Friday, January 3, 2020

UPDATED: What's Trump's Middle East Strategy?

Obviously I don't have near enough information to have anything like certainty. However, here are some tentative considerations.

In August, 2017, President Trump delivered some remarks regarding his Afghan strategy. One overriding point was this: "We are not nation-building again. We are killing terrorists."

With that in mind, consider Trump's willingness to negotiate with just about anybody, if the negotiations serve US interests and are conducted in good faith. Trump has been attempting to force Iran to the negotiating table through sanctions, but Iran appears to have resisted negotiations in which US interests would be recognized. The Iranian goal is simply to force the US from the Middle East.

While that is attractive outcome for most Americans, for various reasons it seems unlikely to happen. Thus, Trump's assurances to Americans: We're no longer in the business of nation building. Instead, we'll do deals. But if terrorism is employed against the US, we'll respond as we see fit. Proportionality as traditionally conceived may not enter into our response. Preemption is a possibility, both proximately as well as for the extended future.

In this case it appears Trump had grown frustrated with Iranian refusals to negotiate on what Trump regarded as reasonable terms. Instead, Iran appeared to be resorting to a strategy of pin pricks that the US has generally disregarded in the past. Or which might provoke a disproportionate response in traditional terms--as nearly happened with drone downing.

Trump's message, therefore, seems to be one of unpredictability. Don't anyone think they know ahead of provoking the US what the response will be. Count on a response, but don't think you can predict its nature or extent. A strategy of pressure through calculated provocations could be a strategy of playing with fire. In the art of the deal predictability is a weakness.

There are dangers in this for the US, as well. Nothing will be simple. Syria and Libya remain in turmoil. Saudi Arabia has revealed its essential weakness through its Yemen adventure. Turkey is aggressively seeking to expand its influence not only along its land borders in Syria and Iraq--which will inevitably bring it into conflict with Iran--but also throughout the eastern Mediterranean. Russia, of course, has interests it wishes to maintain. Afghanistan, on the eastern side of Iran is a multidimensional mess.

Of course, the one non-Muslim country most worried by all this is almost certainly Russia. Perhaps if Barr/Durham can sufficiently bring the Dem inspired Russia Hoax to a conclusion by exposing it to daylight Trump will be able to do a deal with Russia with regard to the Middle East. Especially with regard to Iran and Turkey.

Trump never told us his presidency would be boring.

An emailer recently sent me a NYPost editorial re Trump's reelection chances--rating them as excellent, despite determined establishment hostility. I remarked, referencing "the current crisis in the Middle East"--or should that be "usual"?--Trump seems not inclined to play it safe leading into the election cycle. Then I added that playing it safe is so often a snare and a delusion, the oppositie of safe. That's something that Trump probably understands as well as any politician alive.

UPDATE: The other day I quoted Don Surber, a shrewd observer of many things, to the effect that invading a country under false pretenses (Iraq, WMD) tends to PO the natives. It's true, and it's something that Americans need to take much more seriously. Trump has repeatedly said he wants to bring the troops home, and I take him at his word. He says he wants to get out of the business of nation building, and I take him at his word on that, too. What could cause him problems going forward after the Soleimani assassination is that, three years into Trump's first term, we still find ourselves in a betwixt and between position, with not that much of Trump's foreign policy for the Middle East implemented.


  1. "The Iranian goal is simply to force the US from the Middle East. While that is attractive outcome for most Americans, for various reasons it seems unlikely to happen."

    Right. While I would love to exit the Middle East and use the massive resources expended there to, for example, rebuild our broken domestic infrastructure (and there are plenty more deserving uses), it seems highly unlikely that even Trump would exit, thereby substantially increasing the risk of regional conflagration, at a minimum risking (i) extreme volatility in global oil prices, (ii) insecurity of global shipping lanes, and (iii) attacks on Israeli security.

    So, I agree with you regarding the hoped-for by many (including me) exit from the Middle East.

