Trump’s theatre of the pre­pos­ter­ous

A Saudi attack on Iran? Well, we live in pre­pos­ter­ous times

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - Gwynne Dyer is an in­de­pen­dent jour­nal­ist whose ar­ti­cles are pub­lished in 45 coun­tries. GWYNNE DYER

All the talk of spe­cial prose­cu­tors and the like will not bring the man to book. The soap opera will con­tinue and no amount of dys­func­tion in the White House will make it stop un­til early 2019 at best. Even though a great deal of dam­age will have been done by then.

Some of the dam­age will only af­fect the United States. Don­ald Trump doesn’t of­ten vi­o­late the Con­sti­tu­tion, but he breaks all the un­writ­ten rules that reg­u­late the be­hav­iour of pub­lic of­fi­cials: don’t use your of­fice to en­rich your­self, don’t give plum jobs to your rel­a­tives, don’t fire the Di­rec­tor of the Fed­eral Bureau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion be­cause he’s lead­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into pos­si­bly treasonous be­hav­iour among your close as­so­ci­ates.

Much of the con­cern at the mo­ment is fo­cused on North East Asia where Trump’s scarcely veiled threat to “do some­thing” about North Korea could es­ca­late a long-stand­ing prob­lem into a “ma­jor, ma­jor con­flict.” But most other ma­jor play­ers in the North East Asian game are grown-ups who do not want a nuclear war in their re­gion, so the risk of a calamity there is much smaller than it looks.

The Mid­dle East is more fright­en­ing than north East Asia in this con­text, for half the coun­tries of the re­gions are al­ready at war one way or an­other, none of the regimes re­ally feels se­cure — and Trump has al­ready launched a mis­sile strike against the Syr­ian regime.

He jus­ti­fied it as re­tal­i­a­tion for the al­leged use of poi­son gas by the Assad regime — an al­le­ga­tion that has not been con­clu­sively proved — but most peo­ple in the re­gion take it as a sign that he is join­ing the Sunni side of a re­gion­wide Sunni-Shia war.

This align­ment didn’t start with Trump, of course. For more than half a cen­tury the United States has seen Saudi Ara­bia, the ef­fec­tive leader of the Sunni bloc, as its most im­por­tant ally in the Mid­dle East, and for the past 40 years it has re­garded Iran as the root of all evil in the re­gion.

Although Prince Mo­hammed is al­most 40 years younger than Trump, the two men share strik­ing characteristics. The Saudi Ara­bian leader (his fa­ther, King Sal­man, is 81 and not fully func­tional) is not as ig­no­rant as Trump, but the two men are al­most twins in tem­per­a­ment. The Prince is just as vain as Trump, just as im­pul­sive, and just as likely to start a fight he can’t fin­ish.

Prince Mo­hammed’s escalation of Saudi Ara­bian sup­port for the al-Qaida-linked fac­tion in the Syr­ian civil war two years ago was the di­rect cause for the Rus­sian in­ter­ven­tion that ul­ti­mately saved the Assad regime. His mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion in Ye­men, try­ing to put the Saudi Ara­bian-im­posed pres­i­dent back into power, has led only to an un­winnable war and a loom­ing famine in the coun­try. And he’s up for fight­ing Iran, too.

In an in­ter­view broad­cast this month on Saudi TV, he said: “We will not wait un­til the bat­tle is in Saudi Ara­bia. We will work so the bat­tle is in Iran.” Why? Be­cause, ac­cord­ing to the Prince, Iran’s lead­ers are plan­ning to seize Is­lam’s most sa­cred city, Mecca, in the heart of Saudi Ara­bia, and es­tab­lish their rule over the world’s bil­lion and a half Mus­lims.

This is para­noid non­sense. Only one-tenth of the world’s Mus­lims are Shia. The only three Mus­lim coun­tries (out of 50) where they are the ma­jor­ity are Iran, Iraq and tiny Bahrain.

Iran sends troops to help the be­lea­guered, Shi­adom­i­nated Assad regime in Syria, and money and weapons to the (Shia) Hezbol­lah move­ment in Lebanon. But in the 38 years since the cur­rent regime came to power in Tehran, it has never in­vaded any­body. And the no­tion that it could or would in­vade Saudi Ara­bia is sim­ply laugh­able.

Nev­er­the­less, what mat­ters here are not the facts but what Trump and Prince Mo­hammed may be­lieve to be the facts. So the prospect of the two men get­ting to­gether in Riyadh will arouse dread in Iran, and in some other quar­ters as well.

It’s pre­pos­ter­ous to imag­ine that Saudi Ara­bia would attack Iran di­rectly or that the United States would en­cour­age Saudi Ara­bia or pur­sue such a strat­egy — or that Rus­sia would let it­self be drawn in on the other side. But we do live in pre­pos­ter­ous times.

There is no chance that the Repub­li­can ma­jor­ity in the U.S. Congress would im­peach Don­ald Trump be­fore the mid-term elec­tions in late 2018 no mat­ter what he does. Un­less there is a com­plete col­lapse in the Repub­li­can vote then, they won’t im­peach him ei­ther. It’s go­ing to be a long four years.

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