FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

As Trump Berates Iran, His Options are Limited

Photo by Graham C99 | CC BY 2.0

A crisis in relations between the US and Iran – which has the potential to produce a military confrontation in the Middle East – is building rapidly in the expectation that President Donald Trump will withdraw the US from the Iran nuclear deal in just over two weeks’ time.

Mr Trump is demanding that Iran effectively renegotiate the terms of the agreement which traded the suspension of US economic sanctions for a stop to Iran’s nuclear programme.

The White House sounds as if it has already decided to exit the agreement, which Mr Trump persistently denounced before and after his election as “the worst deal in the world”.

But he has put forward no alternative to what was successfully negotiated by President Barack Obama in 2015 other than a series of demands with which Iran is unlikely to comply, and appear designed to put the blame for the US action on Iran.

US officials admit that Iran has so far abided by the terms of the 2015 accord.

A more openly confrontational posture by the US towards Iran would achieve very little, unless Washington replaces the attempt to achieve its ends by diplomacy with sustained military action. Iran is already on the winning side in the wars that have raged in Iraq since 2003 and in Syria since 2011.

It is closely allied to the Iraqi and Syrian governments and to reverse the balance of power in the region, the US would have revert to sustained military intervention on the scale of the Iraq War, something Mr Trump has always opposed.

Iran may have already decided that the deal cannot be saved. Iranian president Hassan Rouhani warned Mr Trump on Tuesday that the US must stay within its terms which Tehran signed with other great powers or face “severe consequences”.

Mr Rouhani said in a live broadcast on state television that: “I am telling those in the White House that if they do not live up to their commitments, the Iranian government will firmly react.”

The Iranian leader did not say what this reaction would be, but the Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said at the weekend that it was “highly unlikely” that Iran would remain in the agreement – to which Russia, China, France, Germany and Britain are also signatories – if the US pulled out.

He added that Iran might immediately begin enriching uranium, but it would not develop a nuclear device.

European leaders are trying to save the deal which Mr Trump has denounced as full of “terrible flaws”, but this will prove difficult without radical concessions which Iran has rejected. These include stopping Iran’s ballistic missile programme, extending the terminal date of the agreement, and more intrusive inspections by nuclear inspectors.

No decision in Washington is final until it is announced by Mr Trump himself – and often not even then – but the promotion of officials with a record of hostility to the agreement suggests that it cannot be rescued. Mr Trump has said publicly that he sacked his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, because he wanted to stay with the Iran agreement negotiated by President Obama.

His replacement, Mike Pompeo, is a long-term foe of the accord, once claiming that 2,000 bombing sorties would be enough to eliminate Iran’s nuclear capability. “This is not an insurmountable task for the coalition forces,” he said.

President Emanuel Macron is in Washington on a state visit, trying to save the agreement by making it more palatable to the White House. He will be followed in the US at the end of the week by the German chancellor Angela Merkel, while Theresa May will probably express her views by telephone.

All three leaders will try to reconcile Mr Trump to not leaving the accord and their arguments will revolve around supplementary sanctions and other measures targeting the Iranian ballistic missile programme and Iran’s allies abroad such as Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The European leaders’ mission may not be entirely hopeless: in confrontations over Syria and North Korea, Mr Trump’s belligerent rhetoric has been followed by more carefully calculated action.

His opening stance is normally bombastic and uncompromising in order to intimidate the other side into making concessions. It does not necessarily have to be taken at face value. But this periodic moderation may not come into play in the case of Iran, towards which he has been uncompromisingly hostile, claiming that it is the hidden power behind “terrorist” activity in the Middle East.

The White House is in a position to hurt Iran economically by re-imposing economic sanctions, not that these were ever really lifted after 2015, but US political options are more limited. It may talk about regime change in Tehran, but is not in a position to do much about it.

There is a further US weakness: the US, often prompted by Israel, and Saudi Arabia, has a track record of underestimating the extent to which Iran, as the largest Shia Muslim power, plays a leading role in a coalition of states – Iraq, Syria and Lebanon – because of the predominant influence of the Shia in these countries. It is very difficult to defeat Iran there – the northern tier of the Middle East – but it is in this region that the US has chosen over the years to try to roll back Iranian influence.

