There is an almost universal belief among -right and centre-left political commentators in the United States that Donald Trump is more of an inveterate sabre-rattler rather than a potential sabre-wielder. The argument goes that the US president talks a big game when it comes to the necessity of using of American military muscle to enforce its will on the global stage but that in reality he has little inclination to carry through on that rhetoric. Quite the contrary in fact. While that interpretation may be true of the former New York businessman, who like most scions of the American over-class managed to avoid conscription into the Vietnam War by claiming some type of medical invalidity, those around him are far more hawkish in both words and actions. The sudden and quite deliberate ratcheting up of tensions by the US in its perennially strained relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran might satisfy and distract Trump’s domestic audience. Or more accurately, the minority of American voters who regard him with Hollywood-like veneration. But there are several senior members of his administration and their associates who are convinced that Washington’s long term interests in the Middle East lie in a “final confrontation” with Tehran. No matter how ghastly the consequences on both sides or for the region in general. And unfortunately the US president seems to have given those figures far more policy leeway that any of his processors, showing a marked disinterest in his government’s conduct of international affairs.
Consequently, this makes one nervous when one sees news of an alleged and rather nonspecific “sabotage attack” on two Saudi Arabian oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. Attacks which unnamed Saudi and American sources are blaming on Iran or its proxies just as new US forces are moving into the area. In the circumstances the whole event has a slight Gulf of Tonkin air to it, referring back to the infamous incident in 1964 that gave some of the more rabid anti-communists in the government of Lyndon B. Johnson the casus belli they needed to push for greater American engagement in South-east Asia. Though in this case, we may be hopeful that the otherwise troubling cowardice and obsessive self-interest of the current occupant of the Oval Office will convince him that any attempt by Washington to give Tehran a bloody nose has the potential to embroil him in the type of neverending war that devalued the presidential legacies of Barack Obama and George W Bush. And if we know anything about the New York real-estate tycoon, it’s his belief that the myth of Trump is more important than the reality of Trump.