    As far as impact on the 2020 election is concerned, I'll go out on a limb and say that, barring a disastrous misstep, nothing that Trump does in January 2020 matters much. The news cycle and the national attention span is just too short and the battle lines of 2020 have yet to be drawn.

    Having said all that, my admiration for Trump only grows. He is absolutely putting the lie to Obama's disastrous Iran policy (wheelbarrows of cash and a nuclear ok for terrorists?) and he seems to be making a rational distinction between justifiable reprisals and boots on the ground and American soldiers' lives.

    And the response of the Dems and the MSM is, predictably, exactly wrong and horrifying, to boot.

    In all events, interesting times ahead.

    1. I can agree with that. I don't like our posture in the ME for now, but it's hard to simply wait on events. Trump's preference seems to be to wait if there's hope for a positive development, but to be realistic. If the hope isn't realistic, then it's time to shape the events.

  2. Iran's economy is in desperate decline and only the ongoing sale of crude to China is keeping it afloat. And China is desperate to keep the crude flowing, so Iran is not going to close the Strait of Hormuz.

    If Iran foolishly ramps up attacks on US interests or personnel, Trump will respond tit-for-tat and target Iran's most expensive military hardware and core industry, further crippling it's balance sheet. A game of chicken is now in progress, and the US has the world's largest military budget (by far) and nine operational carrier fleets, so not really a fair fight.

    Ironically, this new development puts enormous pressure on Pelosi. She is the Deep State's only real lever of power left on the menu in DC, and her anemic mojo is waning fast. She can neither stop Trump nor inhibit his initiatives, and her faux bluster is losing influence even within her own party and base. I think 2020 is going to become known as the "Year of the Rout."

    1. I disagree to this extent--the message Trump is sending is almost certainly: Don't expect "tit-for-tat." Nor do I think Trump really wants to get into a major military action. He wants results, he wants Iran to agree to those results, and he prefers to do this more or less on the cheap. Of course he can't necessarily dictate events.

      I agree with all commenters so far, that this is taking back the initiative from the Dems. The images of our embassy under siege were powerful.

    2. But Trump has a trump card of his own. True Iran doesn't want to close the strait, but maybe Trump can close it to keep the pressure on.

      Rob S

    3. "Then I added that playing it safe is so often a snare and a delusion, the oppositie of safe."

      "...that this is taking back the initiative from the Dems."

      I agree entirely. Better for an incumbent to be perceived as in the drivers seat, even if fighting the wheel, than cringing in the back seat waiting for the other shoe to drop.
      Tom S.

  3. Killing Soleimani is a bold move on Trump's part. And it is long past due. What has happened as a result of it? All the Democrats, those running for president and those just stealing our money in Washington, have lined up, in effect, in support of an Iranian murderer.

    Trump has forced them to show their stripes. The Iranians have options, but they are limited, I think. Any big move, like blocking the Straits of Hormuz, will only get their navy obliterated.

    Iran also does not want a large conflict with America. The mullahs would be destroyed. In a day or two, we would put an end to their nuclear ambitions.

    Now, I'm basing this on the belief that Trump wouldn't go for any tit for tat response to future Iranian provocation. If we go that route, the preferred route of the idiots in the Pentagon, now that they've all had sensitivity training, we will lose, as we have already lost in Afghanistan and Iraq.

    That has been the problem since the end of WWII. We fight in endless wars because we don't intend to win. Trump has sound instincts. But he was gulled by the neo-cons into striking Syria. And he actually believes he can reach out to the Iranians, which is plain stupid.

    The mullahs want us dead. So, it is them or us. Speaking for myself, I don't want a deal with them.

    We'll see how this plays out. Right now, the usual suspects are screaming and crying. Won't be long before they line up to go to this muppet's funeral.

