US and Iranian Hardliners Continue the Suffering

Ann Wright reports on a citizen peace delegation’s recent trip to Iran, which included a meeting with the country’s foreign minister.

By Ann Wright
Special to Consortium News

We knew that a CODEPINK: Women for Peace delegation to Iran would wind up in the crosshairs of the Trump administration.  While he was campaigning, Donald Trump made his animosity toward Iran very clear by referring to the Obama administration’s nuclear agreement with Iran as the “worst deal ever.”

Despite the International Atomic Energy Agency’s evidence that Tehran was complying with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, one of Trump’s first actions upon becoming president was pulling the U.S. out of the treaty and imposing brutal sanctions on the people of Iran.

These sanctions have resulted in the slashing of purchasing power of the national currency by two-thirds. We knew that U.S citizens going to Iran to talk with Iranians about the impact of the sanctions would not be popular with the Trump administration.

Despite the visas that Tehran issued to our delegation, we knew our  delegation would also be under Iranian scrutiny while we were there.  American journalists, IT professionals, retired UN officials and retired and former U.S. government officials have been imprisoned.

Despite such considerations, our group still takes these trips. We endure the suspicions of governments to travel as citizen diplomats to areas of the world where our government does not want us to see the effects of U.S. policies on the lives of people in targeted countries.

As citizen diplomats, we have been labeled as “naïve tools of repressive governments” when we visited Iran, North Korea, Gaza, Egypt, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen, countries where U.S. interference, invasion, occupation or support for other countries’ wars, have made life miserable and dangerous for their citizens.  We encounter ordinary citizens who are concerned about the future of their children, their health and education because of military conflict or sanctions touted as a humane substitute for military conflict. We return with their stories, determined to resolve whatever political disagreement is occurring between the U.S. and the particular country.

The Knives Were Out

The knives of journalists and pundits were out for Women Cross the DMZ in 2015 when we — 30 women from 15 countries, including two Nobel Peace Laureates — returned from North Korea after holding a peace conference with 250 North Korean women and peace marches with 5,000 women in Pyongyang and 2,000 women in Kaesong.

The anti-Semitism label was thrown at us when we visited Israeli-blockaded Gaza and witnessed the illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land in the West Bank and dared to speak and write about them.  We were called the tool of the Pakistani Taliban when we talked with families of civilians assassinated by U.S. drones in the border area of Pakistan-Afghanistan.

Our delegation’s meeting with the foreign minister of Iran has already provoked harsh words from U.S. and Israeli media of collaborating with the Iranian government and FBI warning us about being agents of a foreign government.

In the nine days we were in Iran, from Feb. 26 to March 6, we talked with Iranians in schools, bazaars and markets, on squares and in mosques.  Many people in Iran speak English. English is taught from elementary school.  Young students ran up to us to practice their English.  The Trump administration’s travel ban on Iranians means that students who have been accepted to U.S. universities cannot get student visas to study in the U.S. Families with members in the U.S. cannot visit them. Iranians are turning to Europe and Asia.  The U.S. travel ban on Iran and the six other countries may have been intended to isolate Iran, but instead America is isolating itself.

A surprising number of people, particularly outside of Tehran, the capital, spoke openly about their disagreements with their own government. 

‘We Like You, Not Your Government’

At a museum in Isfahan we talked with other visitors who were Iranian. Spotting small banners pinned to our backs that read “Peace with Iran” in English and Farsi, people came up to us, invariably beginning with, “We like Americans, but we don’t like your government.” Many of them added, “and we don’t like our government either.”  The reasons that we heard for disliking their own government included graft, corruption, those in power living the high life, too much money spent on other countries which should be used at home, mistakenly trusting the United States to lessen or end the sanctions after signing the nuclear agreement.

Iranians we met were open about the effect of the latest stringent U.S. sanctions on their daily life.  The U.S- sponsored closure of Iran’s access to the international financial system means that ordinary businesses have less access to funds to purchase goods.   Apps on mobile phones for paying bills or arranging for car-share rides no longer function. Marriages are postponed as families lack money for the obligatory dowries and wedding celebrations. Purchases of big-ticket items of everything from refrigerators to cars are delayed due to the hyper-inflation of the rial, Iranian currency.

From the foreign minister to the ordinary Iranians we met, all reminded us with great pride of the 2,500-year history of their country.  Many spoke of the pressures from neighboring countries and destructive wars waged by neighbors and by countries from afar: the United States, Britain and Russia.

Seven countries are direct neighbors: Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Armenia.  Seven more are within 100 miles: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Oman and Yemen. Three more are within 300 miles: Georgia, Russia and Uzbekistan.

By contrast, only Canada and Mexico directly border the U.S. and its possessions and only a few countries are within 100 miles: the Bahamas, Cuba and Russia across the Bering Sea, as Alaska geography expert Sarah Palin famously reminded us with her “I can see Russia from here” comment.

In the past 25 years, from the 1991 Gulf War onwards, the U.S. has been involved in military conflict in six of the countries surrounding Iran: Kuwait, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen. Hundreds of thousands have died from U.S. military wars in the region. Two million Iraqis and 3 million Syrians have fled U.S.-sponsored violence and are now refugees in other countries in the region.

From 1980 to 1988, the U.S. supported Iraq with intelligence and chemical weapons in its horrific eight-year war on Iran, which began one year after the Iranian revolution overthrew the U.S. backed government of the Shah of Iran.  The Shah had come to power as a result of the American-Anglo orchestrated overthrow of the elected president of Iran in 1953.

Massive Cemetery

On the way from Tehran to Isfahan, we were asked to visit the massive cemetery outside of Tehran with the graves of tens of thousands of Iranians killed during the Iraqi war on Iran. It is estimated that one million Iranians died defending their country from the Iraqi attacks and that between 250,000-500,000 Iraqis died. The road leading to the cemetery has flower stands along the route for visitors to arrive with flowers to place on the graves. Thousands of Iranians visit the cemetery each day.  We spoke with one older woman who said she comes to the cemetery each day as all of her sons are buried here.  The entire country including very young kids were mobilized to stop the Iraqi invasion of Iran.

The cemetery is the equivalent of Arlington National cemetery outside of Washington, D.C., where many international guests visit to see the history of the United States through the graves of those who were killed in many U.S. wars.

The  U.S. military bases surrounding Iran are a constant reminder of the U.S. military threat. U.S. combat aircraft and drones fly daily from U.S. air bases in the region.  Not shown on the map are the fleet of U.S. Navy and Coast Guard ships that since the 1970s have had a permanent presence in the waters off the coast of Iran in the Persian Gulf.

One incident weighs on the minds of Iranians, much as the events of 9/11 do on Americans. On July 3, 1988, the USS Vincennes, a U.S. guided-missile cruiser, used two radar-guided missiles to shoot down an Iranian civilian passenger aircraft, Iran Air flight 655, that had taken off from the coastal city of Bandar Abbas, Iran.  The flight was still climbing on its regularly scheduled flight to Dubai when it was blown to pieces.  Iran Air flight 655 was still in Iranian airspace, on its prescribed routine daily flight route on established air lanes, emitting by radio the standard commercial identifying data when the missiles struck. Two hundred and ninety passengers and crew, including 66 children, were killed.

Earlier in the day on July 3, 1988, the captain of the USS Vincennes, Will Rogers III, had sunk in Iranian waters, two Iranian gunboats and damaged a third. Captain David Carlson of the U.S. Navy frigate “Sides” that was also on patrol in the Persian Gulf, later told investigators that the destruction of the airliner by the missiles of the USS Vincennes “marked the horrifying climax to Rogers’ aggressiveness.” Incredibly, in 1990, Rogers was awarded the Legion of Merit decoration “for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding service as commanding officer … from April 1987 to May 1989.” The citation made no mention of the shoot-down of Iran Air 655.

‘Never Apologize’

As vice president, George H.W. Bush argued at the United Nations that the U.S. attack on Iranian Airbus flight 655 had been a wartime incident and that the crew had acted appropriately to the situation at the time. He famously and tragically said: “I’ll never apologize for the United States of America, ever. I don’t care what the facts are.” It was not until 1996 that the U.S. agreed to a $132 million out-of-court settlement in a case brought by Iran in 1989 against the U.S. in the International Court of Justice. The U.S. paid additional compensation for the 38 non-Iranian deaths.

While the vice president of the United States would not make an apology to the people of Iran, our delegation did.

Barbara Briggs-Letson, a member of our delegation, created a beautiful book expressing our heartfelt remorse. It contains several poems and the name of each person on the flight written in Farsi.  We showed the book to Foreign Minister Zarif during our meeting with him and he was very moved by our gesture.  A few days later, we gave the book to the Tehran Peace Museum where it will be on permanent display.

The effect of U.S. sanctions on Iran, particularly in the medical field, were brought home to us vividly by people who told us of family members who have died because they were unable to get proper treatment with the most efficient drugs due to sanctions.

Sanctions Block Medical Equipment

Dialysis patients who could be helped by state-of-the-art equipment from Europe or the U.S. are denied that equipment by the sanctions.  The financial sanctions block purchase of medicines and medical equipment.   Insurance companies in the U.S. and Europe are blocked from paying directly to hospitals medical bills of citizens who need emergency medical care.

While in Iran, a member of our own delegation had chest pains and was taken to hospital where he was diagnosed with heart artery blockage.  His family in the U.S., the medical doctor in Iran and a medical doctor on our delegation recommended that he not try to return to the U.S. without determining the extent of blockage and that he have an angioplasty procedure in Iran.  The angioplasty showed dangerous blockage of three arteries. Stents made in the United States were placed in his arteries during the angioplasty procedure to open up the arteries.  He would not have been able to travel safely back to the U.S. without the stents.

When the family and the U.S. Interests Section at the Swiss Embassy contacted the patient’s insurance carrier, Kaiser Permanente, they were told that due to the sanctions, the insurance company could not pay the Iranian hospital directly, but the patient could be reimbursed after his return to the United States.  The U.S. Embassy in Switzerland made a loan through the U.S. Interests section at the Swiss Embassy in Tehran to pay for the medical procedure, which the patient will repay.