The balance of power between Iran and its enemies is going to be difficult to shift whatever Mr Trump decides about the fate of the Iran nuclear deal.

More articles by:

Patrick Cockburn is the author of  The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

July 14, 2020
Anthony DiMaggio
Canceling the Cancel Culture: Enriching Discourse or Dumbing it Down?
Patrick Cockburn
Boris Johnson Should not be Making New Global Enemies When His Country is in a Shambles
Frank Joyce
Lift From the Bottom? Yes.
Richard C. Gross
The Crackdown on Foreign Students
Steven Salaita
Should We Cancel “Cancel Culture”?
Paul Street
Sorry, the Chicago Blackhawks Need to Change Their Name and Logo
Jonathan Cook
‘Cancel Culture’ Letter is About Stifling Free Speech, Not Protecting It
John Feffer
The Global Rushmore of Autocrats
C. Douglas Lummis
Pillar of Sand in Okinawa
B. Nimri Aziz
Soft Power: Americans in Its Grip at Home Must Face the Mischief It Wields by BNimri Aziz July 11/2020
Cesar Chelala
What was lost when Ringling Bros. Left the Circus
Dan Bacher
California Regulators Approve 12 New Permits for Chevron to Frack in Kern County
George Wuerthner
Shrinking Wilderness in the Gallatin Range
Lawrence Davidson
Woodrow Wilson’s Racism: the Basis For His Support of Zionism
Binoy Kampmark
Mosques, Museums and Politics: the Fate of Hagia Sophia
Dean Baker
Propaganda on Government Action and Inequality from David Leonhardt
July 13, 2020
Gerald Sussman
The Russiagate Spectacle: Season 2?
Ishmael Reed
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Perry Mason Moment
Jack Rasmus
Why the 3rd Quarter US Economic ‘Rebound’ Will Falter
W. T. Whitney
Oil Comes First in Peru, Not Coronavirus Danger, Not Indigenous Rights
Ralph Nader
The Enduring Case for Demanding Trump’s Resignation
Raghav Kaushik – Arun Gupta
On Coronavirus and the Anti-Police-Brutality Uprising
Deborah James
Digital Trade Rules: a Disastrous New Constitution for the Global Economy Written by and for Big Tech
Howard Lisnoff
Remembering the Nuclear Freeze Movement and Its Futility
Sam Pizzigati
Will the Biden-Sanders Economic Task Force Rattle the Rich?
Allen Baker
Trump’s Stance on Foreign College Students Digs US Economic Hole Even Deeper
Binoy Kampmark
The Coronavirus Seal: Victoria’s Borders Close
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Power, Knowledge and Virtue
Weekend Edition
July 10, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Lynnette Grey Bull
Trump’s Postcard to America From the Shrine of Hypocrisy
Anthony DiMaggio
Free Speech Fantasies: the Harper’s Letter and the Myth of American Liberalism
David Yearsley
Morricone: Maestro of Music and Image
Jeffrey St. Clair
“I Could Live With That”: How the CIA Made Afghanistan Safe for the Opium Trade
Rob Urie
Democracy and the Illusion of Choice
Paul Street
Imperial Blind Spots and a Question for Obama
Vijay Prashad
The U.S. and UK are a Wrecking Ball Crew Against the Pillars of Internationalism
Melvin Goodman
The Washington Post and Its Cold War Drums
Richard C. Gross
Trump: Reopen Schools (or Else)
Chris Krupp
Public Lands Under Widespread Attack During Pandemic 
Alda Facio
What Coronavirus Teaches Us About Inequality, Discrimination and the Importance of Caring
Eve Ottenberg
Bounty Tales
Andrew Levine
Silver Linings Ahead?
John Kendall Hawkins
FrankenBob: The Self-Made Dylan
Pam Martens - Russ Martens
Deutsche Bank Fined $150 Million for Enabling Jeffrey Epstein; Where’s the Fine Against JPMorgan Chase?
David Rosen
Inequality and the End of the American Dream
Louis Proyect
Harper’s and the Great Cancel Culture Panic
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail