Monthly Archives: February 2017

Turkey and the GCC: Cooperation Amid Diverging Interests

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Turkey and the GCC: Cooperation Amid Diverging Interests

Since the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in November 2002, Turkey’s relations with the Gulf Arab countries have fluctuated between varying degrees of cooperation and mutual suspicion. From the Turkish perspective, these dramatic shifts have been driven primarily by changing political needs of the AKP’s leadership against the backdrop of a political worldview that sees Turkey as a natural leader in the Muslim world. This has led to moments of unprecedented cooperation between Turkey and some of the Gulf states, as well as instances of mistrust and competition. This pattern is likely to continue as the Turks cope with multidimensional security threats and domestic political challenges that threaten to further destabilize the country.

The Gulf Cooperation Council countries view Turkey as an indispensable Sunni ally and counterweight to Iran, but a difficult, and at times unreliable, partner. This has been especially evident in Syria, where, until recently, Turkey joined Saudi Arabia and Qatar as the main outside powers pressing for regime change. However, this partnership has been strained as Turkey has shifted its focus to Kurdish issues and partnered with Russia on a long-term cease-fire effort. Further, Turkey’s view of Iran as a problem to be managed rather than resolved places Ankara at odds with the Gulf Arab states. Additionally, the Gulf states are divided on the Turkish government’s Islamist leanings, with the United Arab Emirates especially concerned about its regional ideological influence. Gulf Arab countries also have some long-term concerns about Turkey’s regional ambitions. Therefore, Gulf Arabs seek to ensure that Turkey remains an engaged regional power, but not too engaged, playing a major regional role, but not an overbearing one. However, if Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s effort to consolidate domestic political power leads him back to a more active and less constructive approach to the region, Turkey and the Gulf Arab countries could once again find themselves on different sides of various regional issues.

McMaster’s Book May Presage Clashes, Shows What He Gets Wrong on Vietnam

Donald Trump’s new national security adviser, General HR McMaster, is an excellent choice. But the two may be headed for trouble if Gen McMaster’s writings are any indication.

Mr Trump loves soldiers, including the “FA 59” strategic and operational planners among whom Gen McMaster is a revered guru.

He will join the “grown-ups” in the administration – sober figures such as defence secretary James Mattis, secretary of state Rex Tillerson and even vice president Mike Pence.

There are other factions. One, led by Mr Trump’s daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner, is personally loyal to Mr Trump.

Another, comprising extremist ideologues, is led by White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and attorney general Jeff Sessions. Well represented in executive branch second-tier staff, they include hardliners such as Stephen Miller, Michael Anton and Sebastian Gorka.

By radical contrast, during the Iraq war, Gen McMaster showed a refined appreciation of the sensitivities of the Iraqi people, never regarding them as the enemy or a burden to be managed.

On the contrary, he argued that the right thing was also the smart thing, and winning over Iraqis by recognising and respecting their dignity and identity was the key to any successful American-led counter-insurgency.

There is no way to integrate this subtle, serious perspective on security and counter-terrorism, since the same logic must hold globally as well as regionally, with hateful and counter-productive measures such as Mr Trump’s ill-fated anti-Muslim travel ban.

Gen McMaster thus seems on a potential collision course with the Bannonites and possibly the president himself.

That’s why the McMaster hire is both heartening and somewhat mystifying.

Mr Trump’s first national security adviser was his hotheaded, Islamophobic loyalist, Gen Michael Flynn, but he was almost immediately fired. Mr Trump then offered the post to vice-admiral Robert Harward, who rejected it over staffing disputes and the chaos swirling around the administration.

Now Mr Trump has turned to Gen McMaster, whose superb and scholarly book, Dereliction of Duty, chronicles, in excruciating detail, the failings of the American political and military systems during the Vietnam War.

It also presages potential clashes Gen McMaster may face in the Trump administration.

The book illustrates how the technocrats assembled by John Kennedy and inherited by Lyndon Johnson shared the disdain of both presidents for military expertise. Men such as Robert MacNamara, Dean Rusk and McGeorge Bundy believed their analytical and statistical techniques and political imperatives outweighed whatever top military leaders might think.

These military leaders – who Gen McMaster deems “silent men” – colluded in massive administration lies and deferred to a politically motivated and ill considered strategy of “graduated pressure” designed to “communicate messages” and persuade North Vietnam to end support for the South Vietnamese Viet Cong rebels. Given Vietnamese attitudes, this was futile.

Gen McMaster argues the war was lost from the outset, perhaps even before Johnson became president.

The alternative would have been the early and decisive application of massive force that the military wanted but did not press for or even strongly recommend.

Gen McMaster clearly feels the Vietnam War was possibly avoidable but, worse, that there was no need for the United States to lose it if the military had been allowed to fight it their way.

Therefore he is unlikely to now bow to foolish demands from Mr Bannon, and even Mr Trump, both of whom have their own disdain for experts.

That’s very encouraging. If Gen McMaster can insist that he and the other real strategic thinkers know better, and prevail, that will be a huge improvement.

