Sifting through Trump’s most recent tweets and speeches reveal insults and injuries to the Iraqis
US President Donald Trump has issued a flurry of statements to justify his assassination of General Qasem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force, as well as Abu Mahdi al Muhandis, an Iraqi Popular Mobilisation Unit (PMU) commander.
Analysed in sequence, while Trump’s rhetoric may be full of bluster and threats, they serve as an indirect acknowledgement of the US finding itself on the defensive in the region, rather than having furthered any American interests. All the while, the US continues to lose its standing in Iraq.
Trump’s decision to order the assassination may be a short term tactical victory but might result in a long term strategic defeat.
After the assassination of Soleimani, the Islamic Republic launched a salvo of ballistic missiles against US military forces in Iraq. Hours after the attack, Trump took a triumphant tone, delivering a speech which essentially deescalated the conflict. During the address, he said, “I am going to ask NATO to become much more involved in the Middle East process.”
Trump even coined a new term “NATOME” (NATO Middle East) to sell the alliance on the idea. However, not only was the suggestion met with incredulity by members of the Alliance, but various members such as Germany are withdrawing its troops for security concerns.
Trump did not specify what NATOME’s mission would be in the region, but one assumes he would want NATO to confront Iran.
NATO can play a productive role in the Middle East, not confronting Iran, but aiding the region in climate change mitigation, as it has done successfully in the Balkans and Central Asia, playing the role of a CATO or Climate Alliance Treaty Organisation, particularly in Iraq, where it was based.
Trump’s action may preclude the Alliance from playing this role, at least in Iraq.
The Ain Al Asad base
Make no mistake about it, the attack on Soleimani and Muhandis was a violation of Iraq’s national sovereignty. But to add insult to injury, Trump’s statements in the aftermath of this decision — adamant that American troops remain in Iraq despite the parliament and prime minister’s request for their withdrawal — are another sign of disrespect.
In a press conference with reporters, Trump said, “We have a very extraordinarily expensive air base that’s there. It cost billions of dollars to build. We’re not leaving unless they pay us back for it.” Such rhetoric, referring to the Ain al Asad base, is reminiscent of Trump asking Mexico to pay for the border wall.
Speaking from Air Force One, Trump said that if Iraq asked US forces to leave, “we will charge them sanctions like they’ve never seen before, ever. It’ll make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame.”
Trump had also threatened Mexico with a form of economic sanctions, arguing he would impound all remittances from the US if the nation did not pay for the barrier. While Trump never followed up with the threat, both comments demonstrate how the American president disregards the sovereignty of two nations, Mexico and Iraq.
Trump does not treat Mexico like an American neighbour, but a foil to whip up nativist American sentiment amongst his base. Trump does not treat Iraq like an ally, but rather as a base from which to challenge Iran.
The public in both countries most likely worry about his potential for re-election in 2020 and another four years of neglect of both nations’ sovereignty.
The tragic death of Nawres
Trump sought to build the wall to keep out immigrants from the US. Yet the current conflict Trump started in the region is the result of the death of an American immigrant.
In a tweet on Dec. 31, Trump wrote: “Iran killed an American contractor, wounding many. We strongly responded, and always will.”
That contractor was an Iraqi-American Muslim and an immigrant, which Trump failed to mention. Nawres Waleed Hamid was a translator for American forces in Iraq.
That Trump would defend the death of an American-Muslim is surprising, given how he abused the memory of Humayun Khan, a Muslim-American in the US military killed in Iraq in 2004. His parents appeared at the Democratic National Convention to blast Trump's Islamophobia and to demonstrate that a Muslim can be an American patriot. The fact that their son died did not stop Trump from demonising the Khans.
Basim Elkarra of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said, “That an Iraqi American Muslim immigrant was used as a pretext for military action in the Middle East is ironic.”
As an Iraqi-American myself, Nawres’ death is tragic. On some level, however, I feel it is disrespectful to use his memory to justify more death in his native homeland. The most recent tweets of Trump demonstrate a cavalier and callous attitude to Iraqi national sentiment and the death of an Iraqi-American.
Ultimately Trump’s refusal to withdraw American forces from Iraq, and second, his call for NATO to take a more active role in the Middle East, represents his administration’s defacto recognition that while the American president wants to withdraw troops from the Middle East, he cannot withdraw them from Iraq fear of granting Iran a strategic victory.
Trump has created a Catch-22 situation for himself going into the 2002 election year.
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