Donald Trump's administration is pushing Iran to the edge but the administration might not understand exactly what that entails.
Two separate reports in recent days are troubling for those who believe peace in the Middle East is possible and who worry that a war between the US and Iran is inevitable.
The news of Trump sending a US aircraft carrier to the Straits of Hormuz, designed to send a signal to Iran that it needs to hurry up and succumb to Washington’s requirements, was an act of prolific stupidity by the US president, as it has undoubtedly backfired.
Hardliners in Iran are now pressuring Iran’s foreign minister to prepare for a face-off in the shipping lane which controls all of the oil exports from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Analysts suspect moving the aircraft carrier was really about showing Hezbollah or Hezbollah affiliates in Iraq that the US can hit back if they carry out any military endeavours against US troops there.
But the Iranians know that it is also a show of strength designed to intimidate Iran as, fundamentally, US oil sanctions against Iran and those it sells oil to, are starting to be felt by ordinary Iranians with soaring inflation and World Bank data shows the youth unemployment rate is 28 percent (when in reality its much higher).
Something’s got to give. And it seems we are at this point now, as Iran’s foreign minister recently alluded in an interview, that Iran is about to partially withdraw from the so-called ‘Iran Deal’ (JCPOA) which the US pulled out of in 2018.
At the time of writing, we don’t know for sure what Zarif intends to do, but one might guess that he will start the work to develop nuclear weapons — resuming uranium enrichment — which would do two things immediately which will raise tensions in the Straits of Hormuz.
Firstly, it will be a provocation to Trump, or more specifically John Bolton, a man who never saw war himself as he dodged the draft in his own country. In reality, Zarif is right about Trump when he says that the US president doesn’t want war with Iran, but might be pulled into it by others. Razor-sharp analysis.
But a partial pullout of the JCPOA will be the starter’s pistol of a state of war with Iran for another reason. It will immediately alienate Iran as the EU will be forced to withdraw its support for the deal, which will be seen as a major victory in Washington and a great humiliation for the EU as the whole world will witness its impotence. Realistically, the EU can't help Iran, despite all the promises, schemes and tomes of press releases spewing out of Federica Mogherini’s palatial offices in Brussels.
But is Trump as dumb as he looks? Undoubtedly not. Is it that he is being trapped himself by Bolton and others into heading towards a war-like scenario in the Straits of Hormuz when most experts agree he hasn’t the stomach for war.
Could this be the fruits of a revolution of sorts being played out by Bolton and Pompeo? The idea of the US military carrying out any strike against Iranian armed forces in the region will probably be the greatest military mistake the Americans have ever made in the short history of that country. It would be the equivalent of the British sending troops to Suez in 56, which Britain still feels the humiliation of today.
Indeed, it was Colin Powell who said to the former Saudi King “You can’t defeat Iran militarily. Even we don’t think we can.”
The problem the Iranians have got is really about media. The world’s media outlets who report on such matters don’t bother to explain the importance of the nuances of such decisions. Most US media outlets will probably report the move by Iran to partially withdraw as “Iran begins nuclear arms program, Trump warns Tehran of consequences” - and that will be enough for millions of Americans to support anything Trump will do, no matter how idiotic.
But if there were ever a time for the European Union to step forward, it would be right now. It can try one last time to tackle the US head-on over Iran and also offer Iran more as a sweetener not to go ahead with the move, if the rumoured deal about Iran getting a deal with the EU to sell oil there, amounts to nothing.
The EU gives 100s of millions of euros in cash to support dictators that harp its tune, so why not help Iran – an important ally – with aid towards the poor, unemployment and structural reform? Perhaps it can’t as it doesn’t have the support from Paris and Berlin.
In the coming days, expect to see a lot of press coverage about Bolton’s latest ramblings which went from hilarious assertions of Iran being a ‘potential threat’ to what we can expect now with the US aircraft carrier being on its doorstep – and the statements coming from Tehran against the ship, which will be the “threat” that Bolton needs to plough ahead with a state of war in Iranian waters.
Unfortunately, Trump is surrounded by too many knuckleheads who are not only failing to learn from history’s lessons but have no military experience themselves to tell him that US forces in the Middle East – not to mention the entire state of Israel – are so vulnerable that any kind of threat to Iran, if carried out, would be suicidal at best.
It’s not about how much you think you can win by as there is no comparison between the US and Iranian militaries - it’s about how much you are prepared to sacrifice. The US simply has too much to lose but don't expect Trump to listen to experts who explain this to him when he can't even get his head around what a trade deficit is with China, or for that matter where Iran is on a map of the Middle East.
The thousand layers of ignorance which protect Trump might also impale him as the stakes just got cranked up several notches by the Zarif statement.
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