A Middle East with No Master

The American abandonment of diplomacy in the Middle East has allowed its clients to pretty much do what they want leading to an ongoing realignment in the region, says Chas Freeman.

By Chas W. Freeman Jr.

Time was, the countries of the Middle East relied on the United States for patronage, protection, and guidance.  Suez taught Israel, Britain, and France that without Washington’s acquiescence, their policies could not succeed.  Egypt’s defection showed Russia the limits of its ability to compete for clients in the region.  It was U.S. leadership that enabled Israel, Egypt, and Jordan to end the state of war between them.

The standing of the United States in the region derived in part from its centrality to diplomacy aimed at finding a formula for peaceful coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians and acceptance of Israel’s legitimacy by its Arab neighbors. Except on issues related to Israel, many Arab governments followed America wherever it led. The collapse of the Soviet Union erased Russian influence in the Middle East, as it did elsewhere.

To recall this history is to underscore the extent of the geopolitical changes that have occurred so far this century. The United States no longer enjoys primacy in the Middle East.  The former colonial powers need American military support to intervene in the region, but the countries of the region itself now act independently, confident that they can gain American backing for whatever they do. They do not seem to be wrong about this, judging from U.S. backing for Israel’s wars on its neighbors, Gulf Arab efforts to topple the Asad government in Syria, and the ongoing devastation of Yemen by Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E.

In this century, the U.S.-managed “peace process” between Israelis and Palestinians served as a distraction while Israel evicted Palestinians from their homes, annexed their lands, and denied them self-determination. The ever less credible “peace process” ended by severely damaging U.S. diplomatic standing in the region and beyond it. Unilateral U.S. recognition of an undivided Jerusalem as Israel’s capital capped what had come to be seen as the world’s longest–running diplomatic farce.

In the absence of strategy, a desire to sustain relationships in the region by supporting clients’ actions drives U.S. policy. The clients themselves have moved beyond relationship-driven diplomacy and are into transactionalism. The extent to which the U.S. now follows rather than leads its client states in the region is reflected in the Trump administration’s obeisance to Israeli and Saudi hostility to Iran and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA—Iran nuclear deal.)

Meanwhile, minimal commitments of force accompanied by deft diplomacy have enabled Russia to exploit the Syrian tragedy [having been invited into Syria by Damascus] to become the most sought-after external actor in the region’s affairs. Turkey, once outside the region and Russia’s NATO enemy, is again part of the Middle East, this time cooperating with Russia there more often than not.  Egypt, Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey are all cultivating ties with Moscow.  Their objective is to correct over-reliance on the United States by diluting it.  The same purpose inspires their efforts to build markets in China and India and to enlist Chinese and Indian support for their foreign policies.

Ongoing Consequences of U.S. Invasion of Iraq

The U.S. invasion of Iraq thrust that country into anarchy and religious warfare that embittered relations between Sunnis and Shiites throughout the region.  U.S. policies focused on regime change gave Iran political hegemony in Iraq, entrenched its influence in Syria, and consolidated its alliance with Lebanese Hezbollah.  The collapse of order in the Levant spawned vicious new  terrorist movements that spread from Iraq to Syria, Somalia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, and the Sahel.

From the outset, Islamist forces in Syria enjoyed support from foreign enemies of the Asad government, including Islamists, the Syrian diaspora, most of the Gulf Arab states, Turkey, Israel, and the United States.  As proxy warfare escalated, an avalanche of refugees from Syria destabilized the EU. Six hundred thousand dead and 11 million displaced Syrians later, Asad remains in the saddle in Damascus.  He has defeated his armed opposition but is beholden to Iran, its Shiite allies in Lebanese Hezbollah, and Russia for this victory. Syria’s agonies are ending in a phony war between the United States and Turkey. Israel, which wanted anarchy or partition in Syria, now struggles to contain a hostile Iranian presence there and in neighboring Lebanon. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states that sought to overthrow Asad must now find a way to live with him.

Misguided American interventions and freelancing by U.S. client states have thus transformed the region’s politics, entrenched anti-Americanism with global reach, and facilitated its spread in Africa and Asia.  The wars that did this – the pacification campaigns in Afghanistan that followed the post-9/11 punitive raid of 2001, the destabilization of Iraq, the overthrow of the Libyan government, and incoherently contradictory policies that supported mutual antagonists in Syria – have yet to end or are ending in American defeat.  No longer the playground of imperial powers, the Middle East is now dominated by religious strife, Arab efforts to roll back US-abetted Persian hegemony, and cynical manipulation of Washington’s policy decisions by U.S. client states.

Four Trends in the Region

Let me conclude with four broad observations about overall trends in the Middle East.

First, religion is back as a driver of history.  Once a contest of nationalisms, the Israeli-Palestinian struggle is now part of the region’s multi-dimensional religious strife.  Both Sunni and Shiite extremists have made violent opposition to Zionism – as opposed to support for the Palestinian cause – a central feature of their ideologies.  This position enjoys broad support in the Muslim world.  Despite common interests with Israel, Arab pragmatists are constrained by Muslim loathing of Zionism in what they can do with it.  Meanwhile, the transformation of Judaism into a racist state ideology by Zionist extremists risks separating Israel from mainstream Jews abroad, who recoil from identification with the so-called “Jewish state’s” perversion of Jewish values and its increasingly amoral and inhumane behavior.  Ironically, however, as Hindutva tightens its hold on Indian politics, India’s Islamophobia is drawing it closer to Israel, which is becoming an increasingly important source of the country’s defense imports.

Second, the rising powers that Middle Eastern countries seek to engage in their affairs are unlikely to meet their expectations. China and India are the fastest growing markets for the Middle East’s energy exporters. But China has assiduously avoided entanglement in the region’s conflicts – whether Israel-Palestine or Gulf Arab-Iran. China is now the major foreign presence in Iraq’s oil sector, a significant investor in Egyptian and Iranian industry, a growing force in engineering management and construction in the Gulf, and a lucrative market for Israeli defense and internal security technology. Indian and Pakistani labor is a mainstay of Gulf Arab economies. But with the exception of an effort to loosen Pakistan’s hold on Afghanistan by investing in the Iranian port of Chabahar, India too is keeping its distance from Middle Eastern politics.

Third, with the exception of the United States, external powers have all declined to associate themselves with Israel’s, Saudi Arabia’s, and the United Arab Emirates’ hysteria about Iran. U.S. policy follows that of Israel in its focus on Iran’s potential to become a nuclear weapons state. Americans remain in denial about our role in expanding Iran’s political sway in the region, which is the principal concern of the Gulf Arabs. Washington’s confused approach to Qatar’s blockade by the Emirates and Saudi Arabia reflects this. The U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA will not be followed by other great powers. It is more likely to isolate Israel and the United States than Iran.

Finally, there is a very real danger that the low intensity conflict now underway between Israel and Iran in Syria and the Gulf Arabs’ proxy wars with Iran could escalate into a major war. One scenario for such a war would be a Saudi-assisted Israeli assault on Iran calculated to drag in the United States or a direct attack on Iran by U.S. forces. This would likely trigger strikes on Israel by Iranian forces and their allies in Syria and Lebanon and efforts by Iran to sabotage Saudi and Emirati oil production. It is unclear how such a war would end. But, having delegated U.S. policy toward Iran to Israel and the Gulf Arabs, the United States is in no position to decide that question or very much else.

Remarks delivered to the Middle East Project by Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr. in Washington, D.C. on May 10, 2018.

Ambassador Freeman chairs Projects International, Inc. He is a retired U.S. defense official, diplomat, and interpreter, the recipient of numerous high honors and awards, a popular public speaker, and the author of five books.




Delusions and Genocide: A Reply to Diana Johnstone 

Consortium News published an article on May 4 by Diana Johnstone, in which she critiqued an article by Tony McKenna, who has asked for the right to reply.

Editor’s Note: Consortium News published an article on May 4 by Diana Johnstone called, “Trotskyist Delusions: Obsessed with Stalin, They See Betrayed Revolutions Everywhere.”  In the piece, Johnstone critiqued an article by Tony McKenna, who has asked for the right to reply. We are publishing that reply here, with this disclaimer and notice to our readers that we do not endorse McKenna’s views on Syria. We feel they display a profound misunderstanding of the tragic circumstances in that country. To give just two examples:  McKenna’s assertion that it was the Free Syrian Army and other rebels that drove ISIS out of Syria and into Iraq, while ignoring all the many, more powerful forces arrayed against it, such as Syrian, Russian, Iranian, Lebanese, Kurdish and even American and its allied forces (who to some extent fought against ISIS in Syria), is a gross distortion of what has actually happened. 

