Violence, bloodshed and terrorism and a question of losing face or maintaining credibility

Now it has become a matter of who is going to lose face: Iran or Trump?


2017/09/24 Issue: 124 Page: 3


The Arab Weekly
Claude Salhani



US President Donald Trump upped the ante with two of the United States’ most prominent enemies — Iran and North Korea — in his address to the UN General Assembly. It was not the sort of speech expected from the president of the United States of America.

“Trump’s ignorant hate speech belongs in medieval times — not the 21st-century UN — unworthy of a reply,” tweeted Iranian For­eign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. “Fake empathy for Iranians fools no one.”

Swedish Foreign Minister Mar­got Wallstrom called it “a bom­bastic, nationalist speech.” “It must have been decades since one last heard a speech like that in the UN General Assembly…. This was a speech at the wrong time to the wrong audience,” Wallstrom said.

Trump’s attempt to intervene with the international commu­nity and show he has the makings of a statesman utterly failed. His speech was far from diplomatic. Trump came across as an insecure leader attempting to justify himself in front of the interna­tional community. He appeared to be a threatening warmonger prepared to use military force rather than pursue and exhaust all diplomatic avenues.

Trump began his diatribe by mentioning how much the US economy had grown and how well the market had performed since he assumed office. Trump went on to threaten North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, saying if the United States is “forced to defend itself or its allies,” it would “totally destroy North Korea.” Trump referred to the North Korean leader as “Rocket Man” and said Kim was on a suicide course.

Turning to another country accused of developing a nuclear arsenal, Trump said Iran was being led by “a reckless regime” that openly speaks of mass murder when they vow “death to America” and “the destruction of Israel.”

“The Iranian government masks a corrupt dictatorship, behind the false guise of a democracy,” said Trump. Iran’s chief exports, the US president said, “are violence, bloodshed and chaos.” Iran is using its wealth — oil — to fund Hezbollah and support the Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Trump took aim at his favourite punching bag — former US Presi­dent Barack Obama. He called the Iran nuclear agreement reached by the Obama administration “embarrassing for the United States” and said he would revisit it.

It is obvious that Trump intended to portray himself as someone who can get things done — particularly with his comments about the economy and jobs — but anyone with half an understand­ing of those subjects knows that complex issues such as a country’s economic health and employment rate take months to properly gauge. Same for the job market. In essence, Trump was trying to cash in on the previous administration’s accomplish­ments.

This state of mind places the United States in a precarious position that could lead to serious repercussions. With Trump’s lack of support even among fellow Re­publicans on Capitol Hill, he is be­ginning to turn more and more to his generals rather than diplomats for solutions. This is a dangerous precedent for the United States. Trump’s disdain for diplomacy is reflected by his failure nine months into his presidency to fill more than half a dozen vacant top jobs in the US State Department.

He cherishes his role as com­mander-in-chief and has said he wants to emulate France’s Bastille Day military parade, to which last July he was a guest of French President Emmanuel Macron, with a similar showcase July 4 on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Trump has made clear that he believes the United States and its allies must adopt a strong line when dealing with rogue states. The president made no qualms about wiping North Korea off the face of the map and voiced similar tendencies in dealing with Iran.

This is all very well and nice, except it will jeopardise the cred­ibility of the United States and the presidency if he fails to follow up with harsh military action. After delivering such a speech, there are only two possible paths this could take, neither of which is positive.

Option one: The Iranians and the North Koreans call his bluff and Trump follows through on his threats and attacks. I can’t believe the American people are ready for two long and protracted wars in the Middle and the Far East.

Option two: The Iranians and the North Koreans continue with their programmes and Trump fails to gather the proper backing for a military intervention and loses face and credibility while weakening the presidency.

Either way, it’s a no-win situa­tion. Now it has become a matter of who is going to lose face: Iran or Trump? North Korea or Trump? In short, Trump has set a line in the sand that may be too close for comfort.


Claude Salhani is the Opinion section editor of The Arab Weekly.


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