From ruling out the possibility of talks with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un over nuclear deal and declaration of hope of a US-China trade agreement after the U.S. presidential election in November 2020 to gleefully agreeing for signing the first phase of the USA-China trade agreement and flying down to Hanoi to meet Kim Jong-un, history stands testimonial to the fact that mercurial Trump does the opposite of what he says.
After issuing threats of dire consequences if Iran attacks its establishments in the Middle East due to Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani’s assassination, Trump later backed off after Iran’s attacks. This gives enough indications that Trump’s actions are meant with an eye on electoral politics, and Trump cannot take major strategic decisions on his own.
According to political observers, shooting down of a U.S. drone by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps in June 2019 and the threat of closing the Strait of Hormuz during a war of words with the U.S. showed that Iran means what it says and can execute its warning. Potential disruption of oil and gas exports through the Strait of Hormuz would have a considerable, negative impact on the global economy. Located north of Oman and south of Iran, the Strait of Hormuz is the most significant waterway for energy supply and the only way through from the Persian Gulf to the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. This has given Iran the advantage of using the threat of Hormuz as its war strategy.
After boasting of acquiring sophisticated weaponry, Trump, in a televised statement, said the United States “is ready to embrace peace with all who seek it.” The president sounded as keen as the Iranians to avoid a conflict that threatened to embroil the Middle East in a full-fledged war.
Iraqi parliament’s vote and domestic pressure
Iraq’s Parliament has voted to expel 5,000 American troops from the country and the U.S. House has voted to limit Trump’s war powers on Iran, which have further tied Trump’s hands. Despite America’s sanctions, European leaders remain committed to the 2015 Iran Nuclear Pact; they are urging Iran to honor the agreement and showing least interest to take on a more significant role in the Middle East. All these have positioned Trump as a lone warrior against Iran with the majority of USA allies backing off from a confrontation with Iran.
According to analysts, the two sides may have avoided a military clash in the short term, but the conflict may not subside so quickly. Iran has many proxy groups that could create problems for American troops or allies in the Middle East. President Hassan Rouhani of Iran made it clear that his country will not rest until the United States is driven out of the Middle East. “Our final answer to his assassination will be to kick all U.S. forces out of the region,” Mr. Rouhani wrote on Twitter.
Iran is making threats of mass escalation to unleash Hezbollah in Israel and Shiite militias in Iraq if the war escalates— a clear indication that Iran is prepared for any eventuality. With the cost of long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan still fresh in the memory of the USA, Trump appears to have buckled under the domestic pressure to avoid entanglement in the Middle East, as that would prove to be a further drain (created by Iraq-related borrowing) on the U.S. economy. The disruptive effects on world oil markets, the rehabilitation cost of injured veterans, and repair costs for the military seem to have influenced Trump’s decision not to escalate tensions with Iran further.
With all said and done, the operation against General Qasem Soleimani may have consequences beyond all imagination and calculations. It remains to be seen what would be the next move of the combative Iran regime and an impulsive Trump– both are known for not thinking about possible consequences before acting.