The image of an oil tanker burning in the Gulf of Oman is a stern warning of the potential for war in the Middle East, as tensions continue to rise between the UnitedS States and Iran.
While few want a confrontation, those that do — including elements in the administration of Donald Trump, and significant parts of the leaderships in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Israel, as well as some Iranian hardliners — are well-positioned to make one happen.
After the US rushed to blame Iran for the latest attacks on tankers in the Gulf, the European Union issued a statement calling for “maximum restraint” from all parties.
The phrase was a deliberate jab at Washington and its “maximum pressure” strategy with Iran, a failing policy with potentially grave consequences.
Whether or not Iran was behind these attacks, as well as the previous acts of sabotage in May, Europe is striking the right tone in pressing for calm to avoid a third Gulf war. Read more at The Battleground
Just a few sentences into Donald Trump’s speech
to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) yesterday, the entire world was laughing
at the President of the United States. Reactions to the
rest of his speech might have vacillated between anger and ridicule, while his loyal base and administration servants sat with self-satisfied grins. But some of what he said should cause concern.
Whether it was his repeated emphasis on sovereignty over alliances—a common theme of authoritarian leaders—his railing about trade deficits whose effects on the US economy he clearly doesn’t understand, his attacks on international institutions and partnerships, or his general air of condescension and hubris, Trump reaffirmed his intention to move the United States deeper into a belligerent isolation from most of the world. Read more at LobeLog
Both Barack Obama and Donald Trump wanted to change US policy toward both Israel-Palestine and Iran. When Obama arrived in the Oval Office, he brought an ambitious foreign policy plan with him. He wanted to diminish the heavy U.S. footprint in the Middle East, “pivot toward Asia,” and rebuild the confidence in the United States as a sober actor on the world stage that George W. Bush had undermined with his calamitous invasion of Iraq.
At the beginning of his first term—after he made his initial speech indicating a willingness to improve relations with Iran—Obama devoted his efforts and political capital to trying to bring a Palestinian state into being. He knew there would be political costs, and although he underestimated them, he understood that it would take all the political capital he had to have any chance at productive talks.
By 2012, Obama recognized that he was not going to get the grand bargain between Israel and the Palestinians that he had hoped for. So he turned his attention toward Iran. Working with U.S. allies in Europe and through the United Nations, he pushed for sanctions to bring Iran to the table. The pressure paved the way for the nuclear talks that would eventually lead, in 2015, to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the Iran nuclear deal.
Obama recognized that Israeli-Palestinian peace and the Iran nuclear deal were each very expensive in terms of political capital. He couldn’t afford to pursue both. It’s a lesson Donald Trump still doesn’t understand. Read more at LobeLog
In 2002 and 2003, as the United States geared up for the invasion of Iraq, many protests broke out across the country, as did a passionate public debate about why America was going to war and whether it should. That debate, sadly, was not proportionately reflected on Capitol Hill, but it still mattered.
The invasion destroyed Iraq as well as the dual containment policy that, despite its many flaws, had kept a relative lid on Iraq’s ambitions and Iraq’s ability to upset regional stability. The ensuing years of combat spawned the Islamic State and other terrorist groups, and destabilized the entire region, most severely affecting Syria.
Now, the same forces have come together to take down the most significant diplomatic achievement in the Middle East in recent memory and create a new, highly unstable future. Donald Trump today announced the reimposition of sanctions on Iran, putting the United States in direct violation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), colloquially called the Iran nuclear deal. In Iraq, the United States went in with no exit strategy. The Trump administration likewise has no plan for the day after exiting the Iran nuclear deal. In both cases, however, the real goal is regime change. Read more at LobeLog
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu loves to indulge in theatrics from time to time. On Monday, he cleared out prime time space in Israel for what was billed as a “big announcement” regarding Iran.Barack
Netanyahu spent the time outlining the proof that Iran had, in fact, maintained a nuclear weapons program from 1997-2003. He made a big deal about “catching Iran lying,” and neglected to mention that the information he was “revealing” was well known. In fact, the National Intelligence Estimate of 2007, which described how Iran had halted the program, contained most of what was revealed in Netanyahu’s presentation. Read more at LobeLog
French President Emmanuel Macron likely wrote the epitaph for the Iran nuclear deal as he was leaving Washington. Based on his statements, U.S. relations with Iran and North Korea as well are becoming increasingly dangerous.
“(President Donald Trump’s) experience with North Korea is that when you are very tough, you make the other side move and you can try to go to a good deal or a better deal,” Macron said. “That’s a strategy of increasing tension … It could be useful.”
Trump accordingly believes that North Korea has agreed to talks because Kim Jong Un was intimidated by Trump’s belligerence. But this is unlikely to be the case. Colin Kahl, the former national security adviser to Vice President Joe Biden, wrote on Twitter that “Trump likely misreads Kim Jong Un’s reasons for agreeing to a summit: to legitimize rather than dismantle his nuclear program. Remember, Kim said North Korea could stop testing because the nuclear program was already complete.”
Although no one can be certain of Kim’s thinking, Kahl’s interpretation is much more consistent with what is known about Kim and the current diplomatic state of play. So, what does the US leaving the Iran nuclear deal mean for the relationships with Iran and North Korea? Read more at LobeLog
While the Iran nuclear agreement (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA) is far from safe from attacks by Donald Trump, it is becoming clear that a Plan B is being put in motion. The United States is clearly a part of it, but this time Saudi Arabia is driving the agenda.
The events of the past week – the sudden resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, the massive purge of key political, security, and business figures in Saudi Arabia, a missile heading toward Riyadh from Yemen which the Saudis called an act of war – are all part of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s (MbS) drive to consolidate power. His radical grab, which started in the spring, has dramatically altered the nature of Saudi politics, alienating many in the ruling family, breaking with established norms of quietly dealing with political rivalries within that family, and removing a system of checks on autocratic power that, though weak, were not meaningless.
It is impossible to know how all of this will end, but here are some initial thoughts: Read more at LobeLog