When three knife-wielding Muslims charged into the Black and Blue Steakhouse near London Bridge on the night of June 3, they had the bad luck to encounter Mr. Roy Larner, who shouted, “F**k you, I’m Millwall,” referring to the South London football club supported by England’s most notorious hooligans. Mr. Larner fought them off with his fists and doubtless saved many lives. Millwall’s chant is, “No-one likes us. We don’t care.” President Trump looks at the world in much the same way.
In his first four months of office, Donald Trump has made any number of false steps, but the actions for which he is most disliked have for the most part been effective and shrewd. His celebrated tweets about London Mayor Sadiq Khan are a case in point. Khan had told the press in response to a bombing in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood that “part and parcel of living in a great global city is [that] you’ve got to be prepared for these things,” to which Trump tweeted, “You’ve got to be kidding!”
European governments are resigned to a certain level of terrorism as the price of tranquil relations with large Muslim populations that harbor significant numbers of terrorist sympathizers and with Muslim regimes that support terrorist groups — Qatar, for example, which has backed both Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. Kahn was not condoning terrorism but expressing the prevailing view that reducing terrorism to an infrequent occurrence is the best that can be hoped for.
By singling out London’s Muslim mayor, Trump rubbed in the point he made to Muslim leaders meeting in Saudi Arabia last month: the United States will not tolerate terrorism, and it will not tolerate the toleration of terrorism. “Drive. Them. Out,” Trump said. “Drive them out of your places of worship. Drive them out of your communities. Drive them out of your holy land, and drive them out of this Earth!”
In some respects, Trump’s view is narrowly American: with its relatively small Muslim population and enormous security budget, the United States can compel its own Muslim communities to do just that. That is much harder in England or the European continent, where very large and extensively radicalized Muslim populations overwhelm the resources of security services.
But there is a broader strategic issue involved in Trump’s tangle with London’s mayor, and it reflects on his support for the diplomatic isolation of Qatar by other Arab states. The botched American interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan disenfranchised the Sunnis of Mesopotamia and the Levant, destroying the one stable Sunni regime in the region, namely that of Saddam Hussein.
It left the Sunnis to fend for themselves through non-state actors including al-Qaeda and ISIS. Both Washington and the Sunni regimes, including Turkey – and Saudi Arabia – responded to this disaster by dealing with non-state actors (that is, terrorists) where it suited them.
Under the Bush Administration, Gen. David Petraeus spent hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies to buy the Sunnis’ temporary quietude – thereby preparing the ground for a Middle Eastern equivalent of the Thirty Years’ War. The CIA (under Petraeus and others) armed Syrian rebels, mainly al-Qaeda affiliates with a spare business card reading “Moderate Muslim.”
The Saudis helped pay for it, and members of the royal family wrote checks for Sunni terrorists from the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt to Uyghur rebels in Western China. The Qatari royal family dallied with the Brotherhood, Hamas, and Iran.
I do not know what Lt. Gen. (ret) Michael Flynn might have done wrong, or what ultimately may happen to him, but there is no doubt as to what he did that was right: he provoked Barack Obama into firing him by exposing America’s covert support for the Sunni irregulars who would coalesce around ISIS. He was the sole senior figure in the US intelligence establishment to break omertà and reveal that the Sunni terror problem was being amplified by serial stupidity on the part of the United States.
Trump was the first Western leader to stand up and announce that the whole sick business had to stop. All of the nation-builders, responsibility-to-protectors, human rights fanciers and democracy promoters looked with cold blood on the devastation wrought by their blunders.
They had left Syria, Libya, Sudan and Yemen shattered, Iraq in a permanent confessional war, and perhaps a million civilians dead — half a million in Syria since 2011, 300,000 in South Sudan since 2013, 150,000 in Iraq, and about 10,000 each in Yemen and Libya. Trump wants to stop the bloodshed, but humanitarian calculation is not his only motive.
The sectarian war in the Middle East has to stop because it has become a Petri dish breeding jihad from the Caucasus to Southeast Asia. Russia had any number of reasons to step into Syria, but the decisive factor is that thousands of Russian Muslims were fighting there and returning to Russia to wreak mischief.
China feared not only for the Muslim Uyghurs of its westernmost province but also for the stability of Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines. Where the Sunni jihad drew on the support of Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Russia and China quietly backed Iran as it recruited cannon fodder for the Syrian war from the Shi’ites of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The Levantine and Mesopotamian wars have metastasized and now threaten to become a Eurasian war. That is the fault of sorcerers’ apprentices in the American foreign policy establishment – which should be kept in mind whenever the punditeska attacks Donald J. Trump.
It takes refined intellect and profound scholarship to rationalize the mayhem that the foreign policy establishment has inflicted on the world in the name of nation building, human rights, and similar humbug. An entire generation of diplomats, soldiers and professors has devoted itself to this sort of rationalization. The intellectual caste thinks Trump is the man who put the “dumb” into oderint dum metuant (let them hate so long as they fear). On the contrary: They are the malady for which Donald Trump is the cure.
There is no way to end the conflict without an agreement with Russia and China, who are backing Iran’s intervention in Syria as much as Washington backed the Sunni rebels fighting the Bashar al-Assad regime. That means both sides must leash their own dogs. Saudi Arabia is not an American ally except of convenience.
The two countries find each other’s culture, political systems and religion utterly repugnant, but are tied together by practical interests. The same applies to Iran and Russia, who are allies of convenience. Persians and Russians have hated each other since the Russians appeared on the scene.
President Trump sent a clear message to America’s Muslim clients in Saudi Arabia: No more double games with non-state actors will be tolerated. Making a horrible example of Qatar is an obvious first step. The little Gulf monarchy perched on a giant gas bubble rates its own Wikipedia entry on “Qatar and state-sponsored terrorism.”
There is no way to end the conflict without an agreement with Russia and China, who are backing Iran’s intervention in Syria as much as Washington backed the Sunni rebels fighting the Bashar al-Assad regime. That means both sides must leash their own dogs.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is another matter. According to senior Chinese officials, Saudi royal family members are funding every radical madrassa in Asia, including those in Xinjiang Province. When Chinese diplomats have complained to the Saudi government, it has denied knowledge of the funding, while turning a blind eye to the “charitable contributions” of some of it members. No doubt the Saudis will have to arrange some one-way trips to the Rub’ al Khali.
Nonetheless, a negotiation of this sort is the only alternative to the spread of bloodshed and chaos across the Eurasian continent. It will require the major powers to deal with some of their own friends quite harshly. And it will be messy, if it succeeds at all. From the outside, some of the most carefully crafted maneuvers will seem like improvisation, and some outright blunders will be repurposed as masterstrokes.
In return, Russia will have to tighten the leash on Iran. Between Russia and China, which dominates Iran’s foreign trade, there is sufficient leverage to put the Shi’ite power in its place. Persuading the Russians to do so, and to do so without cheating, is a challenge.
Moscow and Beijing distrust the United States and suspect that it promoted Sunni jihadists in order to make trouble for them (that idea has indeed occurred to some people in Washington and its environs). They are tempted to use American weakness not only to advance their own interests but to embarrass the United States.
Healthy common sense is a far better guide to strategy than the ideological obsessions of the discredited elite. Here I am with Millwall and Trump. I don’t care if nobody likes us. Trump is nonetheless iterating towards the right thing.