Small Wars Journal

Donald Trump Eliminated a Bully. Simple.

Mon, 01/20/2020 - 9:31am

Donald Trump Eliminated a Bully. Simple.

Allyson Christy

It could be that Donald Trump parlays controversy surrounding his persona in a way that works to his advantage. Communicating a brand of patriotism to not only Make America Great Again but Keep America Great includes an undaunted brazenness beyond conventional decorum. Avowing strategy to strengthen national security and national interests, Trump has defied the political Establishment’s manner of doing things. His approach may seem dogmatic to some, but pledging to improve the economy, enforce immigration laws, balance trade gaps, tackle waste and corruption, includes confronting an entrenched federal bureaucracy. The president similarly asserts that defense against rogue nations means the global community must also render a fair share. His modus operandi is unique.

President Trump may also epitomize the kid who unabashedly challenges the menace of the schoolyard bully. Most kids? They tiptoe around bullies, nervously looking away. Most hope the bully will not take notice and simply move on without inflicting harm. Yet most kids understand these dynamics as irksome risks undermining the very sense of order, calm, and security.

Appeasement and resignation will usually outweigh confrontation, generally due to anxiety and fear that harassment will worsen. Dodging, stepping aside, or handing over one’s lunch to the schoolyard bully, for example, may be painful reminders of precaution. And yet apprehension rarely wanes, and bullies often decode such responses as weakness. It’s often a cycle that continues with a lingering sense of foreboding and dread. Ignoring or giving in may also embolden the antagonist, but most kids, much in the same way that leaders and policymakers oftentimes must cope with hostile regimes, will gauge precautionary approaches for calm. Does it work? Ask the Israelis.

Perhaps conflict with Iran serves an immediate comparison.

President Trump’s criticism of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was blatant even before the start of his presidency—without doubt. Under the agreement Iran is obligated to limitations on centrifuges, uranium stockpiles and enrichment, converting research facilities, and reconverting the Arak Reactor—some of the core issues subject to strict compliance. The plan’s conditions also authorize detection and deterrence criteria that involve monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Noncompliance is tied to re-imposing harsh sanctions or the possibility of military action.

The president has focused on contingencies and provisional shortcomings that have been followed with mockery, contempt, and undermining his judgement. The deal’s requirements in curtailing Iran’s ability in procuring nuclear weapons also include conditions that are set to follow the first 10 – 15 years. Broadly, the requirements support ancillary oversight tasked to reinforcing procurement constraints. In other words, there is an underlying assumption that continued monitoring will follow beyond the 10 and 15-year plan-of-action. Notwithstanding the fact that Iran has a prevailing record of concealing its nuclear activities, the plan relies heavily on detection, fulfillment of requirements, and compliance.

The president has also asserted concern over Iran’s ballistic missile programs—excluded under JCPOA procedures, and that the agreement lacks financial transparency. The Trump Administration has also alleged that financial provisions—$1.7 billion implicated to the Obama Administration can be traced to the regime’s collusion with its proxy Hezbollah, bolstering the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp’s (IRGC) Quds Force, and backing Houthis in Yemen. While Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen irrefutably serve as default bases for channeling arms, training, and support to rebels and non-state actors, Iran goes unpunished for manipulating regional strife. The regime is also purported to be the leading arms smuggler in the Middle East. Consider, for example, Hezbollah and its embedded political and armed chokehold on Lebanon, in addition to its objectives and capabilities in Syria. Again, ask the Israelis.

President Trump resolutely pulled the US out of the JCPOA in May 2018.

Following the targeted airstrike killing of IRGC General Soleimani, media pundits were quick to assert their versions of foreign policy ‘expertise’ along with lurid partisan outrage, censure from academia, and familiar criticism from the celebrity sector. Charges from warmongering, electioneering, sidetracking impeachment, to killing a terrorist conferred in some circles to greatness, have bottlenecked the forefront of geo-political discourse. Downgrading the Iranian threat and condemning the killing of a central enemy combatant, instead highlights ignorance and naiveté. Some may argue there are concerted agendas bent on averting political benefit for President Trump, whose chutzpa is often ascribed to mere folly. Whereby calling Iran’s bluff, forcing Kim Jong Un’s attention, confronting trade imbalances with China, putting pressure on Mexico to restrict the illegal immigration flow, building a wall, or putting EU and NATO partners on financial notice, the president’s style is clearly not about ‘tiptoeing’ through problematic gambits.

