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Like that of Russia, Iran’s influence continues to grow throughout the Middle East. Thirteen years ago, King Abdullah of Jordan warned of a Shia Crescent that would emerge in the region; Western analysts pooh-poohed his concerns. Iran has proved Abdullah’s prescience. Not only has it joined with Russia in propping up the Assad regime, and maintained its strong support for Hezbollah in Lebanon, it has also become the major actor in Iraq, despite America’s huge outlays in blood and treasure to stabilise the country after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Indeed, it was the Shia militias, nominally under the command of Baghdad but in fact linked to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, which played a major role in the Kurdish loss of Kirkuk. The fall of the historic Kurdish capital has in turn resulted in the resignation of President Massoud Barzani, who had maintained an uneasy relationship with Tehran. The Iranians preferred to support the PUK party, the longstanding rival to Barzani’s DPK. Meanwhile, the Trump Administration sat on its hands as Kirkuk fell, once again betraying the Kurds, who have been their staunch allies in the war against ISIS both in Syria and Iraq, and demonstrating to all America’s unreliability as a partner when it is most needed.

Iran’s subversion of Middle Eastern regimes stretches from the Gulf to the Mediterranean. Tehran continues to support the Houthi rebels in Yemen, thereby confounding the efforts of both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to restore the government of Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. It has not lessened its efforts to subvert the Sunni al-Khalifa regime in Bahrain. Finally, it has announced that it will once again fund Hamas, which continues to seek Israel’s destruction.

Russia’s re-emergence in the Middle East and Iran’s growing influence there is paralleled by China’s ongoing assertiveness not only in the Western Pacific but more generally on the international economic stage. China has for some time been creating and militarising artificial islands in the South China Sea despite protests emanating from Washington and Europe. It has no intention of stopping, and essentially has chosen to ignore American objections to its activities. As  China’s leader Xi Jinping bluntly emphasised in his marathon speech to last month’s 19th Party Congress, “construction on islands and reefs in the South China Sea has seen steady progress.” In addition, China has opened its first-ever overseas base at the Djibouti port of Doraleh on the Gulf of Aden, giving it access to the Indian Ocean. Equally important is China’s continued thrust for a leadership position in the world economic order. It has capitalised upon the Obama Administration’s failure to dissuade its European and Canadian allies from joining the Chinese-led Asian Investment and Infrastructure Bank (AIIB), headquartered — naturally — in Beijing, which now has 56 member states, including longstanding enemies such as Israel and Iran, and India and Pakistan. The AIIB is providing finance for Xi Jingping’s signature economic project, namely, the linking of China to Europe via overland and maritime routes termed “One Belt One Road.” Again, Washington is not a player in this ambitious undertaking.

China is hardly the Trump Administration’s only or most urgent challenge. Washington has yet to formulate a successful strategy to prevent North Korea from becoming a true nuclear-armed state. Trump’s sabre-rattling has done little to dissuade Kim Jong-un. But it has disconcerted Japan and South Korea to the degree that either or both may choose to create and then rely on their own nuclear strategy rather than meekly hide under what they may perceive as a porous American nuclear umbrella.
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