If it’s Trump versus Clinton, what does it Mean for Iran and ISIL Policy?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – – –

Despite Donald Trump’s big wins on Tuesday, he is still only halfway to the delegate count he needs to win the GOP presidential nomination outright, and his remaining rivals of Kasich and Cruz could siphon off enough delegates to deny him that clear victory. It seems clear that if the Republican convention goes to a second vote, the GOP establishment will attempt to dump Trump. But it is also possible that he will show up in Cleveland in mid-July with the 1237 needed to triumph.

Hillary Clinton’s victories were not as decisive as Trump’s, since the Democratic primaries were not held on a winner-take-all basis, but it has to be admitted that it was not a good night for Bernie Sanders. Still nothing can yet be ruled in or out as future contests shift to blue states where he has so far had an advantage.

But if Tuesday’s winners squared off, what would it mean for US policy toward Iran and ISIL in the Middle East?

Donald Trump denounces President Obama’s and the UNSC’s deal on Iran’s civilian nuclear enrichment program as the worst deal in American foreign policy history. Unlike his rival Ted Cruz, he doesn’t threaten to tear it up on day one of his presidency, but he does say he will insist on renegotiating it. It is not clear that Trump understands that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was a global deal, involving 5 other powerful nations (the permanent UNSC members plus Germany, representing the European Union). Of if he understands that Iran was brought to the table by UN sanctions as well as US ones. A president Trump could renege on the JCPOA, but he’d never get France, China and Russia to cooperate in reimposing sanctions on Iran, where there is a lot of money to be made. All he could do is slap stringent US sanctions back on Tehran, which would have the effect of preventing US companies from joining in the Iran bonanza, putting them at a disadvantage with regard to their European and Asian competitors– which is against everything Trumpism stands for. Trump complains that the deal “gives” Iran $150 bn. Actually, it releases to Iran some of Iran’s own money, which the US sequestered as part of sanctions. The sum is probably only $50 bn., and given the fall in oil prices, Iran will need it just to run its economy.

Trump has warned about Iran dominating the whole Middle East, saying that they are going into Yemen and want Syria and have Iraq. He doesn’t say what he would do about all this Iranian domination (most of which is only imagined or is rather less impressive than he makes it out to be). At other times, he seemed to endorse the Putin plan for Syria, which involves restoring Bashar al-Assad’s regime to power. As for other Iranian allies like Hizbullah, Trump didn’t seem sure of who they were.

In a recent debate, Trump called for 30,000 US ground troops in Iraq and Syria to fight Daesh (ISIS, ISIL). He and the other GOP candidates seem to have no understanding that Iran is a key ally in defeating Daesh. In addition to sending in over a division worth of US troops against Daesh/ ISIL, Trump has also called for the US to “take their oil” (i.e. the small fields or refineries in Daesh control), and to kill their women and children, and to waterboard and otherwise torture Daesh fighters. He seeks changes in the law to legalize torture beyond waterboarding.

Hillary Clinton is a hawk against Iran and once threatened to nuke it. Although she now says she supports the Iran nuclear deal, she rejects the idea that it is a basis for a diplomatic opening with the Iranian government.

Going forward, she wants to put Iran in a corner by giving nuclear-armed Israel an even more massive arms package and using increased numbers of US troops in Iraq to cut Iranian overland supply lines to Hizbullah in Syria and Lebanon. She also wants to work hand in hand with Saudi Arabia against the Zaidis of Yemen, which she incorrectly sees as Iranian proxies. Saudi Arabia has been indiscriminately bombing Yemen and yesterday killed dozens of civilians at a market. Clinton also wants to overthrow the government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria and it is not clear if she would support the current ceasefire– she might want to start the civil war back up with backing for the hard line Salafi armed rebels, most of whom are de facto if not formally allied with al-Qaeda in Syria. She has urged a US-inforced no-fly zone in Syria, even recently, though that plan makes no military sense given that Russia’s air force and anti-aircraft batteries now dominate western Syria.

Although Clinton has ruled out sending “tens of thousands” of US troops back into Iraq, the invasion of which she supported in the first place, she does want to greatly increase the number of US war-fighting forces to defeat Daesh. She also urges targeting Daesh’s oil infrastructure and its leaders. Clinton opposes waterboarding and the use of torture and has called for stronger anti-torture legislation.

Aside from Trump’s determination to renegotiate the JCPOA on what he thinks are better terms for the US (he doesn’t say exactly how he thinks the deal disadvantages Washington), his over-all view of a danger of Iranian geopolitical dominance in the Middle East seems indistinguishable from Clinton’s.

A main difference between the two is that Trump seems sanguine about Russia’s intervention in Syria and the prospect that it might prop up the al-Assad regime. Clinton distanced herself last October from President Obama’s acquiescence in a direct Russian role in Syria and urged that Putin be confronted about it. More recently she has allowed as how Russia should have a place at the negotiating table.

