Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Bomb, bomb bomb Iran



Iran is the country many Americans want to bomb.  Back in 2008, Old Mackie was even singing a tune in this regard on the campaign trail.  It's been 40 years since the Islamic Revolution in Iran and yet we still seem to know nothing about what is going on in the country.  This despite a succession of presidents who to one degree or another have tried to reach out to the US to put hard feelings behind.

As much as we would like to think there is no reason to forgive Iran for the hostage crisis that stretched out over 400 days between November 1979 and January 1981, the US never apologized for shooting down an Iranian passenger plane in 1988, during the peak of the Iran-Iraq War.  The US was backing Iraq at the time, and a naval commander mistook the passenger plane for a fighter jet, firing two surface-to-air missiles that killed all 290 passengers on board.  By contrast, all 52 American diplomats and citizens were eventually released unharmed.

There is plenty of bad blood on both sides of this long-running feud, but it seemed we had finally put all this bitterness to rest when Barack Obama signed a historic nuclear deal with Iran and six other countries in 2015 that would finally allow IAEA monitors access to Iran's nuclear facilities and limit uranium enrichment in return for the US freeing up tens of billions of dollars in frozen oil assets.

Conservatives like McCain and Graham were fit too be tied, and Trump seized on the issue before announcing his candidacy.  Republicans felt Obama overstepped his authority.  Trump just thought it was a bad deal.  Conservative media treated the deal like Obama was giving away all this money, when in fact it was never our money to begin with.  These frozen oil assets dated back to the Shah's time, and had accrued a substantial amount of interest.  We had held this money over Iran's head for 35 years hoping to topple the regime, just as we did back in the 1950s at the behest of the British when a newly elected Iranian government threatened to nationalize the oil industry.  These days we seem to be working for Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Trump stepped into a big pile of dog shit on this one and has been unable to get it off his shoe.  Iran never really had any interest in reconciliation.  All they wanted were the return of the frozen assets and the removal of sanctions on the sale of oil.  The nuclear deal offered both.  In response all Iran had to do was allow access to its recently completed nuclear reactor, which had actually been the brainchild of the Shah back in the 1970s.  The ayatollahs never really wanted to develop nuclear energy, but successive presidential administrations convinced them that it was an excellent bargaining chip in negotiations.  Iran finally opened Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant in 2013, thanks to the help of Russia, who picked up in 1995 where Germany left off in 1979.

The nuclear deal was largely the product of Iranian and Russian diplomatic efforts.  The US and Europe simply wanted to move past the long-standing animosities and hopefully convince Iran to stop funding Hezbollah and Hamas, the arch-nemeses of Israel.  It also would allow American and European companies to once again do business with Iran.  Boeing was set to sign a $20 billion deal with Iran for a fleet of new passenger planes before Trump's coitus interruptus.

Needless to say, Israel was adamantly opposed to this deal, as was Saudi Arabia.  Both saw Iran as the greatest existential threat in the region, and a deal like this would allow the Islamic Republic to exercise far more influence.  Iran already was exerting influence in Iraq and Syria, and was also supporting Yemen in their ongoing war with Saudi Arabia.

Under normal circumstances this would just be geopolitics as usual, but Trump decided he wanted to make a reality show out of it.  The nuclear deal is set up so that the President has the authority to release frozen assets on a semi-annual basis.  Trump hemmed and hawed each time he had to sign this document until finally in May, 2018, he refused, and chose to reimpose sanctions on oil sales and freeze all assets.  This was a pretty hard blow but Iran weathered it the best they could, choosing to remain in the pact with Russia, China and the EU.

Iran had not broken its part of the deal, and European leaders hoped they could convince Trump to reconsider his decision, but the President stood firm.  Republican Congressmen, Israel and Saudi Arabia all thanked him for it.  Trump felt he scored a diplomatic coup.  However, Iran wasn't going to take this lying down.  They continued to sponsor forces antagonistic to Israel and Saudi Arabia, and terrorist groups that threatened to destabilize the flow of oil in the region.   When several Saudi oil wells were bombed, Iran was blamed.  When two oil tankers were recently attacked in the Strait of Hormuz, Iran was once again blamed.  It didn't matter that Iranian naval forces rescued all 44 persons aboard the two foreign tankers, the WH claimed Iran planted explosive devices on the sides of the hulls.

I suppose it is possible that Iran used a rescue to cover up its misdeeds, but highly unlikely.  More likely these were rogue terrorist attacks.  However, it seems rogue terrorists are all backed by Iran these days. Fact of that matter is that Saudi Arabia sponsors far more terrorist groups around the world than does Iran, yet we have no problem doing business with the House of Saud. In fact, Trump openly defied Congress in selling weapons to the Saudis despite many complaints coming from within his own party. Iran was never really our enemy.  We just made them our enemy in the wake of the hostage crisis.

Many Americans, including Donald Trump, live in a time warp.  They still view Iran as this 1980 revolutionary state run by the Ayatollah Khomeini, who held Americans hostage for 444 days.  They have never let go of this image.  Granted, there is only one letter difference in the current ayatollah, but placing travel sanctions on him is a joke, as he rarely travels out of the country and certainly not to the United States.  It is also silly to place sanctions on Iran's foreign minister, who is responsible for any diplomatic talks between the two countries, which Trump claims he is eager to have.

This is what happens when outdated ideology becomes foreign policy.  No one in the current administration appears to have made the least effort to understand the situation in Iran.  Rex Tillerson apparently did try to work with Iran when he was Secretary of State, but when Mike Pompeo took over all lines of communication were cut.  Now that John Bolton is acting as Trump's war minister any hope of opening talks with Iran appears out of the question.  Bolton seems to be the one who escalated the tensions by blaming Iran for the oil tanker explosions in the Strait of Hormuz.

We were apparently 15 minutes away from a war with Iran until Trump called off an air strike in response to Iran shooting down one of our drones, supposedly because he didn't want to have any blood on his hands.  He opted for more punitive sanctions instead.

The shit is still on his shoe and he can't shake it off.  He has no idea who or what he is dealing with, having never taken the time to read, much less understand the Iran nuclear deal.  He makes idle threats in an effort to appease his base then retreats out of fear he will become responsible for a war he will have no control over.  I suppose in that sense we can breath a sigh of relief.  However, all this vacillation just makes the US look weak, especially in the eyes of our supposed enemies.

Iran will continue to suffer through economic hard times but they stood down the US.  If regime change was what the US was after, this latest step back from the red line will only serve to embolden the leadership in Tehran.  It doesn't hurt that Iran has Russian and Chinese backing, and has been able to weather the sanctions to date.

Trump now has to find a way to make this look like a retreat with dignity, otherwise he will hear it from his base.  They were all ready to start singing "Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran" in unison to the tune of the Beach Boys's Barbara Ann.




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