The aftermath of a frightening showdown with an aggressively hostile regional power would seem a strange time for the world’s lone superpower to consider a withdrawal from the region in conflict.
But paradoxically, the recent hostilities with Iran provide a teachable moment for Americans, and more importantly, an almost perfect storm of circumstances for President Trump to fulfill his fundamental campaign pledge to de-escalate and eventually end our seemingly endless military presence in the Middle East, while using America’s unparalleled economic and military leverage to forge a long-sought peace deal.
Trump has created three severe pressure points on the Iranians. First, he has projected his own political will to pulverize enemies who attack Americans. Second, he has showcased military might that can wipe out the entire Iranian infrastructure in a matter of hours. And third, he has employed U.S. economic leverage by ramping up an already damaging regime of economic sanctions.
In pulling off this trifecta, Trump has actually laid the groundwork for a pullback and eventual withdrawal from the Middle East. And he did exactly that in his speech to the nation Wednesday, first describing the genuine evil of Gen. Soleimani, executed in a thunderous strike at an Iraqi airfield, and the dark designs of Iran’s Islamic fundamentalist regime. He said:
“… all the way back to 1979, to be exact, nations have tolerated Iran’s destructive and destabilizing behavior in the Middle East and beyond. Those days are over … Soleimani was personally responsible for some of the absolutely worst atrocities … launching terrorist strikes against civilian targets. He fueled bloody civil wars all across the region.
“He viciously wounded and murdered thousands of U.S. troops, including the planting of roadside bombs that maim and dismember their victims … Soleimani’s hands were drenched in both American and Iranian blood … Iran’s hostilities substantially increased after the foolish Iran nuclear deal was signed in 2013, and they were given 150 billion dollars, not to mention 1.8 billion in cash. Instead of saying thank you to the United States, they chanted ‘Death to America.’ In fact, they chanted ‘Death to America’ the day the agreement was signed. Then Iran went on a terror spree funded by the money from the deal, and created hell in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Iraq.”
But then Trump pivoted to his end game, offering not war, but an olive branch:
“Iran must abandon its nuclear ambitions and end its support for terrorism. The time has come for the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia, and China to recognize this reality. They must now break away from the remnants of the Iran (nuclear) deal or JCPOA. And we must all work together toward making a deal with Iran that makes the world a safer and more peaceful place.”
Trump has not yet declared that he will remove all U.S. military forces from the Middle East now or in the foreseeable future. A nation, especially one with America’s unique superpower stature, risks looking weak if it responds to the provocations of its enemies by pulling up deeply embedded stakes and turning tail. But Americans should be asking a simple question, with doubtless a complicated answer: Why are we still stationing troops in this region which has defined the word tinderbox for our entire lifetime?
No More Energy Crisis?
The historical reason has obviously been oil. But with the stunning revolution in natural gas exploration and Trump’s wholesale deregulation of the energy industry, we no longer require Middle Eastern oil – nor a military presence to assure its uninterrupted flow.
Add to that Trump’s massive buildup of U.S. military forces, and the president’s essential message has been the same as what parents advise their kids about playground bullies: The U.S. will not start conflicts, but will swiftly finish them when provoked. The mullahs of Iran who have impoverished their citizens for the sake of rebuilding their ancient empire with terrorist proxies across the region are now well aware that their entire house of cards can be brought down in short order by a president who, unlike the last commander in chief, views Iran as a threat rather than a potential regional ally, and will treat it accordingly.
Democrats have almost universally and inexplicably chosen to condemn the president, rather than the evil of a man who orchestrated the slaughter of thousands. Let’s call Soleimani what he was, a mass murderer, even as he wears a national military uniform which is supposed to somehow confer more legitimacy on his monstrous career than a rogue terrorist. Have Democrats even taken a breath to realize that openly attacking their own president in this circumstance only emboldens Iran and endangers our troops, and perhaps civilians? A divided nation is a ripe target for evil.
Watching the Democrats’ hysterical, hyper-political attacks on the president brings to mind the nervous nellies of the left during President Reagan’s military buildup in the 1980s. Oh no, the Soviets will get angry, and we’ll all die. Of course, it was the Soviet Union itself which expired without a war, or even a single shot, under the weight of American military and economic power. And it was superiority on the battlefield which allowed President Reagan to go to Reykjavik and offer to rid the world of all nuclear weapons, though that potentially world-changing deal was ultimately sunk by the Soviet demand that we terminate our strategic defense initiative (“Star Wars”).
We have now reached a similar moment in time. And to take a strictly political angle, what would be a better moment for Trump to deliver on arguably his most significant campaign promise than just in time for his re-election campaign?
America’s strategic military capabilities can still provide protection for our allies in the region, primarily Israel, and we can maintain diplomatic relations and embassies, assuming the safety of our diplomats can be assured – not always a certainty in this region of some 25 countries largely defined by instability and violence. Remember Benghazi, not to mention the recent attack by Iranian proxies on our embassy in Baghdad.
Of course, the embedded military/foreign policy establishment will doubtless oppose such a strategy with every fiber of its being. An American withdrawal would invite Iran to dominate the region, they would surely cry. And they might be right. But exactly when will Iran stop trying to expand its empire? This is the distant successor to the Persian Empire, remember, which traces back beyond 500 BC. These are a proud and ancient people. Preventing the spread of Iranian influence would require a permanent American military presence throughout the region. Is that something the American people will continue to tolerate?
Hot War Out
Exactly when will we step back, stop throwing good money after bad, placing our troops in harm’s way needlessly and creating endless enemies? Is it not beyond time to let Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Russia, China, and terrorist groups like Hezbollah fight it out for regional hegemony? After all, they, and no longer the U.S., are the stakeholders who continue to have designs on control of the region.
Having now been reassured that a hot war between America and Iran is all but off the table, let us not miss the golden opportunity presented by this moment in time, for it holds the potential to launch a new era for a region in chaos – and America’s international standing. The world will be watching.
Read more from Tim Donner.