Can world leaders pin their fate on the flip flopping of successive US presidents?
Make no mistake about it, we are at a historical juncture in global politics. After the withdrawal of the United States and the recurrent military operations of the Israeli army against Iranian targets in Syria, we may be slowly marching towards a war that would have global consequences - call it World War III if you like.
Those who know my writing and media commentary are aware that I don’t do hyperbole. I am rarely, if ever alarmist about politics. But I see the withdrawal of the United States from the JCPOA, or Iran deal, as a part of a wider strategy to provoke Iran into a military conflict.
The big analytical pointers are all there. With the appointment of John Bolton, Rudi Giuliani and James Mattis, Donald Trump is surrounding himself with people whose anti-Iranian agenda dates back decades.
Trump himself is enraged about Iranian influence in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, the Persian Gulf and beyond. Saudi Arabia and Israel have fed this anger and the Trump administration has repeatedly, and rather hysterically, promised to deal with the “Iranian threat”.
As writing this, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered another round of strikes against “Iranian targets” in Syria. The very fact that Iran has assets so close to the Israeli border is, of course, in itself an indicator of the expansion of Iran’s sphere of influence.
Iran is certainly not a military threat to Israel. But with southern Lebanon firmly secured by Iran’s allies Hezbollah and with pro-Iranian forces in Syria close to the occupied Golan Heights, Israel is swiftly losing its ability to dominate this strategic theatre by sheer force. Hence, this march into confrontation which could swiftly turn into a sprint towards war with consequences for all of us.
So I have explained the first, rather more strategic effect of the withdrawal from the JCPOA. In simple terms: it seriously increases the likelihood of war in the region, which may have been the intention, certainly from the perspective of Bolton and Mattis.
I am in no doubt that they would easily order a military strike on Iranian installations, whether in Syria or if push comes to shove, in Iran itself.
As I have argued in my book Psycho-nationalism: Global thought, Iranian imaginations, we are living through an era of global history which is beset—even dominated—by right-wing thinking, by a politics of hate which has turned the world into a dangerous war zone.
Advocates of this repulsive form of psycho-nationalism, a poisonous concoction of mythology and superiority which requires othering, are everywhere. For instance, Bernard-Henri Levy, the French author who propagated the war against Libya, is busy using his access to the global media to demonise Iran. Wars are always precipitated by such propaganda campaigns as my book shows.
Psycho-nationalism, then, is real and present. In Iran itself, it is very likely that the pragmatist policies of President Rouhani will be under increasing scrutiny by the right-wing, or hardliners as some call them, in the country.
Many Iranians are uniting behind their leaders, and I am in no doubt that the political climate in the Islamic Republic will be radicalised due to the ongoing threats from Israel and the United States.
That is the second immediate consequence of the US withdrawal from the JCPOA: Iranians will never trust America again.
Instead, the country will entrench its partnerships with Russia and China, but also with the European Union in particular if France, Germany and the United Kingdom successfully signal to Tehran that they can rescue the JCPOA. Such an effort will require that the EU introduces effective legal protection against US sanctions targeting European companies who are doing business with Iran.
After all, the trade volume between those three countries and Iran increased exponentially after the JCPOA was signed. From what I am hearing from EU sources, there is no interest in Brussels to jeopardise the JCPOA. Times have changed, and Europeans are increasingly wary of US unilateralism.
So in the end, this withdrawal must be seen as more than a breach of an important multilateral agreement, one that was hailed as exemplary for the future of the global non-proliferation regime.
The consequences are by far more dire than the myopic view that the Trump administration can appreciate.
First, the US withdrawal has made it more likely that there will be even more military confrontations in the region as we are already seeing in Syria.
Second, this instability will further radicalise the international politics of West Asia and North Africa which will increase the likelihood of international terror attacks as we saw before and after the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq in 2001 and 2003 respectively.
Third, anti-Israeli sentiments are already surging, Hezbollah and its allies have won even more seats in the recent elections in Lebanon, and those movements that oppose US hegemony in the Muslim world will see Iran at the forefront of the battle, once again.
Lastly, Iranians are reminded about the long history of anti-Iranian measures by successive US governments, from the 1953 coup d’etat that deposed the country’s elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh and which reinstated the dictatorship of the shah, to the massive US support to Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war; and finally, many Iranians within civil society point to the North Korean case as a good reason for an Iranian nuclear bomb.
North Korea, the argument goes, was never threatened militarily or with “regime change” precisely because they possessed a nuclear weapon. Furthermore, Iran’s top military generals echoed this view as the influential Tehran Times in Iran reported.
Indeed, Major General Mohammad Jafari, the chief of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRCG) welcomed the US withdrawal given that the country wasn’t “credible” in the first place. “This is not a new incident “, Jafari added, “and it will not have a decisive impact against our national interests in any field.”
In the end, all of these consequences are detrimental to the long term interest of the United States itself. Ultimately, the country appears less trusted, less reputable and by far less reliable than before.
After all, who would sign an international agreement with the United States without additional assurances after the breach of the JCPOA?
As a result of all of this, the United States under Trump seems more isolated than at any time of the country’s contemporary history. None of these consequences are conducive to peace in the region, which requires some kind of rapport between Iran and its allies on the one side, and the United States, Saudi Arabia and Israel on the other. The withdrawal from the JCPOA has made such a scenario impossible to imagine – certainly in the short term.
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