Against all common sense, moral considerations and international law, U.S. President Donald Trump tonight decided to place the United States outside the international so-called community and isolate itself, not Iran.
He withdrew the United States from what is one of the most important negotiated peace-oriented agreements that have ever been signed: the one that prevents Iran (if it has ever wanted to) from acquiring nuclear weapons: The Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action, JCPOA, of July 2015 – all about this agreement and its text here).
Noteworthy is that the nuclear deal is incorporated into international law by UN Security Council Resolution 2231, even though the U.S. already at that point stated – as an exceptionalist state – that it did not consider the deal binding for it.
With the exception of Germany, the deal was negotiated – cynically, of course – by countries which have themselves thousands of nuclear weapons.
It never mentioned the only state in the region that possesses them, against international law in the form of UN resolutions and, additionally, has not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). That state is Israel whose nuclear weapons Western politicians and their loyal, politically correct media omit mention of – as systematically and uniformly as if orchestrated by an invisible hand from above.
Back in 2014-15, many of us stated that the alternative to a negotiated deal would be war. I am still of the belief that President Trump’s announcement tonight will turn out to be a declaration of war on Iran. A series of developments since then in the Middle East point dangerously in the same direction.
Towards the end, his speech was extremely bellicose and one long systematic violation of the UN Charter’s Article 2.4 that “all members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.”
Without a doubt, both the decision itself, the way it was announced as well as the threats stated relating to the future was nothing but a series of indisputable violations of the UN Charter. For all practical purposes he seems also to question that Iran has the right to self-defence according to the UN Charter’s Article 51.
It cannot be deemed acceptable that the U.S. or Israel or any other country can deny Iran a right to have conventional missiles and other military equipment, at least not as long as other countries – including these two exceptionalist and nuclear-armed countries – have much more of such weapons themselves and there are no international agreements that prohibit such types of weapons.
Who has and who has not honoured the JCPOA?
It’s the United States that has never honoured its commitments according to the JCPOA: Old sanctions not lifted fully, new sanctions installed, and control by the US Treasury of all currency exchange that takes place via the dollar with the aim of punishing corporations and banks that trade and invest in Iran.
Towards the end, Trump declared his admiration for and non-conflict with the Iranian people.
But since 1979 his country has done everything in its power to cause troubles, economic in particular, to the Iranian people. He seems to now have a perverse joy in announcing new sanctions and – well, at the end of the long road kill people: Remember the 13 years of sanctions on Iraq that killed more innocent Iraqis than the military invasion and occupation did? Trump’s sanctions are open-ended.
In contrast to this, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna and all other experts, Iran has fulfilled its side of the agreement in every detail.
CNN states on the page where the announcement was made: “Note: The Director of National Intelligence, Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense have all said in last two months they are complying with the deal.” (“They” being the Iranians, JO).
Trump’s reference to Israeli PM Netanyauhu’s stand-up comedian-like speech a few days ago only shows how incredibly little evidence the his administration has as that speech has been debunked completely by a series of independent experts, including TFF Associate Gareth Porter here. In addition, it was 1992 when Mr. Netanyahu first began talking about Iran attempting to go nuclear.
No wonder the West talks about fighting fake because others use fake. No wonder it blames others for international law violations. It’s called psycho-political projection of one’s own dark sides. And nuclear weapons and threats and lies belong to the dark sides.
Why Iran is not a threat
Unfortunately for the US militarist foreign policy circles, Iran is not a threat to the US or its allies. It pure nonsense.
For more than 250 years Iran has not invaded anyone – not exactly a record the West and Israel can match. Iran is in Syria fighting the terrorism which the U.S. allegedly fights too since 9/11 2001 (with the marvelous result that 17 years later 80 times more people worldwide are being killed in political terror actions than back then).
Iran is in Syria upon invitation by the legitimate government of Syria and, thus, in compliance with international law. So is, by the way, Russia. Whereas every other state or group – NATO allies, friends like Saudi Arabia and Israel on Syrian land, sea and air territory or through money, weapons and terrorism-support are involved through gross violation of international law, including the UN Charter.
Is Iran a big military power?
To judge that, let’s see what the just published figures by SIPRI, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, tell.
The military expenditures of Iran with 80+ million people and a huge territory is US$ 15 billion. In the event of an attack on Iran, it may – may… – be supported by Russia or China but that is unlikely.
