Trump may be doing the right thing siding by Saudi instead of Iran

Published: May 23, 2017

US President Donald Trump (L) and Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud. PHOTO:AFP

Political pundits around the world are trying to analyse the impact of President Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia and his speech to the leaders of some 50 Muslim countries in Riyadh.

Some are saying that it is full of contradictions as compared to his pre-election rhetoric against Muslims. Others say that his clear tilt towards Sunni’s and his siding with the Saudis on their stand vis à vis Iran is illogical and counter-productive to the USA’s fight against ISIS. On one hand, the fountainhead of the theological underpinnings of ISIS is the Saudi Arabian sponsored Wahabi/Takfiri ideology and its main support comes from prominent Sunni countries like Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, while on the other hand, people who are most active in fighting it are the Iranians and the Shias. Not because they love the US and the west, but because they figure prominently on the ISIS hit list as the main enemy.

All these are correct assertions when viewed in the context of logic, consistency and morality. However, they miss the point. They are using the wrong lens to analyse Trump’s actions and words.

The question to ask here perhaps is whether Trump’s words and proposed actions would be beneficial to the US in the near to medium-term in his efforts to revive the US economy and to reduce the threat from ‘radical fundamentalist Islamic terrorists’; his words not mine. The answer to this is perhaps yes – in the near to medium- term.

In fact, Trump may have unintentionally – I say unintentionally since I do not believe he is capable of very convoluted and complicated thinking – hit on a very astute policy to do so.

First let us look at the simpler economic question.

Clearly large arms sales to Middle Eastern countries and others has been the backbone of many a western power’s economy. The Saudi’s probably view the $350 billion in arms and other deals as protection money given to the US against Iran and other perceived threats over the next 10 years. Do we not remember the $35 plus billion paid out by Saudis after the Iraq war?

An injection of this large amount into the US economy would surely be beneficial in the near term – and nobody is looking for its longer term effects and other questions of morality.

Now let us turn to the question of the threat to the west from ISIS and other ‘radical fundamentalist Islamic terrorists’.

Let us start by analysing who these people are. ISIS was born after the US invaded Iraq and threw out Saddam Hussein, and in its aftermath killed Musab Zarqawi, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq.

By doing so, the US inadvertently inserted itself on the side of the Shias in the 1400-year-old problem between the Shias and Sunnis in Islam from the times of Muawiyah and Yazid on the one hand, and Imam Ali and Imam Hussain on the other – this was the view of Zarqawi and most of the Sunni tribes in Iraq.

As the Shia led and US supported government in Iraq gained strength, the Sunnis who had lost their pre-war predominant role, got increasingly disaffected and supported a Zarqawi, and later ISIS led insurgency in Iraq. Major Sunni countries such as Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, while not sad at losing Saddam, were also not happy with the rise of a Shia led Iraqi government and with Iran gaining a foothold in Iraq.

This was followed by continued support of the Iraqi government by the US in crushing the insurgency and we found Iran and the US on one side fighting the insurgents. Strange bedfellows indeed!

Remember that candidate Trump had in fact noted this alliance and said that we should let the Iranians, the Hezbollah and Syria take care of ISIS instead of getting involved ourselves.

The conclusion of the Iran nuclear deal by President Barack Obama and the 5P+1 western alliance done in parallel to these developments put the US in the eyes of the Sunni powers squarely on the side of Iran. This was all the evidence that the ‘radical fundamentalist Islamic terrorists’ and their supporters needed to declare war on the US and the west.

Therefore, it is clear that the only way to undo this would be to demolish this ‘perceived’ defence architecture in favour of one in which the US was clearly on the side of the Sunnis and against Iran. This is exactly what President Trump has done.

Instead of trying to convince the major Sunni countries that supporting radical fundamentalist Islamic terrorists is not good for anyone, he has clearly singled out Iran and not the ‘radical fundamentalist Islamic terrorists’ as the major threat in the region and assured them that they need not fear any US invasion against them. By doing so, he hopes to have removed/reduced the hatred of ISIS against the west and hopes to replace them as the main ally in the US’s fight to bring down the ‘Shia’ Bashar al Assad regime supported by Iran and Russia.

The new defence architecture is now in place.

It is back to the Ayatollah Khomeini times, when Iran was the main enemy and the Saudis and the Gulf countries – Turkey, Jordan and Egypt – were viewed as moderate countries and all is good and hunky dory in the Middle East.

