Category Archives: Trump and US Foreign Policy

Misdiagnosing Kim Jong-un


If US President Donald Trump and his advisers continue to assume that traditional deterrence does not apply to North Korea, they are likely to lose the latest geopolitical chess match. History shows that those who mistake their political or military adversaries for lunatics are usually disastrously wrong.

MILAN – Throughout history, political observers have found decision-makers who are deemed “crazy” the most difficult to assess. In fact, the problem is rarely one of psychopathology. Usually, the label merely indicates behavior that is different from what conventional analysts were expecting.

This was surely true of the twelfth-century Syrian religious leader Rashid al-Din Sinan. During the Third Crusade, the supposedly mad “Old Man of the Mountain,” as he was known, succeeded in disrupting a Crusader advance on Jerusalem by directing his followers to carry out targeted assassinations. After carrying out their orders, the assassins often stayed put and awaited capture in full view of the local populace, to ensure that their leader received proper credit for the act.

At the time, such actions were incomprehensible to the Western mind. Westerners took to calling the Old Man’s followers hashashin, or users of hashish, because they regarded intoxication as the only possible explanation for such “senseless” disregard for one’s own physical wellbeing. But the hashashin were not drug users on the whole. And, more to the point, they were successful: their eventual assassination of Conrad of Montferrat led directly to the political collapse of the Crusader coalition and the defeat of Richard the Lionheart of England. As Polonius says of Hamlet, there was method to the Old Man’s madness.

Today, the problem of analyzing supposedly lunatic leaders has reappeared with the North Korean nuclear crisis. Whether North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un is mad is not merely an academic question; it is the heart of the matter.

US President Donald Trump’s administration has stated unequivocally that it will not tolerate a North Korean capability to threaten the mainland United States with nuclear weapons. According to Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, the administration’s position reflects its belief that Kim is crazy, and that “classical deterrence theory” thus does not apply.

During the Cold War, US President Dwight Eisenhower reasoned that even if Stalin (and later Mao) was homicidal, he was also rational, and did not wish to perish in a US counter-strike. The logic of “mutually assured destruction” that underlay nuclear deterrence worked.

If, however, the leader of a nuclear-armed state is a lunatic who is indifferent to his physical safety and that of those around him, the entire deterrence strategy falls apart. If Kim is insane, the only option is to take him out before his suicidal regime can kill millions of people.

But is Kim truly crazy, or does he simply have a worldview that discomfits Western analysts? His dramatic overture to hold a summit with Trump by May hardly seems to fit the “madman” narrative. In fact, it looks like the act of someone who knows exactly what he is doing.

Consider three strategic considerations that Kim could be weighing. First, his regime might be planning to offer concessions that it has no intention of fulfilling. After all, an earlier nuclear deal that the US brokered with his father, Kim Jong-il, was derailed by duplicity. In 2002, the US discovered that the regime was secretly enriching weapons-grade uranium in direct violation of its earlier pledge.

In fact, North Korea has demonstrated time and again that it doesn’t play by the rules. It enters into negotiations to extract concessions such as food aid, and then returns to its objectionable activities, thus starting the entire Sisyphean cycle again. There is no reason to think that this time will be different. But the regime’s deviousness should not be mistaken for irrationality or madness. Simply by expressing his openness to talks, Kim has already won some of the political legitimacy he craves.

Second, rather than being a lunatic, Kim seems mindful of recent history. Whereas Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Muammar el-Qaddafi in Libya paid the ultimate price for giving up their nuclear programs, Kim has advanced his regime’s nuclear capabilities and is now publicly treated as a near-equal by the most powerful man on the planet. The Kim regime has always sought such vindication above everything else.

A third and final consideration is that North Korea is playing for time. Though it has agreed to halt nuclear and missile tests in the run-up to the summit, it could be using the intervening months to develop related technologies. For example, it still needs to perfect an atmospheric re-entry mechanism to make its intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of striking the US mainland reliably and accurately. Moreover, as long as the summit is in play, North Korea need not fear a US military strike. That is a perfectly rational and sensible prize for Kim to pursue.

All told, North Korea’s “opening” will most likely amount to much less than meets the eye. But one can still glean valuable strategic insights from Kim’s diplomatic gambit. North Korean thinking reflects cunning, to be sure; but it also betrays the regime’s will to survive, and its desire to master the current situation. This suggests that Kim is not “crazy” after all, and that conventional deterrence will still work, as it has since 1945.