Who must Iran perceive as the likely coalition to attack it? It depends of course on who starts it – if Israel should start it, it would hardly do so without a prior green light by the U.S. and its commitment to help out. Saudi-Arabia is now the third largest military power in military expenditure terms, i.e. larger than Russia.
Israel’s military expenditures are US$ 16 billion – larger than Iran’s with a population about 1/10 of Iran. And, remember, Israel has nuclear weapons.
Saudi Arabia has been building up against Iran for a long time and built a coalition. Saudi military expenditures stand at US$ 69 billion. Oman’s are US$ 9 billion. Bahrein US$ 1 billion. So, a little dependent on one’s geo-political assumptions and hypotheses, we arrive at Iran US $ 15 billion against 16+69+9+1 = 95 or a 15:95 regional ratio.
It’s inconceivable that the U.S., France and the U.K. would not intervene. Indeed, the U.S. tonight declared war on Iran.
The military expenditures of the United States stand at US$ 610 billion, France at US$ 69 billion and the United Kingdom at US$ 47 billion.
So, is Iran a threat? Is Iran likely to start a war?
No matter what you might otherwise think of Iran, it is not a threat. It knows very well that it has 4 nuclear weapons states against it and a group of adversaries and Iran-hating leaderships whose combined military expenditures are, roughly speaking and according to the latest figures, a combined US$ 820 billion and way more technically sophisticated. And it knows that while its own military expenditures are US $ 16 billion – that the combined, thinkable international coalition that could get involved in a war in and around Iran is 55 times more resourceful in military terms.
So forget it. It exemplary fake foreign policy nonsense.
They are neither mentally ill nor suicidal in Tehran. In addition, in sharp contrast to almost all its potential military enemies, it is defensive in is military posture and foreign policy. Iran has gained strength in the region mostly because Western/NATO countries has produced one devastating, predictable war fiasco after the other.
Will the friends of the U.S. have the civil courage to speak up and take action now?
Will the NATO allies and EU friends – who have been woefully incapable of showing solidarity with Iran by standing up against the United States’ permanent non-commitment to and violation of the JCPOA – now be able to change course?
Why have they so submissively and leaderlessly avoided setting down their feet and say to Washington: Dear friend, we will take action against you if you withdraw from the JCPOA because that step endangers all of us, could release a new round of violence, make the Second Cold War with Russia even colder and send millions of refugees our way. That will be our red line, a concept you surely understand!
Did NATO/EU really believe that President Macron’s and Chancellor Merkel’s pathetic appeasement attempts – such as talking in favour of a new agreement because the JCPOA “is not enough” – at the White House stage would charm and persuade Trump and his war-mongering, neo-con, militarist team with obsessed Iran-haters such as Trump, Bolton and Pompeo?
Of course: Neither NATO allies – or a country such as Sweden for that matter – will show the necessary civil courage to stand up against Donald Trump’s reckless de facto war declaration on Iran tonight. They will talk and express concern, in the best of cases.
For years, they have taken order from His Master’s Voice, their state-financed institutional researchers and military academy experts have had about the same freedom of creativity as their former colleagues had in the German Democratic Republic, at the time. Loud and clear criticism of U.S. foreign policy still a taboo?
For how long? With how much more pain brought down on innocent people in foreign lands?
And it is anyhow too late now. NATO/EU allies have not dared to speak truth to the Captain:
“The Titanic sails at dawn
And everybody’s shouting
“Which side are you on?”
-Bob Dylan, “Desolation Row” (1965)
The major ones likely to stand with Iran in this dark hour are Russia and China.
And Iran will need – and deserves – our sympathy. If there ever was a case for the need of standing with the Iranian people, this is it.
They have suffered more than enough over decades – yes due to the domestic corruption and economic mismanagement but in particular due to these suffocating sanctions. And it is the people – anywhere and therefore in Iran too – who will pay the highest price, as did – and still do – the Serbian people, the Afghan people, the Iraqi people, the Libyan people, the Syrian people and the Yemeni people, to mention a few.
Whether the – deceptively “soft” sanction which over years turn into Weapons of Mass Destruction – or bombings, invasions, arms trade, splitting of sovereign states and other war crimes: the innocent citizens who never touched a gun are always and without exception those who suffer most.
Nobody believes a word of your statement about your respect and admiration of the Iranian people, Mr. Trump. With this step you obviously could not care less about their welfare and the peace of the region.
What should ideally be done now?
