And to think that there was serious talk in the White House, not that long ago, about a meeting between Donald Trump and Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani.
Now, we are wondering, just as seriously, if the Americans are going to attack Iran!
We are starting to get used to these reversals. The world according to Trump resembles a roller coaster ride, except that it’s not fun.
Those responsible for the recent attacks on Saudi Arabian oil installations have not yet been formally identified. However, the White House is certain that Iran dealt the blow. Trump’s national security advisers have even indicated potential targets in the Iranian territory. The start of a conflict would not be a surprise.
Fortunately, for the moment, the response is measured. Washington announced yesterday that it is sending reinforcements to the region, but specified that they would be “defensive in nature." Sanctions against Iran have also been increased.
Even if the Iranian government denies it, it is possible that they are behind this attack. Its leaders, in order to maintain power or affirm their hegemony in the region, have never hesitated to take brutal and hostile action. And the rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia is notorious.
If Iran does prove to be guilty, however, one must also consider Trump’s role. Killing the Iran nuclear deal, as he did last year, without proposing an alternative solution, and putting “maximum pressure” on Iran, was a highly perilous approach.
The major axis of this strategy, the imposition of harsh sanctions, is certainly not unrelated to Iran digging in its heels in and rebelling.
It is necessary to recognize this, even though it should not exonerate the Iranian government.
It must also be noted that Trumpism in the Middle East has resulted in a shameless reconciliation with Saudi Arabia. Barack Obama had opted, instead, for a rebalancing in the region; the relationship with Iran had been improving.
Trump seemed, for his part, to want to meet his Iranian counterpart next week in New York on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly. It is now improbable. And anyway, it was - above all - to make a spectacle of himself and distract Americans.
After all, isn’t that what he did with the North Korea issue? One gets the impression more and more that it mainly allowed Kim Jong Un to buy time … and perfect his missiles.
But let’s focus on Iran, because it is urgent that a solution is found to this crisis. Trump, true to his nature when facing the possibility of a military intervention, blows hot and cold.
He first flexed his muscles and said that his country was ready to retaliate (locked and loaded, he tweeted). But for the moment, he has stopped puffing out his chest, as his announcement yesterday showed. He knows very well that Americans have no appetite for a large-scale military retaliation. He also wants to avoid soaring oil prices. And he knows that Iranians will not sit back and accept reprisal from Washington.
He also knows that the Iranians will not sit idly by. Iran's Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammad Javad Zarif threatened a “total war.”
The president should, of course, have expected this when he decided to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.
But when it comes to foreign policy, where it is preferable to be two or three steps ahead, Trump is more of a brawler than a chess player.
As far as what happens next, we will not ask for wisdom from him; that would be delusional. We will nonetheless hope that he decides on restraint.