But his book also reveals a blind spot: Gen McMaster delves deep into Vietnam War history, but probably not far enough.

He doesn’t give sufficient consideration to the striking insight that Vietnam was actually “lost” immediately after the Second World War when the US allowed France to reclaim its former colonial possessions in Indochina from the Japanese.

By 1964, Ho Chí Minh and his communist Viet Minh militarily drove the French from the North and became the incontestable face of Vietnamese nationalism.

The colonial-collaborationist southern state under emperor Bao Dai and his thuggish successors had neither nationalist credibility nor political legitimacy.

Ho’s communist/nationalist hybrids were thus virtually inevitable long-term victors. Almost as suspicious of their nominally communist “comrades”, but actually age-old antagonists, in China as they were of the colonial West, they ultimately had nowhere to turn but Moscow. Thus was Vietnam lost to the Russian orbit.

The American commitment really required to prevent Vietnam from eventually being united under Ho’s movement was never practically viable, especially because wooing communists wasn’t ideologically or politically plausible.

Along with Gen Mattis, Gen McMaster is by far Mr Trump’s best appointment. Yet even if Gen McMaster prevails on policy, despite the desperately needed sophistication he would undoubtedly provide, he may not have all the answers. But, then, no one does.

The Unfolding Scandal that Could Bring Down Trump in Record Time

Well, that didn’t take long. Even those of us who fully expected Donald Trump to become mired in a major political crisis didn’t think it could possibly happen during his first month in the White House.

Just how grim Mr Trump’s situation is becoming may not be immediately obvious. But a closer look reveals a critical condition and worse prognosis.

Far from the “fine-tuned machine” he describes, his administration is a wretched mess.

His main policy initiative, the notorious “travel ban”, was so incompetently drafted that it was immediately blocked by the courts and will probably have to be discarded altogether in favour of a workable executive order.

Mr Trump’s early record of legislation and other substantive accomplishments is strikingly thin compared to most of his predecessors. And of the 696 senior positions that require Senate confirmation, 661 still have no nominees.

Last week his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, may have set a record for the earliest resignation-in-disgrace of any major appointee. Worse, it points to a far larger scandal involving ties to Russia that is just starting to seriously unravel. Robert Harward, Mr Trump’s choice to replace Mr Flynn, refused the coveted position.

Before Mr Trump’s inauguration, Barack Obama imposed new sanctions against Moscow. Mr Flynn called the Russian ambassador and implied that they could be lifted, providing Russia did not overreact.

After initially calling retaliation essential, Mr Putin did nothing. Mr Trump then fulsomely praised his brilliance. Mike Pence, the US vice president, assured the public that sanctions weren’t discussed because Mr Flynn lied to both him and the FBI.

As a former military intelligence chief, Mr Flynn knows all such conversations are routinely recorded by the National Security Agency.

But he may have believed he was protected because he was acting at the explicit or implicit behest of Mr Trump.

Weeks before the media revealed the truth, Mr Trump learnt that Mr Flynn was lying about the conversation and was also, therefore, open to Russian blackmail. Yet he took no action, and did not inform Mr Pence about the deception.

Clearly he would never have fired Mr Flynn if the truth had remained hidden. Indeed, he still insists Mr Flynn is a “wonderful man” who was “just doing his job” and “doing something right”, but has been “treated very, very unfairly by the media”.

Mr Trump is outraged, not by Mr Flynn’s misdeeds and lies, but at the officials who told journalists, and the press that told the public the truth.

But it gets much worse.

Trump campaign officials are now known to have been in “constant contact” with Russian intelligence officers over the past year. There is no plausible innocuous explanation for this, especially since, as Mr Trump publicly begged them to in July, Russian intelligence was actively interfering with the American election.

The circumstantial evidence suggesting they were in cahoots is becoming almost incontestable.

US investigators have also corroborated some parts of what initially seemed a highly dubious dossier alleging Russian efforts to compromise Mr Trump on financial and sexual grounds. Since those details are correct, the entire document is inevitably being taken more seriously.

It will provide an indispensable road map for any serious investigation of the real Trump-Russia relationship.

All this may finally explain his mystifying adulation of Russia’s thuggish president, Vladimir Putin. Mr Trump and his minions are plainly hiding the truth about their dealings with Russia, and it is now a national imperative to uncover it.

Congress, fully controlled by Mr Trump’s Republican party, must either conduct a credible investigation itself or, more appropriately, appoint a special commission or independent prosecutor.

Republican lawmakers would rather not act at all, and certainly not before the midterm elections. Most don’t like or trust Mr Trump and would undoubtedly prefer Mr Pence as president.

But the process of investigating, and possibly removing, a president from their own party is still too much for almost all of them.

As senator Rand Paul shamelessly explained “We’ll never even get started with doing the things we need to do, like repealing Obamacare, if we’re spending our whole time having Republicans investigate Republicans.”

But, eventually, even such hyper-partisan hands will be forced.

Unless Mr Trump and his defenders can quickly concoct convincing answers to questions they have yet to even acknowledge exist, additional leaks, damaging revelations and, possibly, resignations will continue to steadily pile up until, probably very suddenly, the whole house of cards begins to come crashing down.

