Connect with us

Middle East

Mounting tension with Iran sheds a light on dynamics of US geopolitics

Dr. James M. Dorsey

Published

on

Mounting tension between the Trump administration and Iran are likely to shed light on US dynamics shaping today’s geopolitical environment.

Looming large is the figure of US national security advisor John Bolton, a proponent of a muscular US foreign policy in which the United States employs military force to impose its will and fortify its superpower status as the playground shifts from a unipolar to a multipolar world.

At first glance, President Donald J. Trump, viscerally opposed to the 2015 international agreement that curbed Iran’s nuclear program, appears to be allowing Mr. Bolton to drive the administration’s ‘maximum pressure’ campaign against Iran.

In the latest unprecedented move, it was Mr. Bolton rather than the Pentagon who announced the accelerated deployment of an aircraft carrier strike group to the Gulf in what the national security advisor framed as a warning to Iran.

In many respects, Messrs. Trump and Bolton share a common worldview that is aligned with the way men like Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and the crown princes of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Mohammed bin Salman and Mohammed bin Zayed, define their countries’ national interests.

In a book acclaimed by conservatives, Israeli philosopher Yoram Hazony provided the tacit theoretical underpinnings of what goes beyond the worldview of Mr. Trump, his associates and Middle Eastern leaders.

Arguing that nationalism is a defense against imperialism redefined as the tyranny of universal values and liberal international organizations like the United Nations, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and the International Criminal Court, Mr. Hazony provides the basis for what amounts to a tacit agreement on shared values by autocrats, authoritarians and illiberals that also include the presidents of Russia, China and Turkey, Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the prime ministers of India and Hungary, Narendra Modi and Victor Orban.

Mr. Hazony’s theory, fuelled by mounting international criticism of Israeli policy towards the Palestinians, resonated because it harked back to right-wing anti-imperialism and rejection of universal values and standard-setting international institutions that restrict what can countries do, primarily within their own borders.

Embracing Mr. Hazony’s theory, however, does not stop men like Messrs. Trump, Bolton, Xi, Bin Salman, Bin Zayed and Erdogan from imposing their will on others as part of what they see as a national interest.

In America’s case, columnist Gideon Rahman argues that Messrs. Trump and Bolton are harking back to an era when the United States brutally pursued its interests without regard for others.

Theirs is an understanding that the United States is in the longer term unlikely to be able to compete against a China that eventually outstrips it economically and militarily.

“The Trumpian view is that the US has gone soft and risks ruin if it is too scrupulous when dealing with ruthless adversaries such as ISIS (the Islamic State) – or, even, with Russia and China,” Mr. Rahman said. He could just as well have included Iran as an example.

If there is a silver lining in all of this, it is that the jury is out in answering the question of who ultimately drives US policy towards Iran or for that matter Venezuela: Mr. Trump, who despite his bluster is perceived to want to avoid military entanglements, or Mr. Bolton to whom the military appears to be a magic wand.

The question is also whether the evolution of the North Korea crisis suggests that other crises like Iran could evolve similarly even if there are no indications as yet of that potentially being the case and despite the fact that Mr. Trump at one point declared his willingness to meet with Iranian president Hassan Rouhani.

Mr. Trump appeared to initially follow Mr. Bolton’s inclinations when he threatened North Korea to respond with “fire and fury” if it did not denuclearize and mocked North Korean leader Kim Jong-un as “Little Rocket Man.”

Just months before joining Mr. Trump’s administration, Mr. Bolton had argued in favour of military strikes against North Korea in a Wall Street Journal oped.

“Given the gaps in U.S. intelligence about North Korea, we should not wait until the very last minute. That would risk striking after the North has deliverable nuclear weapons, a much more dangerous situation,” Mr. Bolton said.

Yet, Mr. Trump has since held two inconclusive, if not failed summits with Mr. Kim, declared that “we fell in love,” and rejected Mr. Bolton’s advice to tighten the North Korean sanctions regime.

Similarly, Mr. Trump, frustrated that US efforts led by Mr. Bolton to oust Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro, has privately half-joked that his national security advisor is seeking to drag him “into a war.”

For now, Mr. Trump appears to be more on board with Mr. Bolton’s hard line towards Iran than his approach towards Venezuela and North Korea.