Sanctions were a topic of discussion when we had the opportunity to meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.  In a 90-minute talk on our first morning in Tehran, Zarif reminded us that that Iran’s 80 million people have lived for the past 40 years under some level of U.S. sanctions.  U.S. sanctions on Iran began soon after the 1979 revolution and the student seizure of the U.S. Embassy and holding of 52 U.S. diplomats for 444 days.

Zarif told our delegation: “…the U.S. difficulty with Iran is not because of the region, not because of human rights, not because of weapons, not because of the nuclear issue – it’s just because we decided to be independent – that’s it – that’s our biggest crime.  Iranians are resilient people who will resist the arbitrary actions of the Trump administration in dumping the nuclear agreement and intimidating European partners from honoring the commitments of the agreement to loosening sanctions.”

Zarif said that Iran had worked with the United States in the days after 9/11 to provide information on the Taliban, al Qaeda and other groups in Afghanistan.  Iranian cooperation was “rewarded” three months later by the Bush administration, no doubt led by National Security Advisor John Bolton, with placement on Bush’s Axis of Evil list: Iran, Iraq and North Korea.

In an overview of military budgets and spending, he said Saudi Arabia spends $67 billion buying weapons from the U.S.  “Last year, the West sold $100 billion of weaponry to GCC countries – these small emirates in the Persian Gulf.  The entire population of these countries, I don’t think would reach 40 million.   A hundred billion dollars in weapons.  I don’t, I don’t believe with all due respect they know how to use them. Because they have not been able to defeat basically defenseless people in Yemen. For four years.  The war in Yemen, this April, will be 4-years-old.”

Yemen Ceasefire Efforts

Zarif also spoke of his efforts with the U.S. in 2015 to broker a ceasefire to stop the brutal Saudi bombing and blockade on Yemen. The Saudis, after first agreeing to a ceasefire, backed out of the agreement and then the United States, he said, blamed Iran, not Saudi Arabia.

“When the war started, I was involved in the most difficult stage of the negotiations on the nuclear case.  Because if you remember in 2015, Congress set a deadline that unless we had a framework agreement on the nuclear issue by April first, Congress would impose sanctions that the U.S. administration would not be able to waive.  We were running against a deadline in Lausanne (Switzerland) when we had that stage of negotiations. And yet, John Kerry and I spent two days from that precious time talking about how to end the war in Yemen although that was not my mandate, but I thought the war in Yemen was so disastrous that we should bring it to an end.”

Zarif continued, “John Kerry and I reached an understanding that we need to end this war. At that time the current minister of state of Saudi Arabia, Adel al-Jubeir, was U.S. ambassador—Saudi ambassador to the U.S.  After we reached an agreement on April second or third, John Kerry went back to Washington and talked to Adel al-Jubeir. He went back to Saudi Arabia and got an OK for a ceasefire in Yemen. And he informed me that we can have a ceasefire.  I immediately contacted the Houthis and got them to agree to a ceasefire. This is April 2015.  In a few days it will be four years.”

He added, “Then I was boarding a plane to Indonesia…I told my deputy – wait for a call from Secretary Kerry, he’ll tell you that the final agreement has arrived.  We arrived in Indonesia eight hours later, I called Secretary Kerry and said what happened?  He said, ‘Saudis reneged, because they believed they could have a military victory in three weeks.’  I told him they won’t be able to have a military victory, not in three weeks, not in three months, not in three years. But he said, ‘what can I do?  I’m fed up with them, they won’t budge.” I said, ‘Fine, we tried.’ ”

Zarif shook his head and said, “The next day, the very next day, President Obama, of all people, made a public statement accusing Iran of interfering in Yemen.  The very next day.  I told them, OK – you couldn’t get it (the ceasefire) from your allies, why are you blaming us?  You don’t want to blame your allies, fine – but, why are you blaming us?”

Much to our surprise, Zarif resigned as foreign minister only a few hours after speaking to our delegation.  Reportedly, he resigned after his exclusion from a meeting held with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad the previous day. Other senior regime officials, including President Rouhani, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani had met with the Syrian dictator Assad in Tehran without Zarif being present.

Less than 24 hours later, Rouhani rejected Zarif’s resignation, saying that it would be “against national interests” to accept it.

In an Instagram posting announcing his resignation to the public, Zarif wrote that the Iranian people were displeased with the results of his work on the nuclear framework, giving up thousands of centrifuges and allowing inspections of its nuclear facilities in exchange for lifting of sanctions and a return to normal business around the world.  But the U.S. had broken the agreement and had placed heavier sanctions on Iran and extreme pressure and sanctions on any government or financial entity doing business with Iran. Zarif felt he had let the Iranian people down.

Hardliners in both the Iranian and the U.S. governments make the opportunity for dialogue and negotiations very difficult resulting in the people of Iran continuing to suffer the burden of both Iranian and American ideologies and politicians that have returned international relations to a standstill.

In a move by the hardliners of Iran, on March 12, 2019, Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh was sentenced to at least seven years’ imprisonment and perhaps up to 33 years and 148 lashes.

Sotoudeh won the Sakharov Prize in 2012 and was convicted following a trial held in absentia. Her husband Reza Khandan was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment in January 2019. The European Union has stated that the right to protest peacefully, as well as the right to express opinion in a non-violent manner, are cornerstones of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a party.

Ann Wright was in the U.S.Army/Army Reserves for 29 years and retired as a colonel.  She was a U.S. diplomat for 16 years and served in U.S. embassies in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia.  She resigned from the U.S. government in March 2003 in opposition to Bush’s war on Iraq.

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A Tale of Two Incarcerated Women

Chelsea Manning has done a great service in finally stripping away the last vestige of excuse from the figures who refuse to support Julian Assange, says Craig Murray.

By Craig Murray
CraigMurray.org.uk

On International Women’s Day on March 8 Chelsea Manning was imprisoned yet again, this time for refusing to testify against Julian Assange before a Grand Jury. Chelsea has already suffered over seven years of total imprisonment – no American had ever previously spent more than three years in jail for releasing government secrets to the public, in a land which had historically valued free speech.

I am in awe of Chelsea’s courage in refusing to testify, and shocked at a system that imprisons somebody for contempt of court for maintaining dignified silence.

Chelsea has also done a great service in finally stripping away the last vestige of excuse from the figures who refuse to support Julian Assange, pretending that they do not believe he faces extradition to the United States, and that the legal issue is not about Wkileaks’ right to publish.

The potential charges in Sweden – always based on quite ludicrous accusations – were dropped years ago after he was finally interviewed in the Ecuadorean Embassy by Swedish police and prosecutors, and it became very plain indeed there was no viable case against him.

Chelsea has gone to prison for refusing to participate in the prosecution of Wikileaks for publishing materials that revealed war crimes in the American occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. Chelsea is a whistlebower, not a publisher. Assange is a pubisher, not a whistleblower. If Assange can be prosecuted for publishing official secrets, then so can every newspaper editor or television editor involved in the receipt of whistleblower material.

There is a massive, a fundamental, media freedom issue at stake here. Even so, the MSM in the UK do not even have the guts to state the truth about what causes Julian to be confined to the Ecuadorean Embassy, let alone to support his right to publish.

Meanwhile in Iran

Nazanin Zaghari Ratcliffe is in jail in Iran for spying for the British. She is certainly not an MI6 officer, and I can’t see that she would have sufficient access to information to make her of much use as an agent (as MI6 calls its informants). That she was involved in training Iranian journalists or citizen journalists in ways the Iranian government did not like is much more probable, but does not amount to espionage. Even if she were some kind of low level informant to MI6 (which I doubt), the Iranian authorities have sufficiently made their point and it is time to let her go.

The British government’s attitude to this case has been particularly interesting and extremely unusual. I cannot criticise them for the things they have done, because they are the things I used to get frustrated with them for never doing. But their handling of this case is truly out of the ordinary.

The UK allows dual citizenship. It has been longstanding Foreign Office policy that the UK does not give consular protection to UK dual nationals in the country where they are also a national. If the other state does not allow dual citizenship, it might not recognise any British standing in the matter. But there is another compelling reason for the standard policy of not assisting in these circumstances.

When working in Embassies, I used to get infuriated by cases where I wished to help people but was not allowed to, because they were dual citizens. It was explained to me, that if in Nigeria alone we accepted as consular cases all the British/Nigerian dual nationals in Nigerian jails, that would already double the FCO’s entire consular caseload worldwide. To accept dual nationals as consular cases everywhere in their other homeland would increase consular work by a large multiple and require a very large increase in FCO resources.

I nevertheless always felt we could do more. That the British government had, prior to yesterday, already done so much to try to help Nazanin Zagahari Ratcliffe, even though she was an Iranian dual national in Iran, was already extremely unusual. That the UK has now “adopted” the case, raising it to the level of a state dispute, is something not just unusual, but which I don’t think has happened since the First World War. Please note this is not the same process as granting Zaghari Ratcliffe herself diplomatic status, which has not been done.

Again, I can’t criticise the FCO for this, because adoption is something I had urged them to do in a past case while I was on the inside, (shout out to my friend John Carmichael), again being told by the FCO it was not possible as we never do it.

Whether the move is effective or wise in this case, is quite another question. It seems to me likely the Iranians will take it as confirmation that she is a spy. I would urge the Iranian government to take this course; they should now declare the the adoption of the case as a state dispute proves that Zaghari Ratcliffe is a spy, and having been proven right before the world, they will let her go as an example of mercy and compassion.

There are two fundamental points here. The first is that Iran has been subjected for years to crippling sanctions and an international campaign of hate spread by western government propaganda and their MSM. Western governments have aligned themselves with Saudi and Israeli sponsored brutal proxy wars against Shia communities across the Middle East, which look to Iran for protection. If the Iranian government is defensive and suspicious, is that really surprising? The week after the British government declared Hezbollah, the political and security organisation of Lebanese Shias, to be nothing but a terrorist organisation, do the Tories really think the Iranians will be looking kindly on them and their demands over Zaghari Ratcliffe?