The second example shows the essential error of McKenna and those that agree with him:  the failure to understand the nature of the opposition to Bashar al-Assad. His government emerged in the conflict as the far lesser evil to foreign-backed jihadists. Assad has never threatened the West the way ISIS has not only threatened, but attacked it. Assad did not kill Christians, Shia, Yazidi, women and other minorities just because of their identities, the way the jihadists have. McKenna’s assertion that it is Islamophobic to call most rebels in Syria terrorists, while comparing that to Israel labeling all Gazans “Hamas terrorists,” ignores the fact that Gazans and Hamas are resisting an occupation, while ISIS actually ran a particularly brutal occupation of both Syrian and Iraqi territory. He also ignores the role the West and Gulf Arabs played in allowing ISIS to flourish.

 

By Tony McKenna

I read with some interest Diana Johnstone’s recent article in Consortium News – ‘Trotskyist Delusions: Obsessed with Stalin, They See Betrayed Revolutions Everywhere’ (May 4, 2018) which was a response to an article of my own – ‘Revolution and Counter Revolution in Syria’ (International Socialist Review, March 1, 2018).  Johnstone’s article doubles as an attack on me and also a broader ‘critique’ of a ‘delusional’ Trotskyism whose ridiculous ideals have sinister real world consequences; that it to say, they allow said Trotskyists  ‘to align…with U.S imperialism. The obsession with permanent revolution ends up providing an ideological alibi for permanent war.’

In the comments section underneath, the same charge was echoed ad infinitum.  I am – either consciously or unconsciously – a supporter of Western Imperialism, at least with regard to Syria. This is the crux of the issue, and therefore something I’d like to address. 

I do not support US military intervention in Syria. I do not support Israeli intervention in Syria. I was against the recent airstrikes which were launched by the US with backing from Britain and France.   But I am also against the Russian and Iranian military interventions which have taken place in Syria.  The side I am not against – oddly enough for a ‘delusional Trotskyist’ – are the Syrian people themselves.  You know, the same guys who have been strafed, bombed, gassed, burnt, raped, tortured and systematically murdered for a sustained seven year period by their ghoulish dictator and his military apparatus –  in collusion, of course, with the cash, weaponry, troops and planes provided by Russia, Iran and Hezbollah.

Now I am going to emphasise the role of these latter state actors over others (shock, gasp – even over Western Imperialism!) because they are the ones who, in bolstering the Assad regime, have turned the country into a smouldering, ashen graveyard.  From March 11, 2011, to March 1, 2016, the regime was responsible for 183,827 civilian deaths,which accounts for a catastrophic 94.7 percent of all civilian deaths. UN investigators quite correctly described this as amounting to an ‘extermination’ of the civilian population.  This is the regime which Johnstone and her acolytes rally around.  Progressive, radical ‘anti-imperialist’ politics at their finest and most fragrant, served up in a batch, with that extra special dash of civilian mass murder. 

Then again, perhaps all those dead Syrian civilians were all ISIS sympathisers or the like.  Or even if they weren’t, perhaps those civilians had to be killed as collateral damage because they were harbouring rebels of a sinister Islamic fundamentalist bent in their midst.  That is certainly what Assad tells us. It is what the Russians would have you believe.  Ironic isn’t it?  As we watch, in real time, the murderous military machine of the Israeli state mow down unarmed Palestinian protestors taking part in the Great March of Return, Israeli propaganda feeds us a very similar ideological rationale.  The ‘great march’ protestors were, in reality, ‘violent fundamentalists’.  Or at the very least, they had been infiltrated by ‘violent fundamentalists’, they had been weaponised by Hamas.  

Is there any of us that take such claims seriously?  And yet, in the case of Syria, we are more easily swayed by such an insidious logic, we readily accept it as reality.  We take it as an accomplished fact that the rebels are Islamist fundamentalists, and where and when more secular currents emerge, we take it as given that these will eventually give up the ghost before rabid religious interests.  Is the Syrian, predominantly Muslim population, inherently susceptible to the most rabid strains of Islamic fundamentalism?  Or could it be that it is precisely this type of assumption, with all its islamophobic connotations, which has led to the lack of support for secular forces in their struggle against Assad.

FSA Smashed ISIS

In late 2013 a coalition of rebel forces of many different political shades (some secular, some religiously fundamentalist), led by the secular inclined Free Syrian Army, took a break from the bloody grapple with their murderous dictator in order to smash ISIS to pieces – driving them from Latakia, Idlib, Hama, Aleppo and Raqqa, sending the black clad, sword wielding fanatics scurrying back into the Iraqi desert. 

This was little covered in the press, of course, and, generally speaking, the rebels were given scant financial backing internationally as they conducted their heroic rout. In contrast, entities like ISIS are heavily subsidised by powerful foreign interests.  The Russians and Iranians pour billions into the Assad regime.   Locked between the snapping jaws of these snarling leviathans, the more secular inclined forces are given little support, and as a result have had their political presence diminished.

And that is why I support the right of the rebels to get arms from wherever they can. That includes, I am afraid to say, the U.S. state – or indeed any other.  Does that make me a de facto supporter of Western Imperialism?  Let’s consider this.  Just imagine being a member of that harrowing number caught between the Scylla of the fundamentalist extremists and the Charybdis of the Assad regime.  You are fighting for everything you have ever known and what is more you are fighting with meagre supplies against overwhelming forces, and in the most perilous of circumstances.  Surely you would accept arms and money from the devil himself if he offered them, no? For the simplest reason of all.  The alternative is annihilation.

Who is the Idealist?

Johnstone’s whole critique of me rests on the fact that I am some sort of ‘head in the clouds, Trotskyist idealist’ who is naïve to the way the real political forces are played out on the ground.  But in my view she is the idealist, if she somehow imagines that any rebel in that situation – in the face of an Assad regime which is genocidal in its intent and which has been fortified by billions in Russian arms and support – if she imagines that such a rebel should demur from using more effective and up-to-date weaponry, casting it to one side, on the grounds that it has been provided by the U.S. – and instead abandon themselves to the slaughter.  

Then again, I don’t think Johnstone troubles herself to think about the people on the ground all that much.  Methodologically speaking, there is a reason for this, and it is revealed in her piece.  In her account she mobilizes the figure of the Trotskyist as the bogeyman par excellence; she writes of Trotskyism in the following, withering terms: ‘The Trotskyists keep yearning for a new revolution, just like the Bolshevik revolution. Yes, but the Bolshevik revolution ended in Stalinism.’

I know something about Stalinism.  You might even say I wrote the book on it.  And in that book I noted the very opposite from that which Johnstone, and so many others, have glibly asserted; I noted that, in fact, the Bolshevik Revolution did not produce Stalinism from within itself.  In October 1917 the Bolshevik Party had a political mandate which came from the workers, soldiers, students and a significant proportion of the poorer layers of the peasantry. 

Such a mandate was channelled through the ‘soviets’, the workers’ councils which had sprung up in over 300 cities and towns across Russia.  In response to the October Revolution, and let me emphasise this – Western Imperialism – in the form of 14 foreign countries including the US, Britain and France, sent its armies into Russia in order to aid and abet the white counter revolution, as the forces of the ex-monarchy, the industrial capitalists and the dispossessed landowners threw everything they could against the new government in a bloody and protracted three year civil war.  

In that conflict, the Bolshevik bureaucracy, the government, managed to cling to power, barely, but the workers and radical peasants who had provided the democratic basis for that power had been exsanguinated in the furore of the civil war.  The Stalinist dictatorship was the ultimate expression of the centralisation of a bureaucracy which was made bereft of its social basis, a social basis which had withered in the fire of counterrevolution, and isolated and inward looking, that bureaucracy was now only able to retain its power from above – by purely administrative, militaristic and ultimately totalitarian means.

Lenin’s Last Battle

Of course, capitalist ideologues and defenders of the status quo adore the whole Bolshevism inherently leads to totalitarianism–Lenin inevitably begot Stalin, trope.   They do so, not because they have any interest in the historical specificities: the decimation of the industrial proletariat, the destruction of the Soviet democracy, foreign invasion, the movement from revolution to counterrevolution which underpinned that historical process.  They remain breezily unconcerned that the last battle of Lenin’s life was waged against the encroaching bureaucratic influence of Stalin. 