At this rate, that may happen sooner than anyone could have imagined.

American Alt-Right, not Israeli Far-Right, Nixed Fayyad’s UN Post

The Trump administration shocked everyone at the United Nations, including American diplomats, by suddenly blocking the appointment of a new peace envoy to war-ravaged Libya.

On Thursday, confident he had secured Washington’s private agreement, United Nations secretary general Antonio Guterres announced his selection of former Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad.

But on Friday, jaws dropped as Washington’s UN ambassador, Nikki Haley, issued her unexpected, and bizarre, public response. Foreign Policy magazine reports that “the White House stepped in at the last minute to kill off the appointment”.

Once again, Donald Trump’s left hand seemingly had no clue about what his right was doing.

In yet another mind-boggling inversion of reality – an emerging hallmark of Mr Trump’s maladministration – the White House denounced the selection as “unfairly biased” against ­Israel because Mr Fayyad is Palestinian.

Shabby gloating by Israel’s UN ambassador, Danny Danon, notwithstanding, this wasn’t an Israeli idea. The Israeli daily Ha’aretz confirms that the Israeli government wasn’t even consulted about the decision.

Barring Mr Fayyad because he is a Palestinian reflects the same depersonalisation, dehumanisation and identity-based marginalisation that permeates the Trump administration’s refugee and travel bans, and plans for massive anti-immigrant witch-hunts.

It is the handiwork of the American alt-right, not the Israeli far-right.

A racist coterie within the Trump administration, led by White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, has been ramming through as much of its fanatical agenda as possible, before more normative power centres that may oppose them can fully form.

This clique of crackpots was primarily responsible for both the venomous excesses and inept blunders of Mr Trump’s disastrous first three weeks.

Mr Bannon’s alt-right gang surreptitiously drafted the notorious travel ban, which has been blocked by a court that cited the “public interest in freedom from discrimination”. Mr Bannon even insisted on trying to prevent permanent US residents from returning to their homes, jobs and families. But that was so blatantly illegal it was immediately withdrawn.

The statement barring Mr Fayyad speaks in this distinctive, immediately identifiable and sadistically racist voice. It does not acknowledge him as a person to be judged on his own merit, instead casting him as a kind of flag with legs.

The statement doesn’t even refer to Mr Fayyad by name, only as “the former Palestinian Authority prime minister”, as if all such persons constitute an interchangeable generic category that tells you all you need to know about how bad they are.

Any former Palestinian prime minister must apparently be ostracised from international public service and, presumably, polite company.

Mr Fayyad is actually an outspoken and pro-American secular liberal who embodies moderation, pragmatism, accountability and good governance.

He worked to build the state institutions of the Palestinian people, improve their living conditions, give them hope, and constructively harness their skills and energy. He created a clean and transparent Palestinian public finance system.

Mr Fayyad opposes violence but participates in non-violent protests. He led settlement product boycotts, but also pursued security coordination with Israel in the interests of both peoples.

He courageously questioned the ill-considered Palestinian UN bids in 2011 and 2012 as only promising symbolic gains with huge real costs. Reckless, unthinking American and Israeli responses targeted his budgets and destroyed his premiership.

The US statement opposing Mr Fayyad issued a Kafkaesque indictment of Palestinians, punishing them for their own statelessness. Mr Fayyad is a Palestinian. Therefore, he is stateless. Allowing him to work for the UN might imply that, like everyone else, Palestinians should have a state or functional citizenship. Israel allows them neither independence nor citizenship. Therefore, Palestinians must be excluded from international institutions to spare Israeli discomfort.

Palestinian statelessness is reinscribed as a crucial signifier, not of suffering, but of guilt. Allowing Mr Fayyad to serve the UN might highlight his statelessness. Therefore, it would be “unfairly biased” against Israel to allow him any notable role. Possibly he might be allowed to empty the rubbish at night, but the same logic might easily identify that as another threat to Israel.

If Mr Fayyad working for peace in Libya is “detrimental” to Israel, then any Palestinian doing anything anywhere can certainly also be objectionable. Why not?

Mr Fayyad’s exclusion might have been intended as retaliation for the recent UN Security Council condemnation of Israeli settlements. But Mr Trump is inching ever closer to the only rational position, now agreeing that “going forward with these settlements” is not “a good thing for peace”. “Every time you take land for settlements, there is less land left,” the property developer explained.

The Jerusalem Post said a senior administration official also confirmed Mr Trump is committed to a two-state solution and opposes unilateral actions that could undermine peace efforts, including settlement announcements.

That sounds like former president Barack Obama. It sounds nothing like the Trump administration’s atrocious, alt-right inflected statement opposing Mr Fayyad.

Trump Is Proving the Bad Guys’ Point With His Terrorism Executive Order

Yes, it’s offensive, and yes, it wouldn’t have prevented the things Trump says it would have. But worse, it’s written confirmation of the terrorists’ narrative.