While it is unclear whether Iran could prove to be the exception to the president’s anti-war inclinations, it could, in a twist of irony, be Saudi Arabia that proves to be a moderating influence.

Despite being a proponent of regime change in Tehran, Prince Mohammed’s interest in the short and medium term is likely to be destabilization of the Iranian regime rather than immediate replacement with a government capable of returning the Islamic republic to the international fold and quickly reclaiming its place in global oil and gas markets.

The sanctions on Iran give the kingdom the time to in the short-term establish itself as a major gas trader and within six years as a key gas exporter.

If that Saudi interest prevails, it would jell with Mr. Trump’s aversion towards war.

Iranian journalist Ahmad Hashemi argues that ‘Venezuelization’ or destabilization of Iran may prove to be Mr. Trump’s compromise formula.

“Donald Trump is anything but a warmonger. He doesn’t want Iraq and Afghanistan-style regime change because another costly war in the Middle East goes against his “America First” policy,” Mr. Hashemi said.

The failure of Mr. Bolton’s effort to overthrow Mr. Maduro could prove to be a watershed and, possibly, the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title, Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario and three forthcoming books, Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africaas well as Creating Frankenstein: The Saudi Export of Ultra-conservatism and China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom.

Continue Reading
Comments

Middle East

“Today Saudi Arabia finally lost the war on Yemen.”

Eric Zuesse

Published

on

On August 17th, an anonymous German intelligence analyst who has perhaps the world’s best track-record of publicly identifying and announcing historical turning-points, and who is therefore also a great investigative journalist regarding international relations (especially military matters, which are his specialty) headlined at his “Moon of Alabama” blog, “Long Range Attack On Saudi Oil Field Ends War On Yemen”, and he opened:

Today Saudi Arabia finally lost the war on Yemen. It has no defenses against new weapons the Houthis in Yemen acquired. These weapons threaten the Saudis economic lifelines. This today was the decisive attack:

Drones launched by Yemen’s Houthi rebels attacked a massive oil and gas field deep inside Saudi Arabia’s sprawling desert on Saturday, causing what the kingdom described as a “limited fire” in the second such recent attack on its crucial energy industry.  …

The Saudi acknowledgement of the attack came hours after Yahia Sarie, a military spokesman for the Houthis, issued a video statement claiming the rebels launched 10 bomb-laden drones targeting the field in their “biggest-ever” operation. He threatened more attacks would be coming. 

New drones and missiles displayed in July 2019 by Yemen’s Houthi-allied armed forces

Today’s attack is a check-mate move against the Saudis. Shaybah is some 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) from Houthi-controlled territory. There are many more important economic targets within that range.  …

The attack conclusively demonstrates that the most important assets of the Saudis are now under threat. This economic threat comes on top of a seven percent budget deficit the IMF predicts for Saudi Arabia. Further Saudi bombing against the Houthi will now have very significant additional cost that might even endanger the viability of the Saudi state. The Houthi have clown prince Mohammad bin Salman by the balls and can squeeze those at will.

He went on to say that the drones aren’t from Iran but are copies from Iran’s, “assembled in Yemen with the help of Hizbullah experts from Lebanon.”

He has been predicting for a long time that this war couldn’t be won by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman al-Saud (MbS). In the present report, he says:

The war on Yemen that MbS started in March 2015 long proved to be unwinnable. Now it is definitely lost. Neither the U.S. nor the Europeans will come to the Saudis help. There are no technological means to reasonably protect against such attacks. Poor Yemen defeated rich Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi side will have to agree to political peace negotiations. The Yemeni demand for reparation payments will be eye watering. But the Saudis will have no alternative but to cough up whatever the Houthi demand.

The UAE was smart to pull out of Yemen during the last months.

If he is correct (and I have never yet found a prediction from him turn out to have been wrong), then this will be an enormous blow to the foreign markets for U.S.-made weapons, since the Sauds are the world’s largest foreign purchasers of those, and have spent profusely on them — and also on U.S. personnel to train their soldiers how to use them. So (and this is my prediction, not his), August 19th might be a good time to sell short U.S. armament-makers such as Lockheed Martin.

