Trump blasts Iran for backing Syria, ignores Russia, Praises Saudis

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Trump more or less threatened to wipe out the 25 million people of North Korea in his speech at the UN.

Then he turned to the Middle East, where he again pledged to undermine the Iranian nuclear deal.

In other words, he put forward a plan to turn Iran into North Korea as a geopolitical problem.

The speech was a weird amalgam of white nationalism and Neoconservatism. It abandoned the isolationism of the former and eschewed the idealism of the latter.

Concerning Iran, Trump said:

“The Iranian government masks a corrupt dictatorship behind the false guise of a democracy. It has turned a wealthy country with a rich history and culture into an economically depleted rogue state whose chief exports are violence, bloodshed, and chaos. The longest-suffering victims of Iran’s leaders are, in fact, its own people.”

I swear, I thought Trump was talking about his own administration there for a second. He’s the one, not Iran, who called Nazis very fine people and blamed Heather Heyer for being run over by one of Trump’s supporters. I have been critical of the Iranian regime’s human rights record, as well, but Trump doesn’t have a leg to stand on here.

“Rather than use its resources to improve Iranian lives, its oil profits go to fund Hezbollah and other terrorists that kill innocent Muslims and attack their peaceful Arab and Israeli neighbors. This wealth, which rightly belongs to Iran’s people, also goes to shore up Bashar al-Assad’s dictatorship, fuel Yemen’s civil war, and undermine peace throughout the entire Middle East.”

Hizbullah was formed to get Israel back out of Lebanon. Israel committed a naked act of aggression against little Lebanon in 1982, invading and shelling Beirut indiscriminately. The Israeli army then occupied 10% of Lebanese territory, in the south of the country. The far right Likud party has sticky fingers, and it had no intention of ever leaving. Hizbullah fought a low intensity guerrilla war to get the Israelis to withdraw, which they finally did in 1999. Israel still occupies the Shebaa Farms area that belongs to Lebanon.

The Yemen civil war wasn’t fueled by Iran but by a Saudi air campaign against the government of the north of the country. The Houthis were unwise to make their coup in early 2015 against the interim government, but it was the Saudis who bombed targets from 30,000 feet and with little local knowledge. Iran may have facilitate some training for a handful of Zaydi fighters, but it doesn’t give them very much money. The conflict is indigenous and has its origin in Yemen resentment of Saudi attempts to spread money around and convert people out of Zaydism and into the ultra-rigid Wahhabi form of Islam.

As for Hizbullah backing Bashar al-Assad in Syria, so does Trump’s buddy Vladimir Putin, to whom Trump said Syria should be turned over. In other words, Hizbullah’s position on Syria isn’t much different from that of Trump.

It is very odd that you would blame the survival of the al-Assad regime on Iran alone and not bring up Russia. Russia has spent way more in Syria than Iran and has used its Aerospace Forces for intensive bombing over 2 years, a much bigger military impact than Iran’s. And Trump himself keeps saying Arabs need strongmen to rule them.

“We cannot let a murderous regime continue these destabilizing activities while building dangerous missiles, and we cannot abide by an agreement if it provides cover for the eventual construction of a nuclear program. (Applause.) The Iran Deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into. Frankly, that deal is an embarrassment to the United States, and I don’t think you’ve heard the last of it — believe me.”

Let’s see. In the Joint Plan of Collective Action, Iran gave up:

1. –its planned heavy water reactor at Arak, concreting it in and abandoning it. Heavy water reactors can be used to gather enough fissile material over time so that you might be able to make a nuclear bomb. That pathway is gone.

2. –all but 6000 of its centrifuges, which aren’t enough to enrich enough uranium on a short timetable to make a bomb

3. –its stockpile of uranium enriched to 19.5%. It needs to be enriched to 95% for a proper bomb, but that is easier if you start part of the way there. That stockpile has been recast in a form such that it cannot be used to make a bomb.

4 — its objections to being intensively monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency. It is now under the most stringent inspection regime in history. (Israel refused inspections and then made several hundred nuclear warheads and so did India and Pakistan and Russia and the US. Trump doesn’t condemn the actual proliferators, only Iran, which does not have a nuke).