    1. You make a good point re Iran's navy, and one that I had in mind. Trump's message, in my belief, is: Don't expect a proportionate response to further provocation, don't count on tit-for-tat. Unspoken, but very possible as a response to another Iranian provocation, could be a massive attack on the Iranian navy. That would have large effects but would not require major commitments of force on our part. It would also most likely be totally disproportionate--giving a sense of just how disproportionate further response could get.

  4. How about another bold move on the administration's part: sending Iran a US delegation to General Soleimani's funeral.

    My suggestion for representation would be President Obama, former Secretary of States Kerry and Albright, House Speaker Pelosi and Representative Schiff,and Senate Minority Leader Shumer.

    All of these Democratic Party leaders should be welcomed with open arms by the Iranian Mullahs. However, should the administration miscalculate Iranian anger and the Mullahs play tit-for-tat and drone strike the aircraft or worse - hold the American delegation hostage, America loses nothing by its bold, peaceful political gesture. Everyone knows that hostage negotiations with the Iranians is a multi-year effort. Perhaps the Iranians will even pay us millions to take the delegation back .........

    1. Even if the Iranians played nice and everyone got home safe and sound watching CNN, NYT, WaPo, try to spin the optics of that gaggle 'paying respects' to this thug would certainly be worth the price of admission.
      Tom S.

  5. The Iranian regime uses violence against everybody. It’s who they are. Thugs. Trump built his business working with New York labor unions. Trump knows how to get along with thugs.

    The only surprising thing about erasing Soleimani is how easy the Iranian idiot made it. The guy thought he could issue orders to attack the Baghdad embassy and then immediately get on a plane and parade around Baghdad unmolested? Maybe Iran didn’t realize how good American technical surveillance is. Or how good Hellfire missiles are. Oops.

  6. A well thought out explanation on where things move from here.

    Mr. Goldman did not start as Trump fan, but like so many of my well connected conservative friends and acquaintances who were horrified by Trump, I think he has come around to the asymmetrical methodology of Trump.

    1. As he says, Trump escalated rather than playing tit for tat. I suspect that the Iranians will want to reconsider the advice they've been getting from the likes of John Kerry on how to handle Trump.

  7. Pence: Betcha you can't get the Democrats to yell at you for not defending our embassy and American lives and then immediately yell at you for defending them.

    Trump: Hold my diet Coke.

    1. A truly underrated comment.
      Well done!

  8. I've clearly mis-communicated with my "tit-for-tat" reference, so please allow me to clarify. What I meant is that Trump prefers to counter-punch rather than throw the first punch. And yes, his counter-punch will likely be targeted in ways that cause far greater harm to Iran's economy. For example, Iran currently has three main pinch points where most of it's crude moves to market. Even a one week delay/demurrage of crude deliveries would rock both the Iran and Chinese economies. Also, Trump does not want to target or alienate the Iranian people, who will ultimately determine the fate of the mullahs. Rather, he has now given them hope that they can prevail.

    1. I get it. It's unquestionably a strong message that they don't seem to have expected. They = Iran, Dems.

  9. "Filmmaker Dinesh D'Souza had commented that Schumer wasn't briefed on Soleimani strike for 'pretty much the same reason' Iranians weren't warned and Trump retweeted."

    I will say I am amused by the gnashing of teeth over Trump not consulting any Democrats concerning authorizing Soleimani's Virgin Paradise Express ticket getting punched (I wonder if Epstein wishes he'd said the Shahada when he had the chance). Surely they understand that by playing Impeachment for Politics games they removed any need for the pretense of common goals or mutual trust in governance. They have, through sheer malice, essentially released Trump from convention and custom. He is now only obligated to defer to Congress as the law allows, not one inch more, and I think the optics will be largely in his favor.
    Tom S.

    1. LOL! They can complain all they want, but the fact of the matter is that for decades Congress has divested itself of its proper powers in order to allow others to make the tough, unpopular decisions. They can change the law any time they want, but they'd rather just complain.

    2. "An airstrike Friday hit two cars carrying members of an Iran-backed militia north of Iraq's capital, Baghdad, killing five members, an Iraqi official told The Associated Press." via Fox News

      And the hits just keep on comin'.
      Tom S.

