The Most Dangerous Game in the World: Trump guns for Iran

By Jeffrey D. Sachs | (Project Syndicate) | – –

NEW YORK – In recent weeks, US President Donald Trump and his advisers have joined Saudi Arabia in accusing Iran of being the epicenter of Middle East terrorism. The US Congress, meanwhile, is readying yet another round of sanctions against Iran. But the caricature of Iran as “the tip of the spear” of global terrorism, in Saudi King Salman’s words, is not only wrongheaded, but also extremely dangerous, because it could lead to yet another Middle East war.

In fact, that seems to be the goal of some US hotheads, despite the obvious fact that Iran is on the same side as the United States in opposing the Islamic State (ISIS). And then there’s the fact that Iran, unlike most of its regional adversaries, is a functioning democracy. Ironically, the escalation of US and Saudi rhetoric came just two days after Iran’s May 19 election, in which moderates led by incumbent President Hassan Rouhani defeated their hardline opponents at the ballot box.

Perhaps for Trump, the pro-Saudi, anti-Iran embrace is just another business proposition. He beamed at Saudi Arabia’s decision to buy $110 billion of new US weapons, describing the deal as “jobs, jobs, jobs,” as if the only gainful employment for American workers requires them to stoke war. And who knows what private deals for Trump and his family might also be lurking in his warm embrace of Saudi belligerence.

The Trump administration’s bombast toward Iran is, in a sense, par for the course. US foreign policy is littered with absurd, tragic, and hugely destructive foreign wars that served no real purpose except the pursuit of some misguided strand of official propaganda. How else, in the end, to explain America’s useless and hugely costly entanglements in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, and many other conflicts?

America’s anti-Iran animus goes back to the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution. For the US public, the 444-day ordeal of the US embassy staff held hostage by radical Iranian students constituted a psychological shock that has still not abated. The hostage drama dominated the US media from start to finish, resulting in a kind of public post-traumatic stress disorder similar to the social trauma of the 9/11 attacks a generation later.

For most Americans, then and now, the hostage crisis – and indeed the Iranian Revolution itself – was a bolt out of the blue. Few Americans realize that the Iranian Revolution came a quarter-century after the CIA and Britain’s intelligence agency MI6 conspired in 1953 to overthrow the country’s democratically elected government and install a police state under the Shah of Iran, to preserve Anglo-American control over Iran’s oil, which was threatened by nationalization. Nor do most Americans realize that the hostage crisis was precipitated by the ill-considered decision to admit the deposed Shah into the US for medical treatment, which many Iranians viewed as a threat to the revolution.

During the Reagan Administration, the US supported Iraq in its war of aggression against Iran, including Iraq’s use of chemical weapons. When the fighting finally ended in 1988, the US followed up with financial and trade sanctions on Iran that remain in place to this day. Since 1953, the US has opposed Iran’s self-rule and economic development through covert action, support for authoritarian rule during 1953-79, military backing for its enemies, and decades-long sanctions.

Another reason for America’s anti-Iran animus is Iran’s support for Hezbollah and Hamas, two militant antagonists of Israel. Here, too, it is important to understand the historical context.

In 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon in an attempt to crush militant Palestinians operating there. In the wake of that war, and against the backdrop of anti-Muslim massacres enabled by Israel’s occupation forces, Iran supported the formation of the Shia-led Hezbollah to resist Israel’s occupation of southern Lebanon. By the time Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000, nearly 20 years after its original invasion, Hezbollah had become a formidable military, political, and social force in Lebanon, and a continuing thorn in Israel’s side.

Iran also supports Hamas, a hardline Sunni group that rejects Israel’s right to exist. Following decades of Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands captured in the 1967 war, and with peace negotiations stalemated, Hamas defeated Fatah (the Palestine Liberation Organization’s political party) at the ballot box in the 2006 election for the Palestinian parliament. Rather than entering into a dialogue with Hamas, the US and Israel decided to try to crush it, including through a brutal war in Gaza in 2014, resulting in a massive Palestinian death toll, untold suffering, and billions of dollars in damage to homes and infrastructure in Gaza – but, predictably, leading to no political progress whatsoever.

