The imbalance of forces between the US and Iran all but assures Washington of military dominance over Iran. Tehran knows this, and the country can hardly want to face an invasion. Plus, the apparent failure of explosives in the two seaborne attacks does not do much for the reputation of the Iranian military. However, both the ramping up of military rhetoric and the spectre of a long-time enemy looming large plays well politically for both the Trump and Rouhani governments.
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For Russia, extending its hand to the region might indeed be useful; for Saudi Arabia, the decision appears more pragmatic as its once go-to allies for economic cooperation have been the US and Europe. However, the Saudis have several reasons to no longer trust the West and to seek support elsewhere.
Whatever the motivation behind the S-400 purchase, Turkey has made its pursuit of a new path very clear: away from past Western allies and into an unknown territory, unburdened by past alliances. What is certain is that US officials misjudged Turkey’s moves throughout this affair as a mere bluff when it appears the country was, from its early days, genuinely committed to the purchase. The result is perhaps the final nail in the coffin of good US-Turkey relations.
Iran’s main bet on defying U.S. pressure is whether it can find parties that can help circumvent U.S. sanctions, especially in its oil exports. China is one of Iran’s major importers and seems to eye a strategic interest in supporting Iran’s policy of resisting U.S. maximum pressure. But the question is: to what extend can China support Iran’s resistance?
More aggressive to US enemies, arguably more erratic with US allies and with the financial benefit to the US at the centre of his foreign policy, Trump’s involvement in the Middle East has not been a stabilizing factor in one of the most turbulent periods of the region’s recent history. With at least two years left in the White House, it is too early to say what his lasting legacy in the Middle East will be, but the signs do not point to a positive one.
But the real question is, what will the Kurds do? Initially following Trump’s pull-out tweet, an SDF alliance with the regime of Bashar al-Assad and Russia seemed most likely. There were early signs of the SDF reaching out to both parties and protesting the US move. Within days, pro-al-Assad forces were reportedly moving into areas previously dominated by the SDF.
The assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi on 2 October 2018 while he was inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul prompted a multitude of reactions from the international community, particularly regarding Saudi Arabia, whose authorities are suspected to have ordered the killing. At the forefront of these reactions is how to address arms deals with the kingdom.