Donald Trump
Credit: The White House/Flickr

Texas tornadoes are potentially caused by the “flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil,” according to the Butterfly Effect theory. Determining the ultimate cause and effects in weather is a tough call, however, given how many random physical factors ultimately come into play. But it’s fascinating to think that a distant and peacefully fluttering butterfly has so much potential power.

Easier to determine is how one man’s wanton tongue wagging and temper tweeting can not only cause a political storm but has now unleashed the four horsemen of a modern regional apocalypse: Turkish President Recep Erdoğan, Syrian President Bashir al Assad, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, and the ever-present Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Donald J. Trump, in his “great and unmatched wisdom,” has shown that not only can he distract a domestic electorate but that the power of his presidency can create limitless distant chaos, death and destruction with the tap of a thumb and the flip of a finger. Now that’s power.

Trump’s causal tweet-to-terror relationship reanimated the biblical fearsome four horsemen who, in their initial iteration, represented Conquest, War, Famine and Death. This is no small feat. In one feckless action, the president of the United States has whipped up the apocalyptic forces that one hoped the world’s most powerful man would instead be able to tamp down.

The first horseman rode in, chuffed and bare-chested on his nag, a vision of strength and wearing the religious symbols of a loving God. But in the form of Putin, this rider drew behind him a fierce and unmerciful flock of jet-powered birds dropping bombs on the sick and infirm, raining explosive charges on targeted Syrian hospitals both to sow fear and remind the beleaguered recipients of his desire for conquest—that he alone can decide individuals’ fate.

Turkey’s Erdoğan galloped in as the second horseman, but always saw himself as the first to plow the field that borders his earthly realm. He, too, seeks conquest, but initiates this latest war against not only Kurds, but the rest of humanity. His steed leads both mechanized infantry and coordinated shelling. Irregular troops, mercenaries and retributive forces walk the plains to find families it can force to flee. Contemptible men seek the already suffering in order to show them the real meaning of torture. They reveal their true colors and cruelty when a bound and frightened prisoner must not only face a Geneva Convention-breaking level of humiliating indignity, but is ultimately put down like a dog in a ditch. For Armenians, this is a tragically familiar story.

Horseman Assad, the “Butcher of Damascus,” initially came to his people hidden, Trojan horse-like, in the form of a healer, an ophthalmologist who presumably once took the Hippocratic Oath to “First, do no harm.” Instead, he rode his father’s coattails and despotic style to defy the healing gods and apply his brutal hand to blind a nation to the distant freedoms it could once see. His marauders now ride roughshod with Russian ravagers over territory where a few short days ago American troops balanced a relative peace. Assad enforced a famine that starved his opponents and deprived them of medical supplies. He now has civilian enemies on the run while his starved dogs of war eat from the abandoned American tables. As a result, we all taste the bitterness of Trump’s dishonorable retreat.

Let us not forget the final of the four: Iran. America’s president effectively invited the Persian potentate to come to town, enlivening his proxies and apostles of death. Ayatollah Khamenei keeps his robes clean while he deploys merciless men who seek to extend his revolution from the Gulf to the Mediterranean. They never left Assad’s side and never lost sight of completing their Shia crescent. Iraq had already entered Iran’s sphere of influence; Assad was always Tehran’s partner in crime. A policy-indifferent Trump who, willy-nilly, dumps allies and revokes treaties has created another opening to an empire-oriented Iran with great ambitions, educated people, oil reserves aplenty and a willingness to flaunt its confederates’ firepower, whether with refinery-destroying drones or ship-sinking stealth. The Ayatollah is on a roll.

Lo and behold this prophesy: The four horsemen of the regional apocalypse are revealed to be upon us now. Neither the desire to rein them in by Trump’s handwringing congressional sycophants, nor the post-American retreat media spin, nor any post-tragedy justification from he who unleashed the beasts can lasso them back into the stable.

Trump catalyzed a war “7,000 miles away” in a “land that has nothing to do with us.” He let his tweet fly. The Butterfly Effect has whipped up the winds of war that are now sweeping across the Middle East in renewed violence. Let us pray that they do not grow and gust at biblical proportions.

Markos Kounalakis

Markos Kounalakis is a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is a former NBC Radio Moscow correspondent and the author of Freedom Isn’t Free: The Price of World Order (Anthem Press, 2022).