However: his prediction that “the Saudis will have no alternative but to cough up whatever the Houthi demand” seems to me to be the first one from him that could turn out to have been wrong. If the Sauds have perpetrated, say, $200 billion of physical damage to Yemen, but refuse to pay more than $100 billion in reparations, and the Housis then hit and take out a major Saudi oil well, isn’t it possible that the Sauds would stand firm? But if they do, then mightn’t it be wrong to say, at the present time, that: “Today Saudi Arabia finally lost the war on Yemen.”? He has gone out on limbs before, and I can’t yet think of any that broke under him. Maybe this one will be the first? I wouldn’t bet on that. But this one seems to me to be a particularly long limb. We’ll see!

Continue Reading

Middle East

The message behind the release of Iranian oil tanker

Mohammad Ghaderi

Published

on

The Gibraltar court ordered the Iranian oil tanker Grace 1 to be released. The tanker was seized by the British Royal Marines about a month ago. 

This verdict was the ending of an elaborate game designed by John Bolton National Security Advisor of the United States and Mike Pompeo, carried out by the Britain government. 

With seizing the tanker, Bolton was trying to put psychological and political pressures on Iran and force other countries to form a consensus against Iran, but he couldn’t fulfill any of these goals. 

Iran’s firm, logical and wise answer to the seizure of Grace 1 (like making solid legal arguments) and the seriousness of our country’s armed forces in giving a proper response to Britain’s contemptuous act, made the White House lose the lead on reaching its ends. 

Washington imagined that the seizure of Grace 1 will become Trump’s winning card against Iran, but the release of the tanker (despite disagreement of the U.S.) became another failure for the White House in dealing with Iran.  

Obviously, London was also a total loser in this game. It is worth noting that U.S. was so persistent about keeping the oil tanker in custody that John Bolton traveled to London and insisted on British officials to continue the seizure of the ship. Their failure, however, clearly shows that the White House and its traditional ally, Britain, have lost a big part of their power in their relations with Iran. 

Clearly, the illegal seizure of the Iranian oil tanker by Britain proceeded by the seizure of a British tanker by Iran and the following interactions between the two countries is not the whole story and there is more to it that will be revealed in coming days. 

What we know for sure is that London has to pay for its recent anti-Iran plot in order to satisfy Washington; the smallest of these consequences was that Britain lost some of its legal credibility in international arena as it illegally captured an Iranian oil tanker. 

The order of the Gibraltarian court revealed that London had no legal right to seize the Iranian oil tanker and nobody can defend this unlawful action. Surely, Iran will take all necessary legal actions to further pursue the matter.  

In this situation, the Islamic Republic of Iran is firm on its position that it doesn’t have to follow the sanctions imposed by the European Union on other countries (including Syria). 

No entity can undermine this argument as it is based on legal terms; therefore, Iran will keep supporting Syrian nation and government to fight terrorism. This is the strategic policy of the Islamic Republic and will not be changed under the pressure or influence of any other third country. 

Finally, it should be noted that the release of Grace 1 oil tanker was not only a legal and political failure for Washington and London and their allies but it was also a strategic failure. Undoubtedly, the vast consequences of this failure will be revealed in near future. 

From our partner Tehran Times

Continue Reading

Middle East

Business and boxing: two sides of the same coin

Dr. James M. Dorsey

Published

on

What do a planned US$15 billion Saudi investment in petroleum-related Indian businesses and a controversial boxing championship have in common?

Both reflect a world in which power and economics drive policy, politics and business at the expense of fundamental rights.

And both underscore an emerging new world order in which might is right, a jungle in which dissenters, minorities and all other others are increasingly cornered and repressed.

Rather than furthering stability by building inclusive, cohesive societies both support trends likely to produce an evermore unstable and insecure world marked by societal strife, mass migration, radicalization and violence.

A world in which business capitalizes on decisions by a critical mass of world leaders who share autocratic, authoritarian and illiberal principles of governance and often reward each other with lucrative business deals for policies that potentially aggravate rather than reduce conflict.

No doubt, the planned acquisition by Saudi Arabia’s state-owned national oil company Aramco of 20 percent of the petroleum-related businesses of Reliance Industries, one of India’s biggest companies, makes commercial and strategic economic and business sense.

