Trump may now have unshackled himself from Rex Tillerson but few in this part of the world were concerned with the foibles of his decision. Most, however, noticed saw how Qatar will soon be in the cross hairs of Mike Pompeo, who will not be so easily cajoled.
There are other less sensational reasons, which click bait hungry outlets might not like to acknowledge and offer a more sober rationale as to what is going through Trump’s mind. They may also have ignored what his fatuous objectives are in the Middle East – a region where he has not yet chalked up a solid policy success – if we are to ignore making Jerusalem the capital of Israel.
It’s true, Trump is worried about bad press coverage. But this time it’s not about his people. It’s about his own, when in the coming weeks two major historical events will either make him or break him.
The North Korea talks are unlikely to produce a nuclear free deal which Trump can serenade to the American public. Bereft of any diplomatic protocol, Trump wants a deal to be hammered out in a matter of hours. This is after all a US President who can’t be bothered to read memos or listen to advisors.
Trump’s real nightmare is a few weeks later in mid-May when he will have to either scrap the so-called “Iran deal” and impose new sanctions or climb down and sign the waiver to endorse JCPAMartin Jay
A ‘no deal’ would be quite damaging as it would start to compound an idea that this is a President inept on the international stage. But Trump’s real nightmare is a few weeks later in mid-May when he will have to either scrap the so-called “Iran deal” and impose new sanctions or climb down and sign the waiver to endorse the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPA) which prohibits Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
Given Trump’s extraordinary obsession with his own media coverage – the constant need to create a crisis simply to place himself at the center of it and lead the news daily bulletins – he must be having some sleepless nights about Iran. He has constantly told the American public that the Iran deal, signed by Obama, is a bad deal and needs to be fixed. But how?
The manner of Tillerson’s dismissal by twitter suggests that a certain realization is hitting Trump that he is heading towards an international calamity which will be the first significant demise of his ratings when the Iran fiasco reaches fever pitch.
Tillerson’s dismissal and the appointment of Pompeo, the announcement of steel and aluminum tariffs and the North Korea debacle are all related. Yet where we should be looking is not into Jared Kushner’s business failings but into what Trump is seeking from the EU.
What Trump needs is for a new relationship with Old Europe to negotiate one for him as Iran is now becoming increasingly worried about Mike Pompeo’s appointment. The tariffs ruse is meant to crack the whip and remind the Europeans that he is prepared to start a trade war if they do not help America where it needs it most: Iran.
France, Germany and the UK agree with the US that Iran should not test its ballistic missiles and have even appealed to the Iranians to curb the program. But alone, those three EU countries can’t expect to achieve much. It is the stubborn EU, led by foreign policy diva Federica Mogherini, which is sticking to the terms of the Iran deal (which excluded ballistic missiles) which could make all the difference.
Herein lies the heart of the matter and why Trump has both installed a hardcore Iran hawk and threatened the EU with a trade war. If the EU, which has considerable influence in Tehran, were to convince the Rouhani government to reduce its ballistic weapons testing, Trump would back down from him threats to impose sanctions in mid-May and the EU might mysteriously get a favored exemption to the tariffs. As someone who knew Trump in the 90s in New York City told me recently “he’s a failed businessman, but his main talent is manipulating people”.
With France’s Emmanual Macron, Trump’s greatest supporter in Europe, already going against the EU position by appealing to Iran to drop the ballistics, Trump has already identified a weakness in the EU phalanx of foreign ministers and the folly of what some in Brussels like to believe as a working “foreign policy”, which in reality only exists as an idea on paper.
Iran badly needs cash for its economy and if the EU is happy to shovel hundreds of millions to despots in Africa in its former colonies, why wouldn’t it finance Iran’s restructuring, while averting a trade war with the US? Trump’s recent announcement to the tariff plan merely compounded a fear that many harbored: that he doesn’t understand business.
The European cars – BMWs – which he wants to tax are actually made in the US. But being a buffoon in economics won’t matter. Understanding how to exploit an EU which really can’t afford another political crisis after Brexit might be a genius move.
Martin Jay is a Beirut based journalist who in 2016 won the highest press award given by the United Nations for his reporting on Syrian refugees in Lebanon. In Beirut he has worked on a freelance basis for Al Jazeera, DW, Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, Mail on Line, The National and regularly appears on TV commentating on geopolitics. He can be followed at @MartinRJay.