Combating terrorism and extremism is an urgent national and global imperative. We should know. In our capacities as the director and advisory board member for the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, which is dedicated to the study of bigotry and terrorism, we dedicate significant portions of our professional and intellectual energies to tracking the problem and working toward various solutions. In that capacity we feel duty bound to point out the serious practical, logical, and legal flaws in President Trump’s recent executive order, titled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States.”

The essence of the order, and the source of most of its deepest flaws, is found in its sweeping and all-encompassing nature. It virtually shuts the door on refugees, halting the refugee program for the next four months, and capping the total number of all refugees accepted into the United States this year at 50,000. It indefinitely bans any and all Syrian refugees from entry. It also bans almost all entry by citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries: Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Libya, and Syria, for at least 90 days.

No exception is made for children or the elderly, the sick or the suffering, family members of Americans, or virtually any other extenuating or humanitarian circumstances. This draconian travel ban even originally applied to U.S. permanent resident green card holders, who would have been cut off from their homes, families, and jobs here at home. A political outcry, and the evident illegality of that provision of the order, brought a quick reversal.

But it still applies to a vast range of individuals who obviously pose no threat, have already been subject to the rigorous, and indeed “extreme vetting” that refugees, and particularly people trying to come to the United States from the designated countries, are already subjected to. The Pentagon is trying to secure exceptions for translators and others who served, often in combat, with the U.S. military in war zones, pointing out that this is the most “extreme vetting” imaginable.

The order, because it is so sweeping and all-inclusive, makes no sense as a counterterrorism policy, because it treats countless millions of people as a pool of potential terrorists and assumes that U.S. government institutions can’t make rational and accurate judgments that certain visitors simply aren’t dangerous. Many Americans may assume that banning entry to all citizens of those seven countries will make us safer. There simply is no valid reason to think that.

As a candidate, Trump argued for a complete ban of the entry of all Muslims, originally including American citizens. He did that in the immediate aftermath of, and directly citing, the horrifying terrorist attack in our center’s hometown, San Bernardino. The problem is, the culprits were a U.S.-born American citizen and his Pakistani-born wife (who was a permanent resident). In neither case would either of them have been affected in any way by any part of Trump’s new order.

Moreover, since before Sept. 11, 2001, no deadly terrorist actions in the United States committed by terrorists have been committed by any citizens of the designated countries. So not only does the order exclude countless blameless individuals who have every reason, and in many cases a moral right, to come to our country; it wouldn’t have excluded or thwarted a single person who has committed a deadly terrorist act in the past 15 years, including all 19 perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks.

For those of us in, or deeply connected to, San Bernardino, and especially who additionally specialize in trying to combat extremism and terrorism, it is particularly galling and painful to see our own tragedy being cynically exploited to justify a policy that doesn’t address any aspect of that atrocity, or any other terrorist attack committed in our country in living memory. As Ryan Reyes, who lost his partner in the attack, protested, “I find it disgraceful that (Trump is) doing it because of (his) agenda. Don’t hide behind someone else’s tragedy.”

The San Bernardino killers did have a huge stockpile of weapons and ammunition. Arguably, stricter gun control legislation coupled with common sense visa waiver reforms might have addressed two aspects of their terrible crime. But the president’s new order simply doesn’t do that. As Trenna Meins, who lost her husband, Damien, in the horror, told us: “I understand what we’re trying to do, but taking drastic steps without planning is not effective to accomplish the goal of securing America.”

We strongly agree that it is appropriate to carefully and thoroughly screen all, and even prohibit some, would-be visitors, immigrants and refugees from countries that are hotbeds of extremism, designated state sponsors of terrorism or ravaged by war. But that already is in place, as ability of the existing procedures to prevent violent extremists from entering our country and killing people amply demonstrates given the relative paucity of such incidents. Of course, every single act of violence is unacceptable, and all reasonable measures to strengthen border security and immigration procedures are to be welcomed, particularly as conditions change.

But most of the provisions in this order are unreasonably sweeping, and are likely to be far more counterproductive than helpful in the fight against terrorism. To take just one example, we have just labeled all 38 million people of Iraq a pool of undifferentiated potential terrorists unwelcome in our country because we lack the ability to tell if any of them might not be dangerous lunatics. But these are the exact same people we are relying upon as our primary ground forces and principal allies in President Trump’s own foreign policy “highest priority” of defeating the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The order bars entry of not merely suffering Syrian men, women, and children, but also the very Iraqis we are asking to fight and die in what amounts to our most important war. People who have known and worked with our military for years, who are the biggest enemies and the greatest victims of ISIS and other terrorist groups, are all thrown into the same category as their enemies and victimizers by this reckless proclamation. We know this first hand as one of our young criminal justice students, an Iraqi refugee himself, recounted this week how the brutality he experienced in Iraq shaped his view of his new home: “I would die for this country because this country gave me the education and fundamental freedoms that most Iraq refugees would risk their life for.”

