Coalition for Strength: In Defense of the Trump Administrations Middle-East Policy
Since 1979, the Iranian regime has presented a grave threat to Anglo-American political and economic interests in the Middle East, and in recent years, Washington has sought to limit Iran’s weapons capability and geopolitical reach. In this regard, President Trump adequately advanced U.S. interests in the region by withdrawing from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), changing U.S. strategy towards Iran, and improving Arab-Israeli relations. This competence in Middle-Eastern policy has earned the President a grade of A.
The administration of President Donald Trump has mostly taken the correct steps to address the Iranian threat. In particular, the administration’s efforts to consolidate a coalition of countries against the Iranian regime has proved to be the most important development of this term. By unilaterally withdrawing from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the United States turned away from policy based on misguided neoliberal ideas in favor of a more realistic assessment of the Iranian nuclear threat. In the original deal, there was significant trust that international institutions would be able to curtail Tehran’s nuclear weapons capabilities after the expiration of the deal. However, the neoliberal belief that institutions would foster cooperation was limited by the fact that Tehran could continue nuclear enrichment without any IAEA inspection on Iranian military sites. It could not have truly been a plan of action if there was no legitimate mechanism to ensure that Tehran was not hiding nuclear weapons technologies from the rest of the international community.
As a neighbor of Iraq, Tehran is understandably afraid of the potential destruction of a U.S.-led invasion. Therefore, the Trump administration changed its strategy towards Tehran with the understanding that the Iranian regime would continue its weapons build-up despite any incentives. Recent history has indicated that if there is any surefire diplomatic protection from such an invasion, it is in nuclear weapons. When Libya surrendered its nuclear weapons, the Gadaffi regime was eventually ousted in 2011, and the country now remains in a civil war between General Khalifa Haftar and a U.N.-recognized government. Another horribly similar fate befell Ukraine when it voluntarily surrendered its nuclear weapons to the Russian Federation in the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances, only to be deprived of Crimea when Moscow invaded the region a few years ago. Therefore, it would not be outside the realm of possibility to suggest that Tehran has incorporated this history into their strategy so that they would be able to build nuclear weapons after the expiration of the limits imposed by the JCPOA.
To confront this reality, President Trump sought to reimpose economic and political pressures on Iran, so that Tehran would be forced to negotiate a more favorable deal for Washington. In addition, the Trump Administration has shown its willingness to fight the Iraninan military through airstrikes such as the one that killed Major-General Qassem Soleimani. Although there have been promises of retaliation, Tehran has yet to fulfill these promises, and this lack of action is likely an indication that Tehran understood the willingness of the Trump administration to fight the Iranian regime if they continued their current course. In this particular instance, offense was the best defense.
The Trump Administration has also been able to consolidate an anti-Iran coalition by greater Arab recognition of Israel through the Abraham Accords which normalized relations between Israel and more of its Arab neighbors. In August 2020, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Israel agreed to normalize relations, and Bahrain followed suit in October 2020 by formalizing ties with Israel. In December 2020, Morocco signed onto the Abraham Accords in exchange for U.S. recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over the Western Sahara. Finally, on January 7, 2021, Sudan signed onto the Abraham Accords to receive a bridge loan from the IMF and be released from its “state-sponsor of terrorism” designation. By facilitating new relationships with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco, Israel has now gained new partners in Northern Africa and the anti-Tehran Gulf Coast Council (GCC).
Whether it was through French assistance during the Revolutionary War or NATO partnership during the Cold War, coalitions have always been an important part of America’s geopolitical success. In the context of present-day tensions in the Middle East, a strong coalition with common interests remains the most potent recipe for geopolitical triumph over our most dangerous adversaries. Through the Trump administration, the United States has successfully withdrawn from the JCPOA, changed its Iran strategy, and facilitated a coalition of countries in North Africa and the Middle East to adequately counter the Iranian nuclear threat.