Israel also views Iran’s nuclear program as an existential threat. Hardline Israelis repeatedly sought to convince the US to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities, or at least allow Israel to do so. Fortunately, President Barack Obama resisted, and instead negotiated a treaty between Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (plus Germany) that blocks Iran’s path to nuclear weapons for a decade or more, creating space for further confidence-building measures on both sides. Yet Trump and the Saudis seem intent on destroying the possibility of normalizing relations created by this important and promising agreement.

Jeffrey D. Sachs, Professor of Sustainable Development and Professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University, is Director of Columbia’s Center for Sustainable Development and of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network. His books include The End of Poverty, Common Wealth, The Age of Sustainable Development, and, most recently, Building the New American Economy.

Licensed from Project Syndicate

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11 Responses

  1. It appears that Americans are going to have to learn the hard way after they FAIL to understand that Iran has suffered over 100 years of abuse by the Brits, the USA , Israel and Saudi Arabia.

    I think that Trump, the Saudis and the Israelis will attack Iran and get their butts handed to them on a golden plate embossed with a ornate “T.”

    For over 35 years, Iran has . . .

    – planned to make any attack by the USA and its criminal friends as painful for the attackers as possible.

    – Developed a deep pool of science and engineering talent, so Iran can develop the weapons technology to make Americans cry in pain. Note that the USA WASTES over 75% of its military budgets on ego boosting war toys, whereas Iran has focused on developing and producing large quantities of very effective, but low cost weapons. Iran gets far more “bang for their buck,” than the USA.

    – Carefully analyzed USA battle tactics and developed very effective counter tactics, plus the USA has conveniently made sure that the Iranian military get lots of live-fire practice defending Iraq and Syria from Saudi supported rebels.

    – Iran’s engineers have developed some unique enhancements to Russia and Chinese technology which they have shared with China, making them both much stronger. In exchange, China may have provided Iran with DF-21D “carrier killers” for which the USA carriers have no defense other than stay 1000 miles from Iran and China. Note that if the USA carrier has to stay out 1000 miles, that means an additional 2000 miles of flight time for the USA naval pilots PLUS a MINIMUM of two additional inflight refueling (always a slow and stressful event). Pilot flying extremely long and complex missions make lots of mistakes. some of which get them killed.

    – Developed a very, very deadly antiaircraft network that extends over 200 miles from Iran and goes up to 50k feet altitude. This starts with the very deadly, long-range S-400 clone Iran and China developed (derived from the Russian S-300 systems that “magically” appeared in Iran and China). Add to this, an Iranian clone of the deadly medium range Russian BUK, PLUS an Iranian designed short range missile system and it becomes very hard for USA, Saudi or Israeli pilot to survive very long.

    There is a very good reason why Israel has not attacked Iran. The IDF leadership looked at what it would take and realized they could lose over half their aircraft and since Israel has over 50000 missiles pointed at it (IDF numbers), Israel could end as one big rubble pile after retaliation. The IDF leadership point blank told the political leadership if the USA wouldn’t commit suicide for Israel, Israel would just have to shut up.

    As for the Saudis, their military is poorly trained.

    The bottom line is, while it is extremely stupid to attack Iran even if China and/or Russia don’t help (they probably will), the American hubris is huge and Americans still carry a grudge over the Iranians punishing the USA for over 100 years of abuse by the Brits and the USA. How dare Iranians pay the USA back for the terrible things the USA did?

    I doubt that anyone in trump land has any clue as to why it is so dangerous to attack Iran.

  2. Perhaps the Iranians should invite Trump to build a hotel in Tehran? That would take them off all sorts of lists, invite many positive tweets from Donald and finally give them a friendly US president.

    Everyone knows US policy forbids aggression against any location with a Trump marketing logo.

    • I’ll bet if Foreign Minister Zarif put in a call to Donald Junior and promised dirt on Hillary, they could “take a meeting [a silly New York idiom]”; and in no time they could be dancing cheek to cheek and talking about – who knows – adoptions.

