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Syria and Trump’s Brinkmanship Foreign Policy: New Focus – Destroying the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (Iran Nuclear Deal)

April 27, 2018

John Kerry and Mohammad Javad Zarif named winners of the Chatham House Prize 2016 for the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (Iran Nuclear Deal)

Obama vs Trump on the Middle East. 

A serious, objective look at Obama’s Middle East policy is rather sobering: despite personal tensions between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, some of the largest arms sales and grants in U.S. history to Israel. Obama did nothing to stem continued expansion of Israel’s illegal West Bank settlement program or lift the increasingly suffocating and inhumane Israeli (and Egyptian) stranglehold on Gaza. Obama ok’d (he says he later regretted it) the military campaign to overthrow Khadaffi in Libya – strongly encouraged by his then Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton – which has both destroyed Libya as a nation and spread instability throughout the northern half of Africa. During the Obama years Hillary Clinton’s major contribution to Middle East peace – or the lack of it – was gazillion dollar arms sales to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the emirates and calls to overthrow the Iranian government. All the above are facts, easily corroborated by anyone wanting to take the time to verify them.

There were two exceptions to this sorry and confused record for which Barack Obama deserves credit:

1. When pressed to attack Syria with cruise missiles after the rushed and unverified claims that the Assad Government had used chemical weapons against its own people, Obama refused to give into the war hysteria (as Trump just did on April 13) by bombing the country. Those allegations proved to be fabricated. Obama held the line despite outcries from neo-conservatives and the likes of AIPAC. A moment of political courage
2. Obama’s attempt to normalize U.S. relations with Iran, through the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, known in the U.S. – and mistakenly as simply “the Iran Nuclear deal.” It was an attempt, however brief to use diplomacy over military options and we should not be surprised that on the U.S. side it was engineered by a Secretary of State, John Kerry, who a half century prior, threw his military medals over the White House fence along with other members of Vietnam Veterans against the War, who opposed the U.S. war in Vietnam.

But whatever minor steps were taken by Barack Obama are now being swept away by a presidency in which all diplomacy carries with it the threat of military action. I suppose that is not so new – the threat of military action as a mechanism for diplomacy has long been a part of U.S. foreign policy – Henry Kissinger wrote a book about how the U.S. nuclear arsenal could be used to blackmail countries into towing an American line – but today such threats are being used more crudely than ever, dangerously so, and to such a degree that one could say that Washington has no other foreign policy than brinkmanship – the threat of military action.

Trumpty-Dumpty’s Global Brinkmanship and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (Iran Nuclear Deal) – Some Middle Eastern Critiques of the Agreements.

So…now Trumpty-Dumpty’s brinkmanship policy changes focus once again, from N. Korea, to Syria, now to Iran and supposed negotiations with N. Korea. The focus bounces blindly back and forth. Now there is a new twist…as Washington pursues peace talks with North Korea (however cynical) while at the same time threatening Iran. The peace talks with North Korea will overshadow the increasingly aggressive approach to Iran, at least in the U.S. media and of course, the generally brain dead U.S. Congress where bipartisan support for overthrowing the Iranian government remains significant. On May 12 of this year, the Trump Administration will decide whether to continue in the agreement or not.

Trumpty-Dumpty is milking the uncertainty of his decision for all its worth. My sense is that, despite the rhetoric, he’ll stay in the agreement but find other ways to undermine it or make it essentially moot, but we’ll see soon enough. Regardless a policy of gradual conciliation has been replaced with brinkmanship and threats…the usual U.S. policy towards its global adversaries.
Yesterday there was (for me) a fascinating exchange of views concerning the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (known in the US of A as the Iran Nuclear Deal). It was my impression that most of the comments came from people from the Middle East, many of them Iranian. I was surprised how many of them – as they virtually appeared to be “progressive” – whatever that might mean – were either critical or quite cynical about the deal. Many of their comments were insightful. These folks know what they are talking about and frankly, if not for these exchanges, I would not be on Facebook as I can always send family pictures, and bird photos to my relatives. I don’t need Facebook to do this.

As one who supports this agreement – did in the past and will continue to support its implementation – I had to think about the arguments presented…because they were not flakey in nature. Thought about it most of yesterday.

The main argument given was that in signing the accords, the Iranians gave up far more than they got. …ie, that it was not the U.S. that signed a bad agreement, but the Iranians themselves. They have a point. If you look at the agreement closely – it is not the U.S. that had to give ground, make major concessions but Iran. They have all but given up control of their nuclear energy policy, agreed to submit to inspections – there is nothing in the agreement that makes the other parties do so, forced to follow strict timelines, etc. etc. In fact, the more one looks at it, the more punitive against Iran that the agreement appears and one can understand why there was opposition to it in Iran – and not just from conservatives and the military.