Rather, for them, Bolshevism becomes a cipher.  It represents any radical and popular socialist mobilisation which confronts the capitalist system and condemns such an alternative as inevitably destined to mutate into totalitarianism and gulags.  The inference, of course, is crystal clear; fundamental change is either utopian or dangerous –ergo capitalism is the only game in town.

For all her anti (U.S.) imperialism, for all her hatred of U.S. capitalism, Johnstone shares this sensibility with pro-capitalist ideologues to a tee. For her too, Bolshevism simply led to Stalinism – the historical specificity, the development of the popular revolution, the process of counterrevolution, the civil war – all these processes are either irrelevant or invisible; we are made to understand by Johnstone that revolution per-se ‘is more a myth than a reality’.   Needless to say, such a methodological presupposition bleeds into and thoroughly permeates her analysis of Syria.

For Johnstone, the revolutionary struggle of the Syrian masses is not flagging because they have been pulverized by the forces of a counter-revolutionary state bolstered by Russian imperial power; no the Syrian masses are wanting because just as Bolshevism innately led to Stalinism, so too their struggle must innately and inevitably lead to ‘jihadists taking over the country’. And when you understand, as Johnstone does, that forms of popular power from below are inherently irredeemable, the conclusion flows naturally and easily, and Johnstone does not shy away from stating it.  A country ‘such as Syria’ she informs us, is ‘not likely to be “modernized” without a strong ruler.’

In Bashar al-Assad she has found a strong ruler, a strong ruler indeed.  And a genocidal one.

Tony McKenna is a novelist, journalist and philosopher whose work has been featured by many publications including ABC Australia, The Huffington Post, New Internationalist, The United Nations, NewStatesman, The Progressive and New Humanist. His first book “Art Literature and Culture from a Marxist Perspective“, was released by Macmillan in 2015, the second a critically acclaimed biography of Joseph Stalin was published the following year, and in 2017 New Haven Publishing brought out his debut novel “The Dying Light“.




An Iranian Viewpoint on the Battle for Syria

A new feature from Iran gives a totally different perspective of the war raging in Syria than Western audiences are used to, explains Rick Sterling.

By Rick Sterling  Special to Consortium News

West against East on the Syrian battle-field, in the newspapers and now on film: A new, full-length action movie, titled “Damascus Time,” gives an Iranian perspective on the battle against ISIS in Syria.

The movie comes from Iranian screenwriter and film director Ebrahim Hatamikia. Two award-winning Iranian actors, Hadi Hejazifar and Babak Hamidian, play father and son pilots trying to rescue civilians besieged and attacked by ISIS forces in eastern Syria. The pilots have come to help the townspeople escape in an aging Ilyushin cargo plane.

Syrian and Iraqi actors play Syrian civilians and ISIS terrorists hell bent on blowing up the plane or using it on a suicide mission against Damascus.

The movie portrays sensational scenes from real ISIS atrocities with a backdrop showing the Syrian desert and famous ruins of Palmyra. The city where civilians are surrounded and besieged is similar to the Syrian city of Deir ez-Zor, which was surrounded and attacked by ISIS for years. During that time, the townspeople and soldiers depended on air-dropped food and ammunition to hold off the attackers, as shown in the movie.

Damascus Time”’s starkly sensational scenes are drawn from real ISIS atrocities. The jihadists display a human side, but they are wrapped in sectarianism, hate and violence.

Life’s complexities are demonstrated in the younger of the two Iranian pilots who has left his pregnant wife to be with his father. The mother-in-law of the young pilot bitterly criticizes him for leaving his wife. He tells her it will be his last trip.

While the story is fiction, what it portrays is all too real: Hundreds of thousands of real Syrians and Iraqis have been killed by the unleashing of the ISIS Frankenstein. Ironically, American leaders criticize Iran for being the “leading state sponsor of terrorism.” But in the Syrian war, Iran has been combatting it. Iran is more tolerant than most Westerners think too, as indeed Islam is. How many know for instance that Jews are represented in the Iranian parliament?

Western-backed Extremism

In reality, the U.S. and UK have allied for decades with extremists for short-term political gain. As documented in “Devil’s Game: How the U.S. Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam,”by Robert Dreyfuss, Britain and the U.S. promoted a violent and sectarian wing of the Muslim Brotherhood to undermine the nationalist and socialist policies of Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt. Starting in 1979, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia promoted the founders of what became Al Qaeda to attack the socialist-leaning government of Afghanistan.

This policy has continued to the present. In the summer of 2012, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency outlined their strategy in a secret document : “THERE IS THE POSSIBILITY OF ESTABLISHING A DECLARED OR UNDECLARED SALAFIST PRINCIPALITY IN EASTERN SYRIA (HASAKA AND DER ZOR).”The U.S. looked favorably on what the document predicts will be the creation of the “Islamic State”: “THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT THE SUPPORTING POWERS TO THE OPPOSITION WANT, IN ORDER TO ISOLATE THE SYRIAN REGIME…”.

Then, in a leaked audio conversation with Syrian opposition figures in September 2016, then Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S., rather than seriously fight Islamic State in Syria, was ready to use the growing strength of the jihadists to pressure Assad to resign, just as outlined in the DIA document.

We know that this was growing, we were watching, we saw that Daesh [a derisive name for Islamic State] was growing in strength, and we thought Assad was threatened,” Kerry said. “We thought however we could probably manage that Assad might then negotiate, but instead of negotiating he got Putin to support him.”

Russia began its military intervention in late September 2015 without the United States, with the Kremlin’s motives made abundantly clear by Vladimir Putin and other Russian officials. But such clear explanations are rarely reported clearly by Western corporate media, which instead peddles the line from officials and think tanks that Russia is trying to recover lost imperial glory in the Middle East.

But Kerry knew why Russia intervened. “The reason Russia came in is because ISIL [another acronym for Islamic State] was getting stronger, Daesh was threatening the possibility of going to Damascus, and that’s why Russia came in because they didn’t want a Daesh government and they supported Assad,” he said in the leaked discussion. Kerry’s comment suggests that the U.S. was willing to risk Islamic State and its jihadist allies gaining power in order to oust Assad.

The Biggest Sponsors

The true “state sponsor of terrorism” is not Iran; it is the West and their allies. Since Iran has been fighting ISIS and other extremists in Syria, it is appropriate that the first feature length movie depicting that battle against terrorism and ISIS comes from Iran.

Hundreds of Iranians have given their lives alongside their Syrian and Iraqi comrades. “Damascus Time” is not the product of Hollywood fantasy; it’s the product of actual human drama and conflict occurring in the Middle East today. “Damascus Time” is fictional but based on a real conflict with actual blood, atrocities, tragedies and martyrs.

The movie is currently being shown at cinemas throughout Iran. In recent weeks it was the second highest ranking movie. A trailer of the film can be viewed here. It should be available for viewing in the West in the near future, unless western sanctions and censorship are extended to culture.

Rick Sterling is an investigative journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

He can be contacted at rsterling1@gmail.com




The EU Will Not Stand by Iran

While European leaders have made noises that they will defy Donald Trump’s reneging on the Iran nuclear deal and resist U.S. sanctions, in the end the Europeans will give in to U.S., argues Alexander Mercouris in this commentary.

By Alexander Mercouris

Ever since Donald Trump’s announcement that the U.S. would pull out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (“JCPOA”) with Iran and would unilaterally impose across-the-board sanctions on that country, a procession of European leaders including the leaders of the U.S.’s most powerful European allies – Britain, France and Germany – have publicly declared their intention to stand by the JCPOA.

There is also brave talk of the EU creating safeguards for European companies which in defiance of the U.S. continue to trade or do business with Iran.

President Rouhani of Iran – who has a big personal stake in the JCPOA, which he personally negotiated – has for his part said that Iran will for the time being abide by the terms of the JCPOA whilst it waits to see how Europe will react.

In the meantime the talk of the EU standing up to the U.S. over the JCPOA has increased talk – or hope – that a corner in U.S.-EU relations has been turned, and that the EU will henceforth increasingly defy the U.S., making Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the JCPOA a further step in the decline of U.S. power.  These words of Craig Murray’s may stand as a good example:

We are yet to see the detail, but by all precedent Trump’s Iran sanctions will also sanction third country companies which trade with Iran, at the least through attacking their transactions through U.S. financial institutions and by sanctioning their U.S. affiliates.