  3. Jerry Wechsler

    Generally good piece by Professor Sachs. His statement that Iran is a “functioning democracy” may be accepted only by recognizing that every democracy on Earth is only partially functioning – including ours. There is no complete, full democracy; therefore, Iran is democratic only when compared, say, to (our ally) Saudi Arabia. But Iran’s democracy is less “functional” than, say, Canada’s. It’s all relative. That said, I agree with the thrust of the piece.

    • Iran’s flawed democracy is actually far closer to democratic than Israel where half the people in de facto Israel are not permitted to vote, have citizenship or even basic political rights.

  4. The option to renew or not renew the nuclear deal comes up again in October. Apparently it took a good deal of persuading before Trump very reluctantly agreed to renew the agreement last month. By October official Washington will probably be neck-deep in a major brouhaha over budget/debt ceiling issues. By that point it’ll be apparent that Trump’s mastery of these matters will about equal his familiarity with the intricacies of health care policy. In other words, he won’t just be clueless, he’ll look clueless. So what to do? The answer is to cook up an Iran “crisis” and the best way to do that would be to cancel the nuclear agreement.

    • Trump can NOT cancel the Iran agreement with the UN. The USA does NOT have that power (contrary to trumps delusions of grandeur)

      All trump can do is screw USA companies out of economic opportunities in Iran and rant like a child that he will “tear up the agreement” while the rest of the world will simply ignore him and life will go on.

      Then when trump is ignored he will threaten other countries, who will ignore him until he does something to their economic interests, then they will retaliate hard against USA companies. the other countries may even take the US to the security counsel where the US could lose 14 to 1 before they have to use their veto.

      Note that the USA attempts to threaten countries with the SWIFT financial network, is driving lots of countries to partially or fully switch to the new Chinese developed financial network to prevent the USA from disrupting their trade. The more countries switch to the Chinese network, the weaker the dollar becomes because the Chinese network uses a “basket of currencies” for transactions , but not USA dollars.

      Basically everything trump does causes massive harm in the USA and drive more and more countries toward China.

      “Good job trumper”

  5. It is fast approaching “wag the dog” time for Trump. America is in big trouble.

  6. Thanks for an excellent article! I also appreciate the majority of the comments. I run an international business that is based in the boonies. I guess HRC would refer to the town I live in as populated by a bunch of ‘deplorables.’ Politically I’m an independent and I have always followed world events carefully. Mr Sachs’ article is a very accurate piece that seeks to explain the history and the current state of US – Iran relations. I have tried to carefully explain the details to my Republican friends but they don’t care about facts. All that counts is ideology. This doesn’t bode well for the future of the US. I think we are about to reach a point of no return. Eventually, wars and sanctions will lead the US into a serious fiscal situation after the USD is dethroned as the world’s reserve currency. When that happens perhaps the US will wake up as a real crisis is an opportunity to change for a better future of the world.

    • Mid term (or even possibly short term) the USA dollar is in deep brown stuff.

      China and the rest of the earth are redefining global currency markets making the USA dollar just one of many units of exchange with the Chinese RMB being added to the mix. To facilitate this , China and most of the other countries on earth are building a new financial trading infrastructure that will essentially ignore the USA.

      As the carbon energy markets collapse due the RAPID introduction of almost “free” non-carbon energy, the need for US dollars will decrease because every other good or services can be traded in many different currencies.

      China and many other countries have long resented the control the USA has, because of the dollar valued trade and now the infrastructure and conditions to change that are becoming a reality.

      Hopefully, the change over will be gradual enough for Americas to wake up, drastically change their government and mange the transition. BUT given how much hubris Americans are capable of and the probability that the change will happen quickly, things could get real strange in the USA.

      As a clue to how America will react just look at how Americans have ignored automation for almost 50 years and they STILL are unable to deal realistically with the situation, but continue to flail and scream about terrible “others.”

      Between extremely wasteful empire wars and ignoring reality, America is a real mess and on a path to a lot of pain.

      • The dollar as the world reserve currency has disadvantages anyway. As for the rest, arbitrageurs already de facto denominate in whatever the most favorable currency for them is.

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