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Understanding Trump’s strategy on Iran

US President Donald Trump has slammed the nuclear deal which his predecessor Barack Obama sealed with Iran ever since he was a presidential candidate. Everything he said about this shameful and imperfect agreement is right. Trump thus recently announced a new strategy towards Iran and its Revolutionary Guards.

Obama’s foreign policy was isolationist and this undervalued America’s international status thus allowing its rivals to expand their influence zones and alter balances of power in sensitive areas, including the Middle East, which were out of their reach before Obama governed. He had this strange vision of allying with evil fundamentalists to decrease the threat of terrorism. This was the basis of his policy towards the so-called Arab Spring and the reason behind his alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood and Qatar in countries where protests and uprisings erupted. However, Obama’s biggest sin was the nuclear deal with Iran.

Obama was looking for any foreign achievement to cover up the failure of his foreign policy. He directed attention towards Iran under the excuse of wanting to suspend its nuclear program. However he overlooked its crimes in the region which include spreading chaos, sponsoring Sunni and Shiite terrorist and extremist groups and flagrantly interfering in the internal affairs of a number of Arab countries. He allowed it to establish militias and plant espionage and terrorist cells and adopted unfriendly policies with America’s allies in the Middle East.

It’s not clear yet what President Trump will really do regarding the nuclear deal with Iran but he’s heading in the direction of cancelling it or amending it. In all cases, he will deal with Iran differently than his predecessor as he’s well-aware of the importance of America’s big allies in the region and he will not give up on them like Obama did.

The European countries that are involved in the deal do not share Trump’s understanding of the region’s fears and they are trying their best to keep the deal, which did not prevent Iran from pursuing its destructive policies and terrorist roles, on. These countries did not convey a real vision to fully confront terrorism and do not seem enthusiastic to eliminate it from its roots which are mainly from Iran and Qatar.

Defending interests

Saudi Arabia emerged as a leading country in the region that bears its responsibility in defending its interests and the interests of brotherly countries. This was the case before Obama’s term ended and the Saudi kingdom continues to pursue this role to eliminate Iran’s expansive illusions and deal with its practices that support terrorism and spread chaos. The Saudi kingdom also leads the Arab coalition in Yemen along with 10 Arab countries.

After saving Egypt from the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood’s rule, Egypt restored its political weight and supported the Arab coalition in Yemen and coordinated more with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, as seen with its move of boycotting Qatar. Saudi Arabia is reestablishing ties with the Iraqi state and communicating with its politicians and parties. Saudi minister Thamer al-Sabhan’s tour in Syria’s ar-Raqqah after liberating it from ISIS was very expressive especially that Obama’s administration had failed to do anything to ISIS thus allowing it to expand.

Political balances are being redrawn in the region and they’re completely different than how they were before Trump became president. Those who take a look at Trump’s new strategy will realize that the next years will be difficult on Tehran and on the Sunni and Shiite terrorist organizations and militias it sponsors and that Saudi Arabia and its allies in the region will no longer accept this international tampering with the region.

The rivals of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf have not yet understood Saudi Arabia’s new and decisive role and they have not reconsidered their calculations. The best example to this is boycotting Qatar which came after the three Riyadh summits were held under the slogan “Together we prevail.” They did not understand the significance of Trump’s decision to visit Saudi Arabia for his first foreign trip. Trump met Gulf and Arab leaders there as well as leaders of 50 Muslims countries, and Qatar was only a stop in the way.

From its description, the new American strategy seems like it was formulated in Saudi Arabia or the Gulf or in Arab countries harmed by Iran’s destructive and terrorist policies. America adopted this new strategy after it began to maturely look after its interests and it thus went back to standing by its traditional allies after Obama’s policies harmed the region.

Listing the Revolutionary Guards as a terror group will be followed with blacklisting dozens of terrorist militias, like the Lebanese Hezbollah, the Houthi movement and other groups which Iran supports. Tightening economic sanctions will be of great significance if financial sanctions are added to it to force Iran to submit and abandon its destructive practices which it has adopted for over four decades.

In 2015, I wrote in an article: “Can the Iranian option succeed in the future? Or is failure its fate? Iran will relatively succeed but failure will be its fate as it bets on several factors such as western passiveness. The future foretells that a strict American president will come to change a lot in the US and in international balances.” This is what happened when Trump was elected. The new strategy towards Iran is an important step in the right direction.

The region’s countries do not need a superpower to fight their political or military battles for them. They are strong enough to do so and they’re developing their economies to build more successful and powerful states. This is the case with Saudi Arabia. Some countries however need a superpower’s help. There are indicators that the US’ policy towards the region has changed as after the new strategy was announced, commander of United States Central Command General Joseph Votel said “Washington will work on helping Arab countries deal with Iranian threats.” According to Asharq al-Awsat daily, Votel also noted that the Pentagon is working on establishing new American military brigades and sending missions to the region to specifically provide consultation and help.


This article is also available in Arabic.

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Abdullah bin Bijad al-Otaibi is a Saudi writer and researcher. He is a member of the board of advisors at Al-Mesbar Studies and Research Center. He tweets under @abdullahbjad.

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Last Update: Monday, 23 October 2017 KSA 07:27 - GMT 04:27
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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