By Franklin T. Burroughs, Ed.D.
Whether by design or inadvertently, President Trump planted a dangerous diplomatic IED in the Middle East during his recent visit to Saudi Araba. An IED has five components: a switch or activator; an initiator or fuse; a container or body; a charge or explosive; and, a power source or battery. All five components seem incorporated in the potential explosive planted recently and can threaten a further escalation of the regional conflict.
The weapons sale could easily become the activator of not only a diplomatic explosion but also a significant increase in military action, and the sale hints at the supposed close relationship between Trump and the Russians. Within the past two years, Russia has signed an agreement with Saudi Arabia for the construction of sixteen nuclear reactors, an additional agreement with Egypt for the development of its first nuclear reactor and an agreement with Jordan for building its first nuclear power plant. The $110 billion U.S. weapons sale to Saudi Arabia could prove to be the mechanism that activates a stronger regional battle between Iran and Saudi Arabia and increase Russia’s influence even more in the Middle East.
The President’s praise for the Saudi government and his declaration that the United States and the Government of Saudi Arabia are developing a partnership based on common values could become the initiator or fuse of the IED. Saudi Arabia has for years greatly mistreated the Shia population living within its borders. As early as the 1960s, the government slaughtered thousands of its Shia citizens and has continued to deny Shia followers even basic human rights and arrested them often without justification. Ali Abbas al-Ahmad, the Director of the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Gulf Affairs, once stated when testifying before the U.S. Congressional Human Rights Caucus the following: “Saudi Arabia is a glaring example of religious apartheid.”
Further, Saudi Arabia’s role in the 9/11 massacre in New York could and should add strength to the fuse. According to Simon Henderson, who wrote an article in “Foreign Policy” about the massacre, stated that several of the September eleven hijackers were in touch with and could have received assistance from individuals close to the Saudi Government. The article was written under the title “What We Know About Saudi Arabia’s Role in 9/11” and was based on the twenty-eight censored pages of the congressional report published concerning the investigation by Congress regarding the 9/11 attacks.
The container or body of the IED may be President Trump’s one-sided approach to the Middle East, his apparent rejection or inattention to Iran, its regional ambitions and adherence to the nuclear agreement signed in 2015. The principal signatories of the agreement, including the United States, concluded in an April 2017 meeting that Iran was adhering to the agreement; despite this conclusion, President Trump has requested a review, contending that Iran is not living up to the agreement.
President Trump’s disregard for the difference in the government structures between Saudi Arabia and Iran adds to the container influence. Saudi Arabia remains a strict absolute monarchy, Iran a theocratic democracy. Earlier this month, moderate-politician Hassan Rohani was re-elected president for a second term with fifty-seven percent of the vote despite the objections of the conservatives and religious leaders. He now has the mandate to pursue domestic reforms and end Iran’s outsider status. Unlike in Saudi Araba, Iranian voters had a say in the direction their government would go, and Iranians are generally very pro-American despite what the U.S. Government has done to them from the overthrow of Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953 to the Islamic Revolution in 1979.
Mr. Rouhani has a huge task awaiting him during his second term. Economic growth remains slow while unemployment continues to be high. Undoubtedly, Mr. Rouhani will be reaching out for assistance, and countries ready to offer help will gain considerable influence.
The charge or explosion of the IED will probably come with an unexpected event in Yemen, Iraq or Syria, where the two regional powers are competing for ever greater influence. Iran supports the Houthi rebels in Yemen, Saudi Arabia the pro-government forces. Iran provides support to the Government of Syria headed by Bashar al-Assad. Iraq’s population is primarily Shia and most often sides with Iran. Forces loyal to either side can make one wrong move, even if unintentional, and effect an explosion of the IED.
The power source or battery for the IED will most likely be the United States or Russia, and the more likely candidate seems to be the United States. Russia has taken a very pragmatic approach to the region by entering into agreements with both Saudi Arabia and Iran. Not only did the Russian government sign an agreement with Saudi Arabia for the development of sixteen nuclear reactors, it also entered into an agreement with Iran in 2015 for long-term and varied military cooperation. The Russians seemed to be covering most contingencies while the United States naively pursues its apparent interest in serving as an unneeded power source. Let us hope that President Trump awakens to his naivete before a diplomatic or military explosion occurs due to the IED he has planted or that one or both of the two regional, competing powers does not prompt the United States to charge the IED and become the power source of an extremely dangerous political implosion.