The second point is that the entire purpose of the state “adopting” a case, is to make available the dispute resolution mechanisms which operate between states. But the UK only a few days ago repudiated the International Court of Justice, the final arbiter of such disputes, over the Chagos Islands. As the UK shows total contempt for international law, this attempt to access its remedies will be met with derision by the wider international community.

Craig Murray is an author, broadcaster and human rights activist. He was British Ambassador to Uzbekistan from August 2002 to October 2004 and Rector of the University of Dundee from 2007 to 2010.




Is War With Iran on the Horizon?

Despite growing Trump administration tensions with Venezuela and even with North Korea, Iran is the likeliest spot for Washington’s next shooting war, says Bob Dreyfuss for TomDispatch.

The Trump Administration is Reckless Enough to Turn the Cold War With Iran Into a Hot One

By Bob Dreyfuss
TomDispatch.com

Here’s the foreign policy question of questions in 2019: Are President Donald Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, all severely weakened at home and with few allies abroad, reckless enough to set off a war with Iran?

Could military actions designed to be limited — say, a heightening of the Israeli bombing of Iranian forces inside Syria, or possible U.S. cross-border attacks from Iraq, or a clash between American and Iranian naval ships in the Persian Gulf — trigger a wider war?

Worryingly, the answers are: yes and yes. Even though Western Europe has lined up in opposition to any future conflict with Iran, even though Russia and China would rail against it, even though most Washington foreign policy experts would be horrified by the outbreak of such a war, it could happen.

Despite growing Trump administration tensions with Venezuela and even with North Korea, Iran is the likeliest spot for Washington’s next shooting war. Years of politically charged anti-Iranian vituperation might blow up in the faces of President Trump and his two most hawkish aides, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton, setting off a conflict with potentially catastrophic implications.

Such a war could quickly spread across much of the Middle East, not just to Saudi Arabia and Israel, the region’s two major anti-Iranian powers, but Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and the various Persian Gulf states. It might indeed be, as Iranian President Hassan Rouhani suggested last year (unconsciously echoing Iran’s former enemy, Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein) the “mother of all wars.”

With Bolton and Pompeo, both well-known Iranophobes, in the driver’s seat, few restraints remain on President Trump when it comes to that country. White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, President Trump’s former favorite generals who had urged caution, are no longer around. And though the Democratic National Committee passed a resolution last month calling for the United States to return to the nuclear agreement that President Obama signed, there are still a significant number of congressional Democrats who believe that Iran is a major threat to U.S. interests in the region.

During the Obama years, it was de rigueur for Democrats to support the president’s conclusion that Iran was a prime state sponsor of terrorism and should be treated accordingly. And the congressional Democrats now leading the party on foreign policy — Eliot Engel, who currently chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Bob Menendez and Ben Cardin, the two ranking Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — were opponents of the 2015 nuclear accord (though all three now claim to have changed their minds).

Deadly Flashpoints for a Future War

On the roller coaster ride that is Donald Trump’s foreign policy, it’s hard to discern what’s real and what isn’t, what’s rhetoric and what’s not. When it comes to Iran, it’s reasonable to assume that Trump, Bolton, and Pompeo aren’t planning an updated version of the unilateral invasion of Iraq that President George W. Bush launched in the spring of 2003.

Yet by openly calling for the toppling of the government in Tehran, by withdrawing from the Iran nuclear agreement and reimposing onerous sanctions to cripple that country’s economy, by encouraging Iranians to rise up in revolt, by overtly supporting various exile groups (and perhaps covertly even terrorists), and by joining with Israel and Saudi Arabia in an informal anti-Iranian alliance, the three of them are clearly attempting to force the collapse of the Iranian regime, which just celebrated the 40th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic revolution.

There are three potential flashpoints where limited skirmishes, were they to break out, could quickly escalate into a major shooting war.

The first is in Syria and Lebanon. Iran is deeply involved in defending Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (who only recently returned from a visit to Tehran) and closely allied with Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite political party with a potent paramilitary arm. Weeks ago, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu openly boasted that his country’s air force had successfully taken out Iranian targets in Syria. In fact, little noticed here, dozens of such strikes have taken place for more than a year, with mounting Iranian casualties.

Until now, the Iranian leadership has avoided a direct response that would heighten the confrontation with Israel, just as it has avoided unleashing Hezbollah, a well-armed, battle-tested proxy force.  That could, however, change if the hardliners in Iran decided to retaliate. Should this simmering conflict explode, does anyone doubt that President Trump would soon join the fray on Israel’s side or that congressional Democrats would quickly succumb to the administration’s calls to back the Jewish state?

Next, consider Iraq as a possible flashpoint for conflict. In February, a blustery Trump told CBS’s Face the Nation that he intends to keep U.S. forces in Iraq “because I want to be looking a little bit at Iran because Iran is the real problem.” His comments did not exactly go over well with the Iraqi political class, since many of that country’s parties and militias are backed by Iran.

Trump’s declaration followed a Wall Street Journal report late last year that Bolton had asked the Pentagon — over the opposition of various generals and then-Secretary of Defense Mattis — to prepare options for “retaliatory strikes” against Iran. This roughly coincided with a couple of small rocket attacks against Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone and the airport in Basra, Iraq’s Persian Gulf port city, neither of which caused any casualties.  

Writing in Foreign Affairs, however, Pompeo blamed Iran for the attacks, which he called “life-threatening,” adding, “Iran did not stop these attacks, which were carried out by proxies it has supported with funding, training, and weapons.” No “retaliatory strikes” were launched, but plans do undoubtedly now exist for them and it’s not hard to imagine Bolton and Pompeo persuading Trump to go ahead and use them — with incalculable consequences.

Finally, there’s the Persian Gulf itself. Ever since the George W. Bush years, the U.S. Navy has worried about possible clashes with Iran’s naval forces in those waters and there have been a number of high-profile incidents. The Obama administration tried (but failed) to establish a hotline of sorts that would have linked U.S. and Iranian naval commanders and so make it easier to defuse any such incident, an initiative championed by then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen, a longtime opponent of war with Iran.

Under Trump, however, all bets are off. Last year, he requested that Mattis prepare plans to blow up Iran’s “fast boats,” small gunboats in the Gulf, reportedly asking, “Why don’t we sink them?” He’s already reinforced the U.S. naval presence there, getting Iran’s attention. Not surprisingly, the Iranian leadership has responded in kind. Earlier this year, President Hassan Rouhani announced that his country had developed submarines capable of launching cruise missiles against naval targets.  The Iranians also began a series of Persian Gulf war games and, in late February, test fired one of those sub-launched missiles.

Add in one more thing: in an eerie replay of a key argument George Bush and Dick Cheney used for going to war with Iraq in 2003, in mid-February the right-wing media outlet Washington Times ran an “exclusive” report with this headline: “Iran-Al Qaeda Alliance may provide legal rationale for U.S. military strikes.”

Back in 2002, the Office of Special Plans at Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s Pentagon, under the supervision of neoconservatives Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith, spent months trying to prove that al-Qaeda and Iraq were in league. The Washington Times piece, citing Trump administration sources, made a similar claim — that Iran is now aiding and abetting al-Qaeda with a “clandestine sanctuary to funnel fighters, money, and weapons across the Middle East.” 

It added that the administration is seeking to use this information to establish “a potential legal justification for military strikes against Iran or its proxies.” Needless to say, few are the terrorism experts or Iran specialists who would agree that Iran has anything like an active relationship with al-Qaeda.

Will the Hardliners Triumph in Iran as in Washington?

The Trump administration is, in fact, experiencing increasing difficulty finding allies ready to join a new Coalition of the Willing to confront Iran. The only two charter members so far, Israel and Saudi Arabia, are, however, enthusiastic indeed. Last month, Prime Minister Netanyahu was heard remarking that Israel and its Arab allies want war with Iran.

At a less-than-successful mid-February summit meeting Washington organized in Warsaw, Poland, to recruit world leaders for a future crusade against Iran, Netanyahu was heard to say in Hebrew: “This is an open meeting with representatives of leading Arab countries that are sitting down together with Israel in order to advance the common interest of war with Iran.” (He later insisted that the correct translation should have been “combating Iran,” but the damage had already been done.)

That Warsaw summit was explicitly designed to build an anti-Iranian coalition, but many of America’s allies, staunchly opposing Trump’s decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear accord, would have nothing to do with it. In an effort to mollify the Europeans in particular, the United States and Poland awkwardly renamed it: “The Ministerial to Promote a Future of Peace and Security in the Middle East.”

The name change, however, fooled no one. As a result, Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Pompeo were embarrassed by a series of no-shows: the French, the Germans, and the European Union, among others, flatly declined to send ministerial-level representatives, letting their ambassadors in Warsaw stand in for them.  The many Arab nations not in thrall to Saudi Arabia similarly sent only low-level delegations. Turkey and Russia boycotted altogether, convening a summit of their own in which Presidents Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with Iran’s Rouhani.

Never the smoothest diplomat, Pence condemned, insulted, and vilified the Europeans for refusing to go along with Washington’s wrecking-ball approach. He began his speech to the conference by saying: “The time has come for our European partners to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.” He then launched a direct attack on Europe’s efforts to preserve that accord by seeking a way around the sanctions Washington had re-imposed: “Sadly, some of our leading European partners… have led the effort to create mechanisms to break up our sanctions. We call it an effort to break American sanctions against Iran’s murderous revolutionary regime.”

That blast at the European allies should certainly have brought to mind Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld’s disparaging comments in early 2003 about Germany and France, in particular, being leaders of the “old Europe.” Few allies then backed Washington’s invasion plans, which, of course, didn’t prevent war. Europe’s reluctance now isn’t likely to prove much of a deterrent either.

But Pence is right that the Europeans have taken steps to salvage the Iran nuclear deal, otherwise known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). In particular, they’ve created a “special purpose vehicle” known as INSTEX (Instrument for Supporting Trade Exchanges) designed “to support legitimate trade with Iran,” according to a statement from the foreign ministers of Germany, France, and Great Britain. It’s potentially a big deal and, as Pence noted, explicitly designed to circumvent the sanctions Washington imposed on Iran after Trump’s break with the JCPOA.

