Editorial
Trump 2020: This Isn't Iowa, It's Tehran
Por Milton Merlo
The conflict in the Middle East recasts Republican campaign plans and changes the conversation. Challenges for López Obrador and Ebrard.

In mid-October 2019, Donald Trump paid a visit to Dallas. He played the leading role in one of his typical propaganda performances at the American Airlines Center and later dined at Highland Park with Roy Bailey and Ray Washburne, two of his treasured donors from Texas who in 2016 turned Dallas into the city that donated the most to the presidential campaign that made Trump a winner.

That evening, in front of the Republican party's brightest stars in Texas, such as John Cornyn, Trump said he would be keeping an eye on the Democratic caucus in Iowa, set for February 3 - a key date for the Democratic primary. Trump was optimistic that ideas would surface showing that the campaign is not against Democrats per se, but against Communism. According to Kimberley Strassel, a journalist at The Wall Street Journal, Trump started creating this narrative last summer.

Mounting warlike tension in the Middle East threatens to derail this narrative. What would have been a campaign anchoring domestic politics to a "Republican-for-the-system Democrats-anti-establishment" dynamic will now revolve around an external conflict that exposes Trump to unfamiliar territory - having to explain why he is going back on one of his campaign promises. The magnate has become weary of repeating that he will not spend taxpayer money on war. Sending 3500 troops to the hottest conflict region at the moment seems like an inescapable contradiction.

The situation is increasingly uncomfortable for Trump because his justification for executing Qasem Soleimani was that an imminent threat to US security was on the horizon, and that this general was the mastermind behind it. Over the weekend, The New York Times and The Washington Post published articles citing anonymous sources at the Pentagon and the CIA that questioned this urgency. The White House can't go into more detail because to do so would mean newfound conflict with generals.

Soleimani's death - be it advantageous or mistaken lingers as a question to be answered by providence. He was the mastermind behind Middle Eastern geopolitics, a focal point between military and religious groups who govern Iran, and a staunch enemy of the now extinct Islamic State. His life was painted in shades of gray and from there comes the upheaval surrounding his disappearance.

On the diplomatic circuit in Washington, the question on everyone's lips is, at what point will the situation in Iran end up boosting the odds for center democrats like Joe Biden or anti-establishment democrats such as senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. The answer outlined by the Mexican delegation is that it will all depend on whether the conflict subsides in the following weeks - something that seems unlikely, even impossible at the moment.

The argument forming surrounding Martha Bárcena is that Mike Pompeo is going to reach out to the Kremlin so that Vladimir Putin, Tehran's ally, can set the stage for a negotiation in which Iran would scale down its expansionist policy with regard to its nuclear arsenal in exchange for the US removing sanctions on Iran's economy - an economy that has been seriously affected by the battery of measures designed by Steve Mnuchin. This view errs on an excess of good faith.

If tensions increase and lead to a direct attack on the US, Trump will seek reelection in a country at war. Medicare, migration, impeachment, full employment, Wall Street and America First will fade into the background. Trump's campaign could be similar to George W. Bush's in 2004 when he beat John Kerry with his speech to "defend the nation," or like John McCain's in 2008, who lost to Barack Obama who promised to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and Iran.

For Mexico and Andrés Manuel López Obrador's administration, it would be a highly complex challenge because Pompeo has achieved everything that Marcelo Ebrard has lost in terms of migration, trade, security, and even diplomacy, as shown with the discrete departure of Evo Morales from Mexico City. The Iranian conflict now takes shape as a high-density cutoff point.


Translation: Jesse Tomlinson. 

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