Middle East nightmare – made in Washington
Even under one of the most rhetorically aggressive leaderships that it has ever had, the United States is maintaining a rational approach in its dealings with nuclear power North Korea. Its plans for a meeting between the two heads of state, reflected in the unannounced visit to Pyongyang of Mike Pompeo, former CIA director, now U.S. secretary of state, attests to Washington's intent to scale back confrontation.
Yet at the same time President Trump’s administration is displaying a worrying recklessness in stoking a potential confrontation with Iran, playing on and manipulating Saudi fears.
North Korea's "rocket man", as Trump dubbed Kim Jong-un in his speech at the United Nations in September 2017, is by most measures more dangerous than the Iranian leadership.
Without downplaying the perils of Iran’s ideological drive and expansive regional foreign policy, Tehran’s politics are guided by national interest and rational calculations that are not exclusively led by ideology.
Why then is the U.S. avoiding investing in diplomatic efforts to save the already devastated Middle East from yet another catastrophic war, this time between Saudi Arabia and Israel on the one side and Iran on the other? Instead, Trump is actually paving the way for such a confrontation with his plans to revoke the nuclear agreement that his predecessor Barack Obama managed to conclude with the Iranians.
The question is, why? Reasons include the United States' interest in maintaining lucrative arms deals with the Gulf states – primarily Saudi Arabia – and the fact that many U.S. politicians support bombing Iran (as demanded by the right-wing Israeli leadership).
With regards to the first, Trump has never hidden his intentions to milk the Saudis to the max. In his televised meeting with the Saudi crown prince Mohamed bin Salman (MbS), Trump voiced the hope that in 2018-19 alone the value of arms deals with the Saudis would exceed $700 billion. Continuing to inflame Saudi fears towards Iran is the best guarantee of any current and future deals. Investing in diplomacy to offset such fears would be far less profitable.
With regards to the second reason, Saudi Arabia is already implicated in a futile war in Yemen that after more than two years seems far from being resolved. Ironically, that war was named by the Saudis "the battle of decisiveness" and was planned to last only the few weeks it would take to finish off the Iranian-supported Houthi rebels.