With regard to fighting Daesh, both want to great increase US troop presence in Iraq, though Trump’s recently proposed numbers dwarf those of Clinton. Clinton agrees with Trump that Daesh’s oil fields and refineries should be targeted, though she doesn’t talk about the US grabbing them for itself. She also agrees with him about targeting Daesh leaders personally, though she hasn’t suggested torturing them or deliberately murdering their children and wives.

The policies of these two and their world views on these two foreign policy challenges appear to me to differ only at the margins, not as a matter of principle on most matters with the exception of torture and deliberate killing of innocents.

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Related video:

Wochit News: “Trump Wants Soldiers in Iraq And Syria”

22 Responses

  1. How is it a great Country like America with millions of highly intelligent men and women, who are scholars, scientists, engineers, writers, philanthropists and people of vision and integrity, cant find two candidates to stand for the presidency other than these two serpents from hell! On the one hand we have Clinton who clearly unhinged and a war monger. She would be quite at home sitting next to Madam Defarge at the foot of the guillotine, knitting an old sock with a stitch for every bomb dropped on other people’s Countries. On the other hand there is Trump, wallowing in his billions of dollars threatening to legalise various forms of torture, deportations and general mayhem What is it with politics that most of the people in it are some kind of lunatics who I wouldn’t trust to run a stable for orphaned donkeys! Surely professor, with all your knowledge and experience you must be able to shed some light on this phenomenon. If one of theses two desperate people becomes the president, then God help us all !

    • How is it a great Country like America with millions of highly intelligent men and women, who are scholars, scientists, engineers, writers, philanthropists and people of vision and integrity (?), cant find two candidates to stand for the presidency other than these two serpents from hell!

      How about critical deficits in the humanities, especially morality, ethics and a knowledge of history among all these alleged great people? These two “serpents from hell” are evidence the United States is exceptional. Nowhere else in the world or in history have the masses raised two people who may be psychopathic (at least in the layperson’s understanding of that term) to assume a position of power with the potential to bring on Armageddon.

  2. Over at David Stockman’s Contra Corner he writes….

    “Containing and defeating ISIS is the job of the Shiite Crescent. Hasn’t Washington created enough failed states—-Iraq, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia etc.—–already?”

    Jeffery Goldberg in his Atlantic article admonishes Obama for setting a “Red Line” in Syria and then ignoring his line in the sand. Goldberg does make the rare admission that the gassing of Syrians was probably not the work of Assad, removing a neocon talking point for involving our troops in a free for all in Syria.

    As in the case of Bush the Idiot foreign policy of either Hillary or Trump may depend on who they pick as their advisers and cabinet members.

  3. You are 100% right. Either Trump or Clinton would get us right back to the disastrous 90’s and 2000’s. One piece of evidence: President Obama has made some positive policy shifts(disappointedly not all necessary) only and after HRC’s departure from the cabinet!

  4. The USA military leaders (and also the Israeli military leaders) KNOW that Iran is a formidable opponent and that any military action against Iran would turn out very badly for the USA and Israel.

    Hilary and Trumper can rant all they want about Iran, but they will NOT be able to accomplish anything real. The USA military is worn out and any additional military action will just deplete the USA military further. Not only is the military manpower decreasing due to budget restrictions, BUT also because fewer people are willing to spend the rest of their lives in continuous hard combat. To actually do even a small portion of the military action either envisions, the USA would have to return to conscription which is complete political suicide.

    Both should also note that there is a LARGE part of the American public that wants and needs social programs like SSA and Medicare and that any attempt to transfer money form the social programs to the military would also be political suicide.

    Unless either is willing (and congress agrees) to raise taxes on the rich to pay for a larger military (the middle class is rapidly shrinking so only the rich have money) and to restart conscription, there is little they can actually do but rant.

    BTW – Obama was more of a hawk on Syria until reality punched him in the face. It appears that Putin suffered from the same Syrian delusions and has since changed his mind.

    Both Hilary and trumper should remember that ALL wars REQUIRE three things:

    – LOTS of cannon fodder to die “for the cause.” The USA does NOT have this and most Americans do not want this to happen.

    – LOTS of war toys to be destroyed – the USA does not have this and what war toys the USA has, are completely useless. In fact the 1960s OV-10 has been put back in test service because it works much better against ISIS than “modern” aircraft.

    link to cnn.com

    – LOTS of wealth to waste – Since the USA taxation is at an almost all time low, there is no wealth to pay for wars.

    I can understand why trumper is so misinformed about reality, but I don’t know why Hilary is such a war hawk given that she must be well aware of the reality.

    • There is a great deal of logic in your comment, but when it comes to Clinton, Netanyahu, and Trump logic is not a major factor.