How do we imagine others will now react, and how will these new policies shape their view of us? And why should we care? To ask those questions is to answer them. Radical Islamist terrorist groups, on the other hand, will be delighted, finding in the order written confirmation of their narrative about “Islamophobic” American policies and a hatred of all Muslims by Americans and the West. Those claims just got much harder to refute.

So, if this doesn’t make any sense from a counterterrorism perspective, what informs it? Unfortunately, President Trump’s own rhetorical history suggests a strong bias against Muslims. So does that of his national security adviser, Michael Flynn. His chief adviser, Stephen Bannon, has a long history of wide-ranging bigotry and white ethno-nationalist demagoguery, and, while all presidents have a right to the advisers of their choice, it is deeply alarming that Trump has placed Bannon at the center of policy-making in the National Security Council. Bannon is also a leading promoter of Islamophobic hate-speech, something former CIA director David Petraeus warned “will compound the already grave terrorist danger to our citizens.”

The order itself is not exactly a “Muslim ban,” because it applies only to refugees and the citizens of seven countries. But it is clearly discriminatory and anti-Muslim in both its intentions and impact. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a key Trump adviser, recently explained to an interviewer that Trump asked his campaign to find a way to make his proposed “Muslim ban” legal despite constitutional prohibitions against religious discrimination. This is, in effect, what they came up with.

The greatest fear is that if these policies become entrenched and extended they will be a first step. More countries can be added, smaller numbers accepted, and the walls of fear and the moats of hatred surrounding Trump’s dystopian new Fortress America will slowly begin to turn us into everything our worst enemies have, until now completely falsely, accused us of being. It is a moral and political tragedy, a legal and constitutional sleight of hand, and a counterterrorism disaster.

Brian Levin is the director of the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism and professor of criminal justice at California State University, San Bernardino.

Hussein Ibish is an advisory board member of the center

How Trump Could Totally Redraw the American Political Landscape

Despite the Donald Trump administration’s chaotic, even seemingly dreadful, start, it’s becoming clearer that if his presidency actually proves successful in the coming years it could fundamentally redraw the American political landscape for generations.

If he fails, the United States will probably return to something like the political status quo ante, but with Republicans and Democrats back to fighting over the support of the now-Trumpian white working class.

But if Mr Trump can secure a truly massive new infrastructure spending stimulus package from Congress that quickly provides many good new jobs and avoids an early onrush of the inevitable inflationary backlash, he will have delivered on his paramount campaign commitment.

In doing this, assuming he also avoids a healthcare crisis or other governance meltdown, he could completely restructure both the Republican and Democratic parties, creating an entirely new American political equation.

He would consolidate his existing constituency, including former Rust Belt Democrats, and bring into his new Republican Party organised labour and large sections of the left focused on working class economic gains.

Labour leaders still largely hew to the Democratic Party, but if Mr Trump delivers on middle-class jobs, they will have to follow much of their membership that has already defected to his camp.

The same applies to many on the Bernie Sanders left and others who emphasise economic populism. They may eventually join evangelical conservatives and some other remnants of the old Republican Party in a new, wholly unrecognisable, version of the GOP.

Foreign policy helps map out this ideological reorientation.

Since the Second World War, foreign policy arguments have been largely restricted to variations of the same internationalist theme, each attached to a former American president.

Neo-Hamiltonians stressing global economic leadership, neo-Wilsonians focused on international institutions and cooperation, and neoconservatives championing American unilateralism quarrelled bitterly. But they agreed the United States was a unique power dedicated to promoting a set of classically liberal principles, both at home and abroad.

Mr Trump represents a radical challenge to these assumptions. His neo-Jacksonianism scornfully rejects the idealism of all cosmopolitans and internationalists, insisting that the US government only properly serves the narrow and parochial interests of a specific people (US citizens) in a limited space (US territory).

But, as the American academic Walter Russell Mead crucially notes, it’s wrong to see idealism as belonging strictly to the internationalists.

Mr Trump’s followers’ idealism seems blinkered, or even xenophobic, to many, but they view internationalism as tantamount to betrayal.

They hear “America First” as signalling a return of the properly self-interested version of the American patriotic ideal, and if that means “reducing” the United States to the normative nationalism of other powers, that’s simply rational and “smart”. They see internationalism as madness or even treason.

The essentially neo-Jacksonian constituency that elected Mr Trump won’t really mind what many others see as the virtual insanity of his first two weeks. They, and ultimately many other Americans, will judge him primarily on two bases: jobs and economic well-being for the middle class, and keeping the country safe in a dangerous world. A successful Mr Trump could unite nationalist idealists around his new Republican Party, and drive international idealists, including many on the right, into a new Democratic Party.

As always in US politics, both camps would be incongruous and contain seemingly incompatible right and left wings.

Populist-nationalist Republicans would include not only neo-Jacksonians, social and paleo-conservatives, but also neo-Jeffersonian realists, and many leftist anti-interventionists who find the combination of economic populism and neo-isolationism irresistible despite other doubts.

The new Democratic internationalists would include their own centrist cosmopolitans as well as formerly Republican neoconservatives, and many traditional Cold War hawks, along with most immigrants, Latinos and African Americans.

