Will Trump’s Pyrrhic Victory End with America’s Role As Global Bully?
I am in Iran speaking at a conference on the future of the Middle East. The timing for the meeting is particularly appropriate due to the recent American withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which limited the Iranian nuclear program in exchange for suspension of sanctions. Initial discussions with Iranians revealed that they are less pessimistic about the development than are the Americans and Europeans present, believing as they do that the situation can somehow be reversed either by Congressional refusal to endorse the Trump decision or by rejection of the demands being made by the White House that all parties who were also signatories to the agreement (Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany) should also withdraw or themselves face secondary sanctions.
The Iranians concede that the move by President Donald Trump will bring with it additional economic suffering and will also likely upset the delicate political balancing act prevailing in their country, with President Hassan Rouhani being blamed by conservatives for having entered into the agreement in the first place. It was an agreement regarding which the president had expended considerable political equity, and he has also been accused of exaggerating its benefits, having claimed some months ago that all sanctions had been lifted, which was not the case. The stagnant state of Iran’s economy has produced considerable unrest in recent months and it is anticipated that more will be on the way as the economy continues to decline.
Iran’s hopes that Europe will develop a spine and will reject the American overtures, joined by China and Russia, is perhaps too optimistic as banks will be reluctant to lend money for Iranian projects and foreign companies will be unlikely to risk entering into anything but very short-term contracts with the Iranian government for much needed infrastructure improvement.
The major debate taking place is over where one goes from here. There are two distinct schools of thought, one of which basically asks whether continuation of what is essentially a unipolar world, supported by US power, in which the United States continues to be able to assert its vision of world global good order. This has been defined by Washington as a mixture of expansion of liberal democracy plus more-or-less free trade.
Even though it was Israel and Saudi Arabia that were driving the rejection of the Iran deal, it was the United states that had the economic, military and political muscle to take the steps necessary to disrupt an international agreement that had other major signatories and the endorsement of the UN Security Council.
The alternative view is quite different, asserting that Washington’s blow against Iran will ultimately be a Pyrrhic victory for Donald Trump as the blatant interference in what was a universally accepted largely successful treaty in which Iran was fully compliant will produce a global backlash against American interests. US military power and economic might give it considerable leverage to protect itself against any number of adversaries, but its huge and ultimately unsustainable budget deficits and debt make it potentially vulnerable. It is therefore likely that the first counterstrokes against Trump’s vision of America First will be to accelerate steps directed against the use of the US dollar as the world’s principal reserve currency.
There have already been moves in that direction, but they have succeeded in going only so far before being marginalized. This time they might stick because there is a large and growing consensus that America has finally gone too far in its role as global bully. One keen observer opines that the shift to a multipolar polity has now become inevitable due to American insensitivity and political blindness. The economic shifts that will, by some judgements, sink the US economy in five to ten years and lead to the rise of competing economic centers in countries like Russia and Brazil. It will be the beginning of an era in which Washington no longer will have either the resources or the will to attempt to maintain some form of global hegemony.
No surprisingly, the participants at the multinational conference I am attending would welcome the day when an interventionist “leader of the free world” America ceases to be. Many Americans would also welcome it, though without the economic disruption.
Trump’s Pyrrhic Victory: the US Opts for a Path That Can Only Lead to War
Nearly everyone loses by President Donald Trump’s decision on Tuesday to withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) relating to Iran’s nuclear energy program and to reinstate the “highest level” of sanctions while also threatening secondary sanctions on any country that “helps” the Iranians. The whole world loses because nuclear proliferation is a disaster waiting to happen and Iran will now have a strong incentive to proceed with a weapons program to defend itself from Israel and the United States. If Iran does so, it will trigger a regional nuclear arms race with Saudi Arabia and Egypt undoubtedly seeking weapons of their own.
Iran and the Iranian people will lose because their suffering economy will not now benefit from the lifting of sanctions and other economic inducements that convinced it to sign the agreement in the first place. And yes, even the United States and Israel will lose because an agreement that would have pushed back by ten or fifteen years Iran’s timetable if it were to choose to develop a weapon will now be reduced to a year or less. And the United States will in particular lose because the entire world will understand that the word of an American president when entering into an international agreement cannot be trusted.
The only winners from the withdrawal are President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who will enjoy the plaudits of their hardline supporters. But their victory will be illusory as the hard reality of what they have accomplished becomes clear.
Failure of JCPOA definitely means that war is the only likely outcome if Tel Aviv and Washington continue in their absurd insistence that the Iranians constitute a major threat both to the region and the world. A war that might possibly involve both the United States and Russia as well as Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel would devastate the region and might easily have potential to escalate into something like a global conflict.
The decision to end the agreement is based on American domestic political considerations rather than any real analysis of what the intelligence community has been reporting. Deep-pocketed Iran-hating billionaires named Sheldon Adelson, Rebekah Mercer and Paul Singer are now prepared to throw tens of millions of dollars at Trump’s Republican Party to help it win in November’s midterm elections.
Those possessed of just a tad more foresight, to include the Pentagon and America’s European allies, have strongly urged that JCPOA be continued, particularly as the Iranians have been fully in compliance, but there is a new team in Washington. America’s just-confirmed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did not exactly endorse the ludicrous Israeli claim made by Benjamin Netanyahu two weeks ago that Iran has a secret weapons of mass destruction program currently in place, but he did come down hard against the JCPOA, echoing Trump in calling it a terrible agreement that will guarantee an Iranian nuclear weapon. The reality is quite different, with the pact basically eliminating a possible Iranian nuke for the foreseeable future through degradation of the country’s nuclear research, reduction of its existing nuclear stocks and repeated intrusive inspections.
The failure of the JCPOA is not about the agreement at all, which is both sound and workable. There is unfortunately an Israeli-White House construct which assumes that Iran is both out to destroy Israel, for which no evidence has been revealed, as well as being singularly untrustworthy, an odd assertion coming from either Washington or Tel Aviv. It also basically rejects any kind of agreement with the Iranian government on principle so there is nowhere to go to “fix” what has already transpired.
The United States has changed in the past seventeen years. The promotion of policies that were at least tenuously based on genuine national interests is no longer embraced by either political party. A fearful public has allowed a national security state to replace a constitutional republic with endless war as the inevitable result. Presidents once constitutionally constrained by legislative and judicial balance of power have successfully asserted executive privilege to become like third world dictators, able to make war without any restraint on their ability to do so. If America survives, historians will no doubt see the destruction of the JCPOA as the beginning of something new and horrible, where the government of these United States deliberately made a decision to abandon a beneficial foreign treaty to instead opt for a path that can only lead to war.