Published On: Mon, May 15th, 2017

Comey’s sacking and Trump’s arbitrariness

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By Raghida Dergham

Washington was preoccupied this week with the fallout from the sacking of FBI Director James Comey. The move has brought back President Donald Trump’s arbitrary tendencies to mind, after a time in which he appeared to have adapted to the solemnness of the presidential office and the need for a well-choreographed functioning of his administration.

The decision to sack Comey also brought back talk of impeachment. Comparisons were made between this incident and Richard Nixon’s firing of Attorney General Archibald Cox in 1973, and the late president’s subsequent impeachment.

The main concern over Comey’s sacking comes from links between some Trump aides — such as former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn — and Russia during the election campaign, and their continuation despite FBI warnings. Suspicions have followed Trump himself that he may have ties with Moscow that could make him vulnerable to blackmail.

The matter not only touches on feelings of anger over Russia’s alleged interference in US presidential elections, but mainly American national security if the allegation is true. A segment of the US public is ready to hold Trump accountable and even put him on trial, and is convinced he is involved up to his ears. Another segment mocks the claims, citing tense the current state of Russian-US relations.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was in Washington on the day Comey was fired. Talking to reporters, he took a jocular tone when he was asked about the affair and links to Russia, as if he was saying he had more important issues to discuss with his counterpart Rex Tillerson and with Trump.

Before going off course with the sacking, the Trump administration was in the process of developing crucial policies. These included reviving direct US intervention against terror with European and Gulf allies, who would provide funds and some boots on the ground for the US-led surge in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.

The visit by Trump to Saudi Arabia this month will not just discuss important bilateral ties, but will include an Arab-American-Islamic Summit that will set a precedent on many levels. From the summit in Riyadh, US-Gulf relations and traditional security guarantees will be rejuvenated.

Resetting America’s regional relations to before former President Barack Obama’s engagement with Iran will provide substantial fuel for the talks. But it is important not to over-interpret the Trump administration’s positions to suit wishful thinking, because this could have dangerous implications.

Iran — the elephant in the room — is expected to be absent from the summit hosted by King Salman, with Trump the guest of honor. But it will be present in the conversations, including on security balances in the Gulf, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon, as well as on the Palestinian issue and relations between the US and the Middle East.

Anyone who reads Trump’s firm language with Iran as a green light for regime change or military confrontation is wrong. The Trump administration is clear that it is not preparing for war with Iran. It is saying Iran needs to withdraw to its borders, stop its incursions in other countries such as Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, and end its destabilizing tactics and terrorist instruments.

If not, the US and its allies have means other than war to pressure Tehran. Washington is certain that the rule of the mullahs and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) will eventually implode without the need for a US nudge or a war that would be unpopular in America.

An Iranian strategist said it more clearly: “Iran will not win as long as its borders have expanded to Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon.” Controlling mobile borders is not possible, no matter how well Tehran presents its project and how many formidable militias and IRGC troops it deploys.

Following his meeting with Lavrov, Trump called on Moscow to rein in the Syrian regime, Iran and Tehran’s proxies. Several senior figures in his administration have firmly said they intend to prevent Tehran from claiming the victory against Daesh and seizing territories recovered from the group.

This would deny Qassem Soleimani, commander of the IRGC’s Quds Force, the chance to cement his image as a hero who supposedly protected Iran from, and defeated, Daesh in Iraq and Syria. That task is now being handled by the US-led coalition in Iraq, and a new coalition led by the Trump administration, comprising Arab and Western countries and Syrian factions, much to Iran’s chagrin.

On the other hand, there is increasing talk of an Israeli military strike against Hezbollah to destroy its rockets because there is a window of opportunity for this. Those behind this forecast, mainly sources in Kuwait and Lebanon, say Israel intends to devastate Lebanon because the bunkers housing Iranian rockets are deep underground.

But forecasting Israeli strategy is not an exact science, and appears closer to speculation, based on querying several security and political sources. They say the Trump administration is not in favor of an Israeli war in Lebanon. Rather, it wants security guarantees for Israel by preventing a Hezbollah or Iranian presence in the Syrian Golan Heights, in agreement with Russia.

–(Courtesy–Arab News)

 

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