INSTEX has a political purpose, too. The American withdrawal from the JCPOA was a body blow to President Rouhani, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, and other centrists in Tehran who had taken credit for, and pride in, the deal between Iran and the six world powers (the United States, France, Germany, Britain, Russia, and China) that signed the agreement. That deal had been welcomed in Iran in part because it seemed to ensure that country’s ability to expand its trade to the rest of the world, including its oil exports, free of sanctions.

Even before Trump abandoned the deal, however, Iran was already finding U.S. pressure overwhelming and, for the average Iranian, things hadn’t improved in any significant way. Worse yet, in the past year the economy had taken a nosedive, the currency had plungedinflation was running rampant, and strikes and street demonstrations had broken out, challenging the government and its clerical leadership. Chants of “Death to the Dictator!” — not heard since the Green Movement’s revolt against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s reelection in 2009 — once again resounded in street demonstrations.

At the end of February, it seemed as if Trump, Bolton, and Pompeo had scored a dangerous victory when Zarif, Iran’s well-known, Western-oriented foreign minister, announced his resignation. Moderates who supported the JCPOA, including Rouhani and Zarif, have been under attack from the country’s hardliners since Trump’s pullout.  As a result, Zarif’s decision was widely assumed to be a worrisome sign that those hardliners had claimed their first victim.

There was even unfounded speculation that, without Zarif, who had worked tirelessly with the Europeans to preserve what was left of the nuclear pact, Iran itself might abandon the accord and resume its nuclear program. And there’s no question that the actions and statements of Bolton, Pompeo, and crew have undermined Iran’s moderates, while emboldening its hardliners, who are making I-told-you-so arguments to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country’s supreme leader.

Despite the internal pressure on Zarif, however, his resignation proved short-lived indeed: Rouhani rejected it, and there was an upsurge of support for him in Iran’s parliament. Even General Qassem Soleimani, a major figure in that country’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the commander of the Quds Force, backed him.

As it happens, the Quds Force, an arm of the IRGC, is responsible for Iran’s paramilitary and foreign intelligence operations throughout the region, but especially in Iraq and Syria. That role has allowed Soleimani to assume responsibility for much of Iran’s foreign policy in the region, making him a formidable rival to Zarif — a tension that undoubtedly contributed to his brief resignation and it isn’t likely to dissipate anytime soon.

According to analysts and commentators, it appears to have been a ploy by Zarif (and perhaps Rouhani, too) to win a vote of political confidence and it appears to have strengthened their hand for the time being.

Still, the Zarif resignation crisis threw into stark relief the deep tensions within Iranian politics and raised a key question: As the Trump administration accelerates its efforts to seek a confrontation, will they find an echo among Iranian hardliners who’d like nothing more than a face-off with the United States?

Maybe that’s exactly what Bolton and Pompeo want.  If so, prepare yourself: another American war unlikely to work out the way anyone in Washington dreams is on the horizon.

Copyright 2019 Bob Dreyfuss

Bob Dreyfuss, an investigative journalist and TomDispatch regular, is the founder of TheDreyfussReport.com. He is a contributing editor at The Nationand he has written for Rolling StoneMother JonesThe American Prospect, The New Republicand many other magazines. He is the author of Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam.

 

 




PATRICK LAWRENCE: Pompeo, Pence & the Alienation of Europe

If the objective was to further isolate the U.S., the two officials could not have done a better job last week, writes Patrick Lawrence.

By Patrick Lawrence
Special to Consortium News

What a job Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did in Europe last week. If the objective was to worsen an already critical trans–Atlantic rift and further isolate the U.S., they could not have returned to Washington with a better result.
We might have to mark down this foray as among the clumsiest and most abject foreign policy failures since President Donald Trump took office two years ago. 

Pence and Pompeo both spoke last Thursday at a U.S.–sponsored gathering in Warsaw supposedly focused on “peace and security in the Middle East.” That turned out to be a euphemism for recruiting the 60–plus nations in attendance into an anti–Iran alliance.

“You can’t achieve peace and stability in the Middle East without confronting Iran,” Pompeo said flatly. The only delegates this idea pleased were Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, and officials from Gulf Arab nations who share an obsession with subverting the Islamic Republic.

Pence went on to the annual security conference in Munich, where he elaborated further on a few of the Trump administration’s favored themes. Among them: The Europeans should ditch the nuclear accord with Iran, the Europeans should cut off trade with Russia, the Europeans should keep components made by Huawei and other Chinese companies out of their communications networks. The Europeans, in short, should recognize America’s global dominance and do as it does; as if it were still, say, 1954.

It is hard to imagine how an American administration can prove time and again so out of step with 21stcentury realities. How could a vice-president and a secretary of state expect to sell such messages to nations plainly opposed to them?

Pounding the Anti-Iran Theme 

Pompeo, who started an “Iran Action Group” after the Trump administration withdrew last year from the 2015 nuclear accord, returned repeatedly to a single theme in his Warsaw presentations. The Iranians, he said, “are a malign influence in Lebanon, in Yemen, and Syria and Iraq. The three H’s—Houthis, Hamas, and Hezbollah—these are real threats.”

Pence ran a mile with this thought. “At the outset of this historic conference,” he said, “leaders from across the region agreed that the greatest threat to peace and security in the Middle East is the Islamic Republic of Iran.” To be noted: all the “leaders from across the region” in attendance were Sunnis, except for Netanyahu. The major European allies, still furious that Washington has withdrawn from the nuclear accord, sent low-level officials and made no speeches.

The European signatories to the Iran accord knew what was coming, surely. While Pence insisted that Britain, France and Germany withdraw from the nuclear pact—“the time has come,” he said—he also criticized the financing mechanism the three set up last month to circumvent the Trump administration’s trade sanctions against Iran. “They call this scheme a ‘special purpose vehicle,’ ” Pence said. “We call it an effort to break American sanctions against Iran’s murderous revolutionary regime.”

There were plenty of European leaders at the security conference last weekend in Munich, where Pence used the occasion  to consolidate what is beginning to look like an irreparable escalation of trans–Atlantic alienation. After renewing his attack on the Iran agreement’s European signatories, he shifted criticism to the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.

Now under construction, this will be the second undersea pipeline connecting Gazprom, the Russian energy company, to Germany and other European markets. Last month the U.S. renewed threats to sanction German companies working on the $11 billion project. “We cannot strengthen the West by becoming dependent on the East,” Pence said at the security conference Saturday.

These and other remarks in Munich were enough to get Angela Merkel out of her chair to deliver an unusually impassioned speech in defense of the nuclear accord, multilateral cooperation and Europe’s extensive economic relations with Russia. “Geo-strategically,” the German chancellor asserted, “Europe can’t have an interest in cutting off all relations with Russia.”

US Primacy V. Europe’s Future  

Merkel’s speech goes to the core of what was most fundamentally at issue as Pompeo and Pence blundered through Europe last week. There are three questions to consider.

The most obvious of these is Washington’s continued insistence on U.S. primacy in the face of full-frontal resistance even from longstanding allies. “Since day one, President Trump has restored American leadership on the world stage,” Pence declared in Warsaw. And in Munich: “America is stronger than ever before and America is leading on the world stage once again.”

His speeches in both cities are filled with hollow assertions such as these—each one underscoring precisely the opposite point: America is fated to continue isolating itself, a little at a time, so long as its leaders remain lost in such clouds of nostalgia.

The other two questions concern Europe and its future. Depending on how these are resolved, a more distant trans–Atlantic alliance will prove inevitable.

First, Europe must soon come to terms with its position on the western flank of the Euro–Asian landmass. Merkel was right: The European powers cannot realistically pretend that an ever-deepening interdependence with Russia is a choice. There is no choice. China’s Belt and Road Initiative, as it progresses westward, will make this clearer still.

Second, Europe must develop working accommodations with its periphery, meaning the Middle East and North Africa, for the sake of long-term stability in its neighborhood. The mass migrations from Syria, Libya and elsewhere have made this evident in the most tragic fashion possible. It is to Germany’s and France’s credit that they are now negotiating with Turkey and Russia to develop reconstruction plans for Syria that include a comprehensive political settlement.

As they do so, Washington shows no sign of lifting sanctions against Syria that have been in place for more than eight years. It may, indeed, impose new sanctions on companies participating in reconstruction projects. In effect, this could criminalize Syria’s reconstruction—making the nation another case wherein Europe and the U.S. find themselves at cross purposes.

Patrick Lawrence, a correspondent abroad for many years, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune, is a columnist, essayist, author, and lecturer. His most recent book is “Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century” (Yale). Follow him @thefloutist. His web site is www.patricklawrence.us.

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Why China Tiptoed onto the Far Side of the Moon

Xi Jinping’s state media was strangely quiet about its historic lunar landing, writes Patrick Lawrence in this look at the U.S. effort to maintain primacy over advanced technologies.

By Patrick Lawrence
Special to Consortium News

When China landed a space probe on the far side of the moon last week, it was a first for humanity. The Chang’e 4 spacecraft touched down on Thursday and then sent a rover to explore and photograph lunar terrain we Earthlings had never before seen. This feat is up there with the U.S. moon landing in 1969. But while the scientists who designed the Chang’e 4 probe were properly proud, China’s state-controlled media buried the story beneath the day’s more mundane news. As one space analyst put it, the silence was deafening.

The New York Times reported: “Compared with previous missions, however, the reaction to Thursday’s milestones seemed strikingly restrained, both in the country’s state-run news outlets and on social media. On China’s most-watched TV news program early Thursday evening, the landing — declared a success by officials at mission control — was not even one of the four top stories.”  (CGTN, China’s state-owned English language TV broadcast geared towards the West, however, ran more than 15 stories about the moon landing between Wednesday, Jan. 2 and Friday, Jan. 4.)

Why would this be? Why would Xi Jinping’s hyper-ambitious China go relatively quiet after demonstrating that its swiftly developing technological capabilities are making the nation the global leader its president thinks it is destined to be?

