President Trump’s Approach to the Middle East
Both in and outside the Oval Office, President Trump has become known for his unpredictable behavior. Last Thursday evening was no exception when he abruptly called off a U.S. military strike on Iran — one planned as a rebuttal to Iran’s alleged takedown of a U.S. reconnaissance drone. Democrats were unhappy with the decision, calling it an example of a fumbling commander in chief whose misled sanctions contributed to Iran’s hostility. Republicans weren’t thrilled, either, many of them irritated at the idea of seeming weak with Iran. But in halting the strike, President Trump continued his string of great foreign policy decisions. No matter your stance on the man, it’s true that his more dovish approach to war is a breath of fresh air — after far too many years of going where we’re not wanted and needlessly shedding plenty of American blood.
During his presidential campaign, Trump promised “a new approach to the Middle East.” In a surprise twist of fate, he’s making good on that pledge — unlike previous administrations of perpetual engagements in countries like Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq. Beginning with the planned withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and Syria in January, the President has been making slow-but-steady progress toward the resolution of wars that long ago fulfilled their missions. Indeed, despite having obliterated al Qaeda’s base and capturing Osama Bin Laden in 2011, U.S. servicemen and women are still stuck deployed in a conflict that has become a failed nation-building effort of over 20 years. In Syria, our intervention in their civil war kicked off way back in 2013 — despite Congress' refusal to authorize military action. Six years later, we find ourselves still devoting resources, taxpayer dollars, and American lives toward a conflict in which we have no clear stake. It’s time to put an end to all this messy warmongering.
Thankfully, President Trump seems to agree.
During his 2019 State of the Union Address, the President noted that "great nations don't fight endless wars." That's the exact form of thinking that has been scarce in previous administrations and embodies the new approach to the Middle East that the U.S. has thirsted after for years. Trump has criticized U.S. engagement in areas like Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, and has even gone on record proclaiming that he doesn’t want war with Iran. Ever the businessman, Trump has instead decided to approach Iran from a negotiator’s mindset — willing to trade U.S. support for the Iranian economy in exchange for denuclearization. It’s a strategy that’s similar to the one he employed with Palestine in an attempt to broker an Israel-Palestinian peace deal.
This isn't a weakness. It's merely knowing that a peaceful resolution with Iran would be the best outcome to preserve American prosperity. To engage in a military conflict with Iran would be to foolishly repeat the same mistakes that we've been making for the last two decades.
After all, a new military conflict would harm American taxpayers by further increasing our national debt and destabilizing the global economy. It would also be irreconcilably costly in terms of American lives.
While many Americans — including the President’s conservative base — may desire a show of U.S. military strength, they’re ignoring the fact that a nation like Iran is quite incapable of being a long-term domestic threat. Indeed, it spends a mere $13 billion annually on its military, which is a drop in the bucket compared to the nearly $600 billion the U.S. spends annually in fueling our military-industrial complex. That’s why Trump warned that any attempt at waging war against the U.S. would result in "the official end of Iran." He's not wrong, because the mere disparity in military power alone makes his threat credible. By taking nuclear action against the U.S., Iran would also risk angering neighboring countries like Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Israel — who have high stakes in preserving the stability of the region. That potential for blowback makes any military action a hazardous decision for Iran and a nuclear strike decidedly unlikely.
Trump, of course, isn’t immune to making bad calls — his foreign policy moves are often economically illogical. Unfortunately, he shares past administrations is a desire to demonstrate American superiority overseas, and he has done so with the imposition of tariffs that have threatened to shock the global economy. The doubling of tariffs on over $200 billion in Chinese imports resulted in a trade war just last month, and his decision to apply similar methods to force Iran’s nuclear compliance have been largely unsuccessful. Last week’s deployment of 1,000 U.S. troops to the Middle East have many restraint advocates concerned that Trump may change his mind on intervening in Iran, particularly since his top advisors tend to have a proclivity for interventionism. Fortunately, his actions thus far have demonstrated a preference toward resolution via economic means, as opposed to hawkish militaristic ones.
Despite his penchant for economic strongarming, the President's scale back on our wretched interventionism is one of his best calls yet. By first defaulting to negotiations, Trump is preventing the needless loss of American lives, saving the taxpayers from the threat of more military debt, and shielding the United States from yet another endless war. Democrat or Republican, that’s something we can all get behind.
Rachel Tripp is a Young Voices contributor writing from Washington, D.C.