When world leaders come to the UN General Assembly next week, they will witness a schizophrenic US foreign policy. 17 months after Donald Trump announced his withdrawal from the International Atomic Energy Convention, the Iran conflict is no closer to pacification, but is heading for an escalation.
Trump has maneuvered himself into a trap that continues with every new provocation from Tehran. After the attacks on a Saudi Arabian oil refinery, the president declared that the US was ready "with a loaded weapon" – only to emphasize shortly afterwards that he wanted to avoid a military conflict.
Contradictory signals like these show that Trump is overwhelmed with the complexity of his office. Because the Irankonflikt is nothing that could be solved quickly with punitive tariffs or a symbolic handshake in front of cameras.
On the one hand, Trump wants to avoid intervention in the Middle East. Also because he is standing for re-election with the promise to keep the US out of conflict. But at the same time, Trump does not seem to be able to stand in front of his followers as timid. He holds the will to political compromises for weakness.
For the moment, Trump wants to send his foreign minister to Saudi Arabia to discuss further steps. The US is opening the door to cooperation even before they know what they want to do. In other circumstances, a US president would be praised for wanting to fathom a situation before making decisions.
But behind Trump's maneuvers there is no prudence, but dangerous perplexity. For months, the threatening gestures between Washington and Tehran are increasing in intensity, a clear goal of the United States is not apparent. The chance of an involuntary escalation is increasing, especially as the diplomatic wires between Washington and Tehran are largely gone.
Meanwhile, Trump can only choose between bad options: If Iran is responsible for the attacks and Trump does nothing, his threats seem tired and hollow, the US would be weaker than ever. This would encourage Iran to make further attacks in the region and endanger the world economy by attacking tankers and infrastructure.
If Trump unknowingly resorts to military means, the geopolitical consequences are hardly calculable. At least now would be a good time to consult internationally and by consensus on a way out. But Trump's willfully destroyed it when he decided to offend European partners on a regular basis.
More: The Paralyzed Nation – How Trump's policy harms the US.
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