So, I think what President Trump is doing is very logical and may actually work. As a matter of fact, this has a greater chance of working than the time when this construct was first used in the Khomeini era, since the government in Iran is no longer the revolutionary Islamic regime. But the Iranians have clearly shown their preference for a moderate regime which is looking for more, and not less, relations with the west.

Furthermore, the view on the Iranian street no longer supports the Palestinian struggle as it did earlier, since the Iranians have seen that despite their support to them, the Palestinians sided with the Saudis when it came to taking sides. Their support for Hezbollah and Syria is also not popular amongst the young Iranians, who form the backbone of the support for the moderate regime. They would like to project their image more along the lines of Iranian culture rather than as a base of Shia Islam.

This change could also be good for the region. Israel would feel less of a reason to view the Iranians as their prime enemy. However, this is a variable that needs to be monitored closely since Israeli behaviour, unlike that of the US, is not based on short-term but very long-term thinking.

However, to gain the benefits of this environment, the US should make sure that it does not replace its rhetoric with actual action when it comes to its policies vis à vis Iran – i.e. talk tough, but do not follow up. Let the nuclear deal stay in place. If the US actually acts against Iran it will unify the Iranian moderates and radicals and create more danger and trouble in the region.

There will be some casualties as this new architecture is put in place, but this is only collateral damage.

The people of Yemen will pay a bloody price as the Sunni military alliance under the leadership of Pakistan’s Raheel Sharif moves against them.

Hezbollah will not be affected very much since they are basically a defensive outfit against Israel and they have survived worse situations. In 2005, it was their blood, not Iranian blood, that thwarted the Israeli offensive in Lebanon. The Palestinians will do what they have done from time immemorial – make wrong decisions and pay the price for this. Syria will continue to be under pressure – perhaps more so now then earlier – but this may not be all that bad since Assad is no saint.

Dr Ali Hashim

Dr Ali Hashim

Dr Ali Hashim retired recently from the World Bank. He has extensive experience in Public Sector Management and has a PhD from the Imperial college of Science and Tech.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • SHAR

    Dear Dr Hashim,

    Of course, he is doing the right thing. If doing the right thing means tacitly supporting terrorism and publicly fighting it. He is only intensifying our modern age struggle for the ideological control of Islam, not to mention to support the kings in the region who keep us in check.
    Trump is supporting oppressive regimes he likes to fight other oppressive regimes like Assad’s that the West hates. Its an oxymoron. Muslims are the ultimate losers in the end of all these shenanigans.


  • Tyler Peterson

    Trump also unintentionally became a billionaire and president of the us. I’d like to become an unintentional millionaire.Recommend

  • PatelPara

    wow. is this a sarcastic article?Recommend

  • Parvez

    Was it necessary or even wise for the U.S to so openly take sides ?Recommend

  • Rohan

    Lol Saudi Arabia only has oil it has no educated population ,nor science and techinolgy advancement ,no democracy and sponsors terror as against USA which believes in secularism and democracy.
    Iran has a fairly educated and liberal population and sponsors very less terror as compared to Saudi ,a space program and a potential to have democratic values.
    Frankly I don’t know what USA does with terror sponsoring allies like Saudi,turkey and Pakistan , Iran has better potential than these 3 countries combined to be an ally of USA Recommend

  • Saleem Kapoorwala

    Dr Ali Hashim seems to be living in La La land paid by Petro dollarsRecommend

  • Blue eyes

    Good effort by a Shia writer to cover up the killing of 500,000 civilians in Syrian by a minority Shia dictator backed by Iran & its mercenaries like hhizbolla. There was no problem until Khomini took over Iran & decided to promote his shiaism .When that failed the ayatollas took to intervention via the shia minorities in Yemen, S Arabia & Pakistan. Now that the US & Russia have decided to cool off & the iranians & its mercenaries will have to leave, they have gone nuts.The writer does not mention the death of 500,000 civilians & 4 million refugees at the hands of Iran & hizbollas. Even the presence of a retired Pakistan general makes them miss their sleep.The Army Chief has given the warning & their agents in the country will not save them from the retaliation. If Iran can declare Sunnis a minority , its time for Pakistan to do so too.Recommend

  • Clay Rains

    This statement by the author says a lot: “All these are correct assertions when viewed in the context of logic, consistency and morality. However, they miss the point. They are using the wrong lens to analyse Trump’s actions and words.”Recommend