Mike Pompeo suggested an answer the same day the Chang’e 4 touched down on lunar soil. President Donald Trump’s secretary of state chose last Thursday to warn the Iranians to drop their plans to launch three satellites into space over the next several months. Pompeo dismissed these projects as nothing more than a cover to test intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of bearing warheads.

These events are not unrelated.

Yes, the Trump administration has started a trade war with China. But Washington’s quarrels with Beijing are about far more than trade. The U.S. proposes to sanction Iran to kingdom come so as to limit its leverage as an emerging power in the Middle East. But the U.S. administration’s dangerously aggressive policies toward Tehran are about more than the Islamic Republic’s regional influence.

Larger Theme

There is a larger theme here that is not to be missed: Maintaining America’s lead in advanced technologies is now essential to preserving U.S. primacy. And China and Iran are among those middle-income nations whose scientific and technological advances will at some point challenge this lead.

In effect, Washington appears intent on imposing a development ceiling on any nation that resists its global hegemony. And of all the unpromising foreign policies the U.S. now pursues, this has to count among the least thought-out. Attempting to limit any nation’s aspirations to climb the development ladder is a straight-out loser. No one who understands world history since the decolonization era began in the 1950s can possibly conclude otherwise. 

Tensions between the U.S. and China have increased steadily since Beijing announced its Made in China 2025 Initiative several years ago, and it is hard to imagine this is mere coincidence. As one of Xi’s core strategies, Made in China 2025 designates 10 high-technology industries—robotics, pharmaceuticals, cutting-edge telecom networks, advanced machine tools, and the like—in which China proposes to make itself a global leader. All 10 of these industries are currently dominated by the U.S. and other Western nations.

Since Xi’s program began, Washington has made persistent efforts to limit its progress. Last year the State Department began a program intended to restrict the number of Chinese students permitted to study at U.S. universities.

In two much-noted cases, the Commerce Department has gone after leading Chinese high-tech companies, ZTE and, most recently, Huawei, charging both with violations of U.S. restrictions on exports to Iran and North Korea. Legislation now prohibits the federal government from purchasing products from either company.

Justice Department on a Tear

The Justice Department is also on a tear. In quick succession last autumn it indicted four Chinese companies—one of them state-controlled—on charges they stole trade secrets from U.S. manufacturers in a variety of industries. “Chinese economic espionage on the U.S. has been increasing, and it has been increasing rapidly,” Jeff Sessions, then serving as attorney general, asserted. “Enough is enough. We’re not going to take it anymore.” None of the four cases has yet been adjudicated. 

It is not difficult to detect a 21st Century version of the old “yellow peril” in all this. Last year the Council on Foreign Relations referred to Made in China 2025 as “a real existential threat to U.S. technological leadership.” In the long run this may prove to be so. The Chinese strategy has a lot in common with Japan’s designation of “strategic industries”—autos, shipbuilding, and electronics among them—in the postwar decades, and we know how those battles turned out. 

The U.S. has no more chance of restraining China’s development now than it did Japan’s in the 1970s and 1980s. The proper response to China’s emergence as a technological competitor is to seek opportunities in the advances of another nation. The alternative is to fight a technology war there is little chance of winning.

We now await concrete results of the trade truce Trump and Xi announced after they met at the Group of 20 session in Buenos Aires last November. Before talks began this week, there were already indications that Beijing may dilute its Made in China 2025 Initiative by allowing foreign companies to participate.

Chinese Modesty Aside

In this context, Beijing’s modesty after last week’s moon landing appears to be another effort to make as little as possible of China’s technological challenge to U.S. competitors. But it would be a mistake to interpret such developments as signs that China is willing to abandon its aspirations. There is zero chance that this is so.

The Iran case is a flimsy variant of the full-court press Washington has mounted against China. Pompeo, who formed an Iran Action Group after the Trump administration withdrew from the 2015 nuclear accord last year, is skating on very thin ice in charging Tehran with pretending satellite launches are anything more than covers for a ballistic missile tests. Three are reasons: 

No. 1: Iran has been sending satellites into space since 2005. There is nothing singular about those it now plans.

No. 2: Even if the Iranians were testing ballistic missiles—and there is no self-evident reason to assume this is so—it would not be in violation of the U.N. Security Council resolution governing such tests. Tehran has been as scrupulous in observing Resolution 2231, unanimously approved five days after the nuclear accord was made final, as it has been with the agreement itself. 

Finally, there is the matter of deterrence. Given that Washington now acknowledges—at last—that Israel possesses a nuclear arsenal, Iran has an open-and-shut case for maintaining adequate defenses in the event of a hostile neighbor’s attack. Remember what all the old Cold Warriors used to tell us: Deterrence was the very key to averting a Soviet attack on the U.S. Is this reasoning no longer valid when it applies to a nation on Washington’s enemies list?

China, Iran, and let us not forget Russia: None of these three nations wants a war with the U.S., all three resolutely oppose Washington’s quest for global hegemony and they are all climbing quickly up the technological development ladder. America’s challenge is to learn to live with these three realities. No nation has ever succeeded in stopping history’s wheel from turning. 

Patrick Lawrence, a correspondent abroad for many years, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune, is a columnist, essayist, author, and lecturer. His most recent book is Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century (Yale). Follow him @thefloutist. His web site is www.patricklawrence.us. Support his work via www.patreon.com/thefloutist.

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A Reuters Report on Iran That Spurred US Diatribes

This year, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made speeches about corruption and property confiscation in Iran that borrowed animating details from a skewed, 5-year-old story that is gaining influence, writes Ivan Kesic.

By Ivan Kesic
in Zagreb, Croatia
Special to Consortium News

When U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave speeches about mega corruption in Iran this year, he did not cite a Reuters’ 2013 article or give credit to its three reporters; Steve Stecklow, Babak Dehghanpisheh and Yeganeh Torbati.

Instead he presented it as the kind of specialized knowledge that only a high-ranking official such as himself might be in a position to reveal. “Not many people know this,” Pompeo told an audience gathered last July at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library in Simi Valley, California, “but the Ayatollah Khamenei has his own personal, off-the-books hedge fund called the Setad, worth $95 billion, with a B.” Pompeo went on to tell his audience that Khamenei’s wealth via Setad was untaxed, ill-gotten, and used as a “slush fund” for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

But a comparison between the 5-year-old Reuters article and Pompeo’s speech, which was lauded by The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board astruth telling,” shows a type of symbiosis that could only help cast a backward glow over President Donald Trump’s move, last summer, to reimpose all sanctions lifted by the Obama’s administration’s historic nuclear deal with Iran. 

The imprint of the Reuters article on Pompeo’s speech was obvious in an anecdote about the travails of an elderly woman living in Europe. “The ayatollah fills his coffers by devouring whatever he wants,” Pompeo said. “In 2013 the Setad’s agents banished an 82-year-old Baha’i woman from her apartment and confiscated the property after a long campaign of harassment. Seizing land from religious minorities and political rivals is just another day at the office for this juggernaut that has interests in everything from real estate to telecoms to ostrich farming.”

The 82-year-old Baha’i woman living in Europe clearly matches Pari Vahdat-e-Hagh, a woman the Reuters team put at the very start of their extensive, three-part investigation. Here’s how the Reuters article begins: “The 82-year-old Iranian woman keeps the documents that upended her life in an old suitcase near her bed. She removes them carefully and peers at the tiny Persian script.”

While tapping the human-interest aspects of the story, Pompeo’s speech steered clear of some of the qualifications that the Reuters reporters and editors injected into their general profile of corruption. Pompeo referred to Khamenei using Setad as a “personal hedge fund,” for instance, suggesting personal decadence on the part of the Iranian leader. But the Reuters team was careful to note that it had found no evidence of Khamenei putting the assets to personal use. “Instead, Setad’s holdings underpin his power over Iran.”

While stipulating that Khamenei’s greed was not for money but for power, the Reuters team neglected something of timely and possibly greater relevance. Earlier that same year the U.S. admitted its own longstanding greed for power over this foreign country. 

Final CIA Admission

In August 2013—three months before the Reuter’s article was published—the CIA finally admitted its role in the 1953 Iranian coup. “Marking the sixtieth anniversary of the overthrow of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq, the National Security Archive is today posting recently declassified CIA documents on the United States’ role in the controversial operation. American and British involvement in Mosaddeq’s ouster has long been public knowledge, but today’s posting includes what is believed to be the CIA’s first formal acknowledgement that the agency helped to plan and execute the coup,” the archive said.

This U.S. aggression led directly to two phases of property confiscation in Iran: first under the Shah and then under the religious fundamentalists who overthrew him. Unaccountably, however, the Reuters team ignored the CIA admission so relevant to their story. 

To its credit, the Reuters article does allude, early on, to the two inter-related periods of property confiscation in Iran. “How Setad came into those assets also mirrors how the deposed monarchy obtained much of its fortune – by confiscating real estate,” the article says. But that sentence only functions as a muffled disclaimer since the team makes no effort to integrate that history into the laments of people such as  Pari Vahdat-e-Hagh, who emotionally drives the story.  

Dubious Figure

For anyone familiar with the history of property confiscations in Iran, this ex-pat widow is a dubious figure. In the article, she claims that she lost three apartments in a multi-story building in Tehran, “built with the blood of herself and her husband.” She also says her late husband Hussein was imprisoned in 1981 because he began working for a gas company that had been set up to assist unemployed members of the Baha’i faith, and finally executed a year later.

The suggestion is that he was killed as part of a widespread persecution of Bahai’i followers.

What the Reuters reporters and editors omitted to mention, however, is that Hussein had been a  lieutenant in the military regime of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi; the last shah of Iran who was overthrown by the uprising of 1979.

The Shah’s name has become so intertwined with UK and U.S. meddling in Iran that his role in setting a pro-western foreign policy is mentioned in the opening sentence of the Encyclopedia Brittanica entry on him. But the Reuters article places this mention at the end of the story, as deep background. By the time the team discloses the Shah’s penchant for confiscating property and flagrant corruption, the reader is in the third section of a three-part article. By that time, the elderly Vahdat-e-Hagh has come and gone. By then, she has cemented herself in the reader’s imagination as an unequivocal victim, even though some obvious questions about her should occur to anyone familiar with the country’s history.