Just a few – non-violent – ideas that reflect what should be relevant to discuss objectively and in proportion to the violation of international law and ignorance of the common global good that the U.S. by its president’s statement is solely responsible for:
• Allies and friends of the U.S. impose selected economic sanctions on the U.S. leadership to not only talk but show that they mean business.
• Allies and friends of the U.S. summon the U.S. ambassadors to their countries for hard talk.
• Allies and friends threaten to close U.S. military bases in their countries and demand withdrawal of U.S. troops (and secret forces) from them.
• Everybody begin to practise civil disobedience against the U.S. by trading, investing and otherwise cooperating with Iran, its people and institutions. After all, the U.S. is now deliberately trying to bully everybody else in whose interest it is to cooperate in various ways with Iran. If enough countries, corporations and banks just ignore the U.S. threats, the U.S. legal system will not be able to handle all these cases.
• More countries should now decide to trade oil in other currencies than the US dollar.
• Citizens around the world go visiting Iran, see and hear for themselves what the well-educated, cultured, hospitable and discussion-happy Iranians are truly like – because the mainstream media and politicians have provided close to no information about the people, culture, history – and suffering – of the Iranian people but only conveyed negative perspectives and images conducive to confrontation and future warfare.
• In addition: people-to-people exchanges below and above the state level is always peace-promoting and, secondly – it’s way more difficult to accept military activity against countries you know from your own experience and in which you have made friends. So, as much citizens diplomacy as possible! Now!
– All until the U.S. backs down from its new sanctions, stop violating international law also verbally in its dealings with Iran and, finally, accepts that other countries do what is in their interest vis-a-vis Iran without Washington’s intimidation, threats or other preventive actions. If you leave a deal because you think it is in your interest, you cannot also influence its outcome and legitimately prevent others from acting in their best interest. As simple as that!
Was this a declaration of war?
I think: Yes. However, the U.S. doesn’t bother about declaring war, it just do them.
From now on the U.S. will invent reasons for confronting Iran, accusing Iran, threatening Iran. It will feel more free to do so being outside the deal. The only countries that are happy about the announced policy are those already ganging up against Iran.
The rest of the world will distance themselves or condemn this step – but it is not likely that the U.S. will listen. It’s constitutionally unable to, seeing itself as the Exceptionalist, Chosen Country, the global ruler. # 1 in a system tends to teach and not learn…
It doesn’t necessarily mean war on Iran tomorrow. I hope by all my heart that I’m wrong and it will never happen.
But given Trump’s decision and all the other events and trends and coalition-building against Iran since 2015, it is much much more difficult from today to ignore the risk of a US-led attack or war on Iran.
We must remember that the US conflict with Iran is not only about nuclear weapons but also about a long and very conflictual relationship since the CIA-led coup against Iran’s democratically elected Prime Minister in 1953 (who had the cheek to believe that Iran’s oil belonged to the Iranians). It’s about today’s Syria, Israel, Saudi-Arabia and, since yesterday, Iran-supported Hezbollah in Lebanon.
And – perhaps less easy to grasp but perhaps most importantly – it’s about the decline of US Empire worldwide and, therefore, an ever-increasing reliance on that last power dimension where the U.S. is still second to none: the MIMAC, the Military-Industrial-Media-Academic Complex.
The hammer will be used if it is the only tool in the toolbox no matter the problem to be fixed.
• • •
As a postscript, here is an interview with me on Iran’s international PressTV made nine hours before President Trump’s announcement. Another follows underneath that was made right after the announcement and as a comment also on Iranian President Rouhani’s very balanced, moderate reaction to it. (Jan Oberg’s participation in this long “rolling coverage” program begins after 1 hour and 18 minutes).
President Obama made a strong defence of the JCPOA and answered some of Trump’s false charges:
Thanks Jan. I just read this article of yours in Counterpunch and sent emails of it to several friends and have also made a donation here. Your input is clear and important. I think Trump is a lost cause and his “advisers” are even worse (or ignored if they give good advice) but also cannot understand why Obama, with his silver tongue(!!) has not said one word that I have heard about in the last 18 months to galvanize the public, who still seem to sanctify him, to consider how to react to the dangers of world conflict.