With labour joining the Republicans, business interests are likely to hedge where they can, and split when they must, with multinational corporations pressing to protect markets and supply chains, and national businesses welcoming stimulus and protectionism, albeit within limits.

Many existing camps would split as priorities diverge. Familiar alliances and old friendships would shatter.

Libertarians would have to decide whether to prioritise non-interventionism or lower spending and then choose between new Republican transactional national corporatism and new Democratic principled internationalism. Leftists would have to pick between economic populism and cosmopolitan multiculturalism.

But this all depends on Mr Trump emerging as a leader, in the Franklin D Roosevelt mode, of a middle-class-orientated government seen as delivering the economic and social benefits of a contemporary “New Deal”.

If that develops, such a reorientation is likely, if not virtually inevitable. But if he fails on jobs, none of this is possible. Even a war that would temporarily rally the public around him wouldn’t create this restructuring.

Democrats and Republicans alike in Congress, and all others, must weigh seriously this very plausible prospect as they consider whether to support Mr Trump’s all-important infrastructure and spending proposals, thereby allowing him a reasonable shot at truly redefining everything

Is an Iranian-Gulf Arab Rapprochement in the Works?

Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sabah Khaled al-Sabah’s visit to Tehran on January 25 was officially billed as a bilateral meeting, but also widely reported to have included a broader outreach to Iran by Kuwait’s partners in the Gulf Cooperation Council, including Iran’s major regional rival, Saudi Arabia. The GCC was at least in part responding to repeated overtures from senior Iranian officials for dialogue. What is the basis for this outreach and the tensions it must overcome? Why is it happening now? And is a meaningful thaw between Iran and the Gulf Arab countries possible?

How Tensions Reached a Boiling Point

Iran and most of the GCC countries, notably Saudi Arabia, have been rivals at two interlocking and crucial levels since at least the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Tehran. First, when Iran broke with the United States, it essentially became a competitor with Arab states for influence in the Gulf region, rather than part of the same global and Middle Eastern alliance. Second, when Iran adopted an “Islamic” perspective and presented itself, despite its Shia orientation, as an alternative leader of the global ummah (Islamic community) and center of political and religious authority in Islam in general, it was on a collision course with Saudi Arabia ideologically as well as strategically.

Relations between the two countries and their allies waxed and waned over the decades, and there have been several periods of significant thawing between them. But, for the most part, they have seen each other as rivals and behaved accordingly. Several of the Gulf Arab counties, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and, above all, Bahrain, also see Iran as a potential domestic threat because of their own Shia populations, and both real and imagined Iranian efforts to radicalize them and create Hizballah-like subversive and even terrorist organizations in the Gulf. During the 1980s, the Iran-Iraq War served as a proxy for the Gulf countries to contain Iran by supporting Iraq, which also ensured that the attentions of Baghdad were otherwise occupied.

The 2003 U.S. overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime created power vacuums in Iraq, to a lesser extent the Gulf region, and the Middle East more broadly. That initiated a new era of sectarian conflict, with the two largely Shia and Sunni blocs led respectively by Iran and Saudi Arabia, which enjoyed the strong support of other Gulf Arab countries like the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. Between 2005 and 2010, Iran and the Gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia and the UAE, competed for influence in Lebanon and among the Palestinians, as well as in Iraq. The Arab uprisings that began in earnest in 2011 solidified the broadly sectarian character of this political rivalry for regional influence.

The crucial turning point in defining these camps was probably the Iranian split with Hamas over the uprising in Syria, eliminating the one strong relationship Iran had with a noteworthy Sunni Muslim political actor and core member of the Muslim Brotherhood movement. The war in Syria forced Hamas to choose between its convenient relationship with Iran and its identity as a Sunni Muslim Islamist and Muslim Brotherhood entity.

Iran has had more success, for a wide variety of reasons, than Saudi Arabia in exerting clear-cut authority over the members of its alliance. But Saudi Arabia has mobilized to reach beyond its more traditional allies in recent years, forging new ties to Sudan and some Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated groups such as Hamas and Islah in Yemen, among others. Saudi Arabia’s ace in the hole had been the alliance with the United States, which is a predominant military presence in the Gulf region. However, the Obama administration’s nuclear negotiations and aspirational rapprochement with Tehran, together with its rhetoric about a “pivot to Asia,” dismissal of Gulf Arab partners as “free riders,” and aversion to the use of U.S. military force, most notably regarding the chemical weapons “red line” in Syria, left Riyadh and its Gulf Arab partners feeling abandoned and exposed. This built on an earlier disappointment with the United States, whereby the unintended consequences of the two major responses to the 9/11 terrorist attacks – the ouster of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in Iraq – greatly strengthened Iran’s strategic regional position.