How, for instance, did she and her husband come to own such significant property at the center of Iran’s capital city? Under the Pahlavi regime, most military personnel were provided with one apartment, not three. In the article, Vahdat-e-Hagh says that she and her husband obtained the property themselves, so presumably they did not inherit it. Could her late husband, Hussein, have been of high importance to the Shah’s U.S.-backed regime, which was famous for its lavish handouts to special loyalists?

Such questions float over the article, not only about this particular subject, but many others who are presented to dramatize the ayatollah’s misdeeds. Several sources appear as human rights “experts” and lawyers. They are all Iranians living abroad and many have controversial biographical details that go unmentioned. There are similar well-known credibility issues with people who are introduced as respectable scholars and politicians.

The article offers the story of another aggrieved Baha’i family without ever mentioning how such people, in general, had lost property during the Shah’s White Revolution of 1963 which was intended to weaken those classes that supported the traditional system, primarily landed elites.

One obvious problem with the article is the distance of the three Reuters journalists from the scene of their story. They are based in New York, London and Dubai and do not reveal their information-gathering methods about Iran, a country that admits very few foreign reporters. So far, Yeganeh Torbati, the reporter who presumably wrote the first, human-interest part of the story, has not responded to a message to her Facebook account seeking comment. Nor has she responded to an email. Torbati, now based in Washington, was based in Dubai in 2013.

Story with Long Legs  

In the years since its publication, the Reuters article has been bubbling up in book citations. Suzanne Maloney mentioned it in her 2015 book “Iran’s Political Economy since the Revolution” as did Misagh Parsa in “Democracy in Iran: Why It Failed and How It Might Succeed” published in 2016.

This year Pompeo relied on it in four speeches. Two books published in 2018 place some weight on the Reuters article: “Challenging Theocracy: Ancient Lessons for Global Politics” by David Tabachnick, Toivo Koivukoski and Herminio Meireles Teixeira; and “Losing Legitimacy: The End of Khomeini’s Charismatic Shadow and Regional Security” by Clifton W. Sherrill. 

The name Setad, which means “headquarters” in Farsi, has been kicking around Washington for five years, ever since the U.S. imposed sanctions on the group. In June of 2013, the U.S. Treasury Department issued a press release about Setad and its subsidiaries, with a long list of Persian-named properties that were managing to avoid UN sanctions imposed on the country’s business dealings as a means of discouraging Iran’s enrichment of nuclear-weapon grade uranium.

Six months later, in November, Reuters published its extensive, three-part investigative package, which now tops Google searches for “Setad.”

The report was the first piece of important follow-up journalism on the U.S. Treasury press release. But in one key piece of wording, editors and reporters almost seem to be straining to move their story ahead of the government’s rendition, to the primary position it now holds in Google search-terms.

“Washington,” according to the article, “had acknowledged Setad’s importance.” Acknowledged? By journalistic conventions that Reuters editors would certainly know, an acknowledgement indicates a reluctant admission, something a source would rather not reveal. Five months earlier, however, the Treasury Department sounded eager to call attention to Setad as “a massive network of front companies hiding assets on behalf of … Iran’s leadership.”  

For hardliners on Iran, the U.S. Treasury press release was important fodder. But it lacked the human drama necessary to stir an audience against the current regime.  When the Reuters article came along, with all its historical omissions, it filled that gap.

Ivan Kesic is a Croatia-based freelance writer and open-source data analyst who has contributed to “Balkans Post” & “Sahar Balkan.” He worked as a writer at the Cultural Center of Iran in Zagreb from 2010 to 2016.

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The Saudi-US Crisis Will Pass

U.S.-Saudi ties have withstood crises in the past and will withstand this one, says As’ad AbuKhalil.

Washington and Riyadh Have Had Worse

Crises and Will Survive Khashoggi Murder

By As`ad AbuKhalil
Special to Consortium News

Nobody in Washington, Republican or Democrat, welcomes the crisis in U.S.–Saudi relations prompted by the murder in Istanbul of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi defector, on October 2. Maintaining good relations with the Saudi royal family has been a high bipartisan priority since President Franklin D. Roosevelt and King  Abdul Aziz ibn Saud made their Faustian bargain in 1945:  The U.S. would shield the Saudi kingdom’s tyranny from criticism in exchange for a share of oil revenues and Riyadh’s political loyalty (and American arms sales).

The relationship has continued this way in the decades since—and will still do so. The U.S. has covered up a long history of Saudi crimes and conspiracies; during the Cold War it used the Saudis to spread extremist jihadi ideologies to counter secular Arabs that tilted towards Moscow. More recently, the Saudi regime was not freelancing when it cultivated the likes of Osama bin Laden: He was part of a Saudi-U.S.-Pakistani effort to recruit, arm, and finance fanatical Muslims from around the world to undermine the progressive secular regime in Afghanistan.

If history is any guide, it is highly likely that Washington and Riyadh are collaborating behind the scenes to cover up the truth of the Khashoggi case and preserve the relationship as it has been for the past 85 years.

Beside the current crisis, there have been other dust-ups in the history of U.S.-Saudi relations. The 1973 oil crisis was the most serious, and it nearly undermined the alliance.  Back then the Saudi regime couldn’t ignore the rising tide of Arab sentiment against U.S. intervention on the side of Israel in the 1973 war.

King Faisal was adamant in discussions with Henry Kissinger, Nixon’s secretary of state and national security adviser, that Israel should withdraw from occupied Arab territories in return for lifting the oil embargo. Contrary to his public statements, Faisal hadn’t rejected Israel’s occupation of Palestine since the 1948 war.  Reflecting in part the king’s deep anti-Semitism, Faisal only refused to recognize Jewish religious rights in Jerusalem.

When reminded of the significance of the Wailing Wall (Buraq Wall for Muslims), he recommended construction of a new wall where Jews “could weep.” But Faisal’s firm stance didn’t last long: New U.S. arms sales were enough to make him abandon his insistence that Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories was a necessary condition for the restoration of oil sales to the West.

Another crisis arose with the broadcast of the movie “Death of a Princess” in 1980. The British-made film was based on a true story about the beheading of a Saudi princess who fell in love with a commoner. After the movie was shown in Britain, the Saudi government did not want U.S. television stations to broadcast it. The American oil lobby put enormous pressure on PBS stations around the country not to air it. Very few stations did, and the bilateral relationship was secured. 

There were other crises in the relationship in the 1980s between the Saudi government and Congress: Under pressure from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Congress opposed arms sales to Saudi Arabia, even as administrations (Democratic and Republican) favored them. AIPAC dropped its objections to weapons sales after the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the establishment of secret contacts between Israel and Gulf countries.

This is the background from which to view the current, relatively minor crisis in comparison. The Khasshogi killing wouldn’t have amounted to much if the U.S. mainstream media didn’t make a strong case against the Saudi royal family (while suddenly discovering the Saudis’ war on Yemen), and if the Turkish government hadn’t leaked so many gruesome details about the murder in the Saudi’s Istanbul consulate.

Trump’s Waffles

The Trump administration—in line with successive U.S. administrations–—first tried to minimize the significance of the crime.  President Donald Trump typically reminded Americans of the value of arms sales to the Saudi kingdom. But his subsequent statements were inconsistent: First he’d mention $10 billion in arms sales and then he’d promise to sanction the regime. He even uncharacteristically, for a U.S. president, pledged to let Congress decide on sanctions once an investigation is completed. (Which of several investigations he didn’t say.)

It’s not a stretch to believe the Trump administration has been working covertly with the Saudis to come up with a coverup story. The Saudi’s multiple explanations have been unconvincing from the start. The intent of CIA Director Gina Haspel’s trip to Istanbul seemed to be to shield the Saudi regime from the murder and Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman’s involvement. Haspel may have been behind Turkish President Recip Tayyip Erdogan’s surprising reluctance to reveal “the naked truth,” as he’d promised.

The U.S. almost certainly wanted the Turkish government’s raw intelligence to better advise the Saudis on the coverup. After Haspel’s meeting with Trump upon her return the Saudis admitted it was premeditated murder.

The U.S. likely mediated between Erdogan and MbS, given the animosity between the Turks and Saudis. Outlines of a deal are emerging. The Saudis now refer to their former occupiers as “sisterly Turkey,” though bin Salmon previously included it in the region’s “axis of evil.” Official Saudi rhetoric has also changed towards Qatar, which the Saudis and their allies have blockaded since last year. MbS and Adel Jubeir, his foreign minister, have made conciliatory statements about Doha in the last few days, something unthinkable a month ago.

Western and Turkish media keeps the Khassoghi story alive. But AIPAC, UAE and Israeli pressure has been exerted on the U.S. not to abandon bin Salman. For Israel, he is the opportunity of a lifetime: a rising Saudi prince in line to be king who is unburdened by political or religious attachment to ditch the Palestinians and continue his hostility toward Iran.

It is to Washington’s advantage that MbS has been weakened. He might now abandon his proclivity for adventurism and become a more traditional Saudi despot deferring to DC on key decisions. But that should make him also be more cautious about confronting Iran and endorsing Trump’s “deal of the century” for the Palestinians. The U.S. is still capable, though, of maneuvering to replace him if he becomes no longer useful, despite Saudi threats to align itself with China and Russia, or quit its embrace of Israel. 

The relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia has survived previous crises. It will survive this one.

As’ad AbuKhalil is a Lebanese-American professor of political science at California State University, Stanislaus. He is the author of the Historical Dictionary of Lebanon (1998), Bin Laden, Islam and America’s New “War on Terrorism” (2002), and The Battle for Saudi Arabia (2004). He also runs the popular blog The Angry Arab News Service.

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Despite Saudi Crisis, US Increases Threats Against Iran

Though the U.S.-Saudi alliance may have been weakened because of the Khashoggi murder, both countries are still targeting Iran as new US sanctions are announced on Sunday, writes Marjorie Cohn of Truthout. 

By Marjorie Cohn
Truthout

The alleged torture, murder and dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, widely believed to have been carried out on orders of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, may put a crimp in Donald Trump’s plans to escalate his aggression against Iran.

