FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Childish Diplomacy: Donald Trump’s New Play Against Iran

Diplomacy has been seen historically as a practitioner’s art, nurtured in schools of learning, tested and tried in the boardrooms of mild mannered summitry. Klemens von Metternich and Otto von Bismarck practiced it with varying degrees of ruthlessness and skill; the man who thought himself a modern incarnation of the Austrian statesman, Henry Kissinger, dedicated a text to the subject which has become the force-fed reading of many a modern student of international affairs. (Kissinger, for his part, was a pygmy shadow of his hero-worshipped subject.)

The Trump administration is supplying another version: diplomacy, not as subtle art but as childish outrage and pressings, brinkmanship teasingly encouraging of war. The result of the latest round of bile-filled spats between Iran and the United States is that diplomacy has ceased to exist, becoming a theatrical show demanding the lowest admission fees.

On Monday, Washington announced that another round (how many will they be?) of sanctions would be imposed. They are of a very specific, personal nature, though their effect is one of insult rather than tangible effect. Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, deemed by Trump “ultimately responsible for the hostile conduct of the regime”, is the crowning glory of the list, as are his appointments and those in his office. An important aspect of the sanctioning lies in the allegation that the Ayatollah has access to a vast fund that showers largesse upon the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps.

Some eight commanders of the Revolutionary Guard, including the commander of the unit responsible for shooting down the exorbitantly priced RQ-4A Global Hawk last Thursday, have also made the list. This effort was seen as proof that Iran’s air defences worked, a dastardly thing in the mind of any Pentagon wonk. Jeremy Binnie of Jane’s Defence Weekly, throwing petrol on the fire, suggested on CNN that, “when the Iranians really make investment, it can really count”.

The response from Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani was one of seething displeasure, marked by a medical diagnosis. The Ayatollah was a man of modest possessions, owning “a Hoseyniyyeh [prayer venue] and a simple house”. Then came the snipe. “You sanction the foreign minister simultaneously with a request for talks. The White House is afflicted by mental disability and does not know what to do.”

Trump was obligingly apocalyptic. “Any attack on Iran on anything American will be met with great and overwhelming force. In some areas overwhelming means obliteration.” Short of obliteration, US policy is designed to throttle, and, in so doing, create the pretext for war.

The tweets from Trump on Iran read like self-portraits of psychological affirmation, disturbed yet consistent. Broadly speaking, they are also brief notes towards a character of the US imperium, suggesting the psychopath open to both sanctimonious violence and condescending dialogue. “America is a peace-loving nation,” Trump assures us. “We do not seek conflict with Iran or any other country. I look forward to the day when sanctions can be finally lifted and Iran can become a peaceful, prosperous and productive nation.” He insists that this could happen “tomorrow” or “years from now.”

Iran is the Rorschach inkblot, supplying the pattern upon which meaning can be imposed: “Iran [sic] leadership doesn’t understand the words ‘nice’ and ‘compassion,’ they never have,” goes one remark. “Sadly, the thing they do understand is Strength and Power, and the USA is by far the most powerful Military force in the world, with 1.5 Trillion Dollars invested over the last two years alone”. The only thing Strength and Power comprehend in the shallow expanse of Trumpland are, naturally, Strength and Power.

This play of psychological mirroring also finds form in the utterances of US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, who seems to have turned purist on matters of budgeting and transparency. Khamenei, he argues, “has enriched himself at the expense of the Iranian people.” His office oversees “a vast network of tyranny and corruption.” No neater and concise description of Trump business practice could be possible, but here it is, being applied to a foreign power in terms more appropriate for an ascetic order of monks.

False empathy, doled out in spades, is also necessary: victims must be found, even as they are being victimised by the virtuous. In one sense, Trump sticks to another traditional theme of US foreign policy, praising the people a policy punishes even as it seeks to distance them from the leadership. Sanctions, blunt and broad, rarely find their mark, and usually fall indiscriminately upon the target populace. “The wonderful Iranian people are suffering, and for no reason at all.”

The current round of sanctions, in any case, have been given the heave-ho in terms of effect by such figures as former Treasury sanctions specialist Elizabeth Rosenberg, who sees their application as being “in the realm of the symbolic.” And what dangerous symbolism it is proving to be.

