy, nor are we seeing any changes in policy in Iraq and Syria, even after the war on ISIS, by all accounts, has ended with a victory. That means that the top echelons of US foreign policy and national security apparatus prefer to avoid confronting Iran for the time being, even at the cost of empowering the Islamic Republic and its proxies.

But the Islamic Republic is not the only brutal regime to benefit from the U.S.’s non-interventionist policy. Russia has used this opportunity to strengthen its position as a loyal ally and a credible power broker; while Turkey has seized on the perceived weakness of the administration to bolster its own positions and start attacking our other allies.

Besides the ongoing crackdown on Kurds and other minorities within its own borders, Erdogan has started attacking the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) in the press.  Using Trump’s Jerusalem recognition announcement to rile up  the Sunni Arab “street,” Turkey has been needling the Saudi monarchy for its allegedly muted reaction to this event, and for being in cahoots with Israel. Amazingly enough, Erdogan  has not, as he promised, broken the diplomatic ties with Israel, but somehow manages to eat his cake and eat it too – accuse KSA and United Arab Emirates of hypocrisy and weaknesses, while not daring to sever the relations himself. His populist attacks with the Palestinian issue have been nothing but posturing, yet he has managed to attract enough supporters to become an increasingly significant threat.

Just as Erdogan is emerging as the de facto populist Sunni leader at the expense of America’s Arab allies, the emerging alliance among Israel and the Gulf States should probably take the time to reexamine their strategy in light of the U.S. inaction so far with respect to their mutual adversaries.  The accepted notion of this defense pact has been that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman would fund the military and anti-Hezbollah efforts, while Israel will handle the action. If that is, in fact, the plan, it is chimeric. Hezbollah is a serious international menace, and Israel, is in not position to counter the sheer numbers of Hezbollah operatives embedded internationally. Nor is Israel currently in the position to invade Lebanon and confront the body of the Hezbollah in its lair. This allows Hezbollah to recuperate from Syria losses and grow stronger. The U.S. is reported to have begun an effort against Hezbollah in Latin America, but it is too early to tell how much fruit that position will bear.

Despite rhetoric of “peace through strength” that marks the new National Security Strategy, President Trump has yet to show the willingness to throw the immense weight of the mammoth United States military prowess by sending clear and consistent signal that any aggression against US allies  will not be tolerated, even if the aggressors include other allies. Iran is not an ally. Russia has recently been described as a rival and a threat. Turkey is technically an ally, but has been acting like an enemy, spreading anti-US rhetoric, abducting and holding hostage US citizens, and adopting a belligerent pose. All three have grown closer to each other, engaging in lucrative deals, and signing defense treaties. In addition, Iran finances Hamas,  a Sunni terrorist organization, and Turkey gives shelter to Hamas leadership.   And still the administration’s actions favor these three aggressors over allies, as open support for terrorism is met with impunity from the administration.

Administration officials are far from blind to the realities of the growing Middle Eastern schisms, and yet appeaer willing to let these developments get far worse, perhaps even irreversibly so before getting involved – if at all. Or perhaps the isolationism on which the administration campaigned is prevailing, and the top echelons want to have it both ways – appear to say and do all the right things at the UN, where there is little price to be paid, while letting others take all the heat in a world where every move matters? If in January 2017, one were to ask whether the Trump administration could ever choose Iran, Russia, and Turkey over Israel and Gulf States, the logical answer would have been a resounding “no.” But over the course of the year, we have seen the choices that were actually made. And the decisions that were taken, the decisions that are not just in words and before cameras, but are pointing in the direction of at least a “Maybe”. Israel and the Saudis should not wait for the United States to come to their rescue, but rather, start taking the matters into their own hands and strengthen their pact.

[Photo: YouTube/ The White House]