This much is certain: after 9/11, the United States has embarked on a very aggressive geopolitical journey, one with a remarkably high price tag attached to it, a price which did result in geopolitical benefits but… well, highly volatile ones. For the most part, these benefits revolve around the dominance of the petrodollar or, to put it in simpler terms, the fact that the US is without a doubt the number one game in time when it comes to the pricing and selling of oil.
Simply because the regional equation ends up oftentimes being so complex that even the parties which are directly involved are overwhelmed.
In a nutshell, yes, the United States has played certain cards right over the years, for example:
- Allocating disproportionate amounts of capital toward its regional geopolitical goals
- Allocating disproportionate military capabilities toward its regional geopolitical goals (no other country can come even remotely close to the defense spending of the United States, a situation with such a pronounced “elephant in the room” element that it even ends up generating debates among NATO members)
- Knowing how to juggle the various cultural dimensions associated with the region, for example the Shia vs. Sunni rivalry and how geopolitical players can leverage it
- Branding itself as a supporter of human rights, a nation that wishes to bring about democracy. While many tend to raise an eyebrow when it comes to this specific argument, it has been a narrative that has held water for a fairly long period of time
… the list could go on and on.
However, if there is one thing the past few years have taught us, it’s that volatility doesn’t just manifest itself across oil-producing nations, with perhaps the year 2016 being a textbook example to that effect in light of the Brexit vote and Donald Trump being elected president of the United States. And as far as the latter event is concerned, it would be a severe understatement to say that it has merely “impacted” the equation as far as US interests in Afghanistan, Iraq and other oil-producing nations are concerned.
2020’s Iran – US tensions make it crystal-clear that Donald Trump does not shy away from being assertive (to put it mildly) on the geopolitical front, with some of the main changes with respect to international relations being:
- A lack of US predictability compared to the past. Who among geopolitical experts would have even dared predict that we would eventually look toward Twitter so as to identify US foreign policy signals? Donald Trump is most definitely re-writing the rules in terms of (at least Western) geopolitical predictability, which is an extremely significant state of affairs in light of the fact that predictability represents perhaps the number one pillar of international relations, especially in a Western framework
- An increased tendency to act in a unilateral manner. Now, of course, the United States has been accused of just that on several pre-Trump occasions, especially once its War on Terror has started but a compelling case can be made that just like with other aspects, Donald Trump has taken things to the next level
- Public discourse which revolves around aggressive demands more so than with past administrations. Whether we are referring to long-time allies such as European nations which are now being accused of not holding their end of the bargain when it comes to NATO contributions or more volatile counterparties such as Iraq, which has been criticized for protesting against the fact that its sovereignty has been disrespected in light of the Qasem Soleimani assassination, the “tone” has been undoubtedly changed
… once again, the list could continue.
The bottom line, however, is this: the Iran situation represents another example of the fact that geopolitical relationships with both foes and friends have become increasingly volatile under Donald Trump.
The effects range from long-time and seemingly robust allies such as the European Union thinking about taking their security into their own hands to more volatile relationships such as those with Afghanistan and Iraq essentially risking disintegration.
We need to understand that unlike when it comes to the relationships between the United States and many Western nations, the US is tolerated at best in this region. Yes, in some cases it most definitely seemed that the United States established a firm grip on one country or another, through vehicles which range from incentives such as tapping into US funds for re-building efforts to disincentives such as military ones.
However, as events such as the Arab Spring and various past revolutions have illustrated, the status quo is only one regime change away from being altered in a dramatic manner. As a morbidly ironic example, we have… of course, Iran, with the love-hate relationship it has exhibited with the West and how it differed across regimes.
The same principle is valid when it comes to Afghanistan, Iraq and a series of other nations. It can take billions upon billions of dollars to establish what seems to be a relatively firm geopolitical grip in one key region or another and only one tweet to ruin it or at the very least make it considerably more vulnerable.
At the end of the day, the United States needs to understand that despite what supporters of Donald Trump may think about the “go-getter” attitude of their president, something that worked well in the business world or in the entertainment industry doesn’t necessarily represent the optimal choice as far as the world of diplomacy is concerned. On the contrary, it is quite likely that the exact opposite is closer to being true, one more reason why (as mentioned in other articles as well) China actually prefers Trump re-election scenarios despite trade war turbulence.