Despite the effects of the global coronavirus pandemic, US President Donald Trump succeeded in distracting the world on one occasion and imposing his own news agenda when he ordered American sailors to destroy any Iranian vessel approaching their ships. His tweet to this effect appeared to be in response to such approaches in the Persian Gulf.
This is an election year in America, in which Trump might have expected to have a relatively comfortable time before the outbreak of Covid-19 and its effects on the US economy. The world has also witnessed oil prices falling to unprecedented levels, although those in the know about the hidden truths of the oil industry might not have been surprised.
Around 25 million Americans have lost their jobs due to the pandemic, and this number is expected to rise, such is the disruption to US and global economic activity. There are no signs that the pandemic is peaking any time soon.
The collapse of oil prices seems to have caused Trump a lot of embarrassment with the US oil companies. It was prompted by a Russia-Saudi Arabia disagreement about production, resulting in the market being flooded with oil at a time when the measures introduced to curb the coronavirus meant that demand plummeted.
Trump's election year is not going the way that he would have hoped. Public anger at his handling of the virus crisis is obvious, and even now he looks to be trying to protect the economy rather than people's lives. Pointing the finger of blame at others — China is the latest target — is an attempt to divert attention from his administration's inadequacies.
If he feels any embarrassment, it doesn't show; that's not his style. Instead, he is resorting to a tried and tested tactic to boost the economy: the go-to option of a war. In Trump's case, it may be a lifeline in his critical election year, and there are plenty of other warmongers in the world who would back him, especially if it is against Iran. Who knows, they may even pay America to do the fighting, boosting the economy "back home" as well as achieving strategic objectives.
In Trump's view, Iran is destabilising countries of the Middle East, and seeks to undermine the US presence in Iraq by its insistence that American forces should withdraw from its neighbour. Moreover, it supports the Houthis in Yemen, Lebanon's Hezbollah and the Shia militias in Syria.
Iraq is perhaps the most important arena where the expected confrontation with Iran may take place. This will not be a third world war, as some think, but rather a limited conflict, through which Trump will seek to score a victory, even a small one, and get what he wants. At the same time, it could be another nail in the coffin of the regime in Tehran whose existence is an issue, not only for regional states, but also for the people of Iran who have grown tired of it.
In the event of war breaking out, it is believed that the US has 122 Iranian targets in Iraq which will be bombed and destroyed. This could happen even if Iran is not directly involved; if, for example, the Tehran-backed Shia militias in Iraq launch an armed operation against American interests. Iran is also working behind the scenes to ensure that a condition for allowing anyone to succeed Adil Abdul-Mahdi as Prime Minister in Baghdad is the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.
The possibility of such a war or, to be precise, a calculated confrontation, will remain as a weapon in Trump's hand to be used if he finds nothing else to change the course of events. War with Iran or its proxies is the one thing that can turn his election year around and almost guarantee his victory in November.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.