    3. I was just reading about that. Here's the thing. I believe the Iraqis can vote in their parliament to have the US leave. Maybe that's what Trump wants. OTOH, maybe the claim that a coup was being planned by Iran is also true, and that this action was tacitly requested by Iraq. It's always wheels within wheels over there.

  10. What's Trump's Middle East Strategy?

    I see Trump as the Adult/Parent in the room, having to deal with adults who act like teenage thugs, social butterflies, and of course the woke and corrupt 'children' of liberalism.

    The only side he takes is the side of his family (America).

    He doesnt believe in supporting bad behavior (tyrants of any/all types).

    He believes in identifying bad behavior and correcting that bad behavior (think trade agreements and NATO payments) and punishing when warranted (think economic sanctions of Iran and its trading partners, or providing resources to prosecute the criminality of deep state bureaucrats. He believes that punishment should hurt the bad guy - and humiliation and public shame is appropriate punishment for the ignorant and the foolish.

    He wants every citizen to learn to stand on their own two feet, be responsible for their behaviours and their lives. He expects elected officials at all levels of government to lead, solve problems on their own and be responsible to their constituents. (Think tax code revisions, deregulation, stopping block grants to irresponsible states).

    He dislikes the cowardly activities of people who chose to flee rather than stand up to local and regional tyranical and criminal activities and believes that they should be sent back to solve their own problems (think syrian males draft dodgers living in europe or illegal immigrants from Africa, Central America and other countries, the philosophical disbelief of America being responsible for nation-building).

    He sees the potential for good in people and offers a second chance to those who wish to modify their bad behaviors but expects true change and verification of that change.

    I think Trumps domestic and foreign policy is very predictable if you see him as an Adult/Parent figure.

  11. @Mark

    "...we still find ourselves in a betwixt and between position, with not that much of Trump's foreign policy for the Middle East implemented."

    I don't disagree but I prefer to see the glass as half full. I believe Donald Trump when he says he doesn't want to start a war or wars, that he does not seek regime change, and that he wants peace. I believe he would withdraw troops from the Middle East if and when he could without creating more instability in the region.

    I don't think Trump's willingness to project strength is incompatible with his desire to seek peace.

    Just as I don't believe Trump's willingness to impose tariffs is inconsistent with his belief in the benefits of free (fair) trade. Nor is his toughness on illegal immigration inconsistent with our tradition of welcoming (legal) immigrants. Nuance is exceedingly difficult for the Dems and MSM.

    I also believe that Trump has been hamstrung by advisors who are not, at the end of the day, in synch with his desire to end the Endless War. Not to mention being hamstrung by the Endless Coup attempt against him.

    I would hope that Trump will enjoy much greater concrete success in a second term with a landslide victory behind him and in possession of both Houses of Congress.

  12. For all the Dems in Congress, screaming that Trump didn't brief/consult with them before the drone strike on Soleimani, the obvious question:

    "On how many of the over 500 occasions on which President Obama authorized drone strikes during HIS administration did he brief/consult with Congress FIRST?"

    Inquiring minds want to know, and if he failed to brief them first, where was their outrage?


    1. As I said above, Congress-GOP or Dem--can reclaim their War Powers any time they want to. They don't want to. They'd rather use these issues for grandstanding for reelection rather than claim the responsibility the Constitution gave them for making tough decisions and accepting the responsibility. This is one of several basic deformations in our constitutional order. Another is the delegation of legislative functions to agencies of the executive branch.

    2. Exactly.

      I've said this before ...but in the absence of a search function applicable to comments who knows when or where? :) ... much of the trouble we are in (as a nation) can be traced back to Congressional abdication of its Constitutional rights...and responsibilities.

      To Congress (and the American People):

      You don't like what Trump is doing in the Middle East? Pass a better law.