That is good news for everyone, but particularly for the Trump administration, given that it will almost certainly fail to secure any meaningful concessions from North Korea in the upcoming talks.

Gaming out lunatics–Charles Manson and Kim Jong-un: The problems of assessing ‘madness’

“Though this be madness, yet there is method in ‘t.”

 –Polonius in Hamlet, Act II Scene II

 In the late 1960s, Vincent Bugliosi, one of modern America’s foremost legal minds, found himself in a very difficult position. He had been assigned to prosecute the Tate-La Bianca murder cases, occurring in August 1969, when a series of ritualistic slayings in Los Angeles had terrified the whole of the United States, due to both the frenzy of the murders as well as the seeming randomness of the crimes.

Through good, old-fashioned detective work, Bugliosi had rightly fastened upon Charles Manson and his so-called ‘Family’ as the perpetrators, a hippie death-cult that believed that their leader was the reincarnation of Jesus Christ. But there was a major practical problem with prosecuting Manson; he had personally killed no one. Instead, he had ordered others to do his diabolical bidding.

Why had he done so and why had the Family followed him? Bugliosi knew that if he didn’t address the crucial issue of motive, there was simply no real case against Manson, who was the ringleader of the whole horrendous plot. The good news was that over time Bugliosi hit upon Manson’s reasoning; the bad news was that it seemed—on its surface—so mind-bogglingly crazy that colleagues of the prosecutor urged him to discard it, as no normal person was likely to believe him.


Political risk analysts have always had a very hard time getting past this wholly understandable first analytical reaction toward craziness, as can be seen in the present North Korean crisis. It is far from an academic point as to whether North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un is mad; rather it is the heart of the matter. The Trump administration has been rhetorically unequivocal in that it says it is not going to tolerate North Korea being able to threaten the US with nuclear weapons. The basic reason for this—as National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster has made clear—is the White House believes Kim is ‘crazy,’ and is therefore unable to be deterred by the threat of a nuclear counter-strike, as were the murderous Mao and Stalin during the Cold War.

They were both surely monsters of the first order, but were rational in the sense that they personally did not want to die in a nuclear exchange with the US. This basic fact explains why nuclear deterrence worked in the Cold War. On the other hand, dealing with a lunatic who does not care what happens to himself personally means the entire deterrence strategy falls apart. If Kim Jong-un is such a madman he must then be taken out, as his regime could kill millions without worrying about the consequences.

But is Kim Jong-un insane, or as Shakespeare put it so well, is there method to his madness? Political risk analysts down the ages have had a terrible time in assessing what they might term ‘lunatics,’ those whose behaviour at first glance seems to be wholly irrational. However, more often than not, irrational behaviour merely amounts to an ideology that—while it may be radically different than that of the political risk analyst—still contains an internal logic, complete with discernible overarching goals, tactical gambits, and a strategic battle plan.

We cannot let ourselves off the hook so easily by lazily saying that our foes are crazy and therefore don’t need to be studied, because their belief systems are different (and admittedly often wildly alien) to our own. Such a limp intellectual reaction merely deprives political risk analysts of the incentive to do what they ought to, to dig deeper in understanding what at first glance seems deceptively random.


Indeed, when the Los Angeles police were initially made aware of Manson’s philosophy of Helter Skelter, they replied as all poor political risk analysts would, “Ah, Charlie’s a madman; we’re not interested in all that.” But they should have been. For Manson’s philosophy of Helter Skelter provides the crucial link explaining why the murders came about, making sense of what the ancient Greeks would describe as praxis, the unity of thought and action.

Because of their shared philosophy—no matter how far out—otherwise normal people had been motivated to savagely kill at Manson’s bidding. Successfully gaming out lunatics involves analysts suspending their own disbelief, intellectually following others’ philosophies wherever they lead. For only by doing this can praxis be gotten at, and sound analytical judgements arrived at.

Helter Skelter was to be the last war on the face of the earth, an end time’s racial conflict between African-Americans and Whites, wherein the African-American minority would rise up and eviscerate formerly dominant White society in America. But Manson, an avowed racist, believed such a wildly improbable outcome would redound to his own personal benefit.

The only White Americans to survive would be his Family, who by then would have moved to the inhospitable confines of Death Valley to escape the fighting. As Manson believed African-Americans were incapable of running anything, after a period of chaos, he prophesied that they instead would turn to him to manage things, with the Family ultimately coming to rule the world. You can see why Bugliosi was hesitant to put this fantastical thinking forward as the primary motive for the crimes.

