By Nauman Sadiq, VT Islamabad
On Thursday, President Donald Trump abruptly canceled a planned G20 meeting in Buenos Aires with the Russian President Vladimir Putin. Although the ostensible reason for canceling the meeting cited in Trump’s tweet was a recent naval standoff in which Russian forces seized three Ukrainian ships, the real reason was a report published in The Guardian two days ago.
In the article titled “Manafort held secret talks with Assange in Ecuadorian embassy” , the author of the report Luke Harding alleged that Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort had held secret talks with Julian Assange inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2013, 2015 and in March 2016, and several months later, WikiLeaks released a stash of Democratic emails allegedly stolen by Russian intelligence officers.
Although the report is dubiously sourced and its author lacks credibility, Paul Manafort has already accepted a plea deal. If he goes a step further and accepts the charges leveled against him by The Guardian – which is quite likely since Special Counsel Robert Mueller is already applying immense pressure on Manafort by alleging that the latter has violated the terms of his plea deal by lying – this scandal has a potential of stirring up a political storm which might eventually culminate in initiation of impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump for colluding with a foreign government to steal the American elections.
This is the reason why President Trump has apparently been advised by his close aides to keep maximum distance from the Russian President Putin until the dust settles down on the Manafort-Assange affair.
It bears mentioning that Donald Trump is an impressionable man-child whose vocabulary does not extend beyond a few words and whose frequent typographical errors on his Twitter timeline, such as ‘unpresidented’ and ‘covfefe,’ have made him a laughing stock for journalists and social media users alike.
It is very easy for the neuroscientists on the payroll of mainstream media and foreign policy think tanks to manipulate the minds of such puerile politicians and to lead them by the nose to toe the line of the deep state, particularly on foreign policy matters.
Last year, a couple of caricatures went viral on social media. In one of those caricatures, Donald Trump was depicted as a child sitting on a chair and Vladimir Putin was shown whispering something into Trump’s ears from behind. In the other, Trump was portrayed sitting in Steve Bannon’s lap and the latter was shown mumbling into Trump’s ears, “Who is the big boy now?” And Trump was shown replying, “I am the big boy.”
The meaning conveyed by those cunningly crafted caricatures was to illustrate that Trump lacks the intelligence to think for himself and that he is being manipulated and played around by Putin and Bannon. Those caricatures must have affronted the vanity of Donald Trump to an extent that after the publication of those caricatures, he became ill-disposed towards Putin and fired Bannon from his job as the White House Chief Strategist in August last year.
Recently, the Trump administration announced the most stringent set of sanctions against Iran to appease Benjamin Netanyahu. Donald Trump has repeatedly said during the last two years that the Iran nuclear deal signed by the Obama administration in 2015 was an “unfair deal” that gave concessions to Iran without giving anything in return to the US.
Unfortunately, there is a grain of truth in Trump’s statements because the Obama administration had signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran in July 2015 under pressure, as Washington had bungled in its Middle East policy and it wanted Iran’s cooperation in Syria and Iraq to get a face-saving.
In order to understand how the Obama administration bungled in Syria and Iraq, we should bear the background of Washington’s Middle East policy during the recent years in mind. The seven-year-long conflict in Syria, that gave birth to scores of militant groups, including the Islamic State, and after the conflict spilled across the border into neighboring Iraq in early 2014, was directly responsible for the spate of Islamic State-inspired terror attacks in Europe from 2015 to 2017.
Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict in August 2011 to June 2014, when the Islamic State overran Mosul and Anbar in Iraq, an informal pact existed between the Western powers, their regional Sunni allies and jihadists of the Middle East against the Shi’a Iranian axis. In accordance with the pact, militants were trained and armed in the training camps located in the border regions of Turkey and Jordan to battle the Syrian government.
This arrangement of an informal pact between the Western powers and the jihadists of the Middle East against the Iranian axis worked well up to August 2014, when the Obama Administration made a volte-face on its previous regime change policy in Syria and began conducting air strikes against one group of Sunni militants battling the Syrian government, the Islamic State, after the latter overstepped its mandate in Syria and overran Mosul and Anbar in Iraq from where the US had withdrawn its troops only a couple of years ago in December 2011.
After this reversal of policy in Syria by the Western powers and the subsequent Russian military intervention on the side of the Syrian government in September 2015, the momentum of jihadists’ expansion in Syria and Iraq stalled, and they felt that their Western patrons had committed a treachery against the Sunni jihadists’ cause, that’s why they were infuriated and rose up in arms to exact revenge for this betrayal.
If we look at the chain of events, the timing of the spate of terror attacks against the West was critical: the Islamic State overran Mosul in June 2014, the Obama Administration began conducting air strikes against the Islamic State’s targets in Iraq and Syria in August 2014, and after a lull of almost a decade since the Madrid and London bombings in 2004 and 2005, respectively, the first such incident of terrorism occurred on the Western soil at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in January 2015, and then the Islamic State carried out the audacious November 2015 Paris attacks, the March 2016 Brussels bombings, the June 2016 truck-ramming incident in Nice, and three horrific terror attacks took place in the United Kingdom within a span of less than three months in 2017, and after that the Islamic State carried out the Barcelona attack in August 2017, and then another truck-ramming atrocity occurred in Lower Manhattan in October 2017 that was also claimed by the Islamic State.
Keeping this background of the quagmire created by the Obama administration in Syria and Iraq in mind, it becomes amply clear that the Obama administration desperately needed Iran’s cooperation in Syria and Iraq to salvage its failed policy of training and arming jihadists to topple the government in Syria that backfired and gave birth to the Islamic State that carried out some of the most audacious terror attacks in Europe from 2015 to 2017.
Thus, Washington signed JCPOA in July 2015 that gave some concessions to Iran, and in return, the then hardliner Prime Minister of Iraq Nouri al-Maliki was forced out of power in September 2014 with Iran’s tacit approval and the moderate Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi was appointed in his stead who gave permission to the US Air Force and ground troops to assist the Iraqi Armed Forces and allied militias to beat back the Islamic State from Mosul and Anbar.
The Trump administration, however, is not hampered by the legacy of Obama administration and since the objective of defeating the Islamic State has already been comprehensively achieved, therefore Washington felt safe to annul the Iran nuclear deal in May and the crippling “third-party sanctions” have once again been put in place on Iran at Benjamin Netanyahu’s behest.
Sources and links:  Manafort held secret talks with Assange in Ecuadorian embassy:
About the author: Nauman Sadiq is an Islamabad-based attorney, columnist and geopolitical analyst focused on the politics of Af-Pak and Middle East regions, neocolonialism and petro-imperialism.