Prin­ci­pled re­al­ism

Prob­a­bly the stu­pid­est for­eign pol­icy com­mit­ment any Amer­i­can ad­min­is­tra­tion has made in 60 years

Cape Breton Post - - Op-Ed - Gwynne Dyer Gwynne Dyer is an in­de­pen­dent jour­nal­ist whose ar­ti­cles are pub­lished in 45 coun­tries.

The media mostly missed it (or chose to ig­nore it as a piece of mean­ing­less rhetoric), but Don­ald Trump pro­claimed a new doc­trine in his speech to the as­sem­bled lead­ers of the Mus­lim world in Saudi Ara­bia on Sun­day.

It goes by the name of Prin­ci­pled Re­al­ism, although it didn’t of­fer much by way of ei­ther prin­ci­ples or re­al­ism. In prac­tice, it mostly boiled down to a dec­la­ra­tion of (proxy) war against Iran.

Af­ter ram­bling on for 20 min­utes about the won­ders of Is­lam and the evils of “ex­trem­ism” and “ter­ror­ism,” Trump fi­nally got to the point: “No dis­cus­sion of stamp­ing out this (ter­ror­ist) threat would be com­plete with­out men­tion­ing the gov­ern­ment that gives ter­ror­ists ... safe har­bour, fi­nan­cial back­ing and the so­cial stand­ing needed for re­cruit­ment. ... I am speak­ing, of course, of Iran.”

No men­tion of the fact that every sin­gle ter­ror­ist at­tack in the West from 9/11 down to the bomb in Manch­ester Arena on Mon­day night was car­ried out by Sunni fa­nat­ics, most of them of Arab ori­gin, whereas Iran’s pop­u­la­tion is over­whelm­ingly Shia and not Arab at all.

No men­tion ei­ther of the fact that it was Sunni-ma­jor­ity al­lies of the United States, no­tably Saudi Ara­bia, Qatar and Turkey, that en­abled the two most pow­er­ful Sunni ex­trem­ist groups, Is­lamic State and al-Qaeda, to seize large amounts of ter­ri­tory in Syria and Iraq. Saudi Ara­bia and Qatar gave the ex­trem­ists di­rect and in­di­rect fi­nan­cial aid, and Turkey kept its bor­der open so that weapons, money and re­cruits could reach them in Syria.

And no men­tion of the fact that the only ap­proved form of Sunni Is­lam in Saudi Ara­bia, the fun­da­men­tal­ist Wah­habi doc­trine, is al­most iden­ti­cal to the ver­sion of Is­lam es­poused by the ter­ror­ists. Bring­ing up such awk­ward sub­jects would have up­set his au­di­ence, and the last thing Trump wants to do is hurt peo­ple’s feel­ings.

Iran, to hear Trump tell it, is the source of all the re­gion’s prob­lems. “From Le­banon to Iraq to Ye­men, Iran funds, arms and trains ter­ror­ists, mili­tias and other ex­trem­ist groups that spread de­struc­tion and chaos across the re­gion . ... It is a gov­ern­ment that speaks openly of mass mur­der, vow­ing the de­struc­tion of Is­rael, death to Amer­ica, and ruin for many na­tions and lead­ers in this room ...”

“Un­til the Ira­nian regime is will­ing to be a part­ner for peace, all na­tions of con­science must work to­gether to iso­late Iran, deny it fund­ing for ter­ror­ism, and pray for the day when the Ira­nian peo­ple have the just and right­eous gov­ern­ment they de­serve.”

Trump de­liv­ered this re­mark­able far­rago of lies and half-truths two days af­ter Iran, the only Mid­dle Eastern state apart from Is­rael and Turkey to hold rel­a­tively free elec­tions, re-elected Pres­i­dent Has­san Rouhani, who has worked hard to re­duce the in­flu­ence of his hard­line op­po­nents. He also signed the deal freez­ing Ira­nian work on nu­clear weapons for 10 years, and he clearly has pop­u­lar sup­port for his poli­cies.

The “mili­tias” Iran trains and sup­ports in­clude those in Iraq that are fight­ing to free the city of Mo­sul from the clutches of Is­lamic State (they also have tacit Amer­i­can sup­port), and the Hezbol­lah move­ment in south­ern Le­banon, which has been part of the Le­banese gov­ern­ment since 2005. There is no ev­i­dence that Iran has sup­plied weapons to the Houthi rebels in Ye­men, de­spite fre­quent al­le­ga­tions to that ef­fect by Arab and Amer­i­can sources.

The Ira­nian gov­ern­ment does not “speak openly about mass mur­der,” and the one Ira­nian leader who spoke about the even­tual de­struc­tion of Is­rael (although he did not prom­ise to do it per­son­ally) was Mah­moud Ah­madine­jad. He was de­feated by Rouhani in the 2013 elec­tion, and was banned from run­ning again in the one just past. “Death to Amer­ica!” was a na­tion­al­ist slo­gan pop­u­lar in the 1980s.

Iran, like most large coun­tries, has many con­flict­ing po­lit­i­cal trends, and with care­ful se­lec­tion and enough ill­will you can find enough ex­treme and ig­no­rant com­ments to de­mo­nize the coun­try. (You could cer­tainly do it with Trump’s Amer­ica.) But the Is­lamic Repub­lic of Iran has never in­vaded any­body, and it cer­tainly does not sup­port ter­ror­ist at­tacks against ei­ther the West or the Arab world.

Trump has drunk the Kool-Aid. He has bought into a par­ti­san Arab nar­ra­tive whose theme is an in­evitable (and ul­ti­mately mil­i­tary) conflict be­tween Iran and the Arab world, and has all but promised that the United States would fight on the Arab side in that pu­ta­tive war.

This is prob­a­bly the stu­pid­est for­eign pol­icy com­mit­ment any Amer­i­can ad­min­is­tra­tion has made since the de­ci­sion 60 years ago to take France’s place in fight­ing the “Com­mu­nist men­ace” in Viet­nam. Iran has al­most as many peo­ple as Viet­nam, it’s five times as big, and it’s mostly moun­tains and deserts – plus some very big cities.

Maybe it is in­evitable that Sunni Arab lead­ers will see Shia Iran through the lens of their own fears and stereo­types, and start mak­ing self-ful­fill­ing prophe­cies of apoc­a­lyp­tic conflict. Trump has no such ex­cuse – and ‘Prin­ci­pled Re­al­ism’ re­ally is the wrong slo­gan. How about ‘Reck­less Com­plic­ity?’

Trump

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