President Trump has had a mixed record of success with his policies in the Middle East and his stance on Iran brought U.S. to the brink of war.
Relations between the U.S. and Iran also continue to be strained, especially after the U.S. orchestrated an attack that killed top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in Jan. 2020 prompting Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei to pledged ‘severe revenge’. Phillip Smyth, a Shiite Islamist militarism expert and senior fellow at the Washington Institute, labeled the strike in Iran as the 'most major decapitation strike the U.S. has ever engaged in.' Many feared that this was the start of a war with Iran, which did not come to pass.
Iran retaliated by firing missiles at airbases housing U.S. forces in Iraq in Jan. 2020, causing no casualties. Trump's withdrawal of the United States from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action also known as the Iran nuclear deal which was hailed as a significant foreign policy achievement by his predecessor Barack Obama also catalyzed tensions between Washington and Tehran. "Mr. Trump’s move could embolden hard-line forces in Iran, raising the threat of Iranian retaliation against Israel or the United States, fueling an arms race in the Middle East and fanning sectarian conflicts from Syria to Yemen," The New York Times said. As recently as Sept. 2020, Trump vowed that any attack by Iran would be met with a response “1,000 times greater in magnitude” after reports surfaced that Iran planned to avenge the killing of Soleimani.
The U.S. has been pushing for a reimposition of international sanctions on Iran. In Aug. 2020, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington had formally notified the UN that it wants all sanctions on Iran restored, claiming significant Iranian violations of the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and six major powers that were endorsed by the UNSC. In Sept. 2020, the U.S. slapped new sanctions on Iran over its nuclear weapons program, claiming it is enforcing a UN arms embargo – and demanded that the European Union follows suit. In Oct. 2020, sanctions were imposed on 18 "major" Iranian banks.
The troubles with Iran also had a spillover impact in Iraq. Pro-Iran proxy forces in Iraq have become a bigger threat to U.S. forces. The Washington Post reported that in September alone, Shiite militias linked to Tehran have carried out more than two dozen attacks in the Iraqi capital or its vicinity, including strikes on the U.S. and coalition forces. The escalation is part of an extended response to Soleimani’s killing. The president announced in September that troop numbers in Iraq would be drastically reduced in a short period.
In Dec. 2018, Trump announced that 1,000 U.S. troops involved in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS) in northeast Syria would be withdrawn imminently. Foreign policy experts criticized the decision as a betrayal of loyal Kurdish allies who had fought for years alongside U.S. troops against the Islamic State. The BBC stated, 'US troops have begun withdrawing from positions in northern Syria, paving the way for a Turkish operation against Kurdish fighters in the border area. Until now, Kurdish-led forces have been a key U.S. ally in Syria, where they helped defeat the Islamic State group, but Turkey regards them as terrorists.' The same month, Trump announced that some American troops would stay on in Syria to protect oil fields.
After Trump announced the withdrawal of U.S. forces, multiple instances of intense fighting have been reported between the Turkish military and Kurdish-backed forces in Syria. In Oct. 2019, the Turkish president launched a massive military operation called Operation Peace Spring against Kurdish-led forces, saying it aimed to prevent creating a terror corridor across Turkey’s southern border and bring peace to the area. Another military offensive was launched by Turkey against Syria as recently as Feb. 2020 in which two Syrian warplanes were shot down, and thousands were killed before a ceasefire was struck on Mar. 5, 2020.
It was also under Trump's watch that in Apr. 2017, the United States dropped the “mother of all bombs” — the most powerful conventional bomb in the American arsenal — on an Islamic State cave complex in Afghanistan. The GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb (MOAB), known as "the mother of all bombs", is the largest non-nuclear bomb ever used by the U.S. in a conflict. The BBC reported that the Pentagon said it was dropped from a U.S. aircraft in Nangarhar province and that the news came hours after the Pentagon admitted an airstrike in Syria mistakenly killed 18 rebels.
A report published by USA Today citing data from US Air Force Central Command stated that ‘From Jan. 1 through October, U.S.-led forces have used 6,208 missiles and bombs in Afghanistan. That compares with 5,982 for the same period in 2018, which saw the most airstrikes of any year since the Taliban was toppled in 2001.’
On Jan. 27, 2020, military.com reported, ‘The US military conducted record-setting airstrikes in Afghanistan last year, surpassing the previous year's total and making 2019 the most kinetic year for airstrikes against extremist targets in the country in at least a decade. According to statistics recently published by Air Forces Central Command, fighter, attack and unmanned aircraft dropped 7,423 bombs in 2019.’
While Trump did sign mediate the landmark Abraham Accords between the Isreal, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain, which is the first peace deal since the Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty was signed on Oct. 26, 1994, there is no consensus on whether it will bring peace to the Middle East. Given that the development is recent, there is little documentation about the possible effects of the deal on the region.