We agree. If the EU finds ways for European companies to do deals with Iran not going by Fed Res, that would be a good beginning. If then we agree to forego the dollar in oil deals with Iran, that would be a very hard blow for Trump.A concerted action by the EU is needed, single companies can not do the deals on their own, they will have to pay heavy fines to Washington
We should hope that the US empire ends not with a bang, rather with a whimper. In the end, the US has its weapons.
We agree here. A point is that IF the EU stays with the agreement AND find ways for companies in Europe to go around the Fed Res and the dollar, and IF we buy oil not using dollars,that would be a very hard blow against Trump. That would be the beginning of the end for the US empire. However, there would be economic repercussions, difficult for foresee. I hope there can be ways to go step by step. For a US empire in cataclysms weapons is the only method they know.
Thank you for analysing. The worst I heard of what mr. Trump said was the hints to Iran’s other military stuff. And to open up for attack. Let’s hope this will never happen. Let’s hope Russia and China will help to prevent more wars.
Thank you, Jan, for an excellent review. With sadness I note that your list “what should ideally be done now” is just this, “ideally”, and ours is not the “ideal” world.
There are some things I do not understand:
I. What is the purpose of the US policy, the reason behind the decision to risk a war? The US military does know, and speaks clearly about, the terrible consequences of a war in the area. Consequences for the US, the US partners, the world economy. Oil prices would triple when the Persian Gulf is closed. And the uncertain consequences for Israel.
I tend to believe the president is briefed on this by his military advisers. So my interpretation is that Mr Trump does not understand that he is really risking war. He believes in bullying. Iran will back off. Brinkmanship by a man unstable as a drunkard. And John Bolton cheers.
The only winner is the weapon traders. Is that enough reason?
II. I do not understand the EU partners. I talked to a leader in the Foreign Policy areas in the EUP, asking why EU does the bidding of USA regarding sanctions against Iran. The answer was simply: We must obey Washington. Are we now in a situation when EU independence is a possibility?
III. The economic power of the US Federal Reserve Bank. All trade with Iran has go through an exchange in US dollars. Why? There were discussions a couple of years ago, and there were indictions that this node could be bypassed, but European banks do not dare to try, they would be heavily punished, not allowed international trade. However,, there were possibilities for a European gov-t or EU to protect a specific bank for this purpose. This possibility should be investigated.
IV. Or, the most drastic step of all: Abandon the dollar, at least in oil trading. Maybe use China’s nat’l bank. This is not possible today, it would be a declaration of war against USA – as Saddam Hussein learnt – and the consequences for the world economy would be disastrous. But to do this just for Iran, under the custody of a EU institution? Would be enough to force USA back to the negotiations?
Please, you economists, explain why this is impossible?
Thank you so much, Gunnar. All very very good questions indeed. However, I believe they are far to rational and intellectual to have been raised by the Trump team. They are psychologically out of reach and I do not think that this type of questions are raised at any point. It’s helter-skelter management. We may remember the intellectual people who surrounded John F. Kennedy and how he deliberately invited people who disagreed with him. Good leaders do that sort of thing, acknowledging that they can be wrong at some point and it is better to have the devil’s advocate in the decision-making room.
I have a hard time believing that there is anything like that going on in today’s Washington.
Remember that there is basically only one issue on which Trump has been consistent between his campaign days and today: Hatred of Iran, hatred of the JCPOA, hatred of what Obama did. And this is where The Deep State stands too – hatred of Iran. There is nothing rational about it because the US would win too if it worked and did business with Iran instead.
Concerning the EU – there is no leadership or ability or will to speak with the one voice they should as stipulated in the Lisbon Treaty. EU members were totally split on the Iraq War, on Libya and on Syria. The only time they all agreed and spoke with one voice was the recognition of Slovenia and Croatia out of old Yugoslavia – which made the war in Bosnia unavoidable!
I think the person you have talked to there is honest: We cannot go against Washington. (One day they will have to if this madness continues).
The petrouyan already exists, so does an alternative World Bank. The West is on its way down and of course at some point, the US dollar will no longer be the world’s main currency. That will mean the end of the US Empire. Everything has its time…
One final point – I do not think there will be any new negotiations that the US participates in or could be forced to participate in. Iran will hardly do any more negotiations with the U.S. around the nuclear issues no matter what. Iran will deal with those who stand by the JCPOA.
The US has, once again, isolated itself – this time more than at any other moment. They’ll be in denial and increasingly desperate as they lose grips even further and the Rest turns away from the West. We’re indeed living in interesting – and dangerous – times, Gunnar. Thanks!