[…] Trump’s instincts generally seem less well-informed but often shrewd, and his priories have nothing to do with the Middle East. Past US leaders have felt the same way, but they usually end up by being dragged into its crises one way or other, and how they perform then becomes the test of their real quality as a leader. The region has been the political graveyard for three of the last five US presidents: Jimmy Carter was destroyed by the consequences of the Iranian revolution; Ronald Reagan was gravely weakened by the Iran-Contra scandal; and George W Bush’s years in office will be remembered chiefly for the calamities brought on by his invasion of Iraq. Barack Obama was luckier and more sensible, but he wholly underestimated the rise of Isis until it captured Mosul in 2014.
The US no longer enjoys the superpower hegemony it had between the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the financial crisis of 2008. Its strength was further limited by failure to gain its ends in Iraq and Afghanistan and the return of Russia as a rival power, but it remains far-and-away the most powerful state in the world. It is a position full of pitfalls such as the prolonged effort by US allies like Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Israel to lure the US into wars in Syria and Iran that will serve their own interests.
Obama resisted the temptation to fight new wars, but if Hillary Clinton had been in charge her record suggests that she might well have done so. How would Donald Trump have responded? There is a bigger gap between his words and deeds than there are with most politicians. But words create their own momentum and his constant beating of the patriotic drum will make it difficult for him to exercise the degree of caution necessary to avoid ensnarement in the Middle East. Over-heated nationalism cannot be turned on and off like a tap. He may want to concentrate on radical change at home, but the vortex of crises in the Middle East will one day suck him in.