THE Middle East has been the graveyard of empires and emperors since long before Alexander the Great, over ambitious and over extended, took sick and died in Babylon, in what is now modern day Iraq, in 323BC.

The region is a confluence of history and geography – a crossroads where world powers meet, clash, and implode. It was in Afghanistan that the USSR paved the path to its eventual collapse. It was the Suez Crisis of 1956 which finally proved that Britain was no longer an empire.

In fact, there’s many shades of Suez around the present stand-off between America and Iran in the wake of the assassination of General Qasem Soleimani. Suez saw Britain, together with France and Israel, invade Egypt after the country’s ruler General Abdel Nasser nationalised the strategically vital Suez Canal, which was under western control.

Antony Eden’s government wanted to put uppity Arabs in their place – and Britain still had aspirations that it could swagger the globe telling other nations how to behave. Suez proved such beliefs to be woefully misplaced. Britain was exhausted and weak after the Second World War, but still high on the ether of empire. Our main ally America had no desire to see the Middle East drift towards the Soviets in the face of British aggression in Egypt, and so America brought Britain to heel. When Suez ended, the British empire ended. At Suez, Britain flexed its muscles but was shown to be weak.

READ MORE: Donald Trump steps back from further military confrontation with Iran 

Is the same happening now to America amid the Soleimani crisis? The US president acted with terrifying belligerence when he ordered the killing of Soleimani. In an act that could only be interpreted as war, a drone strike killed one of the Iranian regime’s most powerful leaders on the soil of a third party country - Iraq. Iran vowed vengeance. Trump replied with promises of war crimes via attacks on cultural sites.

Trump operates by a policy of ‘confuse and move’. He makes a shocking statement or behaves in a shocking way, draws the world’s attention to himself, and then moves on to whatever is next on his agenda - a further shocking act or statement eclipsing what went before; the news agenda moving too fast for substantive analysis. But some behaviour is too shocking to be left undealt with - and some regions of the world have not been groomed to accept whatever the president does.

In the aftermath of Soleimani’s assassination, Iraq voted to expel US forces. American power in the region - already weakened after two decades of Middle Eastern wars - immediately began to drain. Iranian strength grew, hardening the Shia crescent - stretching through Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Iran and Yemen. American assassination had handed the moral high ground to Iran’s brutal theocracy. Soleimani was a man soaked in blood - but Trump made him a martyr. Even by Trump standards, it was a military and foreign policy disaster.

Then on Tuesday night, Iran did as promised and replied with violence, launching rocket attacks against US bases in Iraq. The assault was relatively restrained. Trump’s response came via Twitter, and the President’s relief was palpable. “All is well,” he wrote. “So far, so good!”

Not long before, Trump was hinting he would bomb mosques if Iran responded to the assassination, now he was audibly sighing in relief that he didn’t have a mountain of dead GIs on his hands. Clearly, the president desperately wants to de-escalate the situation - but does Tehran?

Trump is in a trap of his own making. He repeatedly promised his base that he wouldn’t drag America into more wars - so in the face of Iranian outrage he’s had to row back, whether it’s humiliating or not. Trump supporters may be jingoistic flag-wavers but they don’t want their children coming home in body-bags or flag-draped coffins.

Now Trump has to let the ayatollahs set the course of US policy. If Iran cools down, then America will just have lost significant power in the Middle East. But if Iran does not back down, and launches more attacks, Trump will find himself sucked into a conflict against Iran and its proxies. Trump’s base doesn’t want that. Trump heeds his base.

READ MORE: Iran launches missiles at US bases in Iraq 

It’s an American election year - many believe the Soleimani attack was a convenient ‘confuse and move’ tactic to put the issue of impeachment on the back-burner, to focus American minds on wicked foreign enemies. Instead, a president who promised no more wars, looks on the brink of starting one.

Even Trump knows that wars aren’t won anymore. Saddam Hussein may have been toppled and executed, but did the Iraq War really have a victor? Was there a winner in Afghanistan? What strange kind of post-modern conflict is going on now in Ukraine?

Trump’s actions also just add to Russia’s growing power in the region as well. The Kremlin and its allies in Iran and Syria are now feeling strong. America and its allies Saudia Arabia and Israel are on the back-foot. Of course, a frightened Israel, with its nuclear bombs, is good for no-one, and the worst scenario for the Middle East and the world is regional tensions in the wake of the Soleimani assassination triggering more conflict between Israel and Iran. And we still have not seen a response, now promised, from Iraqi militias for the death of their leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in the same strike which killed Soleimani.

The Soleimani killing is widening the gulf between America and its old allies. Before Trump, the EU, China, France, Russia, Britain, America and Germany pulled off the Iran Nuclear Deal - a crucial piece of diplomacy aiding world security. In office, Trump just trashed the deal.

It has now fallen to the EU to hold what remains of the deal together. Yesterday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that the EU would “spare no effort” to save the deal. Ahead of a meeting with Boris Johnson, as Brexit looms, she also pointedly said that the UK and EU should “strengthen and defend” their joint security interests.

In the era of Trump and the diminution of the American empire, Britain will find no comfort across the Atlantic. As we prepare to leave Europe, we will find that our best friends and closest allies lie much closer to home.

Neil Mackay is Scotland’s Columnist of the Year