By Claude Salhani
In saying Iran can “have Syria” and that Syria is just useless “sand and death,” US President Donald Trump is displaying his ignorance of history and geopolitics. He is doing so to the extent that his obliviousness of facts of historical importance represents a clear and present danger to the security of the United States.
Trump simply fails to recognise what the real threats to America’s security are that could originate in the Middle East. Despite what he might think, not all the problems of the United States emanate from south of the border, and the wall he so badly wants to build between the United States and Mexico will hardly shield the country from world threats.
Even worse, Trump ignores the facts for whatever reasons he may have. The bottom line is that his policy on Syria, if one can call it that, is far more damaging to the credibility as well as highly damaging the security and interests of the United States and its allies in the Levant.
Trump’s behaviour gives the Iranians and, by default, the Russians a “hall pass,” allowing them to get away with whatever mayhem they choose to create in the region.
Trump’s knee-jerk policy is by far more detrimental to the security and interests of the United States than anything he seems to fathom.
What is happening in the Middle East today goes beyond Syria. If allowed to proceed, it would endanger every country in the region and could see the maps drawn up by the Sykes-Picot Agreement revisited.
What the Iranians are trying to accomplish is to establish a secure land corridor between Iran and the Mediterranean.
What Trump does not seem to understand is the geopolitical realities of what is at stake. To Trump, Syria might seem like a large and useless sandbox where there is only death and destruction but he fails to realise that allowing Iran free rein over Syria means allowing it the same over Lebanon and leading the forces of Iran’s mullahs right to Israel’s northern border.
Israel is not at all pleased with Trump’s decision to leave Syria to Iran. Think of the influence Tehran would hold over the eastern Mediterranean. With access to safe and secured ports in the region, Iran would undoubtedly increase its naval presence in the region, creating additional pressure on units of the US Navy’s 6th Fleet, which traditionally patrols that part of the globe.
What Iran is trying to do is what Tehran has attempted to do since the days when the Persians faced the Spartans — gain access to the Mediterranean — at the Battle of Thermopylae, where the Spartans fought the Persians in 480BC. Today, history seems to be repeating itself, except that Trump lacks the resolve of the Spartans.
Trump may possess the fortune of some ancient kings but that is where comparisons stops. He certainly doesn’t have the political understanding of what it means to allow the Persians to accomplish their aims.
This dream of a land corridor between the countries of the Mediterranean and the hinterland is something that the Russians since the time of the tsars had wanted. If you think that Moscow is sending troops to fight in Syria out of the kindness of its heart, think again.
This is history repeating itself but, if you are oblivious to the past, you are bound to repeat the mistakes of those who neglected the lessons the past provides.
Trump is no prudent or sophisticated politician, let alone a diplomat, and he is clearly pushing the limits of geostrategic imprudence.
Time and again, he has proven his lack of understanding of how things work in politics or how countries compete for influence and power. His outgoing chief of staff, former US Marine Corps General John Kelly, revealed in an interview with the New York Times that a good day for him was when he had been able to prevent Trump from saying something or firing off a tweet he would later regret.
It is a strange way to judge one’s professional successes or failures but Trump in the White House is the political equivalent to the proverbial bull in a china shop. Preserving the china from his daily bull run can count as an achievement.