UPDATE: Israel launched yet another attack on purported Iranian military positions inside Syria. At least nine people on the ground were killed. The attack came barely an hour after Pres. Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal.
Today, Donald Trump made the momentous decision not just to withdraw, but to vehemently denounce America’s greatest foreign policy achievement in the past decade. We are leaving the Iran nuclear deal. In doing so, we not only reveal our hatred of Iran, but our disdain for our own allies, with whom the previous administration negotiated this deal. This is a new low in U.S. foreign policy. It marks the full triumph of America’s most isolationist, Islamophobic and reactionary forces in determining our relations with the world.
The last time Trump determined we would remain in the JCPOA, the president was restrained by pragmatists like Rex Tillerson, H.R. McMaster and Jim Mattis. Today, two of them are gone, replaced by a lunatic former Congressman, Mike Pompeo, and a militant adherent of bizarre conspiracy theories, John Bolton. They hold the keys to the Trump kingdom. They promise to take our country to dark places we haven’t been before; or at least have not been in many decades.
Back to the period of the Cold War, when we had a single sworn enemy, Communism, and devoted all our resources to combating it. Back to a nuclear arms race in which we built ever greater weapons of mass destruction needed, or so we thought, to defend us; but which in fact destabilized the world and made it a far more dangerous place.
Today, we are closer than ever to massively destabilizing an already unstable region: the Middle East. Trump, in his speech, essentially declared war on Iran, without using those terms. He offered curses and insults to its government. He advocated for regime change, though again without using those explicit terms. Though it may be too early to tell for sure, the chances of a military attack on Iran by Israel and the U.S. just increased, perhaps exponentially.
Trump offered nothing in place of JCPOA. He claimed he was open to a new agreement, but offered no vision of how to achieve it; or what it would contain. He invited Iran to approach him when it had given up on JCPOA and was ready to talk about something different. But he added that if he were Iran, he wouldn’t do it. How’s that for cutting the legs out from under your own argument?
This approach is nonsensical since there still is a nuclear agreement, which the remaining five P5+1 members (now, I suppose, the P4+1) continue to adhere to. In fact, Federica Mogherini, the EU foreign minister delivered an impassioned rebuttal to Trump in which she reaffirmed its commitment to the deal. She appealed to Iran and its leaders to remain as well. What she did not do is say what specifically the European states were willing to do to stand behind the deal.
Trump, in fact, threatened European financial institutions and companies with punishment if they “advanced Iran’s nuclear ambitions.” One may assume that he defines any financial transactions with Iran as doing so. In that case, how will the EU respond to the U.S. levying such fines and sanctions against its businesses? Will it sit back and do nothing? Or will it respond robustly? Is it willing to announce sanctions of its own against our government? Will it punish us if we punish them?
The jury is out on this question. The EU generally is a pretty quiescent bunch unless an issue hits close to the European pocketbook. Is the relationship with Iran and the economic-political benefits it offers enough to offset the longstanding strong relations the Europeans have enjoyed with the U.S.? It’s an open and tough question to answer.
Let’s not forget that some of these same European banks are the very ones which finance the real estate empire of Donald Trump, Jared Kushner and others in their oligarch circles. They might want to consider they won’t always be running the show in the White House. There will come a time when they will return to their former businesses. And their former bankers may not be as keen on doing business with them if the government has punished them severely for doing business with Iran.
If the EU fails into live up to its end of the bargain and Iran perceives little ongoing benefit to the deal, it’s likely we will return to status quo ante: the situation before 2015. Iran would resume uranium enrichment, reopen shuttered nuclear facilities and proceed potentially toward producing nuclear weapons. That would leave us in a worse position than before JCPOA. We would find an Iran which had no faith in anyone in the west and a U.S.-Israel-Sunni alliance perhaps bent on a military attack or even regime change. If you find this far-fetched, go back and read John Bolton and Mike Pompeo’s statements on the issue. They are ardent believers in regime change. Their beliefs may’ve been theoretical until now. But they can now carry them out in practice.
That would be far worse than pre-2015, perhaps even catastrophic. Though Iran, Israel and the U.S. have already fought multiple wars in the region, this one would be like nothing they’d ever seen. Tens, if not hundreds of thousands could die. The outcome would guarantee neither side its objectives.