But at a time when U.S. share of the world economy and world trade is steadily shrinking, this encouragement to European and Asian companies to firewall and minimise contact with the U.S. is most unlikely to be long term beneficial to the U.S. In particular, in a period where it is already obvious that the years of the U.S. dollar’s undisputed dominance as the world currency of reference are drawing to a close, the incentive to employ non-U.S. linked means of financial transaction will add to an already highly significant global trend.

In short, if the U.S. fails to prevent Europe and Asia’s burgeoning trade with Iran – and I think they will fail – this moment will be seen by historians as a key marker in U.S. decline as a world power.”

I do not share these expectations or these hopes.

Whilst there is no doubt European leaders are deeply shocked by Trump’s announcement of a pullout from an international agreement in negotiating which the EU played a large part, I strongly doubt that they will find the courage or the willpower to defy the U.S. by in effect encouraging their companies to continue to do business with Iran.

Market Size Matters

It should be said that even with such active encouragement it is unlikely in my opinion that big European companies like Daimler or Airbus will risk U.S. fines by continuing to do business with Iran.  Even if European governments were to guarantee them against any losses caused by such fines, they would worry about losing access to the U.S. market, which utterly dwarfs Iran’s.

Given the head of steam that has built up inside the Trump administration against Iran, only if the EU were to threaten publicly to impose reciprocal sanctions on U.S. businesses doing business in the European Single Market might there be a real possibility of the US being deterred from imposing penalties on European companies which continue to do business with Iran.

Frankly I think there is no prospect of that happening because there is no unanimity within the EU behind it (Poland and the Baltic States would certainly oppose it) whilst I am sure that even the big EU states – Britain, Germany, France, and Italy – would in the end be unwilling to risk an all out rupture with the U.S. on such an issue.

Quite simply, though the Europeans are anxious to trade with Iran and to do business with Iran, Iran is not big enough, and trade with Iran is not important enough, to make the risk of an all-out rupture with the U.S. worthwhile.

I am sure that the Europeans – angry though they certainly are – will therefore in the end knuckle down, and do as the U.S. tells them to do.

That almost certainly means that the JCPOA is doomed.  The Iranians have made clear that they will not stick with it if there are no economic benefits to them from doing so.  I expect within a few weeks – as it becomes increasingly clear that the EU is not prepared to defy the U.S. – that the Iranian nuclear programme will resume with a vengeance.

At that point the danger of a U.S., Israeli and Saudi attack on Iran will grow.

In fact this episode has been a profoundly humiliating one for Europe, exposing the extent of its powerlessness.

Not only did Trump ignore pleas to stand by the JCPOA from the U.S.’s closest European allies – Merkel, Macron and May – but he apparently did not even inform them in advance of the sweeping sanctions on Iran which he had decided to impose.

The European leader who has come out worst from this affair is France’s vain and foolish President Emmanuel Macron.

Macron appears to have genuinely believed that he had forged some sort of personal relationship with Trump, and that France’s contribution to the U.S.’s recent strike on Syria had made this bond even stronger.

In reality what Macron’s recent trip to Washington has done is simply expose the extent to which Trump and the U.S. take neither him nor France seriously.  All his pleas were ignored, whilst his fawning behaviour towards Trump apparently went down badly back home.

As for Angela Merkel, she at least avoided in her trip to Washington the disastrous optics of Macron’s visit.  She is far too skilled and experienced a politician to be caught out in that way.

However no-one should be in any doubt that it is Merkel’s disastrous leadership of Germany and of Europe which has brought Europe to this pass.

Merkel, Macron and May, Not Maggie

Ever since she became German Chancellor she has repeatedly sacrificed European and German interests in order to avoid rocking the boat with the U.S.

In July 2014 she took the fateful step of supporting the U.S.’s demand for sectoral sanctions against Russia even though these were contrary to German economic interests, in effect legitimising the U.S. practice of imposing unilateral sanctions without the agreement of the UN Security Council.  That makes it all but impossible to see how she can realistically oppose such sanctions now.

The contrast with Margaret Thatcher – who in the 1980s vigorously opposed unilateral U.S. sanctions intended to block Russian pipeline projects – is instructive.

In fact European behaviour over the JCPOA has been a textbook case of appeasement.

Instead of telling Donald Trump that a unilateral withdrawal from the JCPOA would be contrary to international law – which it is – and that Europe would strongly oppose US withdrawal from an international agreement which was not only working but with which Iran is abiding, European leaders like Merkel, Macron and May instead told Trump that they agreed with him that the JCPOA was in some way “imperfect” and would have to be “improved”.

Needless to say that not only failed to persuade Donald Trump to stick with the JCPOA; it almost certainly emboldened him, convincing him that he is right to pull out of it.

Trump’s decision to pull out of the JCPOA and to impose sweeping unilateral sanctions on Iran will undoubtedly embitter European opinion against the U.S.  It is also likely to make Europe more resistant to any further U.S. pressure to ramp up sanctions against Russia.  Unlike trade with Iran, European and especially German trade with Russia is indispensable for the European and German economies, which explains why constant U.S. pressure on Germany to pull out of the Nord Stream 2 project has been resisted.

In the longer term this episode probably will harden further the anti-U.S. trend in voting on the part of European electorates, though it is worth pointing out that some of the right wing ‘populist’ European politicians who have benefitted from this process are not friends of Iran’s.

However in the immediate term Iran’s economic salvation as it finds itself under renewed sanctions pressure will come not from Europe but from Russia and China and the other Eurasian states.

This commentary originally appeared on The Duran.

Alexander Mercouris is a political commentator and the editor-in-chief of The Duran.




Trump’s War Against Iran

An apparent coordination between Trump leaving the Iran deal and Israeli attacks on Iranian targets in Syria portend an attack on Iran itself, says Eric S. Margolis.

 By Eric S. Margolis

Israel attacked alleged Iranian military positions in Syria on Tuesday, just one hour after Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the nuclear deal with Tehran.   Are these big steps forward in the plan by Israel’s leader Benjamin Netanyahu and his ally Trump to provoke a major war with Iran?

The U.S., Saudi Arabia and Israel all recently suffered a stinging defeat in Syria. Their campaign to overthrow the Assad government in Damascus by using the rag-tag ISIS movement, and other jihadist wild men, was defeated by the Syrian Army, backed by Russian air power, Lebanon’s Hezbollah and some Iranian militia groups and army advisors. 

The alleged Iranian rocket barrage, supposedly in response to Tuesday’s attack, was directed at the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights that were illegally annexed and occupied after the 1973 Arab-Israeli War and are still held, legally, as part of Syria. Israel is very nervous about having world attention drawn to its continued occupation of the strategic Golan Heights from which Israeli heavy artillery can reach Damascus.

Israel now claims to have wiped out more than a score of Iranian positions in Syria.  As far as we can tell, these were minor logistics or communications facilities, not the backbone of a supposed Iranian offensive against Israel. Iran is in Syria at the invitation of the Syrian government.

Neocon Takeover Complete

But now that the Trump administration has fallen fully under the influence of the pro-war neocons, an attempt to overthrow the Iranian government appears highly likely, using both military intervention and intensified economic warfare. 

Iran has been under siege by the U.S. since the American/British installed shah was overthrown by a popular revolution in 1979. The CIA and Britain’s MI6 have mounted numerous attempts to oust the Islamic Republic and re-install a client ruler.

Ironically, the ‘democratic’ western powers – the U.S., Britain and France – rely on medieval monarchs and dictators to control the Mideast while democratic politicians and movements are ignored, suppressed or overthrown.  Iran, in spite of its many rigidities and failings, remains one of the region’s more democratic states.   Ask our Saudi or Kuwaiti allies when was the last time they held a real election?  

The failure of Western intelligence services to provoke serious uprisings in Iran (or Russia), means that the military option is increasingly tempting.   This probably means provoking military clashes with Iran in the Gulf leading to full-scale attacks on its nuclear infrastructure and industry.   U.S. warplanes and warships are actively probing Iran’s borders.  In addition, U.S. forces are getting ever more deeply involved in the Yemen War.

When the U.S. last considered a major attack on Iran during the Bush years, the Pentagon (which opposed the idea) estimated it would need 2,800 air strikes against Iran on Day One alone.   

Many of the same war party crowd that engineered the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq are now running the Trump administration.  Their goal is to cripple Iran and leave the Mideast to joint Saudi-Egyptian-Israeli control.       

Recall President George W. Bush’s assertion that once he had crushed Iraq the next targets of U.S. military intervention would be Lebanon, Syria, Iran and then Pakistan.