Yet, there is equally little doubt that the announcement of the acquisition will be read by Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, days after he scrapped the autonomous status of the troubled, majority Muslim region of Kashmir, as a license to pursue his Hindu nationalist policies that discriminate against Muslims and other minorities and fuel tensions with Pakistan, the subcontinent’s other nuclear power.

The ultimate cost of the fallout of policies and business deals that contribute or give license to exclusion rather than inclusion of all segments of a population and aggravate regional conflict could be far higher than the benefits accrued by the parties to a deal.

Underscoring the risk of exclusionary policies and unilateral moves, cross border skirmishes between Indian and Pakistani forces erupted this week along the Kashmiri frontier in which at least five people were killed.

The timing of the announcement of the Aramco Reliance deal in a global environment in which various forms of racism and prejudice, including Islamophobia, are on the rise, assures Indian political and business leaders that they are unlikely to pay an immediate price for policies that sow discord and risk loss of life.

Like in the case of Saudi and Muslim acquiescence in China’s brutal clampdown on Turkic Muslims in the troubled, north-western Chinese province of Xinjiang, the most frontal assault on a faith in recent history, the announcement risks convincing embattled Muslim minorities like the Uighurs, the Kashmiris or Myanmar’s Rohingya who are lingering in refugee camps in Bangladesh that they are being hung out to dry.

To be sure, Kashmiris can count on the support of Pakistan but that is likely to be little more than emotional, verbal and political.

Pakistan is unlikely to risk blacklisting by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an international anti-money laundering and terrorism finance watchdog, at its next scheduled meeting in October by unleashing its anti-Indian militants.

Anthony Joshua’s controversial fight with Andy Ruiz scheduled for December in Saudi Arabia, the first boxing championship to be held in the Middle East, pales in terms of its geopolitical or societal impact compared to the Saudi Indian business deal.

Fact is that Saudi Arabia’s hosting of the championship has provoked the ire of activists rather than significant population groups. The fight is furthermore likely to be seen as evidence and a strengthening of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s selective efforts to socially liberalize the once austere kingdom.

Nonetheless, it also reinforces Prince Mohammed’s justified perception that Saudi Arabia can get away with imprisoning activists who argued in favour of his reforms as well as the lack of transparency on judicial proceedings against the alleged perpetrators of the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Saudi Arabia insists the killing was perpetrated by rogue operatives.

What Saudi investment in India and the scheduled boxing championship in the kingdom have in common is that both confirm the norms of a world in which ‘humane authority,’ a concept developed by prominent Chinese international relations scholar Yan Xuetong, is a rare quantity.

Mr. Yan employs the concept to argue without referring to President Xi Jinping, Xinjiang, China’s aggressive approach towards the South China Sea or its policy towards Taiwan and Hong Kong that China lacks the humane authority to capitalize on US President Donald J. Trump’s undermining of US leadership.

Mr. Yan defines a state that has humane authority as maintaining strategic credibility and defending the international order by becoming an example through adherence to international norms, rewarding states that live up to those norms and punishing states that violate them. Garnering humane authority enables a state to win allies and build a stable international order.

Mr. Yan’s analysis is as applicable to India and Saudi Arabia as it is to China and others that tend towards civilizational policies like the United States, Russia, Hungary and Turkey.

It is equally true for men like Anthony Joshua promoter Eddie Hearn and business leaders in general.

To be sure, Aramco is state-owned and subject to government policy. Nonetheless, as it prepares for what is likely to be the world’s largest initial public offering, even Aramco has to take factors beyond pure economic and financial criteria into account.

At the end of the day, the consequence of Mr. Yan’s theory is that leadership, whether geopolitical, economic or business, is defined as much by power and opportunity as it is by degrees of morality and ethics.

Failure to embrace some notion of humane authority and reducing leadership and business decisions to exploiting opportunity with disregard for consequences or the environment in which they are taken is likely to ultimately haunt political and business leaders alike.

Said Mr. Yan: “Since the leadership of a humane authority is able to rectify those states that disturb the international order, the order based on its leadership can durably be maintained.”

What is true for political leaders is also true for business leaders even if they refuse to acknowledge that their decisions have as much political as economic impact.

Continue Reading

Latest

Trending

Copyright © 2019 Modern Diplomacy