Bugliosi was convinced that it was only within this barely-believable philosophical context that the murders could be assessed. The slayings were a crucial part of Manson’s plan to trigger Helter Skelter. By committing a series of brutal, seemingly senseless crimes against members of White society, the cult leader became convinced that eventually radical African-American movements, such as the Black Panthers, would be blamed for the outrage, which would lead to fighting in the streets.

Bugliosi contended that Manson ordered the murders, and that his Helter Skelter philosophy directly led to the killings, as it was designed to ignite the apocalyptic race war itself. Manson’s sick philosophy, plus his total control over the Family, made them willing participants in his homicidal rampage. Manson’s adherents were yearning to do anything he asked, however crazy it might seem to normal eyes.

Because he was unafraid to follow Manson’s twisted philosophy analytically wherever it took him, because he got beyond the obvious fact that Helter Skelter was patently ‘crazy’, Vincent Bugliosi discovered the motive that tied mass murderer Charles Manson to his crimes. Despite heavy odds, Bugliosi succeeded in convicting all the defendants, crucially including Manson. The first-rate analytical skills of Vincent Bugliosi underline a key point for political risk analysts. Just because a philosophy seems to be demented in your eyes, emphatically does not mean such a warped ideology doesn’t explain the key link between another’s thought and their actions.


Beyond this, that Shakespearean phrase, ‘There’s method to their madness’, is the key lesson for political risk analysts to keep in mind in successfully gaming out lunatics, those whose apparently irrational behaviour makes them seem at first glance patently unable to be studied and assessed. For there is almost always an internal logic to any serious foreign policy actor, however diabolical or seemingly random.

Risk analysts must first get beyond the simple immediate–and very human–impulse of writing off such players on the international scene as being incapable of assessment, study their ideology (no matter how twisted) and then treat them as they would any other player on the chessboard: what are their interests, what do they want, how are they prepared to get it, what is their likely strategy?

But if the seemingly irrational are often the hardest actors for political risk analysts to read, there is one more intellectual step we have to take if we are to fully go through the looking glass in dealing with them. On the international scene, the irrational are almost always politically underrated, in their strangeness being subconsciously viewed as inherently incapable of actually succeeding on the foreign policy stage.

While there is no doubt Kim Jong-un would serve as an excellent Bond villain—between poisoning his half-brother Kim Jong-nam with sarin nerve gas and executing his uncle and mentor Jang Song-thaek by blowing him to pieces with artillery—are his bloodthirsty actions so irrational they cannot be analysed?

Far from it. While the North Korean dictator is certainly odious, he seems to have a very well-defined sense of self-preservation; he killed his uncle and his brother precisely because he feared they might emerge as threats to his continued rule and also to his life. In not allowing any alternate sources of leadership to emerge within the famously closed-off North Korean regime, Kim is clearly enhancing his chances of survival in the political shark tank he calls home.

Nor is Kim’s pursuit of an advanced nuclear weapons program capable of striking the US lunacy; rather the dictator has read some recent history. A North Korea in possession of such weapons would have a ‘get out of jail free’ card, being able to ward off the oft-stated US desire for regime change in Pyongyang. Kim would be able to definitively avoid the recent fate of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi and Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, both of whom relinquished their nuclear programs, only to be overthrown and killed.

Kim Jong-un then seems to be merely what several local Asian scholars have already said of him: a rational actor operating within the context of a totalitarian system. Ruthless, yes, perhaps even wicked, but far from crazy. If this is true, then Kim is ‘rational’ in the manner Stalin and Mao were, despite their undoubted evil. And in this rational desire for self-preservation, it would seem nuclear deterrence should not be so quickly discarded as an American strategy for dealing with the North Korean regime.

The high-odds, successful prosecution of Charles Manson by Vincent Bugliosi underlines the vital need to game out lunatics, as there is almost always method to their madness. We would do well to remember this in dealing with the ‘madness’ of Kim Jong-un.

Published in the Los Angeles Review of Books, February 17, 2018

Dr. John C. Hulsman is President and Managing Partner of John C. Hulsman Enterprises, a prominent global political-risk consulting firm. His new book, To Dare More Boldly: The Audacious Story of Political Risk, will be published by Princeton University Press in April. He lives in Milan, Italy.





