Trump’s latest moves demonstrate an even more aggressive approach in the Middle East

Chris Nineham


‘Any serious strategy against extremist groups would involve isolating the Saudi regime, not getting closer to it.’

Donald Trump has launched another attack on government supporting forces in Syria. US planes struck the pro-Assad convoy in the South of the country last night. ‘Sources’ claim that the convoy was approaching US security forces, and that they repeatedly warned the convoy to halt before they attacked it, as if either of these things somehow justified an attack on foreign forces in a foreign country that the US is not supposed to be at war with.

In a bizarre official statement that would have embarrassed George Orwell’s Ministry of Truth, the US defence secretary James Mattis said that the attack did not mean that the US would be getting more involved Syria’s civil war. It is hard to see how launching missile attacks on an army convoy constitutes anything other than waging war.

Combined with last month’s attacks on Assad’s airfield in Idlib Province, this latest incident is a clear indication of the Trump regime’s direction of travel. The worrying thing is this isn’t just about involvement in Syria’s civil war. The new US administration is positioning itself more and more aggressively in the emerging wider conflict in the Middle East.

First Stop: Saudi Arabia

Today, Donald Trump is making the first foreign tour of his presidency. First stop is Saudi Arabia, one of the most repressive and dictatorial regimes in the world where a healthy number of monthly public executions are a core element of the justice system. There he hopes to develop his already warm relationship with Deputy Crown Prince and Defence Minister, Mohammed Bin Salman. Trump is expected to forgo even the usual ritualistic criticisms of Saudi regime’s dreadful human rights record, reverse Obama’s suspension of sales of precision-guided munitions used for air strikes on Yemen and increase other hi-tech arms sales to the regime.

Back in January, Prince Mohammed was one of the very first foreign visitors to Trump White House. He returned from the trip very pleased that Washington was turning its back on some of Obama’s policies. He pronounced that he was “very optimistic” about President Trump, who he said would “bring America back to the right track”.

US diplomatic spin suggests the prime purpose of the trip is to bolster the fight against extremism in the region. Any serious strategy against extremist groups would involve isolating the Saudi regime, not getting closer to it. Saudi is one of the main sources of ideological and financial backing for extremists groups across the Middle East, including IS and Al Qaeda.

Destination Iran?

Terrorism is a threat to the Saudi government, even though so much of it is home grown, and the CIA has long been working with its government on security. But for the main drivers of the new US-Saudi love-in, look elsewhere. President Trump and Prince Mohammed will be discussing a series of important commercial deals on arms, communications and even entertainment which are economically significant for the US.

But crucially, both governments see the growing power of Iran as being the most important regional challenge. Trump has long been talking about tearing up the nuclear deal with Iran and National Security Adviser Gen H R McMaster and Defence Secretary James Mattis both have a long record of talking up the threat posed by the Iranian regime. Saudi Arabia’s rulers have been engaged in an on/off regional power struggle with Shia-majority Iran ever since the Islamic Revolution there in 1979.

The US military claims that the convoy it hit last night contained Iranian fighters. This is no coincidence. Trump is set to drag the US further into a widening conflict in the Middle East. The global campaign against Trump and his catastrophic foreign policy needs to be stepped up. In Britain, Theresa May’s government is intent on ever closer ties with Washington. There have already been briefings from her team that if the Tories get a big majority, they will move quickly to open attacks on the Assad regime. We have to strengthen the anti-war movement here and push for the biggest possible vote against war on June 8th.

19 May 2017

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