No Cake Walk

America controls the skies from Morocco to Afghanistan.  Iran is vulnerable to raids and small incursions but subjugating this large, mountainous nation of 80 million would be very difficult.

In fact, as an Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander once told me, ‘let the Americans invade. They will break their teeth on Iran.’  Over-confidence, of course, but he had a point.  Fighting on the defensive in urban areas, Iran could offer fierce resistance. 

America’s imperial machine, like its British Imperial predecessor, likes small, easy wars against small, backwards nations.  Iran would be very different. 

As we have just seen with North Korea, Iran’s best survival strategy, short of security guarantees by Russia and China, would be to race to produce a small number of nuclear weapons to deter attacks by the U.S. and Israel.  Europe, which co-sponsored the Iran nuclear act and is now humiliated by Trump reneging on the deal, is too weak and disorganized to guarantee the pact and stand up to Washington.  This is too bad.  Now would have been a fine time for the EU to assert its independence from U.S. hegemony and begin building its own independent European military forces.

A version of this article first appeared on CommonDreams.Copyright  Eric S. Margolis 2018

Eric S. Margolis is an award-winning, internationally syndicated columnist and book author. His articles have appeared in the New York Times, the International Herald Tribune, Times of London, the Wall Street Journal, the Khaleej Times, Lew Rockwell and other news sites in the Middle East and Asia.  He has appeared as an expert on foreign affairs on CNN, BBC, ABC, France 2, France 24, Al Jazeera, CTV, CBC, CCTV China His internet column is found at  www.ericmargolis.comHe is author of two best-selling books ”War at the Top of the World – The Struggle for Afghanistan and Asia” and “American Raj, How the U.S. Rules the Mideast”.

 




Trump’s Iran Debacle: What Will Germany and Russia Do?

It falls to Germany to save the Iran nuclear deal and try to prevent a devastating new Middle East War, argues Daniel Lazare.

By Daniel Lazare  Special to Consortium News

In the wake of Donald Trump’s thoroughly unsurprising decision to scuttle the Iran nuclear accord, two countries that may be most in the hot seat are Germany and Russia.  The big question now is whether their mutual discomfort leads them to find common cause.

 Angela Merkel’s plight is especially painful.  Not only are Germany’s extensive business links with Iran at risk thanks to Trump’s decision to re-apply sanctions, but the German chancellor’s political fortunes have taken a beating thanks to years of American incompetence in the Middle East.

 In Libya, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton devoted two weeks during the 2011 Arab Spring to persuading Qatar to join the anti-Gaddafi coalition, only to stand by and watch as the oil-rich emirate seized the opportunity to distribute some $400 million to murderous Salafist rebels spreading anarchy from one end of the country to the other.  The result was a failed state that soon turned into a jumping-off point for hundreds of thousands of desperate refugees making their way to Germany and other parts of the European Union.

 Remarkably, Clinton did the same thing a few months later in Syria by teaming up with Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and other Arab gulf states to fund what would soon become a full-scale Islamist invasion.  The upshot: more murder and mayhem, more refugees, and more terrorism when ISIS – funded by the Saudis and Qataris according to no less an authority than Clinton herself – decided to extend its jihad to Paris, Brussels, Nice, Manchester, Barcelona, and Berlin starting in November 2015.  As if that weren’t enough, Washington irritated its German partners by opposing the Nord Stream II natural gas pipeline, a Russo-German project headed by ex-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, and then, under Trump, by pulling out of the Paris climate accords last June. 

Untutored Ambassador

A bruised and battered Merkel thus saw her share of the vote shrink by more than twenty percent in last September’s German federal

election while the anti-immigrant Alternative für Deutschland saw its portion more than double. Now, Trump’s decision to dump the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the Iran nuclear agreement is formally known, is making matters much, much worse.  First, Israel took advantage of the move to launch its biggest attack on Syria since the 1973 Yom Kippur War, raising prospects that Middle East chaos may be poised for yet another upsurge.  Then US Ambassador Richard Grenell showed what America really thinks of its German partners by tweeting: “As @realDonaldTrump said, US sanctions will target critical sectors of Iran’s economy.  German companies doing business in Iran should wind down operations immediately.”  

Grenell, a former Fox News commentator, sounded like an all-too-typical American boss barking an order at an unpaid intern.  Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn described the tweet as an “impertinence” while Andrea Nahles, leader of the center-left German Social Democrats, said: “It’s not my task to teach people about the fine art of diplomacy, especially not the US ambassador.  But he does appear to need some tutoring.”  

 Quite right.  But Germany is not the only one feeling the pain – Russia is too.  It is allied with Iran in support of Syria’s embattled president Bashar al-Assad, yet has somehow managed to maintain good relations with Israel.  This is why Putin invited Benjamin Netanyahu to be his personal guest at this week’s May 9 Victory Day celebrations in Moscow where the Israeli prime minister joined Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic in laying a wreath on the Soviet Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  When Putin paid tribute to the Soviet troops “who saved Europe and the world from slavery, from the horrors of the Holocaust,” by defeating Nazi Germany (quote begins at 2:00), there was no doubt as to whom he was addressing.

But the celebration also featured a traditional Red Square military parade featuring not only unmanned robo-tanks and Sukhoi Su-57 stealth fighters, but mobile batteries of anti-aircraft missiles. Less than twelve hours later, Netanyahu showed his thanks by destroying at least five Russian-made anti-aircraft batteries as part of the assault on Syria.  According to the Israeli military, Israel notified Russia of the impending attack via “deconfliction” procedures in place since September 2015 – which means that Russia more or less assented to the destruction of its own defense systems. 

It’s Up to Germany

This can’t go on, especially with Israel intervening ever more heavily on the side of pro-Al Qaeda rebels whom Russia, Iran, and Syria are trying to repel.  The more the battle intensifies, the more impossible Putin’s position will become.

The man needs back-up, but from where?  The answer lies in the other signatories to the JCPOA – China, the UK, France, and Germany.  But the first is preoccupied with events in the Far East, the second is in political disarray, while the third is a joke thanks to the preening and arrogant Emmanuel Macron.  That leaves Germany.  If it provided Russia with even a modicum of support, the upshot could be a major shift in the way the deadly game of Middle East politics is played.

Germany has real clout with regard to the Jewish state. It is Israel’s biggest trading partner in Europe and, after the US, its second largest trading partner overall.  It is an important cultural and scientific partner, while Berlin, in one of history’s more delectable ironies, is now home to one of Israel’s largest expatriate communities, some 15,000 Jews and Arabs who find life in the German capital freer and more vibrant than back home and, as a consequence, have peppered it with Hebrew-language kindergartens, a Hebrew library, a Hebrew literary magazine, a Hanukkah market, and Iranian-Israeli techno parties.

The same goes for Germany and Iran.  As Gary Leupp recently pointed out in Counterpunch,Germany comprises sixty percent of EU investment in the Islamic state where it sells machinery, metals, chemicals, and agricultural products.  With Daimler recently signing an agreement with Iranian Khodro to produce Mercedes-Benz motor vehicles, its investments are currently increasing at a rate of around about twenty-five percent per year.

Amid inflation, a currency crisis, and a growing strike wave, Iran is grateful for such business and desperate for more.  So when Germany talks, it listens.  Syria, much of which resembles postwar Berlin after a half-dozen years of imperialist assault, would listen as well if Germany gave it half a chance.  Indeed, it would be so grateful for the slightest olive branch that Damascenes would no doubt take to the streets in celebration.

Walking on Eierschalen

So a joint Russo-German diplomatic offensive could provide the basis for a genuine realignment.  Needless to say, there are a thousand and one reasons why this won’t occur.  Germany walks on eggshells when it comes to Israel for obvious historical reasons and is therefore reluctant to do anything that might anger the Jewish state.  It routinely defers to the US, which midwifed the German Federal Republic in 1949 and provided it with a veneer of political legitimacy in the ensuing decades.  Public intellectuals like Jürgen Habermas have made careers out of arguing that Germany’s future lies in deeper and deeper integration with the liberal west, while NATO and the EU insure a deepening western orientation as well.  

If Germany were to turn in the other direction, the protests would be deafening not only in Washington, Paris, and London, but in Berlin.  They would be even more so in Poland, the Ukraine, and the Baltics where local nationalists, many leaning in an increasingly fascist direction, have come to rely on unbroken western support.