Wiped of history, the context of such sputtering is isolated, ignoring the bountiful US contribution to the creation of the Iranian theocracy. The role of the Central Intelligence Agency in sending Iran’s Prime Minister Muhammad Mossadegh packing in 1953, assisted by their British cousins, leaving the way for a quarter century of byzantine, eccentric and occasionally cruel rule by Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi, was deemed an exemplar of destabilisation. Even then, the scribes of the CIA effort were alert enough to note that unintended consequences could arise from such enthusiastic meddling. “Blowback” became intelligence argot, and after September 11, 2001, has become the signature term for the actions of aggrieved nations. The effort to push Iran towards war even as tinfoil claims are made to embrace peace, sink under that realisation.

More articles by:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
September 19, 2019
Richard Falk
Burning Amazonia, Denying Climate Change, Devastating Syria, Starving Yemen, and Ignoring Kashmir
Charles Pierson
With Enemies Like These, Trump Doesn’t Need Friends
Lawrence Davidson
The Sorry State of the Nobel Peace Prize
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Scourge in the White House
Urvashi Sarkar
“Not a Blade of Grass Grew:” Living on the Edge of the Climate Crisis in the Sandarbans of West Bengal.
Thomas Knapp
Trump and Netanyahu: “Mutual Defense” or Just Mutual Political Back-Scratching?
Dean Baker
Is There Any Lesser Authority Than Alan Greenspan?
Gary Leupp
Warren’s Ethnic Issue Should Not Go Away
George Ochenski
Memo to Trump: Water Runs Downhill
Jeff Cohen
What George Carlin Taught Us about Media Propaganda by Omission
Stephen Martin
The Perspicacity of Mcluhan and Panopticonic Plans of the MIC
September 18, 2019
Kenneth Surin
An Excellent Study Of The Manufactured Labour “Antisemitism Crisis”
Patrick Cockburn
The Saudi Crown Prince Plans to Make Us Forget About the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi Before the US Election
W. T. Whitney
Political Struggle and Fixing Cuba’s Economy
Ron Jacobs
Support the Climate Strike, Not a Military Strike
John Kendall Hawkins
Slouching Toward “Bethlehem”
Ted Rall
Once Again in Afghanistan, the U.S. Proves It Can’t Be Trusted
William Astore
The Ultra-Costly, Underwhelming F-35 Fighter
Dave Lindorff
Why on Earth Would the US Go to War with Iran over an Attack on Saudi Oil Refineries?
Binoy Kampmark
Doctored Admissions: the University Admissions Scandal as a Global Problem
Jeremy Corbyn
Creating a Society of Hope and Inclusion: Speech to the TUC
Zhivko Illeieff
Why You Should Care About #ShutDownDC and the Global Climate Strike  
Catherine Tumber
Land Without Bread: the Green New Deal Forsakes America’s Countryside
Liam Kennedy
Boris Johnson: Elitist Defender of Britain’s Big Banks
September 17, 2019
Mario Barrera
The Southern Strategy and Donald Trump
Robert Jensen
The Danger of Inspiration in a Time of Ecological Crisis
Dean Baker
Health Care: Premiums and Taxes
Dave Lindorff
Recalling the Hundreds of Thousands of Civilian Victims of America’s Endless ‘War on Terror’
Binoy Kampmark
Oiling for War: The Houthi Attack on Abqaiq
Susie Day
You Say You Want a Revolution: a Prison Letter to Yoko Ono
Rich Gibson
Seize Solidarity House
Laura Flanders
From Voice of America to NPR: New CEO Lansing’s Glass House
Don Fitz
What is Energy Denial?
Dan Bacher
Governor Newsom Says He Will Veto Bill Blocking Trump Rollback of Endangered Fish Species Protections
Thomas Knapp
Election 2020: Time to Stop Pretending and Start Over
W. Alejandro Sanchez
Inside the Syrian Peace Talks
Elliot Sperber
Mickey Mouse Networks
September 16, 2019
Sam Husseini
Biden Taking Iraq Lies to the Max
Paul Street
Joe Biden’s Answer to Slavery’s Legacy: Phonographs for the Poor
Paul Atwood
Why Mattis is No Hero
Jonathan Cook
Brexit Reveals Jeremy Corbyn to be the True Moderate
Jeff Mackler
Trump, Trade and China
Robert Hunziker
Fukushima’s Radioactive Water Crisis
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Democrats and the Climate Crisis
Michael Doliner
Hot Stuff on the Afghan Peace Deal Snafu
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail