In May, 2003 Iran contacted President Bush with an offer to quit its infant nuclear weapons program. Since this was shortly after America invaded Iraq Iran was understandably anxious to avoid the same fate. Bush did not respond and just months after, England, France and Germany begin the “negotiation” that would conclude with the controversial Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) twelve years later. Soon after the US military toppled Sadaam and purged Iraq’s government and military of the ruling Baath Party Bush faced his first unanticipated result from his decision to invade. By removing the Sunni tyrant and installing a government headed by the Shia Bush threw open the gates to the insurrection, according to American generals on the ground, trained, paid and officered by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Having inherited the already-established nuclear negotiations framework from Bush Obama sought a new chapter in relations with Iran through a series of secret back-channel discussions with its leaders. With that failed introduction to “diplomacy” (the channel remained open parallel to public negotiations) he set the course for an agreement which either the result of ineptitude or intention resulted in Iran to achieving nuclear breakout status, immediate sanctions relief, freedom to continue nuclear research and ballistic missile development. The US achieved a ten-year pause in the “full” bomb program and a legacy for the president on the seminal achievement. Obama had been negotiating the not-treaty for six years, a period in which Iran continued to develop its nuclear program to “break-out” status. Throughout the negotiations Iran would periodically walk out only to be “enticed” back by new American concessions. Throughout it appeared that the over-anxious-for-agreement American negotiators appear outmatched by their Iranian counterparts and weak in Iranian eyes. This was an image of the superpower Iran achieved when it captured two US Navy vessels that drifted into its waters and sending to the world photos and videos of American sailors, hands behind heads guarded by armed IRGC troops.
As had his predecessors President Trump arrived in office with his own blemishes. But regarding the Middle East he is still bound by a well-established US policy of, if not retreat then at least reducing America’s footprint in the Middle East. Was he “pro-Israel” on entering office? So it appears. He did promise to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem; he appointed an orthodox Jew, strong advocate for the settler movement ambassador to Israel. And the administration appears less critical of those settlements, removed Obama’s introduction of settlements construction as “pre-condition” to peace negotiations, something that proved, if anything, a roadblock to talks between the parties. But whatever unlikelihood of that elusive dream of all incoming US presidents of bringing peace between the parties, the so-called peace process is a distant second in Israeli strategic thought to expanding threat Iran represents to the region. And it is just this issue, how Trump is dealing with the Iranian threat, that administration word and deed are judged.
January 12, 2016 (courtesy Reuters,Youtube)
July 11, 2017:“A confidential U.S.-Russian cease-fire agreement for southwestern Syria that went into effect Sunday calls for barring Iranian-backed foreign fighters from a strategic stretch of Syrian territory near the borders of Israel and Jordan, according to three diplomatic sources.” July 19, 2017: Trump decided to close down the Free Syrian Army, a CIA program established in 2013. “The U.S. decision, said one of the officials, is part of an effort by the administration to improve relations with Russia, which along with Iranian-supported groups has largely succeeded in preserving Assad’s government in the six-year-civil war.Sept/2017: “Although US President Donald Trump spoke earlier against Iran, US special forces evacuated their military base in southeastern Syria, thus allowing Iranian militias to take control of the region.” Oct 13, 2017, 1:19 PM "I am authorizing the Treasury Department to further sanction the entire Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps for its support for terrorism and to apply sanctions to its officials, agents, and affiliates," Trump said in a White House speech.“As Trump spoke from the White House, the Treasury Department announced it was designating the IRGC as a terrorist entity under a White House Executive Order.”As with Bush, and particularly Obama, Iran relishes in tweaking the nose of the superpower. Just one day after Trump declared the IRCC a terror organization General Qassem Soleimani led a mixed force of IRGC troops (in Iraqi uniform), Shia militias and Iraqi regulars to the Kurd’s city of Kirkuk. Two days later “Military sources in Iraq reported Wednesday [October 18] that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) operational Al Qods arm had planted a command center and five bases in the Iraqi oil town of Kirkuk, after driving the Kurds out.”
Recently even Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has expressed concern over Trump policy regarding Iran. For Trump to “assures” Israel, et al that the US is dedicated to protect the region against Iran even as Iran appears unopposed while it advances its hegemonic ambitions; this is a road America’s “allies” already traveled with Obama who, throughout the years of “negotiating” a nuclear agreement with Iran continually reassured Israel and the Arabs that he too had their back. In retrospect the “assurances” were intended to mislead. It appears that in this, too, Trump may be following in Obama’s footsteps as Obama followed Bush. US credibility in dealing with its regional partners is strained. No wonder Russia’s star is rising in the eyes of the region.