Saudi Arabia, the United States and Israel are unified in their hatred of Iran, albeit with different motives. Iran has been in the crosshairs of the United States since the 1979 Iranian Revolution overthrew the vicious, US-installed puppet Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi; indeed, in 2002, George W. Bush initiated Iran into his “axis of evil.” Saudi Arabia, home to the two holiest Muslim sites, sees Shiite Iran as a rival for regional hegemony. And Israel considers Iran an “existential threat.”

Trump administration officials and outside experts said that possible repercussions on an elaborate plan to squeeze the Iranians have dominated internal discussions about the fallout over what happened to Mr. Khashoggi,” David Sanger reported in The New York Times.

The allegations against the Saudi crown prince “have already had an effect” on Israel, “effectively freezing the push to build an international coalition against Iran’s regional influence, the top priority for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu,” Ben Hubbard and David Halbfinger, citing “analysts,” wrote in the Times.

White House officials are worried the mushrooming crisis with Saudi Arabia could “derail a showdown with Iran and jeopardize plans to enlist Saudi help to avoid disrupting the oil market.”

Trump Still Ramps It Up

Following the dangerous and foolhardy withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal — the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — which pleased Israel and Saudi Arabia, the Trump administration is slated to announce on Sunday that companies doing business with Iran — including purchasing oil or making investments in the country — will be forbidden from doing business in the United States. The imposition of these punishing sanctions are intended to result in a full embargo of Iran’s oil. 

Trump will need Saudi military and political cooperation if, “as threatened,” Iran retaliates against his oil embargo by taking “reciprocal, physical action to halt Saudi and Gulf states’ oil exports via the Strait of Hormuz in the Gulf and the Bab-el-Mandeb strait, at the mouth of the Red Sea,” Simon Tisdall noted in The Guardian. “If this crisis point is reached, escalating confrontations across the region cannot be ruled out.”

The Trump administration is relying on Saudi Arabia to pump extra oil once Iran is out of the market. But Congress is considering whether to punish Saudi Arabia for the Khashoggi case.

To penalize what the Saudis care about most – oil revenue – would be to undercut the Iran policy and send the price of gasoline and heating oil significantly higher, just as winter approaches,” Sanger noted.

Richard N. Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, told the Times, “It’s a neat trick if you both sanction a country and partner with them at the same time,” adding, “it’s not easy to keep the focus on Iran’s behavior when the Saudis are doing terrible things to journalists and dissidents, and bombing children in Yemen.”

The Khashoggi murder has shone a spotlight on the commission of Saudi war crimes in Yemen, aided and abetted by the United States. In a New York Times opinion piece, Sen. Bernie Sanders called for ending US military support to Saudi Arabia. But Sanger cited administration sources as saying, “the issue of limiting American arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which Mr. Trump has said would threaten American jobs, pales in importance [to the plan to squeeze Iran].”

Meanwhile, Trump continues to rattle the sabers at Iran.

Taliban Targeted

On Oct. 23, the Terrorist Financing Targeting Center, comprised of the United States, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar, designated nine individuals “associated with the Taliban,” some of whom have “Iranian sponsors.” A Bush-era executive order authorizes the Office of Foreign Assets Control to block the assets of anyone or any group designated as a terrorist.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced the terrorism designations in a press release, stating that the United States is “targeting key Iranian sponsors providing financial and material support to the Taliban.” He added, “Iran’s support to the Taliban stands in stark violation of the United Nations Security Council Resolutions and epitomizes the regime’s utter disregard for fundamental international norms.”

In a May speech, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States would “crush” Iran with new sanctions so severe that regime change could result.

Moreover, on Oct. 5, the White House released its long-awaited 25-page counterterrorism strategy, which calls Iran “the most prominent state sponsor of terrorism.” It pledges to fight Iran and “radical Islamist” militants to eliminate the terror threat against the United States.

In fact, Iran has not used aggressive military force against a hostile neighbor for more than 200 years. Curiously, the new U.S. counterterrorism strategy fails to identify Saudi Arabia, which is targeting civilians and killing thousands of them in Yemen (and backing extremists in Syria and elsewhere), as a terrorist threat.

Eric Margolis, a veteran war correspondent in the Middle East, reported in July that the Pentagon has prepared plans for an air attack on Iran:

The Pentagon has planned a high-intensity air war against Iran that Israel and the Saudis might very well join. The plan calls for over 2,300 air strikes against Iranian strategic targets: airfields and naval bases, arms and petroleum, oil and lubricant depots, telecommunication nodes, radar, factories, military headquarters, ports, water works, airports, missile bases and units of the Revolutionary Guards.

The National Coalition to Prevent an Iranian Nuclear Weapon, a group of more than 50 prominent foreign policy experts, released a statement saying, “The Trump Administration’s Iran strategy is to assert maximum economic, political and military pressure to change Iran’s behavior and threaten, if not cause, collapse of the regime.” That strategy, they added, “has left Iran the option of either capitulation or war.”

Many in Congress are worried that Trump may be gunning for Iran. They are trying to prevent him from mounting a preemptive strike.

Will Congress Stop an Attack?

On Sept. 28, Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM), joined by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Chris Murphy (D-CT), introduced the Prevention of Unconstitutional War with Iran Act of 2018. It would prohibit the United States from appropriating money that could lead to war with Iran unless Congress expressly approves. The legislation makes clear that a preemptive attack on Iran would be illegal under the War Powers Act and the US Constitution.

The Udall bill notes that “the International Atomic Energy Agency repeatedly verified that Iran has continued to comply with it nuclear-related obligations under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.” US noncompliance with the JCPOA, the bill continues, “risks an unnecessary conflagration with Iran through the use of sanctions against both allies and adversaries in the region and throughout the world, absent a clear diplomatic path for resolving the crisis.” The bill quotes Trump’s tweet that Iran “[w]ill suffer consequences the likes of which few throughout history have ever suffered before.”

Congress explicitly provided in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2019, “Nothing in this Act may be construed to authorize the use of force against Iran or North Korea.”

In April, a bipartisan bill to replace the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Force (AUMF) was introduced in the Senate and is currently pending in the Foreign Relations Committee. The proposed bill would allow the president “to use all necessary and appropriate force” against Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Libya and Somalia, al-Qaeda, ISIS (also known as Daesh), the Taliban and their “associated forces.” But by its terms, “associated forces” specifically excludes “a sovereign nation.” So, the new AUMF would not cover Iran.

That wouldn’t stop Trump from purporting to rely on the 2001 AUMF to attack Iran, however. Although specifically limited to those responsible for 9/11, Bush, Obama and Trump have all used it to justify at least 37 military operations, many of them unrelated to 9/11.

Copyright Truthout. Reprinted with permission.

Marjorie Cohn is professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers and an advisory board member of Veterans for Peace. The editor and contributor to The United States and Torture: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues, Cohn testified before Congress about the Bush interrogation policy.




New Iran Sanctions Risk Long-term US Isolation

The U.S. is going for the jugular with new Iran sanctions intended to punish those who trade with Teheran. But the U.S. may have a fight on its hands in a possible post- WWII turning-point, writes Patrick Lawrence.

New Iran Sanctions Risks
Long-term US Isolation

Europe, Asia May Rebel Against US Penalties

By Patrick Lawrence
Special to Consortium News

The next step in the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran comes this Sunday, Nov. 4, when the most severe sanctions will be imposed on the Islamic Republic. Crucially, they apply not only to Iran but to anyone who continues to do business with it.

It’s not yet clear how disruptive this move will be. While the U.S. intention is to isolate Iran, it is the U.S. that could wind up being more isolated. It depends on the rest of the world’s reaction, and especially Europe’s.

The issue is so fraught that disputes over how to apply the new sanctions have even divided Trump administration officials.

The administration is going for the jugular this time. It wants to force Iranian exports of oil and petrochemical products down to as close to zero as possible. As the measures are now written, they also exclude Iran from the global interbank system known as SWIFT.

It is hard to say which of these sanctions is more severe. Iran’s oil exports have already started falling. They peaked at 2.7 million barrels a day last May—just before Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the six-nation accord governing Iran’s nuclear programs. By early September oil exports were averaging a million barrels a day less.

In August the U.S. barred Iran’s purchases of U.S.-dollar denominated American and foreign company aircraft and auto parts. Since then the Iranian rial has crashed to record lows and inflation has risen above 30 percent.

Revoking Iran’s SWIFT privileges will effectively cut the nation out of the dollar-denominated global economy. But there are moves afoot, especially by China and Russia, to move away from a dollar-based economy.

The SWIFT issue has caused infighting in the administration between Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser who is among the most vigorous Iran hawks in the White House. Mnuchin might win a temporary delay or exclusions for a few Iranian financial institutions, but probably not much more.

On Sunday, the second round of sanctions will kick in since Trump withdrew the U.S. from the 2015 Obama administration-backed, nuclear agreement, which lifted sanctions on Iran in exchange for stringent controls on its nuclear program. The International Atomic Energy Agency has repeatedly certified that the deal is working and the other signatories—Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia have not pulled out and have resumed trading with Iran. China and Russia have already said they will ignore American threats to sanction it for continuing economic relations with Iran. The key question is what will America’s European allies do?

Europeans React

Europe has been unsettled since Trump withdrew in May from the nuclear accord. The European Union is developing a trading mechanism to get around U.S. sanctions. Known as a Special Purpose Vehicle, it would allow European companies to use a barter system similar to how Western Europe traded with the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

EU officials have also been lobbying to preserve Iran’s access to global interbank operations by excluding the revocation of SWIFT privileges from Trump’s list of sanctions. They count Mnuchin, who is eager to preserve U.S. influence in the global trading system, among their allies. Some European officials, including Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, propose making the euro a global trading currency to compete with the dollar.

Except for Charles de Gaulle briefly pulling France out of NATO in 1967 and Germany and France voting on the UN Security Council against the U.S. invading Iraq in 2003, European nations have been subordinate to the U.S. since the end of the Second World War.

The big European oil companies, unwilling to risk the threat of U.S. sanctions, have already signaled they intend to ignore the EU’s new trade mechanism. Total SA, the French petroleum company and one of Europe’s biggest, pulled out of its Iran operations several months ago.

