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Distraction

Cartoon by Jim Morin

Donald Trump’s reckless Iran policy casts doubt on the US as global leader 

The Guardian: Irrespective of whether Iran is responsible for the recent attacks on Gulf shipping, the crisis now unfolding is fundamentally one manufactured out of thin air by the Trump administration. The implications go beyond the threat of a major war and consequent worldwide economic crash. Donald Trump’s reckless, incoherent Iran policy also throws into question the viability of the role of the United States as the global leader.

The US achieved its hegemonic status in the world system not simply through raw strength, but also by convincing the second-tier capitalist powers that it could manage that system in their interests as well as its own. Washington could be relied on to confront and put down challenges to the capitalist order, expand and deepen its reach, and handle crises as they arose. It was through responsible management of the system in the interests of western capital and state power more broadly (if not of humanity as a whole) that the US secured consent from its allies to lead this new form of empire.

The 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, brokered by the Obama administration and signed by the permanent five members of the UN Security Council, Germany and the European Union, was an example of this hegemony in action. The deal was only superficially about the always implausible threat that Iran would build a nuclear weapon and then use it in a suicidal attack on a US ally. The deeper strategic purpose was to bring Iran in from the cold, stabilise its relationship with the wider Middle East, and open it up as a market to international (principally European) capital. The promise of greater stability on their doorstep and a significant new global south market to exploit was a major prize for the European powers, delivered to them by a competent and responsible hegemon.

So, naturally, the Europeans have watched in horror as the Trump administration tore up the deal, ratcheted up sanctions on Iran with the apparent aim of collapsing its economy, and boosted Washington’s military posturing in the Gulf on the flimsiest of pretexts. A single purpose to this aggression is difficult to discern. Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton – a hawk so thuggish he makes Donald Rumsfeld look like Bertrand Russell – is openly in favour of regime change and comfortable with starting a war to that end. Trump – counterintuitively, and in strictly relative terms – is the dove in this equation, conscious of his election promise to end foreign wars, and seeking only to force Tehran into striking a better deal than his tormentor Barack Obama was able to make. Neither of them is likely to get what they want.

Trump and Bolton have only succeeded in provoking increased belligerence on Tehran’s behalf. Having seen its 2015 concessions rewarded with further punishment, and waited a year while Europe failed to mitigate the effects of US sanctions, the regime has now run out of patience. Its threats to finally pull out of the nuclear deal, and probable (though not certain) culpability for attacks on shipping in the Gulf, are likely designed to strengthen its hand in the stand-off, and based on the calculation that Trump does not want a war. There is a serious danger of this state of high tension breaking out into open conflict, through miscalculation or overreaction from either side. Trump seems to have no idea how to climb down from the perilous situation he has created.

Washington’s European allies are now faced with the opposite of what they thought they had won in 2015. Their exporters’ and investors’ hopes of an Iranian opening are dashed, and the Middle East is more unstable than at any time since 2003. A war in the Gulf would be a disaster far worse than that triggered in Iraq 16 years ago, with an effect on the oil price that would send a weakening global economy into a nosedive. Even if Trump is replaced with a Democrat in 2021, the Iranian regime will never trust the Americans enough to strike another bargain, which leaves the hardliners in Tehran strengthened, the moderates humiliated, and regional tensions more intractable as a result. European leaders might ask themselves what Washington would do differently if it were actively seeking to betray their trust and undermine their interests.

The temptation will be to wait for Trump to lose the 2020 election and for life to return to normal. But what if this is the new normal? The precedent of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and the militaristic dogmatism of which that enterprise was born, suggests an emerging behavioural pattern. Far from being aberrational, Trump’s presidency fits with the Republican party’s long-term trajectory into unreasoning hawkish belligerence. The fact that tens of millions of Americans – mostly middle-class or affluent white people – were prepared to vote for a figure like Trump in 2016 demonstrates that this state of affairs cannot simply be wished away. With one of Washington’s two parties of government firmly in the grip of extremists, US allies will need to ask themselves if American leadership is now a reliable asset or a dangerous liability.

