By Claude Salhani
The Iranian government and the Trump administration are playing a dangerous game of chicken in the waters of the Gulf. Why the sudden escalation that has brought the two countries, and others, to the brink of an all-out war?
It began in 2011 at the annual White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner, an event where movers and shakers of the political, entertainment and media worlds are present.
US President Barack Obama made fun of Donald Trump — five years before Trump was elected president — that evening, calling him “The Donald,” playing along with the event’s tradition to poke fun at the president or anyone else you or the designated host for the event may want to roast.
It was obvious that Trump did not appreciate the humour. While every guest at his table was laughing heartily, “The Donald” was livid. It is believed by many who report on the White House that Trump made up his mind that evening that he would undo anything Obama did.
Jarrett Blanc, a former US State Department official who helped oversee the 2015 agreement between the West and Iran, said: “Trump got rid of the Iran nuclear deal because it was Barack Obama’s agreement.”
“If you were to present to Trump the same deal, he’d be thrilled,” said Blanc.
After pulling the United States out of the nuclear deal principally because it was achieved under Obama’s presidency, Trump, today, has indicated that the Obama-era deal might not be so bad after all.
For Trump, the Iran situation is rapidly becoming a no-win situation.
Diplomats familiar with it say that what Trump is proposing today echoes the 2015 deal reached by the Obama administration.
Trump has repeatedly urged the Iranian leadership to negotiate, saying that Tehran’s nuclear ambitions are his chief concern, talking points that experts say echo the 2015 accords.
Trump has long trashed the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement as “the worst deal ever,” a “disaster” that didn’t cover nearly enough of the Islamist-led country’s nefarious behaviour.
But look at where he has taken the United States and its allies. White House insiders say there appears to be two factions inside the White House with one saying the United States should be flexible and the other wants an even stricter policy adopted.
Iran has reverted to its aggressive mode by unleashing its sea-borne Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps or proxies, who have attacked at least one British oil tanker.
Both sides claim they do not want to escalate the situations.
That being said, the Pentagon ordered 500 US troops to Saudi Arabia, where they will be part of a 1,000 strong force based just south of Riyadh.
US troops in Saudi Arabia? What a grand idea!
Perhaps if Trump bothered to read some history he might realise that part of Osama bin Laden’s original gripe with the king of Saudi Arabia in 1990, when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, was the anger of Muslims to have US soldiers — read “infidels” — on the land of the two holy mosques.
Bin Laden asked the king to have the American and other foreign forces withdraw and he, bin Laden, with his combat-hardened Afghan Arabs, as his Afghan war veterans were known, would take it upon themselves to liberate Kuwait from the Iraqi Army.
A Saudi official present in this exchange said the king’s reply was to laugh, reminding bin Laden that the Iraqi Army was the largest Arab army and hardened by an 8-year war with Iran. Many say this was the turning point for bin Laden when he declared holy war on the Americans and the Saudi royal family.
Now Trump wants to send more US troops to Saudi Arabia.
Claude Salhani is a regular columnist for The Arab Weekly and a senior fellow at the Institute of World Affairs.