Earlier this month a U.S. official confidently predicted there would be little demand among European corporations for the proposed barter mechanism.

Whether Europe succeeds in efforts to defy the U.S. on Iran is nearly beside the point from a long-term perspective. Trans-Atlantic damage has already been done. A rift that began to widen during the Obama administration seems about to get wider still.

Asia Reacts

Asian nations are also exhibiting resistance to the impending U.S. sanctions. It is unlikely they could absorb all the exports Iran will lose after Nov. 4, but they could make a significant difference. China, India, and South Korea are the first, second, and third-largest importers of Iranian crude; Japan is sixth. Asian nations may also try to work around the U.S. sanctions regime after Nov. 4.

India is considering purchases of Iranian crude via a barter system or denominating transactions in rupees. China, having already said it would ignore the U.S. threat, would like nothing better than to expand yuan-denominated oil trading, and this is not a hard call: It is in a protracted trade war with the U.S., and an oil-futures market launched in Shanghai last spring already claims roughly 14 percent of the global market for “front-month” futures—contracts covering shipments closest to delivery.

As with most of the Trump administration’s foreign policies, we won’t know how the new sanctions will work until they are introduced. There could be waivers for nations such as India; Japan is on record asking for one. The E.U.’s Special Purpose Vehicle could prove at least a modest success at best, but this remains uncertain. Nobody is sure who will win the administration’s internal argument over SWIFT.

Long-term Consequences for the U.S.

The de-dollarization of the global economy is gradually gathering momentum. The orthodox wisdom in the markets has long been that competition with the dollar from other currencies will eventually prove a reality, but it will not be one to arrive in our lifetimes. But with European and Asian reactions to the imminent sanctions against Iran it could come sooner than previously thought.

The coalescing of emerging powers into a non-Western alliance —most significantly China, Russia, India, and Iran—starts to look like another medium-term reality. This is driven by practical rather than ideological considerations, and the U.S. could not do more to encourage this if it tried. When Washington withdrew from the Iran accord, Moscow and Beijing immediately pledged to support Tehran by staying with its terms.If the U.S. meets significant resistance, especially from its allies, it could be a turning-point in post-Word War II U.S. dominance.

Supposedly Intended for New Talks

All this is intended to force Iran back to the negotiating table for a rewrite of what Trump often calls “the worst deal ever.” Tehran has made it clear countless times it has no intention of reopening the pact, given that it has consistently adhered to its terms and that the other signatories to the deal are still abiding by it.

The U.S. may be drastically overplaying its hand and could pay the price with additional international isolation that has worsened since Trump took office.

Washington has been on a sanctions binge for years. Those about to take effect seem recklessly broad. This time, the U.S. risks lasting alienation even from those allies that have traditionally been its closest.

Patrick Lawrence, a correspondent abroad for many years, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune, is a columnist, essayist, author, and lecturer. His most recent book is Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century (Yale). Follow him @thefloutist. His web site is www.patricklawrence.us. Support his work via www.patreon.com/thefloutist .

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Why the U.S. Seeks to Hem in Russia, China and Iran

America’s three principal adversaries signify the shape of the world to come: a post-Western world of coexistence. But neoliberal and neocon ideology is unable to to accept global pluralism and multipolarity, argues Patrick Lawrence.

By Patrick Lawrence
Special to Consortium News

The Trump administration has brought U.S. foreign policy to the brink of crisis, if it has not already tipped into one. There is little room to argue otherwise. In Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, and in Washington’s ever-fraught relations with Russia, U.S. strategy, as reviewed in my previous column, amounts to little more than spoiling the efforts of others to negotiate peaceful solutions to war and dangerous standoffs in the interests of an orderly world.

The bitter reality is that U.S. foreign policy has no definable objective other than blocking the initiatives of others because they stand in the way of the further expansion of U.S. global interests. This impoverished strategy reflects Washington’s refusal to accept the passing of its relatively brief post–Cold War moment of unipolar power. 

There is an error all too common in American public opinion. Personalizing Washington’s regression into the role of spoiler by assigning all blame to one man, now Donald Trump, deprives one of deeper understanding. This mistake was made during the steady attack on civil liberties after the Sept. 11 tragedies and then during the 2003 invasion of Iraq: namely that it was all  George W. Bush’s fault. It was not so simple then and is not now. The crisis of U.S. foreign policy—a series of radical missteps—are systemic. Having little to do with personalities, they pass from one administration to the next with little variance other than at the margins.

Let us bring some history to this question of America as spoiler. What is the origin of this undignified and isolating approach to global affairs?

It began with that hubristic triumphalism so evident in the decade after the Cold War’s end. What ensued had various names.

There was the “end of history” thesis. American liberalism was humanity’s highest achievement, and nothing would supersede it.

There was also the “Washington consensus.” The world was in agreement that free-market capitalism and unfettered financial markets would see the entire planet to prosperity. The consensus never extended far beyond the Potomac, but this sort of detail mattered little at the time.

The neoliberal economic crusade accompanied by neoconservative politics had its intellectual ballast, and off went its true-believing warriors around the world.

Failures ensued. Iraq post–2003 is among the more obvious. Nobody ever planted democracy or built free markets in Baghdad. Then came the “color revolutions,” which resulted in the destabilization of large swathes of the former Soviet Union’s borderlands. The  2008 financial crash followed.

I was in Hong Kong at the time and recall thinking, “This is not just Lehman Brothers. An economic model is headed into Chapter 11.” One would have thought a fundamental rethink in Washington might have followed these events. There has never been one.

The orthodoxy today remains what it was when it formed in the 1990s: The neoliberal crusade must proceed. Our market-driven, “rules-based” order is still advanced as the only way out of our planet’s impasses.

A Strategic and Military Turn

Midway through the first Obama administration, a crucial turn began. What had been an assertion of financial and economic power, albeit coercive in many instances, particularly with the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, took on further strategic and military dimensions. The NATO bombing campaign in Libya, ostensibly a humanitarian mission, became a regime-change operation—despite Washington’s promises otherwise. Obama’s “pivot to Asia” turned out to be a neo-containment policy toward China. The “reset” with Russia, declared after Obama appointed Hillary Clinton secretary of state, flopped and turned into the virulent animosity we now live with daily. The U.S.-cultivated coup in Kiev in 2014 was a major declaration of drastic turn in policy towards Moscow. So was the decision, taken in 2012 at the latest, to back the radical jihadists who were turning civil unrest in Syria into a campaign to topple the Assad government in favor of another Islamist regime.

Spoilage as a poor excuse for a foreign policy had made its first appearances.  

I count 2013 to 2015 as key years. At the start of this period, China began developing what it now calls its Belt and Road Initiative—its hugely ambitious plan to stitch together the Eurasian landmass, Shanghai to Lisbon. Moscow favored this undertaking, not least because of the key role Russia had to play and because it fit well with President Vladimir Putin’s Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), launched in 2014.

In 2015, the last of the three years I just noted, Russia intervened militarily and diplomatically in the Syria conflict, in part to protect its southwest from Islamist extremism and in part to pull the Middle East back from the near-anarchy then threatening it as well as Russia and the West.

Meanwhile, Washington had cast China as an adversary and committed itself—as it apparently remains—to regime change in Syria. Three months prior to the treaty that established the EAEU, the Americans helped turn another case of civil unrest into a regime change—this time backing not jihadists in Syria but the crypto-Nazi militias in Ukraine on which the government now in power still depends.

That is how we got the U.S.-as-spoiler foreign policy we now have.

If there is a president to blame—and again, I see little point in this line of argument—it would have to be Barack Obama. To a certain extent, Obama was a creature of those around him, as he acknowledged in his interview with Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic toward the end of his second term. From that “Anonymous” opinion piece published in The New York Times on Sept. 5, we know Trump is too, to a greater extent than Obama may have feared in his worst moments.

The crucial question is why. Why do U.S. policy cliques find themselves bereft of imaginative thinking in the face of an evolving world order? Why has there been not a single original policy initiative since the years I single out, with the exception of the now-abandoned 2015 accord governing Iran’s nuclear programs? “Right now, our job is to create quagmires until we get what we want,” an administration official told The Washington Post’s David Ignatius in August.

Can you think of a blunter confession of intellectual bankruptcy? I can’t.  

Global ‘Equals’ Like Us?

There is a longstanding explanation for this paralysis. Seven decades of global hegemony, the Cold War notwithstanding, left the State Department with little to think about other than the simplicities of East-West tension. Those planning and executing American diplomacy lost all facility for imaginative thinking because there was no need of it. This holds true, in my view, but there is more to our specific moment than mere sclerosis within the policy cliques.

As I have argued numerous times elsewhere, parity between East and West is a 21st century imperative. From Woodrow Wilson to the post-World War II settlement, an equality among all nations was in theory what the U.S. considered essential to global order.

Now that this is upon us, however, Washington cannot accept it. It did not count on non-Western nations achieving a measure of prosperity and influence until they were “just like us,” as the once famous phrase had it. And it has not turned out that way.

Think of Russia, China, and Iran, the three nations now designated America’s principal adversaries. Each one is fated to become (if it is not already) a world or regional power and a key to stability—Russia and China on a global scale, Iran in the Middle East. But each stands resolutely—and this is not to say with hostile intent—outside the Western-led order. They have different histories, traditions, cultures, and political cultures. And they are determined to preserve them.

They signify the shape of the world to come—a post-Western world in which the Atlantic alliance must coexist with rising powers outside its orbit. Together, then, they signify precisely what the U.S. cannot countenance. And if there is one attribute of neoliberal and neoconservative ideology that stands out among all others, it is its complete inability to accept difference or deviation if it threatens its interests.

This is the logic of spoilage as a substitute for foreign policy. Among its many consequences are countless lost opportunities for global stability. 

Patrick Lawrence, a correspondent abroad for many years, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune, is a columnist, essayist, author, and lecturer. His most recent book is Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century (Yale). Follow him @thefloutist. His web site is www.patricklawrence.us. Support his work via www.patreon.com/thefloutist.

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