FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

If Europe Wants to Remain on the World Stage, It Must Resist Trump on Iran

Photo by European People’s Party | CC BY 2.0

“Iraq is at the muzzle of the gun,” says Ali Allawi, Iraqi historian and former minister, speaking of the increased turmoil expected to follow the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement.

It is not only Iraq which is in danger: an escalating confrontation between the US and Iran will affect the whole region, but its greatest impact will be in Syria and Iraq where wars have long been raging and Washington and Tehran are old rivals.

The US will rely at first on the reimposition of economic sanctions on Iran to force it to comply with US demands and hopefully bring about regime change in Tehran. But, if this does not work – and it will almost certainly fail – then there will be a growing risk of military action either carried out directly by the US or through “green-lighting” Israeli airstrikes.

Iran is for the moment reacting cautiously to Trump’s denunciation of the 2015 accord, portraying itself as the victim of arbitrary action and seeking to spur the EU states into taking practical steps to resist imposing draconian sanctions along the lines of those that were imposed before 2015. Even if this does not happen, it will be important for Iran that the Europeans should only grudgingly cooperate with the US in enforcing sanctions, particularly on Iranian oil exports.

A problem for the US is that Trump has made the Iranian nuclear deal negotiated by Barack Obama the issue on which he will test the limits of US power which he had pledged to expand. But the agreement is internationally popular and is seen to be working effectively in denying Iran the ability to develop a nuclear device. The US is therefore becoming self-isolated, with full support only from Israel and Saudi Arabia, in the first weeks of a crisis that could go on for years.

Already Trump’s determination to sink the deal forever has involved marginalising and humiliating France, Germany and UK. They had pleaded for it to be preserved but made more palatable to the US by separate agreements on ballistic missiles and other issues. Trump seems to have enjoyed the procession of European leaders from Emmanuel Macron to Boris Johnson asking for compromise, only to go away empty-handed.

If the European leaders now go along with sanctioning Iran, there will be even less reason for Trump to take their views seriously in future. They have already seen their attempt to appease him on climate change fail to produce anything, so they either have to accept that they have less influence and a reduced role in the world or make a serious attempt to preserve the nuclear accord.

But even if they do so, the US will be able to put intense economic pressure on Iran and its trading partners. Banks and companies are terrified of incurring the ire of the US Treasury and facing massive fines for even an unintentional breach of sanctions. Even if EU governments want their companies to go on investing in Iran, they may consider the risk too great.

Sanctions are a powerful but blunt instrument, take a long time to work and usually do not produce the political dividends expected by those who impose them. The Iranian rial may fall and hyperinflation return to 40 per cent, but this will most likely not be enough if Iran returns to enriching uranium. It has already said that it is not going to keep abiding by its part of the nuclear agreement if it is not getting any of the economic benefits promised.

What will the US do then? This is the crucial question for the Middle East and the rest of the world. Trump has just torpedoed any diplomatic solution to what he sees as the threat of Iran developing a nuclear bomb. The only alternative is a military response, but this would have to be more than a few days of intense airstrikes. Anything less than total war would not win for Trump the kind of results he says he wants.

Iran may be weak economically, but politically and militarily it is in a strong position in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, the countries likely to provide the main arena for the coming crisis. In all three places it is Iran’s fellow Shia who are in control and see the US as an ally of the Sunni states in what is in large part a sectarian Shia-Sunni conflict.

Has the Trump administration thought any of this through? The crisis is beginning to feel very much like that in the buildup to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Some of the same figures, such as the national security adviser John Bolton, are the very same neoconservatives who believed that invading and occupying Iraq would be an easy business. They sound as if they are bringing the same blend of arrogance and ignorance to their coming confrontation with Iran.

More articles by:

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

Weekend Edition
July 13, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Brian Cloughley
Lessons That Should Have Been Learned From NATO’s Destruction of Libya
Paul Street
Time to Stop Playing “Simon Says” with James Madison and Alexander Hamilton
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: In the Land of Formula and Honey
Aidan O'Brien
Ireland’s Intellectuals Bow to the Queen of Chaos 
Michael Collins
The Affirmative Action Silo
Andrew Levine
Tipping Points
Geoff Dutton
Fair and Balanced Opinion at the New York Times
Ajamu Baraka
Cultural and Ideological Struggle in the US: a Final Comment on Ocasio-Cortez
David Rosen
The New McCarthyism: Is the Electric Chair Next for the Left?
Ken Levy
The McConnell Rule: Nasty, Brutish, and Unconstitutional
George Wuerthner
The Awful Truth About the Hammonds
Robert Fisk
Will Those Killed by NATO 19 Years Ago in Serbia Ever Get Justice?
Robert Hunziker
Three Climatic Monsters with Asteroid Impact
Ramzy Baroud
Europe’s Iron Curtain: The Refugee Crisis is about to Worsen
Nick Pemberton
A Letter For Scarlett JoManDaughter
Marilyn Garson
Netanyahu’s War on Transcendence 
Patrick Cockburn
Is ISIS About to Lose Its Last Stronghold in Syria?
Joseph Grosso
The Invisible Class: Workers in America
Kim Ives
Haiti’s Popular Uprising Calls for President Jovenel Moïse’s Removal
John Carroll Md
Dispatch From Haiti: Trump and Breastfeeding
Alycee Lane
On Heat Waves and Climate Resistance
Ed Meek
Dershowitz the Sophist
Howard Lisnoff
Liberal Massachusetts and Recreational Marijuana
Ike Nahem
Trump, Trade Wars, and the Class Struggle
Olivia Alperstein
Kavanaugh and the Supremes: It’s About Much More Than Abortion
Manuel E. Yepe
Korea After the Handshake
Robert Kosuth
Militarized Nationalism: Pernicious and Pervasive
Binoy Kampmark
Soft Brexits and Hard Realities: The Tory Revolt
Helena Norberg-Hodge
Localization: a Strategic Alternative to Globalized Authoritarianism
Kevin Zeese - Nils McCune
Correcting The Record: What Is Really Happening In Nicaragua?
Chris Wright
The American Oligarchy: A Review
Kweli Nzito
Imperial Gangster Nations: Peddling “Democracy” and Other Goodies to the Untutored
Christopher Brauchli
The Defenestration of Scott Pruitt
Ralph Nader
Universal Voting Dissolves the Obstacles Facing Voters
Ron Jacobs
Vermont: Can It Happen Here?
Thomas Knapp
Helsinki: How About a Fresh START?
Seth Sandronsky
A Fraught Century
Graham Peebles
Education and the Mental Health Epidemic
Bob Lord
How to Level the Playing Field for Workers in a Time of Waning Union Power
Saurav Sarkar
I Got Arrested This Summer (and So Should You)
Winslow Myers
President Trump’s Useful Idiocy
Kim C. Domenico
Outing the Dark Beast Hiding Behind Liberal Hope
CounterPunch News Service
First Big Strike Since Janus Ruling Hits Vermont Streets
Louis Proyect
Survival of the Fittest in the London Underground
David Yearsley
Ducks and Études
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail