Donald Trump’s best new policy in the Middle East would be no new policy

We often forget that at any one time there are several governments and opposition movements trying to lure the US into a war with its enemies by demonising them as a threat to the world

President Trump’s stance on conflict in the Middle East is a mixture of bellicose threats and demonisation of opponents combined with rather more cautious and carefully calculated action or inaction on the ground. Leaders in Baghdad, Damascus, Riyadh and Tehran face the same problem as those in Tokyo and London, uncertain where the rhetoric ends and the reality begins and unsure if Trump himself distinguishes much between the two.

The debate about Trump in the Middle East does differ from that in the rest of the world in one important respect: the need for an answer here is more urgent because of the greater likelihood of a crisis, which Trump might provoke or exacerbate.

When he was first elected, the urgency seemed very great but there has been no major new crisis that put him to the test. For all his denunciations of President Obama for his supposedly feeble defence of American interests, US strategy in Iraq and Syria has remained very much the same. The priority has continued to be the destruction of the caliphate and the elimination of Isis.

The continuity is because the strategy has been successful and surviving Isis fighters are being hunted down or are taking refuge in hideouts in the deserts of western Iraq and eastern Syria. But victory over Isis brings with it the prospect of a new US set of priorities in the Middle East with a more confrontational approach to Iran topping the list.

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