  5. We know Trump foments violence, racism and bigotry.

    We know Clinton has voted for as a Senator and pushed for as Secretary of State deadly and bloody military interventions in Iraq, Libya, Syria.

    Has there ever been such a proven war hawk like Hillary Clinton who has gotten so far as a Dem candidate? I think it is shameful and telling about how so many Dem voters are willing to sweep the dead, injured and millions of refugees that are in large part due to U.S, meddling in the region that Clinton has very much been part of.

    • It’s a sad state of affairs.

      US elections are hardly ever decided on foreign policy issues. The voters don’t care nor are they educated enough to know better.

  6. Given Clinton’s warmongering history it would be naive to believe she will change to a peacemaker role. Only a fool would discount the possibility of more and more disastrous wars if she becomes president, especially after she declared she would be a best friend to Netanyahu. Trump is a loose cannon, but he might be slightly less inclined to start a major war.

    There is one point in favor of Trump becoming president. Given the hostility of many members of Congress towards Trump, he might be impeached If he acts on his idea of torturing people or commits other misdemeanors. Hillary, on the other hand, wouldn’t have to worry about impeachment. Wars of choice are apparently not impeachable offenses, especially if they are favored by Netanyahu and his fellow hawks.

  7. To me it looks pretty likely that Clinton will win the nomination and the presidency. Bernie has moved Clinton pretty substantially to the left in domestic policy. Maybe he can do the same with foreign policy. Certainly the Democratic base does not support any more foreign adventurism.

    • Bernie is very, very weak on foreign policy. In fact Clinton easily bruises him anytime foreign policy is brought up.

  8. Unless, of course, one of these 2 candidates is engaging in pandering, and simply positioning herself to the right as a tactic, not an actual intention, while the other one actually believes what he says. I’m hoping it’s the former, and I’m willing to take that chance. Again, it’s the difference between a centrist corporatist, and the leader of American Fascism.

    • I have compared Trump to Mussolini. Mussolini was a leftist before he turned to fascism. Policies weren’t that important to him. Personal power was his main goal and he chose the policies that seemed the most expedient to achieve that. I think Trump is very like that. However, by adopting the Republican mantle, if he is elected, he will certainly inherit a very right wing Congress and a populace ready to follow him and them wherever they take us. That is likely to be into military adventurism in the Middle East. Dictators like Mussolini use those means to whip up nationalism and domestic support. Remember the Falklands War? It was all ginned up because the junta in Argentina wanted to shift attention from how poorly they were running the country. This is standard stuff.

  9. With regards to the probable Trump-Clinton run off in the upcoming Presidential elections we really need to revive that catchy old French slogan from 2002 which said (translated): “Vote for the crook, not the fascist”. Back then former French president Jacques Chirac was running for re-election but was dogged by sleaze and corruption charges going back decades (specifically for diverting public funds, abuse of trust and illegal conflict of interest, all of which he was subsequently convicted in 2011 after leaving office). Voting him back in meant giving him the immunity of office against the charges for another seven years.

    But Chirac’s opponent that year was deranged Front National leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, who had emerged as the second choice candidate in the first round of voting under France’s complicated electoral system, knocking out the socialist candidate. It was an early version of the populist wave currently roiling Western countries. Wikipedia describes the FN membership as consisting of nostalgics of Vichy France, neo-Nazi pagans, Traditionalist Catholics, and other [hard right] reactionaries. Le Pen, whose daughter currently presides over this sweaty coalition now that dear old pa is past it, founded it with a former Vichy Nazi collaborator and an ex-OAS terrorist.

    Socialist voters and other left-wing progressives had to hold their collective noses and vote Chirac back into office (where in 2003 he surprisingly did the honourable thing and said he would veto the UK/US UN resolution on attacking Iraq, depriving the two of legal cover, unlike the Libyan situation eight years later). After the election there was even an attempt (pretty pathetically) on his life by a right wing fanatic, but one with overtones for the US this year as Trump whips his base up.

    I am no fan of the Clintons, who I see as a pair of sharp characters on the make (much like our beloved Blairs on this side of the pond). But if I had a vote in the US elections (not primaries), which I don’t, I would have to say I would be reluctantly casting it for HC (I’m a Bern fan at heart). Yes, her husband helped cast me and my generation into penury with the help of his corrupt Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, whose repeal of the Glass–Steagall Act retroactively legalised the creation of time bomb Citigroup (and from which RR made tens of millions of dollars shortly afterwards by joining the ‘new’ firm’s board – it’s good to remember how these things work!). But Trump would start trade wars with half of East Asia, restart shooting wars in the ME and trample on civil liberties at home and abroad.

  10. “If it’s Trump versus Clinton, what does it Mean for Iran and ISIL Policy?” — I don’t claim to know which would be worse; I expect that Clinton would be materially worse; what it means to me is that I hope Sanders is president.

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