Opinion: Donald Trump sets US up for conflict with Iran | Opinion | DW | 21.06.2019
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Opinion: Donald Trump sets US up for conflict with Iran

Donald Trump nearly took the Middle East to the brink with airstrikes against Iran. The US president's aggressive stance is sabotaging his professed efforts for peace in the Middle East, DW's Peter Philipp writes.

"Iran made a very big mistake," President Donald Trump tweeted ominously after it was announced that a US surveillance drone had been shot down Thursday evening. There was no need for him to say more.

Still, no one seems willing to say that the likelihood of war between the US and Iran has increased. The parties are still bickering over whether the unmanned drone was shot down over Iran or in international airspace.

Peter Philipp

DW's Peter Philipp

Trump's reaction brought more confusion than clarity: Within hours, the president set in motion plans for a retaliatory strike. It was announced that US warplanes were preparing to strike Iranian radar and missile installations. It was said that the attacks would take place on Friday, the Muslim holy day, in an effort to minimize casualties.

Read more: Why US policies strengthen Iran's regime

Negotiations — or war? 

The US president engaged Oman as mediator. The sultanate relayed the US's intent to attack along with Trump's desire to open dialog with Iran's leadership rather than engage in an armed conflict.

It was implied that dialogue could prevent the attack. Iranian officials kept their cool and played for time. Leaders made clear that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had previously rejected such offers, but the message would, nevertheless, be passed on to him.

Trump had painted himself into a corner. The US Air Force, already in the region, was in the air and en route, naval personnel in the Persian Gulf were put on alert. But the entire exercise stood in clear contradiction to Trump's pledge that he simply wanted to negotiate.

Read more: Iranian leader says 'Death to America' means Trump, not people

The president could not likely have found a way out of the situation on his own. He must have realized that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton, the staff hard-liners, would not provide objective assistance in the matter.

It is more likely that he was again guided by the same the anonymous military advisers who had recently warned him to refrain from his usual course of action in this conflict. They have made clear to Trump that it would be extremely unwise for him to start a military conflict on his own, reminding him that he would need a broad political consensus for such a move.

And Trump must realize that he cannot count on majority backing in Congress. That lack of support would have weighed on his mind this week, after he officially announced his reelection campaign on Tuesday. 

Read more: Islamic bloc supports Palestinians, backs Saudis in Iran conflict

A military conflict with Iran would go against Trump's election promises the first time around: namely, to bring US troops home from the Middle East. Now he is boosting troop presence in the region and threatening to start another war.

Restricted Iranian Airspace

Trump's peace process

Even if war is avoided, there's still little sign that Trump's repeated pledges to transform the Middle East will come to fruition. One need look no further than his "plan of the century": a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians.

None of that plan has been made public, and none may ever be. Still, enough has been leaked to alienate all parties involved.

Trump's unconditional support for Israel and his lack of enthusiasm for a two-state solution have made Palestinian negotiators very wary of the US initiative. No Palestinians will attend a conference on the issue planned for next Tuesday in Bahrain.

Israel will not be represented at the conference either. Other states invited to Bahrain are sending low-level diplomats at best. Although it is not being billed as a peace conference, this is certainly not what normalization looks like, let alone a plan of the century.   

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