Iran basically gave up the deterrent effect of being able to construct a nuclear weapon in time to stop an invasion. The United States has invaded 3 neighbors of Iran, so it isn’t an idle fear.

What did Iran get in return? The GOP Congress tightened sanctions, and has scared off a lot of European investors.

Iran got bupkes.

This deal is not between the US and Iran but between Iran and the UN Security Council plus Germany (representing the EU). The deal has deeply disadvantaged Iran and has not affected the US at all. In fact the US has already reneged on the spirit of it.

If what Trump is saying is that Iran was left with some elements of what is called ‘nuclear latency’– the knowledge of how to make a bomb, then that is correct. But the only way to wipe out Iranian nuclear latency would be to invade it and occupy it and put in a puppet government.

And that is what Israel’s Netanyahu and Saudi Arabia’s Muhammad Bin Salman want Trump to do. We have to see if he is so foolish.

Iran is 2.5 times as populous as Iraq and 3 times bigger geographically, and the Iraq War did not go well for the US.

“The Iranian regime’s support for terror is in stark contrast to the recent commitments of many of its neighbors to fight terrorism and halt its financing.

In Saudi Arabia early last year, I was greatly honored to address the leaders of more than 50 Arab and Muslim nations. We agreed that all responsible nations must work together to confront terrorists and the Islamist extremism that inspires them. ”

As or Saudi Arabia being the good guy, give me a break. They were backing anti-minority fanatics like Jaysh al-isalm who wanted to ethnically cleanse all Syrian non-Salafis (i.e. almost everyone). They had recognized the Taliban in the 1990s. They spread around an intolerant form of Islam that forbids Muslims to so much as have a friendly meal with Christians and Jews.

Trump’s remarks were apocalyptically stupid.

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Related video:

France 24: “Donald Trump at the UN: The Iran Deal is “an embarrassment to the United States”

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23 Responses

  1. If he goes through with it, repudiating the Joint Agreement will be the single most destructive and self-defeating action that that Trump has yet taken. This would certainly be the single worst action in foreign relations by the Trumpistas, they’ve done a lot of very destructive and subversive things in domestic affairs, yet the repudiation of the Joint Agreement might still be a contender for the most destructive Trump action overall.

    It enrages Iran, without actually punishing Iran as the other partners in the Joint Agreement are 99% sure to stand by it. It tells North Korea that even signing an agreement about nukes with a Trump-maddened America is stupid and worthless. It totally allies America with Israel and Saudi Arabia, both deceiving themselves with separate fantasies of why warring against Iran might work out for themselves, putting us on a dangerous path of aggression against a nation whose leader has renounced the possession of nuclear weapons for his country as immoral. Oh, and in opposition to China, Russia and Europe as well.

    If he does it, it’s absolutely an insane policy. It’s absolutely a representation of the Republican ultra-hawkish, pro-Israel and unjustifiably-focused-on-Iran clique now dominant in the Trump administration.

  2. In the midst of many unresolved conflicts, the North Korean and Israeli nuclear weapons, the ongoing occupation of Palestinian lands by rightwing Israeli governments, the continuing threat of terrorism, the war in Yemen, the unfinished mayhem in Syria, relations between the West and Russia and China, and above all the climate change whose dreadful effects we are seeing in front of our eyes, all of which require multilateral cooperation, the world was yearning for leadership. It would be a gross understatement to say that in his debut at the world body Trump did not provide that leadership. Again, he resorted to the crudest form of electioneering as though he was still on the campaign trail. It was interesting to note that only Netanyahu and a couple of people around him applauded when Trump launched his bizarre attack on Iran. Apparently, they had slotted an hour for Trump’s address hoping for long applauses, but it was cut to 45 minutes as it was listened to in almost stony silence. America deserves better than this.

