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May 22, 2019

Trump’s warrior diplomacy

Opinion

May 22, 2019

War is a serious and deadly business. Yet, speculation is rife in Washington about a possible war with Iran without any mention of the horrendous consequences the conflict might bring.

President Trump has moved from a position of ambivalence to one of a reluctant warrior. Meanwhile his national security adviser, John Bolton has earned the sobriquet of a “war whisperer” who thinks that Iran can only be tamed through a US military adventure. Bolton and some others are reportedly pushing Trump towards war.

Trump, who rose from the position of a wheeler-dealer New York businessman to that of the global superpower’s president after his surprise victory in the 2016 American election, should normally be opting for a mercantile style of diplomacy, geared to making deals rather than bludgeoning the other side. He has been offering deals to the Afghan Taliban and North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un. However, Trump has incrementally hardened his position on China and Iran. After initiating a full-fledged war of tariffs with China, he is resorting to warrior diplomacy with Iran, which can lead to unforeseen consequences.

To recap, Washington is rattled by Iran’s strong reaction to the latest US sanctions accompanied by threats to reduce Iran’s oil exports to zero. In the war of words, Tehran has warned Washington of the consequences of a (military) confrontation. That enraged Trump sufficiently, leading him to promise “the official end of Iran” in the case of war. Trump is known for changing his tactics and we can expect more theatrics while hoping that he will rule out military conflict as a serious option.

Governments across the globe have been all ears to the ground to fathom which way the American might is going to sway vis-a-vis Iran. Pakistan, as a direct neighbour of Iran has every reason to be concerned over the sabre-rattling from Washington and Tehran. The official reaction was expressed last Thursday when the FO spokesman called upon the concerned parties to show restraint as a miscalculation could lead to a large scale conflict. Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has offered Pakistan’s facilitation to lower tensions while the Chinese foreign minister has urged the US secretary of state to exercise restraint in the rising tensions with Iran.

The situation has reached a worrying pass primarily due to President Trump’s reversal of the US policies on Israel and Iran which were painstakingly crafted by his Democrat predecessor, Barack Obama. As a result, America follows an unprecedented pro-Israel stance and has shamelessly withdrawn assistance to the Palestinians. A year ago, the US withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action agreement with Iran – despite requests from allies not to jeopardize the plan, and to continue instead engaging with Iran.

All that seems so distant now as the Trump administration tightens the screw on Iran’s economy to the delight of the Zionist state. It appears that Trump, who does not miss any opportunity to demonstrate his devotion to Israel, is targeting the Islamic regime in three ways. He wants to dissuade Tehran from resuming its nuclear programme, put a halt to its missile programme and force Tehran to cut down its support to Hamas and Hezbollah in order to weaken their capacity of offering resistance to Israel.

An additional factor has come to strengthen Trump’s resolve to check Iran’s growing power – the latter’s outreach and involvement in Yemen’s civil war. Iran’s strong support to the Houthi rebels has led to the Saudis further consolidating their defence ties with Washington.

The US has stepped up the economic sanctions on Iran, gradually restricting its oil exports and banking relations with the rest of the world. The mood in Iran is sombre as the US coercive diplomacy takes its toll by fuelling inflation and causing sharp depreciation of Iran’s currency. Their only hope is that the Trump era may end after the 2020 election and the next administration might be less belligerent toward the Iranian regime.

A regime change in Iran is ostensibly what Bolton & Co aim at, and think that it can be triggered by military action against the country. Or else, Bolton is advocating an Iraq-style invasion to bring down the clerical regime. These provocations have helped the government in Tehran to mobilize manifestations of support, creating more difficulties for the moderates in Iran. As in the case of Iraq under Saddam Hussain, it is not the regime but the ordinary people who are hardest hit by the sanctions.

Some observers have pointed out that Iran’s actions over the last few years to extend its influence in the region have upset the moderate Arab states under monarchical rule. Iran has historic ties with Syria but the US invasion of Iraq and military intervention in Syria helped Tehran make significant moves on the geopolitical chessboard stretching from Iraq and Syria to Lebanon and Gaza and up to Yemen. The arc of growing Iranian involvement is perceived as a direct threat by the Gulf monarchies.

These areas were once part of the Persian empire but efforts by Iran under a clerical regime to strengthen their zone of influence will meet strong resistance from the US and its Arab allies. The announcement by Iran to renounce some of its commitments under the JCPOA has sent jitters down the regional players, including Israel. The US has reacted by stepping up its military deployment in the area. Reports of attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf and attempts to sabotage Saudi oil pipelines have further heightened the fears of a conflict in the Gulf that would endanger global oil supplies and lead to a sharp rise in petroleum prices.

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