The last few weeks have demonstrated that the situation in the Middle East can change within hours. Moving from Iranian-incited attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, to the assassination of the Iranian al-Quds general Soleimani, Iranian retribution against U.S. bases in Iraq, and finally the downing of a Ukrainian airliner by Iranian surface-to-air missiles, it’s challenging to understand the geopolitical implications of it all.
Alongside all this international instability is the impeachment process in Washington, DC, where Democrats are seeking to remove President Trump from office for withholding military aid to Ukraine in order to seek information to benefit his re-election campaign.
Trump will not be impeached in the U.S. Senate trial. It may take weeks and interfere with the Democratic primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire, but there is no way that 67 Senators are going to vote to impeach when the Republicans have 52 seats. Even if Mitt Romney and a couple of other Republican moderates defect to the impeachment camp, the outcome is not in doubt.
Events in Iraq and Iran have helped Trump as the media are forced to split their coverage between the impeachment process and rapidly unfolding events in the Middle East. The Iranian downing of the Ukrainian airliner has shifted public opinion in Iraq against the Ayatollah-led government and dethroned them from the moral high ground they occupied after the American assassination of Soleimani.
There is wide acceptance in the West that Soleimani was responsible for state-sponsored terrorist activities going back decades, and he had the blood of many Americans on his hands as well as those of other innocents. Trump took advantage of an opportunity to take him out in Baghdad barely 20 kilometres from the Green Zone. The message was clear that no terrorist leader, regardless of their level of esteem within their own countries, was going to be exempt from retribution.
Once the trial in the Senate is over, Trump will abandon all restraint and set himself to attack the Democrats with an intensity not previously experienced in American political history. He has already effectively framed the impeachment process as a sham and a partisan fraud for the 35 percent of American voters who constitute his base, and he will now whip them into a frenzy to ensure that more of them come out to vote in November. The Democrats will have completely failed in their efforts to unseat Trump before the election and will now have to find a presidential candidate that can withstand Trump’s daily diatribe of vitriol.
If they nominate a leftist like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, Trump will frame either one as a socialist who is out of touch with American economic reality and as a threat to continued prosperity. The Democrats, having lost the impeachment battle and chosen a presidential candidate with a narrow base in the general population, will set themselves up to lose the House of Representatives and the White House in November.
In the Middle East, the Russians and their client-states like Syria will be the big losers. Trump has already shown that he is prepared to assassinate high-level actors within the region. The message to Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas, Assad and his cronies and the Iranian agents active in Iraq promoting terrorism is that if the opportunity exists to take them out, Trump will take it. The Russians are likely to tell their proxies to ratchet down offensive operations over the next 12 months in the hope that the relative calm will entice Trump to reduce the U.S. troop presence in the region (which, incidentally, was a campaign promise in 2016) and wait for a less impulsive Democrat to take office.
If I am correct and Trump wins re-election, then Trump will once again engage in the targeted elimination of bad actors, and even encourage regime change in Iran despite repeated denials from the U.S. administration of that ultimate objective. Russia will do little to defend the Iranian regime, given that the Iranian population has once again returned to protesting their unsustainable economic and social suffering and we could see a surprise where the Russians back an Iranian military coup to remove the Ayatollah from power. This type of power transition is rather common in Middle East history, and it would be ironic to find both the Americans and the Russians sending backchannel messages to the Iranian military that they should take charge, negotiate a real nuclear deal with the West, get the sanctions lifted and stop promoting disunity in Iraq.
I know that some of my predictions are bold, but they are not implausible. We will see one of the most active presidents in modern history over the next ten months, of that, at least, I am sure.