  • Abdullah

    Dr. Ali Hashim, who has given you the right to say wahabi = takfiri?Recommend

  • Kashif

    Well, that is the truth.and I think one should be proud of his/her faith. Saudis practice takiri/salafi faith and the name wahabi comes from Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab who was a takfiri/salafi.Recommend

  • Ben Youssef

    Anyone who espouse or tolerate the cold blood murder of innocent kids like in Manchester is a takfiri in my book. I am not a Shia or Sunni, i am a Muslim, PERIODRecommend

  • Qayoom Ul Hassan Shah

    Trump has played Sunni-Shia card,that west and even many middle eastern countries have been playing to stay relevant and reap benefits…Unfortunately,those Sunni countries,which are outside middle east (Like Pakistan etc) and even Palestine have been caught in this rift between,west,and middle eastern Sunnis and Shia….As of today,muslim leaders,particularly from middle east have forgotten Palestine, and negative attitude of Saudi Arabia,in this regard, during Trumph meet was pathetic. Atleast they could have asked for a bargain in return for $400 billion…But Saudis and their arab allies seem to be caught in Sunni Shia rift and control of middle east for the sake of USA…Same is the case of Iran,which has not been able to change her image from a Shia power to Muslim power…For a change they tried by allying themselves with Hamas and Muslim brotherhood ,but not seriously enough.Other Muslims who are neither Arab nor Persian,don’t even count at all.The cause of Islam is no more important in middle east,but what matter now is cause based upon nationality and sectarian lines .But Palestanians are at loss even here.Even though they are Arab,but arab countries are least bothered about them.So the situation is not going to change much in near future.
    For Saudis and other monarchies in middle east,they would always need support of USA,not for Sunni cause but to save their monarchies…Their fight is for their monarchies first,then Arab pride and later on Islam(Sunni Islam)…This is the reason for Palestine being thrown into cold storage…And this is not going to change,unless and until,monarchies are changed into Islamic republican system…For Iran,it is all about her interests first and then Islam(Shia islam)….But Iran doesnt have to carry the burden of Monarchy.So if Iran wishes it can change things for good and play a broader role in muslim world…But for that to happent,Iran would have to come out of Shia shell and think broadly about Islam and muslims as whole..Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    The House of Saud has aged but want to persist in using its wealth to call the shots in the muslim majority world whose leaders are ready to follow its regressive political course. It gave the world a persona of Osama who became the nightmare for many and benefitted only few and their new venture with the support of Pakistani general will cause more displacement of muslm folks whereas Iran has no other choice but to progress bcause of their highly cultured and intellectual population. The trumpers with their Imperator have a very limited period to act before they all land nto obscurity.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Abdullah Bawazir

    Does following Prophet’s Sunnah according to the understanding of Sahaba’s is takfiri ideology?Recommend

  • Abdullah Bawazir

    Dr. Ali Hashim should read the constitution of Iran.Recommend

  • qamar kazmi

    You forgot to mention out of them 500,000 killed in Syria as you claim The UN has said most of them were Syrian security forces killed by sunni terrorists.The Taliban started killing people in Pakistan so what you are saying is the Pakistani state and army were wrong to fight the Taliban

    The houthis in yemen are 40% and if you add ex president abdullah saleh with his sunni allies who are in alliance makes them the majority.
    You forgot to mention Bahrain were shias are the majority but are ruled by sunni terrorists.
    The facts are terrorists have killed millions of civilians around the world including at least 74,000 thousand in Pakistan we will never let you forget that.

  • peter pan

    You hit it on the head bro! People seem to have lost their sense of humor!!Recommend

  • peter pan

    follow what you like but do not impose it on others!!Recommend

  • peter pan

    These characteristics are not DJT’s strong points any way!!Recommend

  • peter pan

    I am sunni!!!!!!!!!!Recommend

  • peter pan

    I wanted to give him the benefit of doubt!!!!Recommend

  • peter pan


  • Rex Minor

    dr Hashim is simply expressing his views knowing fully well that many will agree with his prognosis. It is a shame that the Saudi King is ushering the uneducated President of the USA and inviting 50 odd muslim majority countries leaders to listen to his rhetoric against the Islamic republic of Iran.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • raees

    … the context of logic, consistency and morality, USA and KSA are terror promoting states.Recommend

  • Patwari

    No, goofy. that’s his father’s money. The man with the Yellow Hair
    has declared banruptcy 4 times, over the years. Repeat 4 times.
    He does not declare his income taxes, so it’s all debatable if he is
    still a billionaire.Recommend