Taking out Soleimani is certainly the latest case-in-point. Disapproval quickly resounded across the Beltway and beyond—some even apologizing to the Iranian regime. Denouncing the Trump Administration for not conferring authorization with Congress, many in the Democrat camp and predictably ‘expert’ elements of Hollywood, have posited alarming war consequences. The Democrat-controlled House in a move to restrain Trump, very swiftly convened with passing a concurrent resolution to the War Powers Act, essentially a move meant to tighten authorization controls on the president. However, excluding presidential approval legally relinquishes these resolutions to having no force of law.

Conversely, other foreign relation experts have supported Trump with substantiated facts that Iran is an autocratic and oppressive theocracy and sponsor of terrorism. Engaging aggressive rhetoric against rivals and with the largest standing military in the Middle East, the regime is nonetheless diverged between conventional military operations to exploiting asymmetry using external militias and proxies. Soleimani headed the powerful IRGC and was held largely responsible for attacks against US military targets—603 troops killed in Iraq are attributed to Iran.

It was actually Ayatollah Khomeini who marshaled the IRGC during the 1979 Revolution—a transitional bulwark against counter-revolutionary threats, organized into a menacing force that bypassed the conventional military structure. The eight-year Iran-Iraq War catapulted the Corp into a potent mobilizer, buttressing not only the regime’s control over the domestic base, but evolving five specialized branches into aggressive reaches. IRGC’s authority has additionally transcended globally into employing its own ground, naval, air, paramilitary (Basij), and cyber commands Positioning regional proxies has also galvanized Iran’s cross-border aggressions alongside threats to export its brand of revolution, destroy Gulf states and Israel, with further incitement using anti-Americanism.

Meddling in regional conflicts, bolstering terrorist networks, and flagrant goals for developing a nuclear weapons program, have consolidated the elements of a paranoid dictatorship. The IRCG serves as a dangerous counterbalance of safeguarding the regime’s power. Overly simplified, bullies are not solely aggressors; they are cowards whose frustrations are controlled through some means of their paranoia. Iran has exacted a long history of paranoia and vengeance using state terrorism and bullying with an extended global reach. The aforementioned bully analogy may not be too far off the mark.

Finally, there is President Trump’s tactic of ubiquitous name-calling. Nicknames poked at media personalities, political opponents, global partners and competitors, and enemies of the state are well known. Is it just par for the course? Recall the dotard and Little Rocket Man exchanges with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. Lest anyone forget that Trump is the first sitting president to step foot into North Korea, doing so garnered attention from ranks within The Establishment, the global community, and Chairman Kim.

No doubt a paramount issue since the 2016 election shocker—Donald Trump was not a politician when he moved into the White House. The president conducts affairs with his own aptitude and does not characterize the quintessential head of the most powerful nation. What does it mean? The current POTUS appears to confidently walk to the beat of his own drum, boastfully, and far beyond the traditional decorum of Washington’s Who’s Who. After three years in the White House, Trump is still essentially an outsider—likely the basis of contentiousness held by the anti-Trump cliques. And yet in all likelihood, these factors represent an indication of the president’s strong support base.


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About the Author(s)

Allyson Christy holds an MA in Intelligence and Terrorism Studies from American Military University, in addition to an Executive Certificate in Counter-Terrorism from the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC), Herzliya, Israel. Follow @allysonchristy



Fri, 09/24/2021 - 7:37am

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Maybe one day we will vacate someone elses's backyard and worry about our own? Same thing the British, French did when they intervened during their imperial period which was also about LOCs and oil. . This just another period of American intervention in Iranian politics using force. Coups, taking exiled dictators, etc.....

Very mixed emotions here. On the one hand, I believe that there was a media over-reaction to the killing of Soleimani; on the other hand, I don't know what purpose it served.


If the objective is to have mutually-beneficial relations between two countries, hostilities are detrimental. I cannot think of a post-World War II peace treaty or peace process (i.e. involving insurgent/terrorist groups), that has not enabled bullies to go free. 


From a grand strategic perch, I imagine that the US goals with Iran are as follows:


1) To have a strong Iranian state that is not weak or failed to the extent that it can be overrun by or harbor terrorist groups (the best scenario would be a strong, federative, and liberal democratic Iran)


2) To have an Iranian state that is friendly to the West, or at least neutral toward Israel and the US


I don't see how Soleimani's death brings the US any closer to these goals. Note that US tit-for-tat did not work against Libyan terrorism in 1985-1989, or Iranian terrorism in 1983-1990.