The All-Too-Depressing Sameness of American Foreign Policy in the Middle East

By Dr. John C. Hulsman

Despite their seeming deep, irreconcilable differences across the board, President Trump’s and President Obama’s strategic approaches to the Middle East are strikingly similar. Both recent administrations have sought to avoid pointless distractions in the Middle East, pursuing an offshore balancing strategy. Unfortunately, the current administration follows no coherent tactics to bolster this sensible strategy: these contradictions doom today’s efforts to do less in a region that has brought the United States nothing but grief for so long.

For all his knee-jerk aversion to his predecessor Barack Obama’s policies, Donald Trump came to the White House with arrestingly similar strategic thoughts about the Middle East. The current president’s Jacksonian ideology holds that the us military build-up in the Cold War was an exception that can now be rectified. As this existential threat to America has receded, the United States can and should retrench its global commitments to focus on “America first”.

Just as Obama’s elevation to the presidency was a direct result of the feckless overreach of George W. Bush’s neoconservative crusade in Iraq, so Trump echoes Obama in displaying a reticence for military intervention and a deep skepticism of nation building in the Middle East or anywhere else.


Given his clear ideological leanings, pursuing an offshore balancing strategy, in line with Obama’s reformist goals in the region, makes sense for Trump. Taking a back seat and allowing for the five great regional powers (Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt and Israel) to come to an organic balance of power over time is a foreign policy strategy designed to limit the chances of the us becoming yet again embroiled in a war in the snake pit of the Middle East. Pursuing an offshore balancing strategy means America would only militarily intervene if one of the great regional powers upset this balance, successfully achieving hegemony there.

Barring this, the United States could do less in the region (largely thanks to America’s own dramatic shale revolution which makes securing foreign oil supplies far less of a priority), instead concentrating on American renewal itself, and focusing on the overriding foreign policy challenge of this generation; far more important is Asia, where most of the future economic rewards and much of the present global risks in the world are to be found.

This general Trumpian view is not that far off the reformist strategy that the Obama administration attempted to pursue in the Middle East. It is true that the Obama White House was focused more on the rise of the multipolar world order (tacitly accepting America’s relative decline) and the need to avoid pointless distractions in the Middle East. Yet strikingly, the two very different administrations are in-sync with each other over this central point: The Middle East is an endless, enervating distraction from more important geopolitical priorities.
These priorities include national renewal and a refocusing of us foreign policy on more strategically important parts of the world. As opposed as the two men and their philosophies are over a laundry list of other issues, over the Middle East their strategic priorities have seemed eye-catchingly similar.


In characteristic fashion, the Obama White House intellectually followed through to the tactical level on this offshore balancing goal, to a more hands-off American stance in the Middle East. First, Obama avoided significant military intervention in the charnel house of the Syrian civil war, rightly seeing that he had no ally in the ghastly fight between the bloodthirsty Assad regime, the diabolical al Qaeda, and the beyond-the-pale isis.

Second, Obama de-emphasized what has become the fool’s gold of American foreign policy: the endless, fruitless, time-wasting efforts to corral the mythical unicorn that is a definitive Palestinian-Israeli peace settlement. Accepting that the rise of China as a great power and of other emerging market countries (such as India) is far more strategically important for America’s future, the Obama White House quietly tried to leave the Middle East to its own devices.

Third, Obama started to correct the traditional American preference in the region for tilting toward the Saudis and its Sunni allies, at the expense of Shia Iran. Seeing no great moral distinction between the two (it is worth remembering that 15 of the 19 al Qaeda suicide bombers on 9/11 came from Saudi Arabia, whose citizens remain a major sponsor of radical Islam around the world), and with strategic dependence on Saudi oil at an all-time low due to the shale revolution game changer in the energy markets, Obama felt comfortable in drifting away from America’s traditional pro-Saudi orientation. America’s pro-Saudi stance has driven US policy in the region since the fateful World War ii shipboard meeting between F.D.R. and Ibn Saud in February 1945.

A more even-handed regional policy suited the Obama White House in every respect. It allowed the us to move towards its less involved offshore balancing strategic goal: only by disdaining to take sides in the increasingly virulent Sunni-Shia schism in the region – personified by traditional Saudi-Iranian competition and enmity — could the United States hope to do less there.

Practically, this led to the fourth and most revolutionary aspect of Obama’s reformist Middle East policy, the Iranian nuclear deal. In practical terms, the deal is far from perfect from the American point of view; it delays, rather than puts to an end, Tehran’s quest to become a nuclear power. But the deal’s overwhelming upside for the Obama White House was that it brought Iran in from the cold. After all, a regional balance of power strategy without including all the regional powers (of which Iran is surely a significant member) would be doomed to failure at its inception.

