By M.A. Saki

Historian says Trump won’t start a limited war with Iran

October 6, 2020 - 11:24

TEHRAN - Kurk Dorsey, a professor of history at New Hampshire University, is of the opinion that Trump will not embark on a limited war with Iran to promote his chances in the November election.

“I do not think President Trump will start a limited war with Iran, although he might respond to an Iranian action by escalating a crisis,” Dorsey tells the Tehran Times. 
Dorsey, who specializes in modern American history, World War II, and U.S. foreign policy, also says, “Trump's most fervent backers see Iran as a threat to U.S. interests in the Middle East (West Asia), and they are very happy that he got out of JCPOA (the nuclear deal) and has tried to renew sanctions on Iran.”  

The following is the text of the interview:

Q: Do you agree with this that the United States is isolated because of its foreign policy? Don’t you think Trump is willing to escalate tensions to increase his chances of reelection?

A: I would not say that the United States is isolated, although it is clear that relations with some long-time allies have been strained under the Trump Administration. U.S. relations with Canada and other NATO countries are as low as they have been in decades.  Many nations that have looked to the United States for leadership in global affairs, for instance, have been very disappointed with a lack of U.S. leadership and cooperation in the United Nations.

 Trump has generally chosen not to use U.S. ground forces to get what he wants; he would prefer to use a few drones or special forces to make a point.  So, I think he, like most incumbent presidents, is looking for ways to communicate to voters that he is presidential and that he can manage a crisis, but not risk a war.  Given that, it would not surprise me if he did something dramatic in terms of foreign policy, but the foreign policy has not been his focus in the campaign.

Q: In case Joe Biden wins the presidential polls, would his administration undertake a fundamental foreign policy shift, given that many countries consider the United States as a domineering state?

A: A Biden victory will most likely mean that the United States returns to policies that it pursued from 2009-2017 when Barack Obama was president.  That would mean that the U.S. would try to be more cooperative with its traditional allies, would take a tougher line with Russia, would try to restart negotiations with Iran about its nuclear program, would seek a new relationship with China that emphasizes stability, and generally take more of a moderate leadership position in global institutions.  Certainly, some nations see the U.S. as domineering and intervening, but others miss American leadership because the alternatives have not always worked out well.  I am certain that many governments around the world want a powerful, moderate United States rather than what we have had the last four years, which has been mercurial and abrasive more often than not.

Q: Don’t you think Trump would start a limited war against Iran to gain votes in the November election?

A: No, I do not think President Trump will start a limited war with Iran, although he might respond to an Iranian action by escalating a crisis. Trump's most fervent backers see Iran as a threat to U.S. interests in the Middle East (West Asia), and they are very happy that he got out of JCPOA (the nuclear deal) and has tried to renew sanctions on Iran.  But those people will vote for Trump no matter what.  A war with Iran of any sort will only scare away moderate voters who might be thinking of voting for Trump, and he seems to be aiming for those people in his campaign.  Trump has broken with the Republican Party's past in particular by criticizing the use of force in the Middle East (West Asia) that has led to what he calls "endless wars." Having said all of that, Trump is very unpredictable, so it would be wise for Iran not to give him an excuse to respond with force.  If Iran were to make him look weak, he would feel compelled to use force to placate his base voters.

Q: Do American citizens care who will be in the Withe House for another four years?

A: Yes, most American voters have very strong feelings about this election.  About 25% of likely voters support Trump pretty passionately; about 15% really care about domestic issues that they think Trump will support; about 40% think Trump is a menace to the republic, and 20% are just tired of him and his use of Twitter and his response to COVID.  The problem is that about 40% of adults will not vote for various reasons and are not in that breakdown above.  If Trump or Biden can tap them, he will win the election in a landslide, but it is more likely to be a reasonably close election, say 55-45% for Biden.  But this election campaign has the attention of more Americans than any recent one, except possibly 2008.

Q: Do you agree with this view that the recent normalization of relations between certain Arab countries with Israel was related to the U.S. elections, especially with such a high speed? Can the agreements signed under the Trump presidency be considered reliable?

A: In the American system, anything that happens in an election year will be related to the election.  It is obvious here that Trump's supporters are using the deals with Bahrain and the UAE to show that he can bring peace to the Middle East (West Asia), and they certainly use them to make him look more presidential.

Having said that, I do not think that these were speedy deals.  Israel has been working quietly with both states for a long time, and the U.S. has been looking for ways to improve Israel's relations with its neighbors since 1948.  If anything, the deals tell me that the UAE and Bahrain worry about Iran's influence in the region so much that they are willing to make deals with Israel because they see Israel as less dangerous than Iran, which is remarkable for any Arab state.  So, the agreements will survive no matter who wins the 2020 U.S. elections.
 

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