Trump, Iran and the lull before the storm
The Middle East has been bleeding without a pause since 2003. It all began with a lie that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. This was followed by lies in a constant loop to cover up for that one big lie told in the beginning. Two men decided they could lie for the “protection” of western values and countless people died as a consequence. Those two men walked away without being held accountable as thousands of people continue to die in the chaos they left behind.
One and a half decades later, a new man sits on the throne and the region is about to descend into further mayhem and violence. The American decision to unilaterally, and provocatively, withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal (formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA) is purposefully aimed at baiting Iran as well as further fracturing the already beleaguered region.
In my opinion, there are two fallouts of this decision. While the first one concerns Iran itself, the second one concerns the region at large, particularly as it also concerns Pakistan.
It is no great secret that the American administrations, one after another, have desired for Iran to crumble from within. To put it nicely, they often called it “regime change” and “liberating the Iranian people.” This is taken straight from the Iraq war propaganda, as Juan Cole correctly pointed out.
In the wake of the American withdrawal from the JCPOA, Iran has two possible courses of action; either it can choose to continue to comply with the JCPOA without the US as a party to the agreement, or be inspired by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and pursue uranium enrichment full speed ahead
In the wake of the American withdrawal from the JCPOA, Iran has two possible courses of action; either it can choose to continue to comply with the JCPOA without the United States as a party to the agreement, or be inspired by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and pursue uranium enrichment full speed ahead. And there lies the bait.
In its withdrawal from the JCPOA, the Trump administration hopes to pit Iranian hardliners and moderates on the one hand, and on the other to force it to choose between whether to be compliant or try to pull off a North Korea. As economic benefits that President Hassan Rouhani promised his people haven’t materialized, the decision-makers in Iran will gradually find the North Korea precedent more productive. That is precisely the choice the hawks in Washington, Tel Aviv, Riyadh, and Abu Dhabi want Iran to make.
Rouhani will probably prefer Iran to continue to abide by the JCPOA if other countries do so too. But that isn’t likely, as European countries will find it extremely difficult to circumvent American sanctions. This pits Rouhani against the Iranian hardliners and the deep state. If Iran doesn’t take the bait, the Trump warmongers hope that Iran’s deepening economic woes will rip its society apart from within.
Over the years, Iran has developed a security network in the region by patronizing and supporting proxy outfits in Lebanon, Syria and Yemen. It has also cast a very large shadow over Iraq, and pro-Iranian parties in Iraq are expected to win the upcoming elections. Iran is also allegedly instigating a revolt in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province. It has successfully gained an upper hand in the struggle for regional dominance over Saudi Arabia by carving out a geographic corridor some call “the Shiite Crescent.”
A Shiite Crescent led by Iran that is in possession of weapons of mass destruction will likely alarm pro-Saudi countries as well as the rest of the world. It will be Iraq in 2003 all over again. It depends entirely on the Trump warmongers how long they are willing to wait, but make no mistake, they are paving the way for a war. But war with Iran will be much more complex and bloody than those in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Henry Kissinger, former US secretary of state and national security adviser, believes the third world war is around the corner and, if he is to be believed entirely, it will start with Iran. Syria provides the picture of the perfect battleground for this to happen. The first-ever direct encounter between Iranian and Israeli forces has already taken place in the Golan Heights. However, Iran can retaliate against Israel through any number of its proxies spread throughout the region. Therefore, the mad idea is to use the US military might keep General Qassem Suleimani occupied while Israel flattens everything between the Golan Heights and Baghdad.
There is a tiny problem with the thesis though; nobody knows what Russia and China will have to say about it.
Saudi Arabia could not be happier with the US withdrawal and the possibilities it offers. The kingdom’s misplaced excitement is manifested in the ambition of Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman. And it is because of Saudi Arabia that the plot thickens for Pakistan. In one way, the American withdrawal from the JCPOA is good news for Pakistan. The renewed sanctions will put a stop to Indian dreams of building Chabahar port in Iran as an alternative to Pakistan’s Gwadar port project.
But, that’s about it for the good news for Pakistan.
Pakistan recently offered Russia a strategic partnership, the same Russia whose interests are aligned with Iran and its regional allies. Pakistan is currently part of the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition led by Saudi Arabia and aligned with the US. And the US sees India, Pakistan’s arch-nemesis, as its natural ally. The US also sees Afghanistan as its partner against the Afghan Taliban who, it says, are supported by Pakistan. As far as Pakistan is concerned, Afghanistan is harboring anti-Pakistan militants at the behest of India.
This confounding diplomatic and strategic balance is about to be severely tested. This confusion is also a reflection of the delicate balance that exists between elements of Pakistani society. The outlook poses as many challenges as opportunities for this South Asian nuclear-armed country. Indeed, an insider such as Kissinger is not just speculating. The Pakistanis will have to make the best of this lull before the storm.