What to make of the latest revelation – that Blackwater founder Erik Prince, a major funder to the Trump campaign, buddy of Stephen Bannon, and brother of Education Secretary and Trump donor Betsy DeVos met secretly in the Seychelles Island with a Russian representative apparently to arrange a backchannel between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin? It would be a mistake to file it immediately under Trumputingate. It’s more interesting than that.
According to the Washington Post story, what Prince, under the aegis of the United Arab Emirates, was trying to broker was a deal by which Russia would sever its ties with Iran in exchange for unspecified (at least in the story) administration concessions to Russia. If so, this explains some of Trump’s recent foreign policy initiatives in the Middle East and should raise alarm bells among everyone who worries about further and deeper involvement in that region’s conflicts.
In his campaign, Trump promised to extricate the US from the Middle East (and North Africa). He was highly critical of George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq and of Barack Obama’s intervention in Libya and Syria. He did promise to eradicate ISIS – a worthy if unachievable objective in the manner Trump described. And some of his actions in Syria and Iraq appear closely linked to that objective. But his intervention in Yemen? Giving his Defense Secretary leave to intervene forcefully there? Sending arms to the Saudis that would be used in the civil war there against the Iranian-back Houthis?
In his campaign, Trump did denounce Iran and the Iran deal. I put it down at the time to campaign opportunism, like his stand on abortion. But several of his key appointees have, to say the least, an unseemly obsession with Iran: Michael Flynn, the former National Security Advisor; but also Defense Secretary James Mattis and Homeland Security Secretary James Kelly, both of whom are former Marines, who still recall the Iranian bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983. Bannon, too, who was a naval officer in the Gulf during the Iranian hostage crisis, has talking of a “global war against Islamic fascism.” Add together Prince’s secret mission, these appointments and the recent intervention in Yemen, and you have the possibility that Trump may be embarked – whether consistently or wittingly – on a serious conflict, perhaps even a war, with Iran that will embroil the United States even more deeply in the Middle East. It’s not a happy prospect.
John B. Judis is Editor-At-Large at Talking Points Memo. He was a senior editor of The New Republic and senior writer for The National Journal. He is the author most recently of The Populist Explosion: How the Great Recession Transformed American and European Politics (Columbia Global Reports, 2016). He has written six other books, including Genesis: Truman, American Jews, and the Origin of the Arab-Israeli Conflict (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2014), The Folly of Empire: What George W. Bush Could Learn from Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson (Scribner, 2004), The Emerging Democratic Majority with Ruy Teixeira (Scribner, 2002), and The Paradox of American Democracy: Elites, Special Interests, and Betrayal of Public Trust (Pantheon, 2000). He has written for numerous publications, including The New York Times Magazine, Mother Jones, and The Washington Post. Born in Chicago, he received his B.A. and M.A. degrees in Philosophy from the University of California, Berkeley. He lives in Silver Spring, MD.