During the latter part of 2015 tension started to build, particularly over Syria, where Iran joined with Russia, Hizballah, and Iraqi Shia militias that Tehran directly controls, in a massive military intervention in the Syrian conflict to prop up the teetering government of President Bashar al-Assad. Late in that year there was considerable controversy about the annual hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, with hundreds of pilgrims, many of them Iranians, killed in a stampede, and ensuing recriminations from Tehran against Riyadh and its ability to manage the holy sites and the pilgrimage (which is a core element of the Saudi state’s fundamental claims of legitimacy). Events reached a boiling point in January 2016 when Saudi Arabia executed the secessionist Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr, along with over 40 al-Qaeda-linked Saudi Sunni extremists. Iranian mobs ransacked Saudi diplomatic missions in the country and the current levels of tension were essentially defined in the aftermath of that paroxysm.

Saudi Arabia and its allies broke or reduced diplomatic relations with Tehran, hardened their attitude toward Iran and its allies, convinced the Arab League to declare Hizballah a terrorist organization and for GCC countries to make supporting it a crime, and intensified rhetoric about Iran’s destabilizing activies in the region. Iran responded by intensifying its efforts in Syria, expanding its role in supporting the Houthi rebels and their allies fighting a war against Saudi and other Gulf Arab forces in Yemen, and increasing efforts to mobilize Shia opposition groups in the Gulf Arab states, especially Bahrain. Saudi-Iranian tensions have rarely been more combustible than they became in 2016.

Why Outreach Now?

Several key factors contribute to the apparent mutual outreach represented by repeated Iranian statements regarding the need to repair relations with the Gulf Arab states, particularly Saudi Arabia. The most important of these probably revolve around complex strategic developments in Syria. At first glance, the Gulf Arab states, particularly Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which have been key supporters of Syrian rebel groups, might appear to be approaching Iran from a position of relative weakness, having suffered a massive setback with the fall of Aleppo to pro-Assad forces.

This was indeed a blow to their aims, but Iran’s position in Syria is not as straightforwardly advantageous as it may appear. As negotiations on the Syrian conflict in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana have demonstrated, the Aleppo victory has contributed far more to strengthening the Russian hand in Syria than the Iranian one. The Russian invitation to the new Trump administration in Washington to join the talks, over vehement injections from Tehran, demonstrates that the interests of Iran and Russia in Syria and their vision for the future are hardly synonymous. Indeed, the Astana talks seem primarily to be bilateral exchanges between Russia and Turkey, with Iran as a very secondary player, largely having to defer to Moscow’s imperatives, at least on the international diplomatic stage. So, while Iran certainly achieved a strategic victory in Syria with the fall of Aleppo, it did not emerge in control of the situation in that country, and Russia appears to have much more leverage, at least for now.

In the immediate context, Iran’s allies and interests in Syria do seem secure. But Russia’s long-term commitment to Assad’s future, and therefore Tehran’s ability to ensure the security of its land bridge to Hizballah in Lebanon, may be unreliable. Tehran cannot assume that, over time, Moscow won’t find other, more attractive options in Syria that don’t include accommodating all of Hizballah’s interests, not to mention Iran’s. As things stand, they simply aren’t in the driver’s seat, and that’s a source for long-term anxiety hidden beneath the veneer of what is undoubtedly a short-term victory. As always, in Syria, it’s complicated.

Moreover, the inauguration of Donald J. Trump as U.S. president has alarmed Tehran, and with good reason, and largely encouraged the Gulf Arab countries. Iran notes with concern the numerous and vehement anti-Iranian comments from Trump and many of his key advisors and appointees, and their virtually unanimous skepticism about, at times bordering on categorical opposition to, the Iran nuclear agreement. GCC countries can’t be any more certain about what Trump administration policies will look like than anyone else, so their optimism must be extremely cautious. However, their most important relationship with the United States is the military one, and their greatest hopes for improved relations with Washington hinge on the scope, nature, and posture of the U.S. presence in the region. Therefore, the confirmation of Defense Secretary James Mattis, with whom they have a long history of mutual respect and understanding, and with whom they believe they share a remarkable degree of agreement on key policy issues, particularly Iran, may be the best news they have received from Washington in many years.

No one knows what will happen, and the emergence of a neo-isolationist U.S. approach that pulls even further back from the region is possible. But for now, the United States remains a key player in the Gulf region, and the change of power in Washington appears most likely to strengthen the Saudi position and pose a range of new challenges for Iran. A flare-up of tensions between Washington and Riyadh on one hand and Tehran on the other has developed in the past few days, with Pentagon sources suspecting that a Houthi attack on a Saudi naval frigate off the coast of Yemen may have actually been aimed at U.S. naval targets and new Iranian missile tests prompting an exchange of recriminations with the Trump administration.

Bases for Mutual Understandings

Little is publicly known about the nature of the message the GCC sent to Iran via the Kuwaiti foreign minister. But the idea that the trip was entirely about bilateral relations and didn’t involve Kuwait’s GCC partners, most notably Saudi Arabia and the UAE, appears to be incorrect. The Gulf Arab states seem to be responding to the repeated overtures from Iran, and particularly Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, and attempting to explore what might be possible during this period of uncertainty following the fall of Aleppo, the emergence of Russia as the dominant player in Syria, and the uncertainty surrounding the new Trump administration.

