by Paul Gadalla
Rai Insights Contributor
Trump’s recent speech in Saudi Arabia as part of a worldwide Islamic conference was déjà vu. The new American president’s declaration of Iran being a sponsor of terror sounded all too close to George Bush’s infamous ‘Axis of Evil’ speech when he placed Iran, Iraq, and North Korea in some sort of anti-American alliance. Isolating Iran and attempting to link it to major sources of terrorism has been a constant misstep of US presidents. It is a mistake in which the US has made again and again with terrible consequences.
The glaring flaw in Trump’s logic, and obvious to many who know the sectarian makeup of the region, is that Iran is a Shia-majority nation. Shiites have often been on the receiving end of terrorist attacks, from Lebanon to Pakistan. Not to mention, no Iranian has ever committed an act of terrorism on American soil, which leads us to the next flaw in Trump’s foreign policy.
No Iranian has even committed an act of terror on American ground. Ironically a number of Saudis have. The September 11 attacks which, spurred America’s war on terror, was orchestrated by a number of Saudis who were part of Al-Qaeda which was also headed by a Saudi. Former Vice President Joe Biden once famously said America’s Gulf allies had gone too far in funding or lending support to extremist groups. GCC countries in their drive to get rid of Syria’s Assad, supported, funded, and trained a number of armed groups, which eventually formed notorious groups like Jabhat al Nusra and ISIS. It is these groups in turn that have bit the hand that feeds and have spawned numerous terrorist attacks around the world. None of these groups are Iranian funded and indeed Shiite sponsored groups have not carried out terrorist attacks in the US.
Unfortunately Trump has not learned from his conservative predecessors. To feed America’s military industry complex, American rulers have constantly sold arms to Gulf allies and propped up Gulf regimes in hopes of fostering allies in the region and have more access to cheap oil. And in turn they have helped their Gulf allies attempt to keep Iran at bay and cut off any of its influence in the region many times at any cost. And Trump has just signed a massive arms deal with Saudi.
Obama did break with the past by working international partners (the P5+1 group) to engage with Iran and by doing so he was able to create an agreement that created oversight over its nuclear program. Trump must face the fact that he simply cannot tear up an international agreement although he has constantly reminded the world how much he hates it. Iran has remained committed to the agreement and has openly voiced it wishes to continue with it. If the US attempts to scrap it or pull out, it is merely sending a signal to Iran that the deal means nothing which could easily push the regime to go back to building more centrifuges.
It is also ironic when Trump mentions human rights in the region. Although both Saudi and Iran have appalling records, Iran’s reformist President Rouhani just won a second term and reformists have won sizeable victories in parliament and municipalities. Saudi Arabia still has long road ahead of it before its reformist movements bare similar fruits.
Iran is a major force in the region and has a pull with many Shiite Arabs. Attempts to isolate Iran can ferment further strife in the region, as Shiite militias are part of the fight against ISIS. Supporting extreme regimes like Saudi will only mean the further spread of a more extreme version of Sunni Islam that is at odds with other Muslim sects. If Trump cares about putting America first, then he should recognize that large arms deals to regimes that have been funding terrorist groups won’t secure his country but should instead work with countries that are actually combating ISIS.
*Paul Gadalla is a New York native communication specialist and aspiring political analyst based in Beirut, Lebanon