The Mueller report will have powerful repercussions in the Middle East

President Donald Trump waves while walking to board Marine One helicopter at the White House. Al Drago/Bloomberg
President Donald Trump waves while walking to board Marine One helicopter at the White House. Al Drago/Bloomberg

The policies of US President Donald Trump in the Middle East will no doubt be affected by his “triumph” following the conclusions reached by Robert Mueller, the special counsel appointed to investigate alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections. In his report, Mr Mueller said that President Trump and his campaign had not committed the crime of collusion with Russia and that there wasn’t enough evidence to establish he had obstructed justice.

After two years of investigations, prosecutions, wall-to-wall coverage in the media, and the Democratic Party’s rush to prepare itself for the opportunity to topple Mr Trump, or at least thwart him from getting a second term, it appears that the president has regained his confidence and is gearing up to teach his rivals a lesson.

Those betting on some of Mr Trump’s foreign policy lines, such as the Arab Gulf countries, felt greatly reassured by the outcome of the Mueller probe. Indeed, he has overturned the policies of his predecessor Barack Obama, who had chosen Iran as a partner, replacing traditional Gulf allies, and supported the Arab Spring that was hijacked by the Muslim Brotherhood.

The GCC nations and Egypt do not favour the Democrats to take charge of US policy, because the party has disappointed them and launched attacks on them, while Mr Trump has made clear his commitment to the security of these countries and the strategic partnership with them.

For its part, Iran likely feels disappointed by the outcome of the Mueller probe, having built part of its strategy on a supposed undoing of the Trump presidency and the return of the Democratic Party to power in two years’ time, if not sooner.

Mr Trump is determined to break the arms of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the effective rulers of Iran, and is primed to tighten the economic noose around Tehran’s neck to coerce it and contain its regional projects. Iran’s options are limited, but the IRGC’s Quds Force can take over and pursue military escalation in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen to drag the US into direct military confrontation, an unpopular course of action for the American public.

Meanwhile, it is clear that Israel is one of the top beneficiaries of Mr Trump. Israel is confident that the US is behind it, and that there is full American and international preparedness to accept any deal that would end the Arab-Israeli conflict, regardless of the impact of its terms on the rights of the Palestinian people. Syrian president Bashar Al Assad will not be pleased by the news, because the positive implications for US-Russian relations after the conclusions of Mr Mueller’s report could expedite some accords between the two powers over some major issues, including Syria.

Mr Al Assad would be less stable in his position than before, because the policies pursued by the Trump administration are building towards isolating him. The defeat of ISIS will not lead to restoring Syria’s territorial integrity, rather Syria will continue to be disjointed, especially in the wake of the US recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights.

Then there is Turkey, which holds Syrian territories, and is fighting its war against the Kurds, amid continued distrust between President Trump and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The Europeans will whisper their resentment over the “failure” of the Mueller report to condemn Mr Trump, because they do not respect him and consider him a danger to Nato and US-European relations. They consider themselves more cultured and refined than the populist president, but more importantly, they consider him a threat to the traditional trans-Atlantic alliance.

Mr Trump has not only escaped accountability, he has also pursued unusual methods in dealing with the international order

Most of the world is appalled by the way Mr Trump has discharged the duties of his office, not only because he has escaped accountability and media scrutiny, but also because he has pursued unusual methods in dealing with the traditional international order.

For example, India will grow more resentful when the Trump administration stops exempting it from US sanctions on Iranian oil exports in May. India may have assumed that the exemption will continue permanently, but the Trump administration is determined to end exemptions including those given to China, with important implications for US relations and strategic equations.

India has sided with Iran, while Pakistan is closer to the Arab Gulf countries’ line. China has not taken a side, but has pursued a pragmatic line, and is seeking better relations with the Gulf countries while trying to offset its losses as US sanctions exemptions expire.

Russia, which is publicly opposed to further economic measures against Iran, may not be as opposed as it appears to be. Indeed, Russia, which has a military alliance with Iran in Syria, gives priority to its strategic interests, including oil and gas. Hydrocarbon commodities are very important in Moscow’s Middle East considerations. If Tehran’s weight in the oil and gas equation recedes, that would help Moscow to shore up its position in the Middle Eastern gas landscape and its European extensions.

Some fear that the hardline camp in Tehran may decide to take revenge against the oil embargo on Iran, via such measures as closing the Strait of Hormuz. If Tehran considers US measures against it “a declaration of war”, and decides to retaliate, some fear we could see a new threshold of confrontation between Iran on the one hand, and the US and its Gulf allies on the other.

Some, however, take the view that such a course of action could be suicide for Iran, rather than retaliation, and warn of calamitous consequences if Tehran closes the Strait of Hormuz. For one reason, Mr Trump will now not hesitate to teach Tehran and the IRGC a lesson, even if the American people remain opposed to direct military action.

Mr Trump will toughen up his positions after what he perceives as his “total exoneration”, and the world is taking note. Regardless of whether he is taken seriously or not, he remains the president of the United States, and is a stubborn and overconfident man.

He will also strengthen his stance with China, amid ongoing trade negotiations, as he attempts to contain Beijing and prevent it from threatening US global leadership and world sole superpower status.

Mr Trump will stick to his strategy of dismissing UN criticisms and the concerns of the international community, convinced that the US is above international law. He is convinced that the Golan Heights will never be returned to Syria, no matter how much the UN General Assembly protests, and no matter what the Arab League's 30th summit in Tunisia says.

Mr Trump is confident that Mr Al Assad will not ask the UN to abolish the “disengagement” arrangements with Israel, which requires the presence of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force in the Golan Heights. For one thing, such a request by Damascus to abolish UNDOF would mean that Mr Al Assad is ready to fight a war with Israel, when he is most certainly not. Another wager Mr Trump has made is on Russian compliance with the facts on the ground, because President Vladimir Putin will not confront him and Benjamin Netanyahu in the Golan for the sake of Mr Al Assad.

He is also convinced that Iran will not resort to military action over the Golan that Arab will not move over the Golan, given that they had remained largely acquiescent when Mr Trump recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

The 45th president of the United States believes that he will make history by brokering the “deal of the century” between Arabs and Israel.

In the view of people close to Mr Trump, what he will offer to the Palestinians is more than they have now, yet they could lose that offer tomorrow if they continue to hold on to the peace process and the two-state solution it envisages. President Trump is setting out to impose a pragmatic peace in his view, regardless of how much it prejudices Palestinians, as he works to deliver the long-standing Israeli desire of removing associations of occupation from its name.

Donald Trump is daring, because he is confident no one else will dare to do the same as him. He is relying on his belief in American greatness and his populist credentials to break the traditions of US domestic politics. He is confident he will win a second term, and intends to fight the next presidential election on the basis of his local and global logic, and the conviction that he is above accountability.

Updated: March 31, 2019 06:29 PM


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