Despite the high levels of tension that have accrued in recent months, there have been several developments that demonstrate neither side sees the relationship as a zero-sum equation. Most dramatically, Iran and the Gulf Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, were able to reach an agreement regarding oil production and pricing in OPEC in November, even bringing in non-OPEC producers in an effort to halt the freefall of energy prices. The Gulf countries agreed that Iran could raise production while Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Kuwait all agreed to reduce their own. This was by no means a capitulation by these countries, which saw the agreement as very much in their own interests, but it did involve an accommodation of Iran’s position that had previously been declined.

Moreover, after months of bitter recriminations over the hajj, which Iran boycotted in 2016, in January Saudi Arabia invited an Iranian official delegation to visit the country to discuss the resumption of Iranian participation in the pilgrimage. Iranian pilgrimage officials welcomed the invitation and said both sides were determined to make sure up to 8,000 Iranians could participate in the 2017 hajj.

The death of former Iranian President Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was a reminder of an important period of relatively good relations during his tenure in office, and also of the difficulty of finding Iranians who can speak credibly to the Gulf Arabs. Condolences, however, were used to send mixed messages by Saudi Arabia, being fulsome but privately delivered to his family and not publicly addressed to Iran as a whole. Therefore, Rafsanjani’s passing highlighted both the potential and the obstacles facing Saudi, and broader Gulf Arab, reconciliation with Iran.

Morocco, which has close diplomatic and economic relations with many of the Gulf Arab countries, especially the UAE and Saudi Arabia, has recently restored full diplomatic relations with Tehran, in October 2016 dispatching an ambassador to Iran for the first time in seven years. This may not directly affect Iranian-Gulf Arab relations, but Morocco is unlikely to have proceeded if Saudi Arabia and the UAE objected. These countries are no longer urging their allies to eschew all dealings with Iran and might find the Moroccan diplomatic presence in Tehran another useful discrete conduit to the Iranian leadership.

Prospects for Progress

More moderate forces in Iran have been consistent in rhetorical outreach to the Gulf Arab states, making sure to leave the impression that the door is always open to progress. But Iranian policies, including aggressive efforts to spread Tehran’s influence regionally, including inside the Gulf Arab states themselves, and missile development and testing, send the opposite message. In the current climate, words do little to offset deeds. Saudi Arabia, in particular, does not appear to be particularly optimistic about any potential opening with Iran in the immediate future. Skepticism from the UAE and Qatar is also detectable.

Yet these countries allowed, and perhaps even encouraged, Kuwait to approach Iran on a multilateral as well as bilateral basis during the foreign minister’s visit. Kuwait’s interests in maintaining its relatively good relations with Iran are obvious. Among many other factors, including trade, Kuwait has its own special history with Iraq, giving it a somewhat broader sense of the range of threats beyond just Iran than it may have GCC partners. Moreover, Kuwait has been able to avoid the sectarian tensions that have destabilized Bahrain and caused bouts of unrest in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, and has been at pains to ensure that its relatively well-integrated Shia population does not become angered or restive. Among the GCC states, Oman has the best relations with Iran, but is increasingly not fully trusted on these issues by many of its partners. Kuwait, then, was a logical and effective choice for a relatively discrete multilateral outreach that could be incorporated within, and subordinated to, a bilateral Kuwaiti-Iranian agenda.

The mediation efforts thus far do not appear to have broken the logjam or provided the basis for a real, even modest, reset. Sources in the region emphasize that the Gulf Arab message basically repeated positions that have been circulating in different forms for some time, most notably after the last GCC summit in Bahrain in early December 2016. The summit communique listed three key points for dialogue with Iran: resolving the territorial dispute with the UAE through either direct negotiations or international mediation; demands that Iran cease “interference in the internal affairs of the GCC member states and the whole region,” abide by “international conventions and treaties, and stop harboring terrorist groups, including Hezbollah”; and that Iran should abide by the terms of the nuclear deal with the permanent five members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany.

Despite the numerous potential bases for greater Iranian-GCC cooperation – including possible economic and maritime trade expansion or coordination in the fight against extremist groups hostile to both Iran and the Gulf Arab states like the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant and al-Qaeda – short-term progress between the two parties will not be easy. Many mutual suspicions must be overcome, and sufficient groundwork laid, to make major progress in reversing the growth of tensions during 2015 and 2016. The parties do seem willing to explore what is possible in the medium term. Iran and the Gulf Arab countries will ultimately have to find a modus vivendi. The recent level of tensions is unsustainable in the long run and outright war is virtually unthinkable. Both sides will soon enough discover various limitations to their regional ambitions, and encounter the dimishing returns ulimately inherent to proxy conflicts, if they have not already.

Kuwait has indicated willingness to keep exploring the options for more progress, though the GCC is pressing for an Iranian commitment to stop “interfering in Gulf affairs” and start “respecting the sovereignty of the GCC states.” Therefore, additional GCC efforts to find a way forward are likely. But it will require more dialogue, ministerial visits, and, crucially, adjustments of behavior, policy, and rhetoric by both Iran and the Gulf Arab countries for them to accomplish a meaningful rapprochement.