After a generation of ostracism, it was hoped that Iran could be treated as just another great power in the Middle East, rather than as a revolutionary power determined to upset the whole regional apple cart. This change in Iran’s position in the Middle East was the key building block that allowed America to dream of transitioning to an offshore balancing strategy.


But if Trump’s Jacksonian ideology makes following in the footsteps of Obama’s offshore balancing goal seem logical, sadly, logic and coherence are not the primary attributes of the current White House’s governing record. Along with the strange congruity of Trump and Obama’s strategic thoughts about the Middle East comes one great divergence. As we have seen, Obama distilled his new Middle East strategy into a rational, operational, tactical set of policies. In contrast, Trump has pursued policies in the region that decisively make reaching the offshore balancing strategic goal in the Middle East an impossibility.

While he has largely managed to stay out of Syria (with the significant exception of successfully devastating ISIS there), and does not seem to be spending overmuch time on Arab-Israeli peace talks, over the tactical cornerstone of Obama’s new, reformist Middle East strategy — the even-handed adjustment of us views toward Riyadh and Tehran and the Iranian nuclear deal itself — Trump has also depressingly returned to America’s traditional pro-Saudi and pro-Sunni tilt. Such a tactical contradiction with his overall offshore balancing strategic goal dooms the administration’s efforts to do less in a region that has brought the United States nothing but tears over these past many decades.

Likewise, in decreeing that the US will move its embassy to Jerusalem, the Trump White House picked a needless, symbolic fight with the whole of the Arab world, dipping its toe back into the endless morass of the Arab-Israeli conflict, all the while making a lessening role in the region for the US far more unlikely.

This reversion to the sterile mean did not take the president long in other respects too. Trump chose Saudi Arabia for his first foreign visit, a clear sign of its renewed importance for the us. While practically meaningless, Trump’s announcement in Saudi Arabia of the creation of a 50-nation alliance of Islamic states determined to somehow fight al Qaeda and isis and contain Iranian subversion in the region, was nevertheless potent on a symbolic level.

In return for this clear American return to a pro-Saudi stance, Riyadh announced a deal potentially worth as much as $110 billion in arms sales over the course of Trump’s presidency. The old quid pro quo of the alliance — American support for Saudi Arabia vis-à-vis Iran and general military protection for Riyadh in exchange for massive arms sales benefitting the us — is back.

Furthermore, it is also quite possible that the talks between President Trump and King Salman went far beyond the old quid pro quo. Just two weeks after the visit, a Saudi-led alliance — likely greenlighted by President Trump – decided to aggressively blockade and ostracize Qatar, long a thorn in Saudi flesh.

Qatar incurred the wrath of the House of Saud by funding the independent Al Jazeera news organization (often critical of the Saudi royal family), supporting the anti-monarchist Muslim Brotherhood, and by maintaining good ties with Iran (necessary for Qatar as it shares a huge offshore gas field with the Islamic Republic).

But if the Saudis thought they could score a cheap and painless victory over Qatar, cowing the wealthy Gulf State into submission, their plans have radically backfired. The diplomatic stand-off has instead seen a hard-pressed Qatar thrust into the arms of the Iranians and President Erdogan’s Turkey, who have delightedly supported the emirate during its hour of need in helping overcome the Saudi-led blockade, hardly the best of outcomes for Riyadh.

Likewise, the Pentagon under General James Mattis and the State Department under Rex Tillerson, painfully aware that the us has its largest military base in the Middle East in Qatar (Al Udeid), have tried to row back from the president’s intemperate pro-Saudi favoritism. Quite possibly egged on by President Trump, Riyadh’s efforts to throw its weight around have amounted to a self-inflicted wound, giving Iran an opportunity to meddle against its archenemy in the Arabian Peninsula itself.


The Saudi’s other feckless foray in their near abroad — the catastrophic war in Yemen — has also been obliviously supported by the Trump administration, ingloriously following in the footsteps of the Obama White House. Practically, the us has supported the Saudi-led coalition there by providing it with mid-air refueling for its planes and with intelligence support. Despite the aid, however, the Iranian-backed Houthis still control the capital Sanaa and nine of the twenty-one provincial capitals.