While Trump nattered endlessly about Iran’s alleged history of terrorism and intervention in affairs of neighboring states, he ignored our own record of attacks against sovereign states in the region like Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, etc. While he decries the possibility that Iran may get a nuclear weapon, he ignores the fact that both the U.S. and Israel are among the most powerful nuclear-armed states in the world. He ignores the U.S. role in supplying massive amounts of weapons to our allies which they use to slaughter their local enemies.
While the president railed against the alleged havoc Iran wrought, he ignored the havoc which his decision will do to the world economy. Oil prices are climbing above $70 per barrel, a level not seen since 1980. Such price spikes have enormous consequences for the world economy. The last time we had such a spike it was accompanied by economic turmoil throughout Asia. Such turmoil caused the fall of governments and deep unrest in many societies. Is the world willing to sacrifice its stability to satisfy the vanity and delusions of a severely unstable, erratic American president?
Among the many outright falsehoods Trump offered, one especially stood out: he trotted old the hoary old saw that Iran’s missiles are “targeting American cities.” This isn’t much different than the old Domino Effect, which Cold Warriors trotted out when they wanted to gin up anti-Communist hysteria.
First, while Iran has tested missiles which conceivably at some point in the future could carry a nuclear warhead, it has not pursued any new research on building the nuclear warhead which the missile might carry. That means that the missiles are nothing more than conventional weapons. Further, there is absolutely no proof Iran has ever targeted anyone’s cities with these missiles, let alone ours. While on the contrary, our Saudi allies routinely target their own missiles at Yemeni towns and cities and have killed 10,000 civilians there. And Israeli missiles routinely target Syrian sites.
Pres. Rouhani’s response to Trump was sharp and pointed. It offered little of the reassurance in Mogherini’s speech. He was angry. He blamed the U.S and said we have never honored any agreement with Iran. It seemed from his tone that he had given up on the U.S. ever again being a trusted interlocutor. While his anger may be understandable, Iranians should remember that Trump’s presidency is one of the most troubled in modern times. He is beset by scandal and looming prosecution. He faces a midterm election which could hand both Houses of Congress to the Democrats. In this event, not only will the majority Party stymie many of the president’s initiatives, it may proceed with impeachment proceedings against him depending on the results of the special counsel investigation.
In other words, Trump may be a temporary aberration. It would be premature to make global pronouncements about future relations with America based on a single political leader whose rule may be short-lived. I would urge Iran’s leaders not to make hasty decisions and to maintain patience. In fact, there is a likelihood that the Republicans will lose both Houses of Congress in 2018. That means that the Democrats will have an increased ability to frustrate Trump’s agenda. If the special counsel prepares an especially damning report on Trump’s misdeeds, the Democrats may introduce impeachment proceedings. Even if they don’t, it’s likely he will be severely impaired after 2018. He will be worse than the typical lame duck president. He will be a lame duck for whom both parties may wish to restrict his ability to function in his role.
While no one can predict who the next president will be, chances are it will be a Democrat at least as committed to the JCPOA as Obama was. If it’s Bernie Sanders or a similar progressive figure, it may be a president prepared to normalize relations with Iran and remove the sanctions regime entirely in return for Iranian guarantees regarding its role in the region. Why act precipitously, return to the path toward nuclearization and risk provoking even the Europeans who are sympathetic to Iran’s current situation?
On a related subject, the Guardian reports on a new element of Black Cube’s spying on behalf of the Trump administration. Israeli intelligence, apparently along with Black Cube itself, often engages in black bag jobs. In fact, the Mossad even did such break-ins here in the U.S. in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Apparently, a U.S.-based NGO working on behalf of the JCPOA agreement had its offices burgled:
In November 2017, the Washington offices of another prominent pro-JCPOA advocacy group were burgled. According to officials from the organisation, who did not want it to be named, it was a sophisticated break-in in which the whole building’s closed-circuit TV and alarms were disabled. The thieves went to offices at the back on the organisation’s suite and took only two computers used by senior officials, ignoring many other expensive electronics including a new computer, still in its box, which was lying close to the entrance.
“If these are operations that are sanctioned by someone in the White House to dig up possible dirt on the president’s enemies, this is Nixonian,” Kimball said.
As a friend wrote to me on Facebook: “the plumbers are back.” This time, they speak Hebrew! Remember the Watergate break-in started as a minor news story on the inside pages of the Washington Post. Stay tuned. This could get interesting.