David Wearing is a specialist on UK foreign policy in the Middle East

Persian Gulf of Tonkin

Cartoon by John Darkow

Iran & The Issue of Justifying War

Being Libertarian: There is an adage that we all have likely heard in our lives. It goes something like, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” Well, it never quite says who is to blame the 20th time around. Iran today is no different.

Incidents that spark wars are nothing new. Anyone with an elementary knowledge of recent history knows how World War One began, with an anarchist assassinating an archduke in Sarajevo, starting a domino effect of alliances kicking into place and ending in one of the greatest unnecessary tragedies of the 20th century.

Those with perhaps a slightly more in-depth knowledge of history will know of the Reichstag fire in 1933, which was used as a pretext to give Hitler absolute powers as chancellor in Germany or the Gleiwitz incident which was used to create the appearance of Polish aggression against Germany and justify the invasion of Poland.

Just under twenty years after the end of that second great war, in 1964, an “incident” in the Gulf of Tonkin set the stage for the next generation’s war – this time in Vietnam. What makes this occasion so curious is that, while decried for decades as a conspiracy theory, it is now widely known that the incident was embellished to involve the US in the Vietnam War.

Since then, it seems the pace has picked up regarding the timing of these incidents.

In Lebanon from 1979 to 1983, Israeli secret services carried out a campaign of car bombings that killed hundreds, which columnist Ronen Bergman points out was used to “push the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to use terrorism to provide Israel with the justification for an invasion of Lebanon.” 

Only a few years later, in 1990, the Nayirah testimony (of Iraqi soldiers ripping infants from their incubators and leaving them to die on the floor) outraged the American public enough to drive support for a coalition to side with Kuwait in the war rather than the former American ally, Iraq. Of course, the people later found out that “Nayirah” was the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the United States and that the entire stunt was set up by a PR firm for the exact purpose in which it was so effective – the babies and incubators turned out to be nothing more than a convenient lie, leading the United States and coalition forces to war.

This method of gaining public support for war is so effective that it’s still used today, as recently as the invasion of Iraq in 2003 (on the basis of supposed possession of weapons of mass destruction, which were never found) or attempts to intervene in Syria between 2012 and 2019 (on the basis of alleged chemical attacks before any evidence of such was found).

Now we have John Bolton, The acting national security advisor to President Trump, telling us that Iran is responsible for the attacks on several oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, and that there is once again justification for us to go to war.  Bolton was instrumental in bringing about the invasion of Iraq, calling for war as long ago as 1998, as a signatory on a letter to then-President Bill Clinton, urging the removal of Saddam Hussein from power.  He is described as a war-hawk, with explicitly stated designs for regime change in Iran, Syria, Libya, Venezuela, Cuba, Yemen, and North Korea.

Considering those facts, should we believe him once again?

I’m not saying Iran didn’t do this, I have no evidence to support such a claim (though how convenient is it they hand us this justification just as we are pushing for war with them). But after the revelation of Operation Northwoods, the Gulf of Tonkin, the 1979-83 attacks in Lebanon, the Nayirah testimony, the WMD’s in Iraq story, and the false accusations of chemical weapons use by the Syrian government as a pretext to war, how exactly are we supposed to trust that this information is accurate? Fool me once shame on you. Fool me twice, however, shame on me! 

I wrote previously on the issue of growing mistrust in our institutions. I believe that is just as accurate now as it was then. Until that trust is rebuilt, The United States will lack the ability to fully support its leaders in war. This is a dangerous position to hold in a world with serious and growing challenges to the relative peace and interconnectedness that American hegemony secured over the last half-century.

As China’s geopolitical influence and military capabilities increase, America needs the support of its people and internal unity, it needs a trust that will only come from transparency and putting the nation’s wishes first, not another seemingly pointless war.

Arthur Cleroux is an individualist who balances his idealism with a desire for an honest, logical and objective approach to politics and political issues. 

Hanged by the feet.

Wences 9/36

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Artur's Style.

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Orthopedic Collar.

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