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Tillerson’s Exit, Bad News For Peace In Middle East – OpEd


US President Donald Trump’s abrupt decision to oust his recalcitrant secretary of state Rex Tillerson with the staunchly pro-Israel and Iranophobic CIA director Mike Pompeo spells trouble for peace in the Middle East and must be interpreted as a hugely negative development.

Citing his difference with Tillerson on the Iran nuclear accord, Trump now has a new man in charge of US diplomacy with a lamentable record in vilifying the nuclear deal and demonizing the Iranian government, much to the pleasure of Iran’s rivals, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

By all indications, Tillerson singularly contributed to the rationalization of US diplomacy under the Trump administration and was from the beginning ‘an odd man out’ competing with the US ambassador to UN, the national security adviser, and Trump’s novice son-in-law put in charge of the Middle East peace process and proving to be an invaluable inside asset for Israel and its expansionist policies.

Transpiring a few days after a Washington visit by the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Tillerson’s firing means Israel’s warmongering designs in Syria and elsewhere are now in full support by the US administration, which has moved the US embassy to Jerusalem despite Tillerson’s stated reservations. Tillerson also stood to the recent Saudi meddling in Lebanon and his state department pressured Turkey on the UN ceasefire resolution, without being seconded by the White House, which essentially means that Tillerson’s departure signifies a potential blow to the peace process in Syria as well.

With Trump due to make a new announcement on the fate of the Iran nuclear deal in mid-May, the road is now largely cleared for a US exit from the deal, with the only dissenting voice within the administration being that of Defense Secretary Mattis, who has stated on record that the accord is in US’s national interest. It now remains to be seen how Mattis can work with Pompeo who holds an opposite view on this matter.

Should the US exit from the deal in May, undoubtedly this will weaken US’s diplomatic hands with North Korea as US’s credibility will take a nose dive and a new level of mistrust of US will ensue in the global diplomatic community. Not only that, new transatlantic rifts with the Europeans will follow and the US will find itself rather isolated.

Therefore, it is far from given that the US will scuttle the Iran nuclear deal as threatened by Trump, although the chances of the deal’s survival has now diminished considerably. It is perfectly possible that Trump has already made up his mind after his latest meeting with Netanyahu and his decision to fire Tillerson was pre-emptive in nature, given the possibility that Tillerson might have tendered his resignation and thus embarrassed Trump.

At the moment, a great deal of facts are unknown to us and we can only conjecture that Tillerson’s departure is part of an ominous new turn toward militarism and interventionism in US’s foreign policy. The doomsday clock might as well turn closer to midnight.

Kaveh L. Afrasiabi

Kaveh L. Afrasiabi

Kaveh L. Afrasiabi, Ph.D. is an Iranian-American political scientist and author specializing in Iran’s foreign and nuclear affairs, and author of several books.

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