His close alliance with Saudi Arabia and escalating confrontation with Iran is the most radical new departure in Trump’s foreign policy
The Middle East has a century old tradition of being the political graveyard of American and British political leaders. The list of casualties is long: Lloyd George, Anthony Eden, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Tony Blair and George W Bush. All saw their careers ended or their authority crippled by failure in the region.
Will the same thing happen to Donald Trump as he struggles with the consequences of the alleged murder of Jamal Khashoggi? I always suspected that Trump might come unstuck because of his exaggerated reliance on a weak state like Saudi Arabia rather than because of his supposed links to Russia and Vladimir Putin. Contrary to the PR company boosterism of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) and his ambitious projects, Saudi Arabia has oil and money, but is demonstrably ineffective as an independent operator.
The Middle East disasters that toppled so many Western leaders have a certain amount in common. In all cases, the strength of enemies and the feebleness of friends was miscalculated. Lloyd George was forced to resign as prime minister in 1922 because he encouraged the doomed Greek invasion of Anatolia which almost led to a renewed Turkish-British war.
George W Bush and Tony Blair never understood that the occupation of Iraq by American and British ground forces had no support inside Iraq or among its neighbours and was therefore bound to fail. A British military intelligence officer stationed in Basra told me that he could not persuade his superiors of the potentially disastrous fact that “we have no real allies anywhere in Iraq”.
The political debacle most similar to Trump’s ill-judged reliance on the Crown Prince and Saudi Arabia over the last three years was American policy towards the Shah and Iran in the years leading up to his overthrow in 1979. US humiliation was rubbed in when its diplomats were taken hostages in Tehran which torpedoed Carter’s hope of a second term in the White House.