In the chaos, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has made a comeback, hardly an optimal outcome. The war is fast becoming Saudi Arabia’s Vietnam: it is bogged down in a quagmire it cannot win yet nor can it exit, due to reasons of prestige. Again, American support for this doleful outcome has proven to be a very poor policy, keeping the US overly engaged in the region, even as the Trump White House backs the losing horse of the Saudi government, headed by the reckless, untried heir apparent, Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

But it is in changing course from Obama’s reformist Middle East policy over Iran that the Trump White House has done the most strategic damage to American interests. By making it clear that the Iranian nuclear deal — the signature diplomatic achievement of the Obama administration — would not be judged on its merits, the Trump White House unequivocally sided with the Saudi-led Sunni bloc in the region, at the expense of the Iranian-dominated Shia movement. Such a befuddled outcome dooms the us to over-involvement in the Middle East, which was the last thing the new Trump administration initially wanted.


In the aftermath of the Iranian nuclear deal, Congress compelled the White House to certify, every 90 days, that Tehran is in compliance with the agreement. Despite the fact that the vast majority of experts around the world believe Iran has so far lived up to the terms of the deal, President Trump has been reluctant to let reality get in the way of his anti-Iran (and, let’s face it, anti-Obama) feelings.

In January 2018, he was personally set on ending the Iran deal until Mattis, Tillerson, and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster (all of them hawks on Iran) prevailed on him to change course, if only for the moment.

Indeed, earlier in October 2017, Trump confusingly de-certified the Iranian nuclear deal, without withdrawing from it. Instead he turned to Congress to come up with new conditions that Iran must accept if it wants to keep American sanctions from being re-imposed. If Congress fails to do so, the Trump White House made it clear it will then terminate the accord by executive order.

In January, the President went further, saying if the European allies and the Congress didn’t jointly put forward significant changes to the accord—including crucially doing away with the sunset clauses in the deal, meaning Iran would be not deferring but ending its pursuit of a nuclear program—in May President Trump would abrogate the deal, re-imposing sanctions on Tehran. The odds of Iran (or the European allies, for that matter) accepting these terms are about the same as assuming Elvis is still alive. In other words, the Trump White House has started the clock ticking on the end of the nuclear accord.

Trump’s petulant wrongheadedness will eventually amount to a full-blown diplomatic crisis for the United States, which could well morph into a nuclear crisis, the last thing the world needs at the present time, given the slow moving Cuban Missile crisis over North Korea. By so obviously ignoring reality to suit the virulent anti-Iran bias of its Saudi allies and the American conservative base, the Trump administration has forgotten one key fact: the world is increasingly multipolar. The other great power signatories to the nuclear deal — namely, China, Russia, Germany, the uk, and France — are not going to re-impose sanctions on Iran just because the Trump White House wants to take a holiday from reality.

Instead, American weakness will be there for all to see as American-only sanctions will do some harm to Iran, but a great deal of damage to America. European allies will be horrified at America’s wanton disregard of facts, and great power rivals will be delighted that America has forced a diplomatic crisis it is bound to lose. America’s Middle East strategic disaster will soon be complete.


While it can be hoped that cooler heads will prevail, in the end, the us Constitution vests the lion’s share of power over foreign policy-making in the White House – far more than over domestic affairs. And that is precisely the problem; for it is the president’s head that is not cool.

Donald Trump originally called for a more limited, offshore balancing role in the Middle East – a strategy in line with the regional conclusions of his predecessor and with his own Jacksonian ideology. However, in his strategic confusion, tactically and practically Trump soon reverted to the sterile American mean, abandoning a more even-handed stance between the Saudis and the Iranians, and opting instead for the traditional American tilt toward Riyadh. The consequences of such an ill-conceived policy are already clear: throwing Qatar into the arms of the Iranians, and furthering the Saudi’s brutal and fumbling attempts to win the war in Yemen.

Worst of all, by placing the Iranian nuclear deal in peril, the Trump White House is opening itself up to a world of hurt, as none of the other great powers that signed the deal with Tehran – be they friend or foe – will go along with such self-serving nonsense. And in resuming America’s traditional pro-Saudi tilt in the region, the us will necessarily remain over-involved in the cesspool of the Middle East, for no appreciable strategic gain.

I say this with great sorrow, but I am an analyst first and last. The Trump White House is an unmitigated disaster for foreign policy in the Middle East.

Published in Aspenia (English Language Version update) February 2018

John C. Hulsman is president and co-founder of John C. Hulsman Enterprises, a global political risk consulting firm, and author, most recently, of To Dare More Boldly: The Audacious Story of Political Risk, to published by Princeton University Press in April 2018, and now available on Amazon.