It would be a dangerous leap into the unknown on the part of a country that couldn’t be more risk averse.  But Germany may have no choice.  Trump is nuts, American power is receding more rapidly than anyone would have thought possible two or three years ago, while western liberalism is crumbling as well.  Hardliners are in control in Washington where Republicans and Democrats compete to see who can be more obsequious to Israel and more hostile to all things Russian.  The same goes for Tel Aviv and Tehran where, thanks to Trump, the hardliners are equally in the saddle.  

If there are two countries that know what can happen when the crazies are in control, it’s Russia and Germany.  But now that history has placed them in the same boat as it approaches the cataracts, Putin, for one, is rowing madly.  Will Merkel lend a hand with the oars?

Daniel Lazare is the author of The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution Is Paralyzing Democracy (Harcourt Brace, 1996) and other books about American politics. He has written for a wide variety of publications from The Nation to Le Monde Diplomatique, and his articles about the Middle East, terrorism, Eastern Europe, and other topics appear regularly on such websites as Jacobin and The American Conservative.  




Iran Deal Partners Mull How to Confront ‘Renegade’ U.S.

With the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal and with Americans ordering Europeans to stop dealing with Tehran, the remaining signatories are trying to figure out how to confront the U.S., says Enrico Carisch.

By Enrico Carisch

What can the five remaining signatories to the Iran nuclear deal do now that the Trump administration has trampled on Security Council Resolution 2231 and its 13 binding decisions, adopted under Article 41 of the United Nations Charter, which codified the Iran nuclear deal into international law? Sooner or later, the other 14 members of the Security Council, especially Britain, China, France and Russia, must decide how to confront their renegade permanent member, the United States.

Otherwise, the Council may lose its unique authority to prevent and resolve conflicts.

Specifically, the question they may soon have to confront will be how they can protect the resolution and the companies that comply with it when doing business with Iranians, given that Iran is subject once again to new U.S. sanctions.

The first broadside against the companies of U.S. allies that are doing business with Iran came minutes after President Donald Trump announced his withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, on May 8. Richard Grenell, his ambassador to Germany (and spokesman for the U.S. at the UN from 2001-2008), tweeted, “German companies doing business in Iran should wind down operations immediately.”

The reaction was immediate, but it was outrage, not compliance, that German diplomatic and business leaders expressed.

We have no understanding for the American call that German enterprises are expected to immediately drive down their business in Iran,” said Dieter Kempf, president of the Association of German Industry, a trade group. “German industry criticizes the application of extraterritorial sanctions that violate international law.”

French leaders lost no time in discussing countermeasures. Patrick Pouyanné, chief executive of the petroleum producer Total, is seeking European Union protection against likely American penalties for Total holding on to its 50.1 percent investment, worth close to $4 billion, in Iran’s South Pars natural gas project.

For international companies caught between respecting Resolution 2231 and new U.S. sanctions, the easiest solution would be to obtain exemptions from the U.S. Treasury’s Office for Foreign Asset Control. But the office has signaled that there will be little leeway once it would “begin the process of implementing 90-day and 180-day wind-down periods” for activities that were — until now — permitted under the JCPOA.

Hardliners Will Gain

Reuters has also reported that Steven Mnuchin, the U.S. treasury secretary, is throwing cold water on hopes that waivers or exemptions will be granted.

Regarding the huge 200-passenger aircraft deal that Iran signed with Boeing, the American company; and other deals with Airbus, the European aviation consortium, and ATR, a French-Italian company, Mnuchin said, “The Boeing and Airbus licenses will be revoked.”

The Office for Foreign Asset Control has the ability to not only interfere with Boeing’s sales but also the European manufacturers’ dealings with Iran because “under the original deal, there were waivers for commercial aircraft, parts and services.”

While exemptions may save some foreign companies’ investments in Iran, those of strategic value to the country’s development and military strength will likely become the battlefield between U.S. sanctions and the UN sanctions relief that were mandated in Resolution 2231.

The result of weak protection from U.S. sanctions on Iran will be Iranians’ continued economic suffering. The sanctions-stunted commerce and development of their industries will almost certainly mean that President Hassan Rouhani will lose control of the government to hard-line conservatives.

In a repeat of the 2005 resurgence of Iran’s conservatives, which is already fermenting, the country could turn into everything that Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, have been deceptively claiming all along: that Iranians are aggressive nuclear proliferators and a threat to the regional Sunni hierarchy.

France, Germany, Britain and other European powers are united in trying to prevent a newly radicalized Iran from resuming enrichment of fissile material, which could trigger a new Middle East war. In a statement released immediately after Trump’s announcement on May 8, Prime Minister Theresa May, Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Emmanuel Macron declared, “We, the E3, will remain parties to the JCPOA.”

But Trump threatened in his speech from the White House, “Any nation that helps Iran in its quest for nuclear weapons could also be strongly sanctioned by the United States.”

Nevertheless, the three European heads of state pledged, “Our governments remain committed to ensuring the agreement is upheld, and will work with all the remaining parties to the deal to ensure this remains the case including through ensuring the continuing economic benefits to the Iranian people that are linked to the agreement.”

The U.S. Military Threat

Regional stability is, however, an issue that the U.S. apparently intends to deal with militarily, according to a presidential memorandum released on May 8 by the White House. Under the heading “Preparing for Regional Contingencies,” Trump instructed the secretary of defense and heads of any other relevant agencies to “prepare to meet, swiftly and decisively, all possible modes of Iranian aggression against the United States, our allies, and our partners.

The Department of Defense shall ensure that the United States develops and retains the means to stop Iran from developing or acquiring a nuclear weapon and related delivery systems.”

Did this chilling directive mean that the U.S. was preparing preventive strikes against Iran’s ballistic missile development facilities? The answer came quicker than most people would have expected.

Alleging a failed barrage of 20 Iranian missiles striking the Golan Heights, Israel’s defense forces (IDF) struck back at dozens of Hezbollah and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps positions based in Syria. However, neither the IDF website nor its spokesperson provided evidence for the alleged missiles attack. They also did not provide evidence, if the attacks did occur, that the missiles were fired by Iranian and not Syrian armed forces.

Citing Arab news channels, the Iranian news agency FARS reported only the Syrian army’s response. Al Mayadeen news channel, a media site based in Beirut, claimed “that 50 rockets were fired at 4 Israeli military complex centers in occupied Golan,” whereas the Syrian Al-Alam news channel reported the firing of 68 missiles.

Failing to explain why Iran’s forces should suddenly launch a small, unsuccessful attack on Israel, IDF noted merely that “this is the first time that Iranian forces have directly fired at Israeli troops.” The Guardian  said the “analysis of who is to blame for this outbreak of hostilities demands even more than usual skepticism and careful un-packaging.”

Stopping Trump

So what can the Europeans do with China and Russia to stop the escalating violence between Israel and Iran and to blunt Trump’s undiplomatic — and possible military — assault on Iran and the tenuous state of Middle East peace?

Taking the matter to the Security Council makes little sense, as the 10 elected members have noted.

Any attempts to discuss a new formula of the JCPOA minus U.S.A would be blocked,” explained several European and Asian representatives of the Council’s elected members, after Trump’s announcement. They assume that the U.S. ambassador, Nikki Hailey, is almost certainly under instructions to prevent further discussions about the Iran deal.

In addition, any proposed resolution asserting the primacy of Resolution 2231 over unilateral policies would, of course, be smacked down with a veto, as is the usual case with attempts to discuss Israeli threats — or provocations — to peace and security.

All of which now leaves the Security Council irrationally outmaneuvered.

It is one reason that Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, signaled his government’s commitment to continue collaborating with the rest of the world after the Trump announcement by offering to “spearhead a diplomatic effort to examine whether remaining JCPOA participants can ensure its full benefits for Iran.”

The signals from the remaining nuclear-deal signatories is that the strongest rebuke of Trump’s destructive move is to keep the deal’s formula, minus the U.S. participation, if they can do it.

 This article originally appeared on PassBlue.

Enrico Carisch has worked for the Security Council as an investigator on sanctions violations and was an investigative reporter for print and TV for 25 years. He is co-author of the just-released book “The Evolution of UN Sanctions: From a Tool of Warfare to a Tool of Peace, Security and Human Rights.” He is also a co-founder and partner of Compliance and Capacity Skills International (CCSI), a New York-based group specializing in all aspects of sanctions regimes (http://comcapint.com).




The Coming War Against Iran

We’ve been through this before: the trumped-up threat from Iraq based on false evidence in 2003 is the harrowingly similar model to what is emerging for Iran in 2018, argues John Kiriakou.

