Nader Hashemi and I have an essay titled “Playing with Fire: Trump, the Saudi-Iranian Rivalry, and the Geopolitics of Sectarianization in the Middle East” in the Mediterranean Yearbook 2018, published by the European Institute of the Mediterranean (IEMed). We examine the deterioration of sectarian relations in the Middle East in recent years, with a focus on the escalation of the Saudi-Iranian regional rivalry. We show how the Trump administration in particular has exacerbated these already volatile dynamics and suggest a shift in the policies of Western governments toward the region aimed at defusing the sectarianization process. Download the PDF.
The Trump administration has a new plan for the war in Syria, Spencer Ackerman reports for The Daily Beast, and it’s the same as the old one: bomb the hell out of the Islamic State and other extremists while not just leaving the greatest purveyor of violence there alone, but treating it as a de facto partner.
This is, for those following along, broadly the same plan that the previous U.S. administration pursued. Despite the Assad regime crossing President Barack Obama’s self-imposed “red line” in 2013, it wasn’t until a year later that the U.S. bombs began falling — on the Islamic State and other extremists. The hereditary dictator and his forces were spared, and not for a lack of humanitarian justification, but because U.S. foreign policy elites had long before decided that a change in regime posed the greatest threat to perceived U.S. interests.
Leftists who embraced realists’ perverted version of anti-imperialism — support for dictators in the name of stability, not just when threatened by Western invasions but in the face of popular uprisings — overlooked this thematically inconvenient war on terror and the new president’s repeated desire to escalate it. As late as last fall left-liberal pundits were continuing to gravely warn of a coming war, portraying better informed critics of the regime-change storyline as the warmongers even as they ignored the thousands of U.S. airstrikes those purported warmongers decried. The latter’s crime was decrying Syrian and Russian airstrikes, too, which is well established as the road to World War III.
When it was a race between a middling neoliberal and a neofascist buffoon, the way a certain sort of leftist with a social media presence chose to demonstrate their enviable, contrarian wisdom was to deride the former — while not endorsing the latter, mind you, but — for engaging in McCarthyist “red-baiting” against a right-wing authoritarian. It was accepted as self-evidently false, and laughably so, that the right-wing authoritarian in Moscow would seek to swing the U.S. election to an ally. Those positing that there was, in fact, something to the claim that the Russian state hacked the DNC (and selectively leaked what it found on behalf of the new Republican president) were either naively or cynically falling for a line put forward by shadowy and unelected Deep State operatives; leave it to liberals, the savvy leftist blogged, to find a way to side with the establishment against a billionaire.
Donald J. Trump defeating Hillary Clinton in the Electoral College, if not the popular vote, presented a new challenge: How to continue shitting on liberals as the most problematic threat, post November 8, at a time when an unhinged billionaire is about to get the nuclear launch codes? Glenn Greenwald of The Intercept’s approach: Keep acting like the (U.S.) Deep State that couldn’t stop Trump’s win is — I’m no supporter, but — seeking to undermine the legitimacy of a democratically elected leader, as (don’t you know) it’s done many times before, abroad. In this telling, news of Russian intervention continues to be self-evidently #FakeNews pushed by a media elite with known ties to The Agency, and the take serves a dual function: validating the absurd nonsense pushed during the election by Greenwald and his quasi-left fellow travelers, from Rania Khalek to Michael Tracey, that Trump was, relative to Killary, the candidate of peace — the man who, say what you will, didn’t want to start World War III on behalf of Jabhat al-Nusra.
Key to the argument that Trump is Salvador Allende and liberals (eyeroll) are being liberals (spit) by noting the CIA’s assessment Russia intervened in the U.S. election on the new president’s behalf is: ignoring the fact that 16 other U.S. intelligence agencies and the FBI believe it did too, disagreement coming only on the question of whether the obviously selective leaks that had an obviously partisan impact were explicitly designed to help the man that, as one Russian communist told me, the entire Russian state media was promoting as the globe’s salvation. Greenwald, for instance, along with the boys of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, have long posited that there’s nothing to this hacking stuff; “neither the FBI nor the CIA is on board, at least publicly” blogger Ben Norton wrote last summer, lamenting coverage of the “Russia Hack Conspiracy.”