Supporting the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in the Age of Trump.

Then why support it? Wouldn’t it be better for both sides if the agreement is scrapped and that some of Trumpty-Dumpty’s rhetoric actually rings true?

Scrapping this agreement would be a very dangerous move, both for Iran, for the Middle East and one that would only escalate the nuclear arms race. There are also indications that rather than isolating Iran by so doing, it would isolate the United States.

What is accurate about the criticisms made is that the agreement IS lopsided; the Americans (the Obama Administration that signed it) get far more than they give; Iran gives far more than it gets. But………

1. This reflects the current balance of power in the world. Iran is not going to able to impose its conditions on the United States. The United States still has the power to impose – with limits – its will on Iran. So it is Iran that simply had to make the concessions. Still, the fact that the United States and its allies had to negotiate AT ALL with Iran, and give something back in return – which it then quickly took away (an end to sanctions) suggests a shifting balance of power in the world. By signing this treaty, the United States (and its allies) were forced to admit Iran as a legitimate force in the Middle East region. This is no small thing concession from Washington that has thought for seven decades that it could simply dictate policy. It can’t anymore. Washington had to negotiate its grievances…it could not just bomb them out of existence. By the way, this remains relevant today. It is not so simple for the U.S. – one way or another – to attack Iran.

2. More importantly, it gave Iran a certain amount of breathing time. If the economic fruits – the contracts Iran was able to sign after the deal was reached – were not as extensive as they had hoped – because of U.S. pressure to re-institute sanctions in violation of the agreement – still, they were considerable with many countries. Iran’s place on the Belt Road Project is pretty much assured and likelihood of growing cooperation with some of its neighbors (Turkey, Pakistan, even India) to say nothing of improved ties with Russia, China and to some extent Europe all fruits of the agreement.

3. Finally there is the historical perspective that needs to be remembered here. There are MANY examples – classic examples – of negotiations in which major concessions were made – based on the political realities of the time – to buy time. To mention just a few.

• After the Russian Revolution of 1917, Lenin immediately made peace with Germany. Russia made major territorial concessions, but it got breathing room – the space to consolidate the revolution.
• Likewise, to a certain extent, when, after Britain and France refused to enter into an alliance with the USSR to fight German fascism, Stalin signed the Hitler-Stalin pact – by which the USSR had to provide strategic war materials to Nazi Germany, Stalin, like Lenin was buying time. In that narrow window of two years prior to the onset of Operation Barbarossa the Soviet Union engaged in a massive industrial build up in the Ural Mountains, which was probably decisive in its herculean effort to defeat Nazism.
• Finally, there were Gorbachev’s concessions to the West in the late 1980s – unilateral disarmament and withdrawal from Eastern Europe leading to the collapse of communism in those countries. Again, the U.S. and its allies were in a much stronger position than the Soviet Union. Gorbachev understood that the economic and political reforms he saw necessary to modernize and democratize Russia required time – a great deal of time, probably decades. He was willing to make what were major strategic concessions – tone down the Cold war – to concentrate on remodeling the country. Yes, the reforms failed and the USSR collapsed, but from where I am sitting – that was the gamble that Gorbachev was willing to take and he took it. That took political courage and foresight.

For all its admitted limitations, from where I am sitting, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action fits into the same general category. Frankly it was a brilliant move on Iran’s part – nothing less, and the more I think about it, what were the other options – increasing regional tension? bringing the region to the brink of war? It was also a victory – or maybe a step forward is a better way to put it – for those in the United States concerned about a U.S. foreign policy based on unending Middle East war – that such a policy serves U.S. interests as poorly as it does the countries in the region. It was a brief step away from the long pattern of military intervention that has destabilized the region and done such harm. That this opening has been so brief – actually fleeting – cannot be laid at the doorstep of Teheran.

But now that good will has all but evaporated as the Supreme Court appears likely to approve Trumpty-Dumpty’s bigoted travel ban, targeting Middle Eastern countries, including Iran with a Congress almost foaming at the mouth to add sanction upon sanction against Iran – in violatioon of the agreement. In today’s hostile environment there is no better way today for opposing the drift towards war, no way of trying to throw a money wrench in what is a new and more dangerous round of a nuclear arms race than to preserve the Joint Comprehesive Plan of Action…despite its limitations.

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