By John Kiriakou

I spent nearly 15 years in the CIA. I like to think that I learned something there. I learned how the federal bureaucracy works. I learned that cowboys in government – in the CIA and elsewhere around government – can have incredible power over the creation of policy. I learned that the CIA will push the envelope of legality until somebody in a position of authority pushes back. I learned that the CIA can wage war without any thought whatsoever as to how things will work out in the end. There’s never an exit strategy.

I learned all of that firsthand in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. In the spring of 2002, I was in Pakistan working against al-Qaeda. I returned to CIA headquarters in May of that year and was told that several months earlier a decision had been made at the White House to invade Iraq. I was dumbfounded, and when told of the war plans could only muster, “But we haven’t caught bin Laden yet.” “The decision has already been made,” my supervisor told me. He continued, “Next year, in February, we’re going to invade Iraq, overthrow Saddam Hussein, and open the world’s largest air force base in southern Iraq.” He went on, “We’re going to go to the United Nations and pretend that we want a Security Council Resolution. But the truth is that the decision has already been made.”

Soon after, Secretary of State Colin Powell began traveling around Europe and the Middle East to cultivate support for the invasion. Sure enough, he also went to the United Nations and argued that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, necessitating an invasion and overthrow because that country posed an imminent threat to the United States.

But the whole case was built on a lie. A decision was made and then the “facts” were created around the decision to support it. I think the same thing is happening now.

Iraq Redux

First, Donald Trump said repeatedly during the 2016 campaign that he would pull out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) (which he did on Tuesday), also known as the Iran sanctions deal. The JCPOA allows for international inspectors to examine all of Iran’s nuclear sites to ensure that the country is not enriching uranium and is not building a weapons program. In exchange, Western countries have lifted sanctions on Iran, allowing them to buy spare parts, medicines, and other things that they had been unable to acquire. Despite the protestations of conservatives in Congress and elsewhere, the JCPOA works. Indeed, the inspection regime is exactly the same one that the United Nations imposed on Iraq in the last two decades.

Trump has kept up his anti-Iran rhetoric since becoming president. More importantly, he has appointed Iran hawks to the two most important positions in foreign policy: former CIA Director Mike Pompeo as secretary of state and former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton as national security advisor. The two have made clear that their preferred policy toward Iran is “regime change,” a policy that is actually prohibited by international law.

Perhaps the most troubling development, however, is the apparent de facto alliance against Iran by Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent “presentation” on what he called a clandestine Iranian nuclear weapons program was embarrassingly similar to Powell’s heavily scripted speech before the UN Security Council 15 years earlier telling the world that Iraq had a program. That, too, was a lie.

Another Hyped Threat

Saudi crown prince Muhammad bin Salman, the godfather of the Saudi war in Yemen, which in turn is a proxy war against Iran, recently made a grand tour of the United States and France talking about “the Iranian threat” at every turn. The rhetoric coming out of the UAE and Bahrain is at least as hostile as what has been spewed by the Saudis.

Meanwhile, there’s silence on Capitol Hill. Just like there was in 2002.

I can tell you from firsthand experience, that I’ve seen this before. Our government is laying the groundwork for yet another war. Be on the lookout for several things. First, Trump is going to begin shouting about the “threat” from Iran. It will become a daily mantra. He’ll argue that Iran is actively hostile and poses an immediate danger to the United States. Next Pompeo will head back to the Middle East and Europe to garner support for military action. Then US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley will scream in front of the UN Security Council that the US has no choice but to protect itself and its allies from Iran. The final shoe to drop – a clear indication of war – will be if naval carrier battle groups are deployed to the eastern Mediterranean, the Arabian Sea, or the Persian Gulf. Sure, there’s always one in the region anyway. But more than one is a provocation.

We have to be diligent in opposing this run into another war of choice. We can’t be tricked or taken by surprise. Not again.

This piece originally appeared at RSN.

John Kiriakou is a former CIA counterterrorism officer and a former senior investigator with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. John became the sixth whistleblower indicted by the Obama administration under the Espionage Act – a law designed to punish spies. He served 23 months in prison as a result of his attempts to oppose the Bush administration’s torture program.




War Clouds Gather Around Iran

With Israel and Iran exchanging direct fire, Trump pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal and John Bolton promoting regime change in Tehran, Inder Comar offers four reasons why the US may be close to attacking the Islamic Republic.

By Inder Comar

In 1953, the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency, with the help of the British government, orchestrated a coup against Iran’s democratically elected prime minister, Mohammad Mossadeq.

Mossadeq had nationalized the Iranian oil industry, including the British Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. This was unacceptable to the United Kingdom. A request to the United States for assistance led to “Operation Ajax,” and the overthrow of Mossadeq. 

Mossadeq’s political successor was the Shah of Iran, who ruled with the support of the U.S. and the U.K. until 1979, when he was himself overthrown by a popular revolution led by Ayatollah Khomeini.

None of this is secret. The CIA openly admitted that it was behind the coup in 2013.

While the coup is not a secret, it remains ancient history in the United States. Maybe even forgotten history.

But while the U.S. has forgotten, the rest of the world remembers. Iran certainly remembers.

And this history adds a weighty and grim perspective to the U.S. decision to walk away from the multi-party agreement with Iran related to nuclear development. 

The fact of the matter is that the United States has already successfully sponsored regime change in Iran. And even more recently, the United States invaded Iran’s neighbor, Iraq, under false pretenses to overthrow its government. The United States promised democracy, but instead, Iraqis were subjected to years of death and destruction, torture and ISIS. 

The past is prologue. In the wake of the invasion of Iraq, the bombing of Libya, the support of rebel groups against Bashar al-Assad in Syria, and the support of a Saudi-led war of aggression in Yemen, the question on everyone’s mind at this time is a terrible one: has the United States now committed itself to violent regime change in Iran?

Here are four reasons that point towards a potential attack against Iran in the near future.

(1) President Trump is now openly committed to regime change. This, according to the President’s personal lawyer, former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

Trump thus joins in the opinion of his Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, who has been openly advocating for regime change since 2016.

Trump additionally joins his national security advisor, John Bolton, who also supports regime change. Bolton gave a speech in 2017 in which he promised members of an Iranian exile group, known as the Mujahedeen Khalq (MEK) that the Iranian regime would be toppled by 2019 — next year. Bolton was an early member and supporter of the Project for the New American Century, a now infamous non-profit that provided the intellectual framework for the invasion of Iraq.

(2) The United States does not care about its international law obligations. In any other nation, a political party that openly advocated for war and regime change in another country would be a scandal.

But in the United States, it is common place, an every-day affair.

In the Middle East (and elsewhere), the United States has blatantly disregarded its international legal obligations to maintain collective peace and security. The United States committed the crime of aggression against Iraq, and illegally sponsored armed militias in Syria as a means of overthrowing the Syrian government. 

There are very clear international norms regarding the use of violence internationally—norms that are designed to keep global peace.

But time and time again, the United States has ignored them, and violated them.

These international rules might stop another country. But they will not pose any barrier to a U.S.-led invasion of or attack against Iran.

(3) There is already a brewing conflict in Syria between Iran and Israel. One of the biggest proponents of a U.S. walkaway from the

Iran deal was Benyamin Netanyahu, who gave a televised address in English on April 30, claiming that Iran could not be trusted.

In hindsight, the speech was nakedly aimed at convincing Trump to walk away from the deal. It worked. And just an hour after Trump’s decision to tear up the deal, Israel was already bombing targets in Syria, trying it seems to provoke an Iranian response. Iran did respond with an ineffective rocket attack on the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, which on Thursday unleashed a full Israeli response on Iranian targets in Syria.

There is a real potential for a grave flashpoint in the coming weeks that could lead to a major war.

(4) Imperialism and militarism, now dominant as cultural values in the United States, will make another war seem attractive to many Americans. It is a sad, awful truth, but it is one that honest people have to confront: militarism is an accepted and glorified value in the United States.

The U.S. is a country where nearly two-thirds of the population support torture against suspect terrorists, and where more than forty percent of Americans think it was the “right decision” to invade Iraq in 2003–a war that has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands, produced millions of refugees, led to the rise of ISIS, and was done in blatant violation of international law.

The painful reality is that imperial values are ascendant in the United States.

A lonely, alienated mass of consumers, too spiritless to question the dominant narrative, will simply look the other way as their government targets another society for annihilation.

