Donald Trump is a man under an awful lot of pressure. From the lingering Mueller / Russia investigation (that categorically failed to state that he hadn't obstructed justice), to any number of examinations into his sordid personal and financial life, through to accurately being called out as a huge racist, Trump is feeling the heat, despite all of his hot air to the contrary. And yet, there's more pressure building on him all the time – in particular the increasingly tense stand-off with Iran in the Persian Gulf.
The looming threat of war with Iran is no doubt creating an enormous amount of cognitive dissonance inside the Trump's head. On the one hand, he is an isolationist. His crude, clumsy “America First" doctrine is built on an insular America that places considerably less emphasis on cooperation with allies and on America’s traditional role as the world's policemen.
That's why he has been so keen to denigrate the likes of NATO, the UN and the established post-war order of international relations and multilateral cooperation. However, and crucially, on the other hand, Trump wants to be seen as a strongman. As we know, Cadet Bone Spurs loves a military parade, rubbing shoulders with the military and continually bragging about American military might (all the while as we know him to be at least a five-fold draft-dodger – but that’s a story for another time.)
And it’s that fundamental dichotomy inside Trump’s head that is so very dangerous. Trump is very much a binary creature with a complete absence of being able to think in the abstract. In stark contrast, the government in Tehran may not be the most agreeable people on the planet, but the Iranians are much more adept geo-political players than Trump will ever be. They keep laying the bait and Trump will inevitably end up taking it.
As much as coffins draped in the American flag coming home courtesy of conflict with Iran are a bad optic for Trump, and of course dreadful news for everybody else, his basic urge to be an American hero-warrior-Commander-in-Chief is inevitably going to get the better of him. Particularly so when he uses reckless and inflammatory language about Iran that if the two countries go to war, they would face “obliteration like you’ve never seen before.”
Let’s not forget, Trump set the stage for the looming conflict with Iran, again because of his black-and-white, binary approach to everything. Because of his hatred of anything Obama related, he was quick to pull the US out of the Iranian nuclear deal, much to the anger of Tehran and the dismay of European allies. Add to that how Trump has surrounded himself with hawks like Mike Pompeo and John Bolton - two individuals with a near-fixation about American military conflict with Iran - and the prospect of war in the Gulf becomes more a matter of when and not if.
As we know, Trump is quick to anger, monumentally thin-skinned and prone to lashing out. He has already come close to lighting the fuse of war with Iran, with an Iranian drone allegedly shot down and prior to that, American warplanes headed to Iranian targets with orders to stand-down with minutes left to go before missiles were launched. But how much longer can this “take it to the edge and pull back at the last moment” Trump mentality persist? Given his volatile temperament, one would think not too long.
The situation in the Gulf remains a tinder-box. Iran, feeling backed into a corner by Trump’s belligerence since taking up office and aggravated by his unilateral decision to pull out of the nuclear deal, is seemingly content to continue tweaking the tale of the US and its allies – such as the recent hijacking of a UK-flagged oil tanker passing through the Strait of Hormuz. Meanwhile Trump, as his re-election numbers continue to bounce along the floor, has one eye firmly on the 2020 election. What better way to get the MAGA “patriotic” juices flowing than a conflict with long time a long-time Middle Eastern enemy?
The bottom-line? Trump’s military fetishism is invariably going to get the better of his isolationism. Why? Because that is what Trump does and what MAGA is all about – a mindless chest-beating coupled with a veneration, and desire to use, a bloated military-industrial complex to nefariously pursue endless conflicts that can never really be won in any meaningful sense of the word. American troops will be killed or maimed, American international prestige, already dog-eared enough as it is, will suffer further, and gas prices at the pump will soar.
And for a nation that has spent considerably more time at war than it has at peace, long-term military fatigue has taken hold in the American public. The numbers of those now serving in the US military has massively reduced in number since the end of the Second World War. So, it should come as no surprise that some in the upper echelons of the military are now throwing around the idea of lowering the age of military recruits to just 16. As every parent knows in their heart, the military’s appetite for young blood with which to oil its military apparatus is insatiable.
War with Iran would be a multi-faceted, multi-layered disaster. And Trump is steadily inching us toward the point of no return.