If you believe there is any coherence to his foreign policy, his bellicosity serves it well.
I understand that there are two parts of this article title that can be called into question. One is “Does Trump Want”, which implies, with facts not in evidence, that there is any thought behind what he says or does other than propitiating his own immense ego and ad-libbing a one-man tough guy show.
The other is “Less Stable Middle East”, which implies some stability, which regular readers of the newspaper may have ascertained is not in high supply. So how could it get worse? And why?
Well. Here’s how it could get worse.
- America shutting doors to any incoming refugees and visa applicants from the area, combined with Europe facing enormous backlash for its refugee policy. The refugeee crisis had an outlet. If those doors are closed, you’ll see more IDPs, more people fleeing to Jordan and Lebanon and Turkey (who will kick them out) and even Iraq. Jordan and Lebanon will become even more destabilized, and could fail entirely. There will also be chaos and brutality inflicted upon those who left and had to return. They are coming into a fluid and violent situation, peace negotiations notwithstanding. Horrific reprisals, and just the cruelty of fate in a broken land, will be unimaginable.
- Additionally, the policy itself is guaranteed to spur even more radicalization.
- An enormously fragile Iraq is suddenly hearing the leader of the country that invaded it 14 years ago blithely talking about “taking back the oil“, a war crime that can only mean a reinvasion and destruction of even the vaguest sovereignty. This makes an unstable political situation even worse, engenders more bitter feelings, and can lead to more radicalization. Iraqi political leaders will be under enormous pressure to stand up to US bullying.
- Oh yeah- talking about torture and the reintroduction of black sites is a pretty good goddamn way to boost recruitment.
So yeah, in less than a week we’re looking at deliberate policies whose impact could be the implosion of Jordan, the fragmentation of Lebanon, a boost for jihadi recruitment, and the ending of any normal politics in Iraq. So why would anyone do this?
The easy answer, and the one that might be correct, is that Donald Trump is an ignorant blowhard who likes to say things because they sound tough. But as we’ve seen, everything that he is ignorant about, and everything he sounds off on, helps an agenda somewhere. Because he doesn’t know anything, and because he is extremely susceptible to flattery and manipulation, the hard right is running rampant domestically. But what about foreign policy?
There’s a lot to say, of course, but these “policies”, such as they are, can help to establish the nationalist far-right in Europe, wrecking the EU and even NATO. The refugee crisis is for the right a good way to “heighten the contradiction” between Merkelism and nationalism (and there’s nobody more Marxist in tactics than the far right). Trump likes that, because it suits him temperamentally, being the “leader” or a nationalist movement, and it fits the overall goal of people like Bannon.
But how does more chaos in the Middle East work out? Well, weak states, over time, tend to move more and more in the spheres of influence of stronger ones. Dissolved states, by their nature, eventually fall under the de facto control of big ones. In the current Middle East, that means Turkey and Iran. Both of which, one notes, are currently partners with Russia.
This isn’t at all to say that Trump is a puppet of Russia or a Manchurian candidate. It’s just that his essential world is one where tough leaders of major powers do deals over everything else. Russia extends its influence in the Middle East through Iran and Turkey (which themselves fall into that bilateral world). Maybe Russia lets us “take the oil”, and we work together to fight ISIS (even though Russia has shown no interest in doing so, concentrating solely on killing Asad’s enemies). Major countries can do major things.
I think this is what Russia wants (minus the US taking the oil). Putin sees politics as essentially a matter of geography (more on this coming next week, with a deeper look at what the next few years of geopolitics will look like), and having partnerships that flank the Caucuses, influence Central Asia, and stretch to the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf is a long-standing dream.
I don’t think he’ll get it. There are too many other factors, and I don’t think he’s the all-knowing evil genius some people think he is. But this is the Russian idea of politics, and by ignorance, by temperament, by advisors, and who knows what else, Trump has the same ideas. So maybe this was sheer ignorant bluster. But even if it was, we see the germs of a foreign policy that will make none of us safer.