      You don't like what Trump is doing with illegal immigrants? Pass a better law.

      You don't like Trump rolling back environmental regulations? Pass a better law.

      You don't like Trump dismantling Obamacare? Pass a better law.

      You don't like Trump's tax reform? Pass a better law.

      But as Mark says, this won't happen because it is easier to grandstand...or abdicate to the Administrative State...and we, the American People, let them get away with it every other November.

      There is more to it than grandstanding and abdication, though. How many Congressmen and Senators become multi-millionaires while in office or after leaving?

      The law firm in which I was a partner for some years hired a former Congressman (who had never practiced law but fortuitously for him happened to have a law degree) shortly after leaving Congress. I was asked to meet with him to discuss his 'business plan'. The entire plan revolved around monetizing contacts he had made in Congress. I didn't detect much interest in developing a long term career as a practicing lawyer.

      Anomaly? I don't think so.

    3. I'm not enough of an historian to defend this, but there are those--I think Deneen may be one--who argue that this is exactly what the Founders expected our constitutional order to evolve into. A "natural aristocracy" controlling an expansive federal government, gradually taking control over the states in what would become flyover country. They saw it as a largely benign process.

    4. More benign without the greed factor than with perhaps?

      But I bet you will agree, Mark, that they didn't foresee the Administrative State.

    5. Totally agree. What some argue is that the federal government would gradually assume more power over the states out of sheer competence. But I don't believe they expected what we're seeing now. For starters, they didn't foresee the national income tax, which has played so large a role in expanding the federal government. Then there are the omnibus spending bills. Without the income tax and the new administrative agencies, those could probably never have been foreseen.

  13. we definitely will find out where Iraq stands re: Iran and aspiring to be a modern country. By not expelling the American military Iraq would be conceding that the Iranian General did deserve to die. And by forcing Americans to leave that reduces our attack surface and gives the US some distance from Iran.

    1. This is true. But the dynamics of the region won't change. Since antiquity Anatolia and Persia have fought over Mesopotamia and access to the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf.

  14. I think this shows how foolish it was for Gen Mattis to resign because of political differences with Trump. The US military could use his leadership and guidance right now.

  15. Regarding War Powers ...

    Under the Articles of Confederation, Commander in Chief George Washington, in the Revolution, had to abide by strategy and even, at times, tactics, set forth by Congress.

    Washington, however, at various times, acted upon his own, without authorization from Congress.

    Ya see, not every one in Congress were in awe of Washington or even Revolutionaries.
    Even worse, Congress was divided upon loyaties to state versus loyalties to the Confederacy.

    Aside from failed campaigns directed by Congress like the attempt at taking Canada with General Benedict Arnold, a lasting problem was with various state militias that came and went and lack of pay and material for the Continental Army.

    Washington defied Congress's order to attack British held Philidelphia and instead suffered the winter at Valley Forge meagerly.

    Yes, we eventually won, but it was despite Congress.

    Our history has shown the wisdom of the Constitution and that Congress has no business running a war. Heck, it's bad enough when Presidents run them personally ( LBJ for example) or when it's run under military lawyers (W and Obama).

    The precedent was set with General George Washington and as President under our current constitution. The Executive can engage in short military engagements without Congressional authorization and that has been furthered advanced over the years.

    Sadly, though, many Presidents engaged in all out multi-year wars without obtaining or needing authorization from Congress. That is a failure of Congress, mainly, and the Executive who took advantage.

    Trump is well within his powers to engage in limited military actions. Heck, for the Democrats, this was not an issue under Clinton or Obama.

    After all that has occurred since Trump walked down the stairs in Trump Towers under the guise of counter intelligence, I am truly astounded that anyone would support the Democrats in anything.

  16. It's very simple: His Strategy is to not send Iran millions of dollars on pallets in the middle of the night (like a bunch of Gangsta's) so they can use it to fund terrorism against the USA. His tactic is to do the exact opposite of Osama Obama and in doing so he is succeeding.