Inside Trump’s efforts to cover up ‘maximum pressure’ failure

Will Trump be forced to follow Obama Iran policy?

September 29, 2020 - 23:37

TEHRAN – As Donald Trump’s presidential campaign reaches a critical juncture amid unprecedented internal crises, the White House intensifies diplomatic efforts to achieve breakthroughs in foreign policy, especially in U.S. relations with countries in the Western Asia region.

Trump's thirst for election “breakthroughs” was on full display in U.S-brokered normalization deals between some Arab countries and Israel. The normalization wave started in mid-August when Trump, out of the blue, announced that he brokered a normalization deal between the United Arab Emirates and Israel. A little bit more than a month later, on September 11, Trump once again announced another normalization deal, this time between Bahrain and Israel.

Trump sought to portray these deals as historic breakthroughs that was unimaginable just a few weeks ago.

“So things are happening in the Middle East [West Asia] that nobody thought was even possible to think about, and that’s what’s going on right now.” Trump said on September 11 as he announced the Bahrain-Israel normalization deal, adding, “The significance of the signing will be elevated from an already historic breakthrough to one representing a previously unthinkable regional transformation. And that’s exactly what it is. It’s unthinkable that this could happen, and so fast.”
On September 15, Trump hosted a signing ceremony at the White House with the prime minister of Israel and the foreign ministers of Bahrain and the UAE in attendance. The ceremony was held with great fanfare. And yet it failed to improve Trump’s ratings. He is still trailing his Democratic rival, Joe Biden, in national polls. So what will Trump probably do to improve his ratings?

Citing the normalization deals, analysts and commentators believe that Trump has resorted to foreign policy to save his troubled campaign ahead of the November election. But the same deals indicated the limits of the impact the foreign policy “breakthroughs” can have on the public. Despite Trump’s hype about the deals, they did little to improve his plummeting popularity. So Trump could resort to making breakthroughs with U.S. adversaries such as China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran because the U.S. tensions with these countries are so deep that any deals with them will probably catch ordinary Americans by surprise.

With respect to China, Trump is unlikely to make a big deal with in the remaining weeks before the election. Indeed, Trump is boasting that he, unlike Biden, was tough on China. Trump is also campaigning on containing China’s growing economic influence.

Russia is another option for Trump. But any deal with Russia will certainly mobilize the Democrats, who are accusing Trump of being too soft on Russia. Besides, there are no urgent disagreements between Russia and the U.S. that Trump can solve. The U.S.-Russia disagreements precede Trump and are likely to outlast him.

But Iran is a manufactured crisis of Trump’s own making. Therefore, Trump could find it convenient to make a breakthrough with Iran. But what can he do with Iran?

Analysts and former diplomats point to different scenarios. Some believe that Trump could wage a war with Iran to surprise the Americans and create a rally-round-the-flag moment.

Patrick N. Theros, the former U.S. ambassador to Qatar, has raised this possibility, saying the “October Surprise” could be a war with Iran. Theros said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Elliott Abrams, the U.S. special representative for Iran, could convince Trump into going to war with Iran.

In an opinion piece published by The National Herald, Theros hypothetically wrote, “Pompeo ignores the quizzical look on the president’s face, confirming his suspicion that the President had never heard of Iran-Contra, and presses ahead. ‘We have a sure-fire way of winning re-election. Elliott here has proven that he can fabricate provocations and organize wars on very short notice. He was the mastermind behind the invasion of Iraq in 2003!’ Trump, startled, tells Pompeo ‘you know I called that war a disaster, and getting out of Iraq is part of my campaign pledge. I fired Bolton because he was trying to get me into a war’.”

But some analysts believe that the war option has been removed from the table given the widespread anti-war sentiments among the American people.
So will Trump hold talks with Iran to improve his ratings? Pundits believe that a Trump effort to make a deal with Iran is not impossible given his failure to wage war against Iran and publicly bring it to the negotiation table. Analysts also say Trump has made efforts to foment social unrest across Iran and then tell the American people that his withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal – officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) - has yielded concrete results. But Trump failed to do so and Iran remains a stable country. Some even believe that Trump has sought to encourage Iranian opposition groups to create unrest in the country.

But Trump’s possible deal with Iran is unlikely to be about the nuclear program because Tehran and Washington do not have enough time to hammer out a complicated deal on Iran’s nuclear issue within a few weeks. Therefore, it’s likely that Trump would resort to a prisoner swap deal with Iran to improve his ratings.

Iran and the U.S. have previously exchanged prisoners many times. Furthermore, the two countries reached a deal on the release of U.S. spies from Iran during the Obama administration. Jason Rezaian was one of those spies who was released after the U.S. released $1.7 billion in frozen Iranian accounts. Therefore, if Trump wants to reach a prisoner swap deal with Iran, he will likely find himself obliged to pay Iran a huge sum of money, just as his processor did.

Of course, Trump has railed against Obama for paying Iran “barrels of cash”. But he may follow Obama’s lead in securing the release of American spies from Iran in exchange for paying the country millions of dollars. Trump may do it secretly to avoid being compared with Obama. If he does so, he will be able to tell American voters that he succeeded in securing the release of the Americans from Iran without reaching a comprehensive deal with it. A deal with Iran on the release of American spies will also enable Trump to declare that his “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran was successful.


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