Tasnim – The “hawks” in the Donald Trump administration are fully aware that their country “cannot afford” any direct military confrontation with the Islamic Republic, an American political commentator said.
“…They (American hawks) know also, the US cannot afford a direct confrontation with Iran,” John Steppling, who is based in Norway, told the Tasnim News Agency in an interview.
“So I don’t see anything happening right away,” he said, adding, “And Trump has a lot of other problems at the moment.”
Steppling is a well-known author, playwright and an original founding member of the Padua Hills Playwrights Festival, a two-time NEA recipient, Rockefeller Fellow in theater, and PEN-West winner for playwriting. He is also a regular political commentator for a number of media outlets around the world.
Following is the full text of the interview:
Tasnim: As you know, the US government’s hostility toward Iran has recently entered a new stage. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has formed a dedicated group to coordinate and run the country’s policy towards Iran following US President Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran. Pompeo announced the creation of the Iran Action Group (IAG) at a news conference, naming Brian Hook, the Department of State’s director of policy planning, as its head. What do you think about the group and its objectives and do you think that it would be able to reach its goals?
Steppling: It’s amazing when you think about it, that the entire narrative since the last election in the US has been about Russian interference in the political process. The whole story is fictitious but that hasn’t stopped it becoming the main storyline for almost all mainstream media. And yet here you have an illegal group that has as its stated goal the overthrow of a sovereign nation. The contradiction is breathtaking, really. But Pompeo is a rabid Islamophobe and a Christian extremist. Still, this was going behind the scenes anyway, now it is out in the open at least.
Tasnim: The Trump administration recently threatened to cut Iranian oil exports to zero, saying that countries must stop buying its oil from Nov. 4 or face financial consequences. Washington later softened its threat, saying that it would allow reduced oil flows of Iranian oil, in certain cases. Since oil is a strategic product and countries around the world always demand it, do you think that the US is able to carry out this threat at all?
Steppling: This is an interesting question. How much will the NATO nations of Europe push back against the Trump decree? I don’t know. Clearly, Germany, in particular, is very unhappy. But Europe basically functions as a series of vassal states to the US. They will do what they are told in the end. I think more likely is that this whole embargo is just too much trouble for the Trump administration. There is an interesting question looming in just how much of the Pentagon and CIA focus is on how Iran, how much on China, and how much on Russia. Each is a different problem from the perspective of the US I think Trump, personally, fears China the most. They have the economic upper hand. But the real crime for any official US enemy is independence. Look at China, Iran, Russia, Venezuela, the DPRK, Syria, and Cuba. Each rejects US imperialist aims. Each rejects Western capital and all those international financial organizations. That’s the only crime any of them have committed.
Tasnim: Trump’s threat is part of his walking away from the Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). He also plans to fully reinstate anti-Tehran sanctions from November 4. In the meantime, the EU has vowed to counter Trump’s renewed sanctions on Iran, including by means of a new law to shield European companies from punitive measures. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas recently said Europe should set up payment systems independent of the US if it wants to save the JCPOA. What do you think about the EU’s role in reducing Washington’s pressures against Tehran and saving the deal?
Steppling: Yes well, this is again a question about how much spine Europe will show. And maybe I’m being cynical suggesting they won’t show any, for after all a lot of money is going to be potentially lost. But this issue of payments raises the question of the power of the dollar vs the yuan or any other. And here China is, again, very powerful. The US wants to have some form of proxy conflict — that’s Bolton’s style. And you can bet he wants a false flag regards Syria to justify more direct military action there. At the same time, the real fear is about China and its financial power. And I think Washington senses this shift toward Russia and China and Iran globally. The promise of a future, let alone a better future, lies in that direction and away from the US. There is no question the US is nervous if not desperate and the danger is that hawks like Pompeo and Mattis and Bolton are in positions of great influence and each is most happy when bombs are falling somewhere. And yet, they know also, the US cannot afford a direct confrontation with Iran. So I don’t see anything happening right away. And Trump has a lot of other problems at the moment. I think we will learn soon if Trump really has any say at all in foreign policy.