Democratic norms are lost even as a vast surveillance and killing machine is deployed abroad. Precious and inalienable freedoms are swiftly traded for the false glory of foreign wars and domination.

Spiritual decay sets in, violence ever more glorified, hierarchy and dictatorship seen as positive forces.

America is desperately in need of a cultural and spiritual change. But the good that America and Americans could do will never flower so long as war and aggression are accepted and celebrated. 

This article was originally published on Inder Comar’s blog.

Inder Comar is the executive director of Just Atonement Inc., a legal non-profit dedicated to building peace and sustainability, and the Managing Partner of Comar LLP, a private law firm working in technology. He is a recognized expert on the crime of aggression, the legality of the Iraq War, and international human rights. He holds a law degree from the New York University School of Law, a Master of Arts degree from Stanford University and Bachelor of Arts degrees from Stanford University. His Twitter handle is @InderComar.




The Meaning of Verification in Iran, Syria and North Korea

Ronald Reagan said the US must trust & verify with Moscow. Both Iran & Syria complied with verified accords, yet Trump bombed Syria & pulled out of the Iran deal. What message does this send the DPRK, asks Ted Snider.

By Ted Snider

Donald Trump bombed Syria for allegedly using chemical weapons last month and he has now officially pulled out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear agreement with Iran.

But Syria officially has no chemical weapons and Iran has no nuclear ones. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) verified Syria to be chemical free, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has verified Iran’s consistent and continued compliance with the JCPOA. To the best of anyone’s knowledge, Syria has no chemicals and Iran has no nukes: that’s what verification means.

Iran

In 2015, Iran, the United States, Germany and all the permanent members of the Security Council (P5+1) signed the JCPOA. Every ninety days, the president of the United States has the opportunity to certify that Iran is implementing the agreement. If Iran is in compliance, the U.S. has to continue to honor the agreement; if Iran is not in compliance, the U.S. can pull out of the agreement. Iran is in compliance. The IAEA has repeatedly verified – in eleven consecutive reports since January 2016 – that Iran is fully complying with their obligations under the agreement.

In the absence of evidence, America has turned to deception and digging up dirt. Not able to discredit the deal, Trump tried to discredit the deal makers. Trump aides hired the private Israeli intelligence agency Black Cube to “get dirt” on key people in the Obama administration who played a role in negotiating the deal. The agency tried to find anything damaging on personal relationships, involvement with Iran-friendly lobbyists or political or personal benefit to the negotiators.

When dirt presumably wasn’t found, the deal killers turned to deceit. Just two weeks before Trump’s most recent opportunity to decertify the deal, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed to the world “proof” that “Iran lied, big time, after signing the nuclear deal in 2015.” Netanyahu displayed binders with over 50,000 paper files and a wall of CDs that he said were packed with the proof.

But Netanyahu was more Wizard of Oz than statesman. There was nothing behind the curtain. Netanyahu’s “significant new revelations” were a greatest hits tour of old songs that didn’t sell. The binders and discs contained nothing that the IAEA hadn’t seen and dismissed the first time around. Those old attempts to discredit Iran have been carefully discredited by many experts, including Gareth Porter in his book, Manufactured Crisis.

That Israel tried so hard to find evidence that Iran has worked on a nuclear weapons program in any way since the signing of the JCPOA and found nothing new is perhaps the best proof that Trump needed to certify that Iran is in compliance with all of its obligations under the agreement, rather than pull out of it.

Olli Heinonen, the chief inspector of the IAEA at the time of the JCPOA negotiations – and not someone who was in

any way soft on Iran – said that the IAEA first saw the “significant new” evidence that Netanyahu revealed in 2005. Watching Netanyahu’s revelation, Heinonen could only say, “I just saw a lot of pictures I had seen before.” Federica Mogherini, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy,  said that, based on first reports of Netanyahu’s presentation, it “has not put into question Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA.” Mogherini said that the final word had to go to the IAEA. The final word was given. The day after Netanyahu’s presentation, the IAEA said that there was “no credible indications” of Iran working on a nuclear weapons program for several years before the JCPOA.

But, as in Syria, Trump accepted the word of a biased source with a significant interest in claiming that Iran has an active clandestine nuclear weapons program over the IAEA’s verification team. Dismissing the IAEA, Trump boasted that Netanyahu’s revelation “showed that I’ve been 100 percent right.” And now, citing only Netanyahu’s presentation as evidence, he dismissed the IAEA’s weapons inspectors and verifications and betrayed an international agreement with a partner who was verified to be in full compliance with its agreements.

Syria

On September 14, 2013 the United States and Russia finalized a Russian brokered agreement on the removal and destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons. On January 4, 2016, the OPCW declared the completion of the destruction of all chemical weapons in Syria.

Nonetheless, on April 14, Trump ordered the bombing of Syria because of a claimed chemical attack in Duma, near Damascus. Only days before the missile strikes, Defense Secretary James Mattis said that the U.S lacked the intelligence that Assad was responsible for the alleged chemical weapons attack. Mattis admitted that the U.S. was “still assessing the intelligence… We’re still working on it.”

Days after, however, the U.S. bombed three particular buildings that they claimed housed specific chemicals and chemical production equipment. That’s very precise, specific intelligence. Armed with that proof, why would the U.S. rush to bomb Syria? Why not take that intelligence to U.N. inspectors? Why not hand it over to the OPCW? Why not reveal the illegal Syrian clandestine chemical weapons program to the world?

Russian chemical weapons specialists who were on site found no trace of chemical weapon use. Neither did Red Crescent doctors who treated people. The OPCW inspectors might quickly have answered the question, but their access to the site was delayed by the United Nations department of Safety and Security.

The evidence for Assad’s chemical weapons attack on his own people came from rebel-affiliated and Western-financed groups like the White Helmets. The Trump administration has publicly offered nothing further as evidence despite the precise nature of their bombing.

But investigative journalist Robert Fisk has offered something further. Fisk was the first western journalist to make it to Duma. Fisk heard from no local who knew of a chemical weapons attack. He heard a different version of the story in Duma than the one put out by the White Helmets and accepted by Trump.

The video of victims of chemical attack is real, but the interpretation is false. The suffering is real, but they are not suffering from chemical exposure. They are suffering from oxygen starvation. There was heavy shelling by government forces that night. But on this particular night, there were also strong winds and huge clouds of dust choked the tunnels and basements people were hiding in. The suffering people in the video were struggling from hypoxia, or oxygen starvation. Then a White Helmet “shouted ‘Gas!’” The panic, and the propaganda begun.

When Russia brought seventeen witnesses from Duma to The Hague to testify before the OPCW, the U.S., U.K., and France not only did not listen to the evidence, they boycotted the event. The witnesses from Duma supported the story that Fisk had heard. Each witness was either a victim of that night’s events or a doctor who treated them. Some of the victim witnesses even show up in the White Helmet videos. They all said that there had been no chemical attack: they were sucking in dust, not gas.

The OPCW has verified that Syria has no chemical weapons. The United States and its allies accepted the word of a biased and unreliable source over the OPCW verification team with no additional evidence. They then bombed Syria before they gave the OPCW inspectors a chance to return to Syria. Trump invested in the word of the White Helmets – a group with a significant interest in pinning a chemical weapon attack – over the word of the OPCW, wanting the U.S. to intervene militarily on their side.

North Korea

So what does North Korea understand from this? The North Koreans could learn two things. The first is to be wary of signing deals with America. Both Syria and Iran gave up their programs only to have Trump and America ignore verification of their compliance in favor of biased sources and turn on them: in Syria with bombs and in Iran with pulling out of the JCPOA. How can North Korea confidently agree to give up its only deterrence against American aggression with no assurance that the U.S. will honor a agreement?

The second lesson North Korea could draw from Iran is that, though you may not be able to trust that you can profit from signing an agreement, you can profit by holding off on signing it. In the book, Losing an Enemy, Trita Parsi argued that the difference between sanctions and nuclear escalation is that the former is finite and the latter is not. North Korea knows, as Iran did before, that America will eventually run out of things to sanction. But North Korea will not run out of uranium to enrich or missiles to test. North Korea can outlast the United States unless the United States is really prepared to go to war.

Trumps bombing of Syria and pulling out of the JCPOA with Iran can only reinforce North Korean anxiety that they can’t trust Trump and the U.S. to honor any nuclear disarmament agreement, much as the world needs it.

A version of this article was first published at AntiWar.com.

Ted Snider has a graduate degree in philosophy and writes on analyzing patterns in U.S. foreign policy and history.