Protesters wearing masks of (L) Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and US President Donald Trump perform during an anti-war demonstration in front of Berlin's Brandenburg Gate on January 11, 2020. Photo: AFP/John Macdougall

US President Donald Trump used his Republican party’s convention speech on August 27 to shower himself with accolades on his foreign policy accomplishments, including in the Middle East.

Trump claimed the region was in total chaos when he came to office nearly four years ago and said he deserves credit for ending constant and costly US wars, defeating the ISIS caliphate, bringing Israel and the UAE to peace and getting rid of the “world’s number one terrorist, Qassem Soleimani.”

He also boasted about recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights and moving the US embassy to Israel’s rightful capital in Jerusalem. 

Conspicuously absent in Trump’s speech, though, was any reference to the US intention of imposing UN sanctions on Iran as of September 20, announced by his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo.

Pompeo is still fuming at the Europeans for rebuffing US efforts at the UN Security Council last week over Iran, accusing European leaders of “siding with the ayatollahs.”

The European diplomats, of course, see it differently as a legitimate response to an illegal demand by a country that unilaterally exited the Iran nuclear deal and thus has dispossessed itself of the right to use the provisions of that deal to knock down Iran.

Tehran, meanwhile, has appeased the Europeans by agreeing to greater nuclear transparency in light of a recent successful Tehran visit by Rafael Grassi, the head of the UN’s atomic agency.

Interestingly, in his nomination acceptance speech, Trump once again confirmed that he has “withdrawn” from what he termed a “terrible, one-sided Iran nuclear deal.”

This flies in the face of Pompeo, who is still trying to sell to the international community the dubious argument that the US continues to be a “participant” in the Iran deal as well as in UNSC 2231, which calls on UN member states to implement the agreement.

Pompeo continues to cling to the discredited discourse that the US remains a party to the resolution, despite the fact that the US has actually violated it.

Trump’s record

An objective assessment of Trump’s Middle East record shows it to be flawed and unbalanced and on the whole undeserving of much praise. It is fairly easy to debunk the US president’s assertion that he has contributed to peace and stability in the Middle East.

Trump’s claim of a”100% defeat” of ISIS is questioned by his own intelligence officers, as well as ominous reports of ISIS’s attempt to regroup in parts of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Trump’s war-avoidance claim is equally disputed by his menacing postures vis-a-vis Iran that have resulted in Iran’s retaliatory strike at two US bases in January, wounding dozens of US soldiers. 

The Israel-UAE peace deal may actually backfire on the UAE leadership. It is viewed as a “stab in the back of Palestinians,” to quote the Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and in effect normalizes Israeli apartheid against the Palestinians.

In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is already facing domestic pressure to scuttle the UAE’s desired purchase of F-35 warplanes, reportedly a sweetener for the peace agreement.

Meanwhile, Pompeo has been unable to enlist many Arab leaders to attend the upcoming White House ceremony on the Israel-UAE deal.   

The Trump administration is totally clueless or indifferent toward international law, otherwise it would not violate the UNSC resolution 242 that calls for the return of Arab lands conquered by Israel through war, including the Golan Heights, or push for what amounts to an illegal Israeli land grab under the garb of a Middle East peace process.

This is not to mention the US’ illegal takeover of Syrian oil fields and its most recent oil piracy on the high seas, involving four Greek ships purportedly carrying Iranian oil for Venezuela.

Even by the standards of the international community, articulated by a UN expert, the US’ assassination of Iranian operative General Soleimani is condemnable as an “illegal” act violating Iraq’s national sovereignty.

Yet such criticisms never register with a rogue administration that has done much harm to the international order in the short space of a few years since Trump’s ascendance in the White House, which he now claims it to be his “home.” So much so that some are already speculating he may not vacate the premises in the event of a defeat at the November election.     

Neither war nor peace

Trump has deliberately escalated tensions with Iran and this has been tantamount to planting the seeds of the next Middle East war, irrespective of Trump’s own paradoxes of preferences, vacillating between the poles of peace and war. Iran has termed this inconclusive imbroglio as “neither war, nor peace.”

Ultimately, the chips must fall on one side or another and, in the event of a Trump second term, he will need to rein in his hawkish diplomatic chief Pompeo, who apparently has his own presidential ambitions for 2024 and who, according to John Bolton’s memoir, repeatedly sided with Bolton and hinted at resignation if Trump met Iran’s officials. 

In other words, there are clear signs of a policy rift between Trump and Pompeo, which might explain why Trump has not yet seconded Pompeo’s statement on snapback sanctions in September.     

While cranking up pressure on Iran, Trump has also shown a growing desire to enter into a dialogue, promising American voters that within weeks of his second administration he will have a deal with Iran. 

That is a remote possibility, at best, given the Iranians’ misgivings about Trump and their leader’s strict order not to engage with the US.  Still, Iran’s official policy remains that the road to return to the nuclear deal is still open and Washington can utilize the agreement’s dispute resolution mechanism to directly discuss contested issues with Iran. 

A new, vigorous and more determined push by Trump for meaningful diplomacy with Iran is sadly lacking and, in fact, may be impossible so long as Pompeo retains his position as America’s top diplomat. 

Eventually, either Pompeo will have to be sacrificed or he will need to toe Trump’s line on Iran without acting as a barrier in a future scenario where Trump the deal-maker seeks rapprochement with Iran. 

Because of his contradictory impulses, Trump acts as a qualitative brake on his half-hearted peace plan with Iran, thus raising the prospect of more instead, not less, tensions if he wins a second term.