Understanding Trump’s “Game of Thrones” with Iran

Iranian Diplomacy | Kaveh L. Afrasiabi: Last week at the White House, the November poster of Trump’s Game of Throne “Sanctions Are Coming” re-surfaced on the day Trump made a huge gesture toward Iran by insisting Iran “can do what it wants in Syria,” with his national security advisor John Bolton, who had in September stated categorically that US will remain in Syria until Iranian forces depart, sitting jovially right behind him. Three days later, Bolton was in Israel assuring them that US was in no hurry to leave Syria and there is no timetable, contrary to all the previous hoopla about the imminent departure of US forces — prematurely declared a “victory” for Iran.

The reality TV star-turned-President has also used a similar Game of Thrones poster on Mexico wall, thus showing his penchant to rely on the popular TV show’s arsenal of knowledge to design his foreign policy. In turn, this calls for a close examination of Game of Thrones and the plethora of insights on tactics and strategy on war that may assist us understand Trump’s frame of reference better. The coincidence of a warrior Trump poster “sanctions are coming” and a policy statement reflecting a retreat from Iran containment may have been calculated to send two contradictory signals at the same time, the poster the symbolic yet effective one, the verbal the facade, the deception, as in Game of Throne’s ‘bait-and-switch’ deceptions that start off with a temporary peace shield which is not optimal yet necessary as a prelude to prepare the ground work for the next offensive with the enemy getting looted when it is extremely weak.

But, Trump is likely following a combination of the Game of Thrones insights on tactics and strategy, most notably the ones from the battle of bastards pitting Ramsay Bolton versus Stannis Baratheon. Like John Bolton, the National Security Advisor, this Bolton for all he is a terrible person is a pretty smart tactician and the freak coincidence of names is just the tip of the iceberg. Bolton’s ‘bait-and-switch’ on Syria has already yielded the resignation of arch rival James Mattis the defense secretary who was forced out by a mere Trump tweet on force withdrawal from Syria, and also sowed some discord in the Russia-Turkey-Iran axis of power in Syria, by triggering a premature jockeying over “who will fill the vacuum of US power” when, in fact, there does not appear to be any such impending vacuum. In his Israel trip, Bolton has raised the specter of more US military strikes in Syria by warning against Syria’s chemical weapons, i.e., a convenient excuse for more not less interventionism by a thoroughly Machiavelian administration that has at its disposal a vast and sophisticated intelligence machinery that conduct complex war games, sequencing actions and reactions, etc., one whose “grim-visaged war hath smoothed his wrinkled front” to paraphrase Shakespeare. After all, long before Game of Thrones was Shakespeare’s Richard III.