History is often written by those who don’t follow the rules or, rather, by those who ostentatiously throw them onto the trash heap of history. Donald Trump is one of those people, whether we like it or not. In an era where political correctness and slick public relations are the norm in politics and beyond, Trump came along with his own unique style and turned everything on its head.
This started during his candidacy for president. A one-time close associate of his described how his team tried to convince him to start using prepared speeches, reading from a teleprompter. He didn’t like the idea at all but he agreed to give it a go. When the moment came for his first public speech, he started reading from the teleprompter, darting looks to his left and right, clearly uncomfortable with the whole process. At one point, his patience at an end, he petulantly threw down the screen and blamed his awkwardness on his team, declaring that he preferred making speeches without teleprompters. His associates were aghast for a few minutes. But after seeing the rave reception of the move by Trump’s supporters, they realized that his instinct and political brilliance was probably beyond them.
He pulled it off in domestic politics; could he also do it in foreign policy? All the relevant literature, handbooks and collected wisdom of experts far and near suggest that such a feat is impossible. What is essentially a negotiating tactic from the Manhattan real estate world cannot work in the forum of international politics. The art of pushing someone to the end of their tether and then making a deal at the last minute would be rejected as unenforceable.
But that’s exactly what Trump is testing now. The assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani in Iraq by American forces was a very extreme act which all Trump’s predecessors had avoided, as had even successive Israeli governments. Trump did it. And by doing so he simultaneously sent a clear message to the Middle East that the USA is no longer dependent on its oil and natural gas reserves. Iran responded in a relatively reasonable fashion.
In a few weeks, it will become clear whether those who believe that Iran will hit back harder – albeit under or over the radar – are right, or whether a new balance of power will finally emerge that puts it “in its place” and possibly leads to a new deal. That’s when a lot of so-called experts will be banging their heads against the wall.