The illogic of Trump’s confrontational Iran policy

Iranian Diplomacy | Kaveh L. Afrasiabi: US President Donald Trump campaigned as a populist outsider critical of wasteful US wars abroad and, yet, in a clear affront to the millions of people who trusted him and voted for him, he is steering his country toward yet another calamitous Middle East war, irrespective of the fact that the US is still trying to extricate itself from the long war in Afghanistan. Trump administration’s hostile moves against Iran, including the designation of a section of Iran’s armed forces as terrorist and making false claims about Iran’s connection to al-Qaeda Sunni terrorists, have been criticized by Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, as indicative of US plotting “direct confrontation” with Iran.

Indeed, history repeats itself and we are witnessing the repetition of Iraq war scenario in slow motion, with the US government following the familiar pattern of demonizing its Middle East rival, piling up false accusations, and ratcheting up economic pressure to soften the perceived enemy as a prelude for war. Needless to say, covert activity and even espionage plays a key role and to this effect the CIA Director, known for her past role in running CIA torture chambers overseas, has publicly admitted that their focus now is on Russia and Iran. What this will mean in the proximate future in terms of CIA covert operations in and around Iran will of course not be known to the public and may take decades before the facts are known to us. It is a safe bet, however, that US is propping up opposition groups and using them as proxies for intel and other nefarious purposes, in direct violation of Iran’s sovereignty.

Meanwhile, chances of a direct US-Iran confrontation are substantially increased by the mere possibility of false flag operations by some of US’s regional allies, seeking to add fuel to the fire. Certainly, Israel is capable of such mischief and finds it in its own interest to weaken Iran and other powerful Middle Eastern states in pursuit of its own hegemonic designs. In a word, the Trump administration has opened a Pandora’s Box by designating Iran’s revolutionary guards as terrorists, raising the possibility of a future scenario where US is pushed into war with Iran by one or more of its regional allies.

This aside, Trump’s hostile Iran policy simply means that Iran has absolutely no interest in lifting a finger to assist the US in places such as Afghanistan, which has turned into a quagmire for US power for some time. In sharp contrast to the Obama era, when successful nuclear negotiations opened a whole new horizon for US-Iran cooperation on other matters, Trump administration’s blind hostility toward Iran, stemming from a Manichean narrative, the stage is set for a region-wide competition and even confrontation between US and Iran, eclipsing their areas of shared or parallel interests. A tissue of deliberate and calculated “misperception,” the administration’s unbounded Iranophobia is essentially jingoistic in nature and sows the seed of the next Middle East war.

In such a war, both the region and the world economy will likely suffer, adversely impacting US economy as well, by virtue of the new threats to world oil market and the skyrocketing oil prices in the event of a US-Iran showdown. Unlike the 1980s, when Iran suffered in US military’s hands as it was bogged down in a war with another enemy, Iraq, today the context of Iranian power is markedly different and reveals multiple areas where Iran can strike back and inflict serious damage to US forces, stationed in Iran’s vicinity. Even an attempt by Iran to mine the waters of Strait of Hormuz can wreak havoc and would take many weeks if not months to clear in the best of circumstances, imperiling world oil supply. As President Rouhani has warned, US should not play ‘with lion’s tail’ and avoid escalating tensions with Iran, which has considerable influence beyond her borders thanks to years of diligent effort to implementing its regionalist approach.

Unfortunately, surrounding himself with known warmongers who were at the forefront of advocating an unprovoked attack on Iraq in 2002-2003, President Trump is nilly willy threading the path of war with Iran, in line with his own Nietzschean inflated, superego best identified in terms of Trumpism, one with “Nazi dispositions”, to paraphrase President Rouhani in his UN speech. Trump, who in 2012 repeatedly sent tweet messages predicting that Obama would start a war of opportunity with Iran, is pre-disposed to do exactly that, perhaps betting that he can whip up American nationalism and jingoistic war euphoria aimed at reasserting America’s global domination. Delusional to the core, Trump’s worldview is, indeed, dangerous for world peace and it is therefore a patent mistake to exonerate him and attribute the current US march toward with Iran to his “war cabinet.” Trump, the reality TV star-turned president, takes his cues on Iran from TV show Game of Thrones, which explains his recurrent use of warrior imagery in his “Sanctions Are Coming” poster displayed at White House meetings, the implicit sub-text being that ‘war is coming’.

 A big question is, of course, who benefits from such a war? US defense contractors for sure, replenishing the US military with new bombs and military hardware used in the theater of conflict, but it is a foregone conclusion that US power will decline as a whole by engaging in another costly war while its chief competitors such as China relish the moment from the sideline. The nub of Trump administration’s irrationality in pursuing a war strategy toward Iran is the fact that it simply does not serve America’s national interests at all. It would also be a complete opposite of Trump’s “America First” ethos, by prioritizing the interests of Israel and or Saudi Arabia, both keen on a ‘rent a superpower’ offensive against their Iranian rival. Nor can we ignore the possibility of a popular revolt against Trump should he take the country to another war of choice, which is certainly avoidable through diplomacy. Yet, by obviating diplomacy altogether and breaking all the diplomatic bridges with Iran through its relentless demonization of Iran, this US administration is now on the cups of a great betrayal of the American electorate — that naively trusted that Trump will put America’s interests first, not last.