by Hussain Abdul-Hussain
- The writer is Washington-based political analyst. He has written for the New York Times, The Washington Post, and Kuwaiti daily Al Rai, among others
WASHINGTON (AA) - Americans are under no illusion that their president, Donald Trump, has any coherent foreign policy or strategy. American experts have even coined new terms for their new leader’s incompetence, such as the “No World Order” and “Trump’s 19th Century World Order.”
In his 1997 second-term inaugural speech, then-President Bill Clinton boasted that the 20th century was an “American century.” The beginning of the millennium, however, marked the ascendance of three successive American presidents, none of whom showed any skills in comprehending the world or maintaining its order.
Former President George Bush overestimated America’s capabilities. Having the strongest military that can project power anywhere around the globe is one thing, but asking the military to undertake social engineering and spread democracy is another. To his credit, Bush realized his missteps, and in his second term, started reversing most of his previous democracy-spreading initiatives.
Bush handed foreign policy back to the U.S. establishment by recruiting his father’s contemporaries and friends, first and foremost savvy Secretary of State James Baker, who drafted a blueprint on how the U.S. could stabilize Iraq and leave it.
Baker’s plan, the Baker-Hamilton Report, worked, and the world seemed destined for the pre-Bush years, only to be shaken again, this time by a populist president who promised over-corrective policies. Instead of building on Bush’s progress, Obama had a few revolutionary foreign policies of his own. Obama believed that the U.S. should exchange its friends, such as Saudi Arabia, for its enemies, such as Iran. So mistaken was Obama that he lost both: America’s friends and its enemies.
Obama initially enjoyed a spell of world peace. As time went by and Bush’s policies faded away, and with Obama replacing these policies with his own misinformed strategy, the world -- especially the Middle East -- resumed its unravelling.
Then came Donald Trump. If Bush overestimated America’s power and Obama underestimated it, Trump seems to have no clue what America’s tools of power are, how to project power, or to what end. If ever forced to take a pop quiz on world affairs, Trump would certainly flunk it.
Hence, while the Russian state-owned RIA Novosti boasted that King Salman of Saudi Arabia visited Moscow to build ties with the “new lord of the Middle East,” i.e. Russian President Vladimir Putin, America’s Donald Trump was busy challenging his secretary of state to an IQ test. Trump insisted that he was smarter than Rex Tillerson.
The contrast between the Russian president and his American counterpart could not have been starker. While Putin’s media broadcasted carefully choreographed scenes of his reception of the Saudi monarch, Trump was busy calling the U.S. media “fake news” and sharing numbers that he believed proved that the right-wing Fox News was ahead of its more liberal competitors, CNN and MSNBC.
While in Moscow, Salman announced that his country would be buying the Russian-made S-400 air defense system. Weeks before Saudi Arabia’s announcement of this deal, Turkey had announced a similar purchase. Moscow had sold an earlier version, the S-300, to Iran. Tehran, for its part, publicly displayed its new Russian toy during a military parade in September.
The Turkish, Saudi, and Iranian announcements of their buying of Russian-made air defense systems came a few years after Putin had announced deploying both S-400s and S-300s to Syria, presumably to “seal off” Syrian airspace to U.S. fighter jets.
The efficiency of these S-400s and S-300s remains in question. Over the past few years, during their deployment in Syria, these Russian systems never managed to head off any Israeli or American air attack inside Syrian airspace. In fact, in the summer of 2007, the Israeli air force held training sessions over Greece, aimed at beating the S-300, which Athens possesses. Tel Aviv does not seem that bothered that its archrival, Iran, now has the S-300. Israel is most probably confident that it can beat this system should Israeli fighter jets ever find themselves flying over Iran.
The capability of these Russian air defense systems aside, the S-400 and S-300, have become a sign of alliance with Russia. Countries that announce buying such Russian systems -- such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Iran -- are in effect announcing some kind of strategic partnership with Moscow.
Iran entering into an alliance with Moscow is old news. What is surprising is to see Turkey, a member of NATO, and Saudi Arabia, one of America’s oldest allies in the Middle East, opting to buy Russian military hardware and seeking Russian friendship.
The Saudi step infuriated Washington, and Riyadh went into crisis mode in a bid to mitigate U.S. anger. Less than 24 hours after the Saudi announcement of buying the Russian S-400s, Washington announced that the Saudis are on their way to buying the American-made THAAD anti-missile system, for a whopping $15 billion.
The American-Saudi arms deal was not enough to convince experts that everything was back to normal. The “new lord in the Middle East,” Putin, is spreading his wings, and countries like Turkey and Saudi Arabia have correctly calculated that betting on a shaken American, led by a drama queen president, might not be enough guarantee for their national interests.
In fact, Turkey learned the hard way that its alliance with America sometimes means little. When a Russian fighter jet crossed into Turkish airspace and forced a Turkish fighter jet to warn it to change course, before shooting it down, Washington left Ankara alone to figure out the consequences of the accident. Obama was enraged at the time, as the White House put out a statement suggesting that the Turks were responsible for their own decisions, and that Americans would not step up to defend Turkey, militarily or diplomatically, should the situation between Ankara and Moscow deteriorate.
Turkey has internalized all the lessons from its alliance with America, and has as such decided to diversify its strategic investments by improving its ties with Russia. Saudi Arabia reached a similar conclusion, as other countries in the region seem willing to follow suit.
As Trump stands oblivious and unaware that the world order that America created, and maintained over the past 70 years, is now crumbling, Putin has been picking up the pieces and making his own crown out of them. The S-400 is the name of a new world order, an order that is being carved by Russia, but one that nobody can predict how it will look or in what direction it will go.
* Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.