    As for Iranian reaction to his remarks, Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif twitted: “Trump’s ignorant hate speech belongs in medieval times-not the 21st Century UN -unworthy of a reply.” Perhaps the best response to his insane hostility towards the nuclear deal was the statement issued by European Leadership Network, which shows the gulf between Trump and Europe and may be the rest of the world. link to lobelog.com

  3. Professor this is a far better opinion piece than the one you wrote a week ago giving advice to the medieval regime of KSA. I still think that Iran’s giving up its nuclear program without security guarantees ( say Russia and China committing themselves to defend her in an invasion) was sheer stupidity. Short sighted merchant class and Westernized youth who pushed for sanctions relief never have understood the nature of Imperialism. They have short memories. The World is about who dominates whom. Europe can’t stand up to US power; or Iran is not worth standing up to a giant superpower.

  4. If Trump is aware of any history, he must have studied Herman Goering. If you tell a lie loud enough and long enough, some people will start to believe it.

  5. Trump has divided this country, and he is now working on the world. By now the rest of the world gets it. He can be selective in his outrage, accuses others of what his favorite nations like Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Israel, are also guilty of, and overlooks their crimes. The US and Israel has a long, ugly record of bombing other nations, and it will be hard to convince the world that it is Iran that can’t be trusted with deadly weapons. Do as I say not as I do.

  6. Hoping Robert Mueller’s investigation will soon get the proper results that will pave the way for impeachment. P5+1 must develop into E3+2 and protect Iran now.

  7. When I first heard this madman’s speech, it felt less like serious ideological policy crafted by hard line, experienced neocons, and more like the words of a 16yr old young republican male feeling his political oats for the very first time after hearing a Barry Goldwater speech.

    Turns out, none other than our favorite young Red Hat (as opposed to Hitler’s young brownshirts), Stephen Miller, was the author. This explains the adolescent absurdity of it all.

    Oh, and the President of the United States just announced, at the United Nations, his intention to carry out the biggest crime against humanity since the Holocaust.

    Other than that, it was a nice speech by a 16yr old young republican…

    !

  8. Here’s the link:

    In a speech drafted by his hard-line policy adviser, Stephen Miller, Mr. Trump plans to challenge the world to do more to counter threats from Iran and North Korea.

    link to nytimes.com

  9. I completely agree with Juan that these remarks by Trump are “apocalyptically stupid,” and hope against hope that David Ignatius (in WaPo today) will prove correct that for all his talk he will not in the end pull out of the JCPOA, although he has certainly been making it sound like he might.

    It is also stupid for the Israelis and Saudis to be pushing this nonsense. In the case of Israel, this has been a political line of Netanyahu, scaring Israelis with Iran to vote for him, and probably hoping that indeed the US will not pull out of the agreement, with many Israeli military and intel figures (usually retired) there coming out for the agreement.

    Regarding the Saudis, plenty of the older dead top Saudis, like the late foreign minister, Sa’ud al Faisal, would know better. But it may well be that the rumors that King Salman is senile are true, and all power is now in the hands of the new Crown Prince, MBS, who seems to be astoundingly (if not apocalyptically) incompetent and stupid, with his awful war in Yemen and his failed boycott and embargo of Qatar prime examples. Who knows what he thinks?

    Minor points: of course it is “Iran is 2.5 times more populous than Iraq” [not Iran]

    Finally, I am not sure who the third “neighbor” of Iran is that the US has invaded after Iraq and Afghanistan. If it is Kuwait, well, there is a stretch of Iraq containing the Shatt-al-Arab river between Iran and Kuwait, admittedly very narrow, and I think the “invasion” by US forces was supported and invited by the legal Kuwaiti government to help expel the invasion by Saddam Hussein. Maybe Juan is thinking of another country, arguably Iran itself given some past interventions ranging from the overthrow of Mossadegh to the failed efforts to free hostages under Carter? Or maybe he is referring to the raid into Pakistan to kill Osama bin Laden. As it is, I don’t think Iran is its own neighbor, even if it is 2.5 times as populous as itself, :-).

  10. ON TERROR: “[I]t is wildly inaccurate to describe [Iran] as the source of jihadi terror. According to an analysis of the Global Terrorism Database by Leif Wenar of King’s College, more than 94 percent of deaths caused by Islamic terrorism since 2001 were perpetrated by ISIS, al-Qaeda and other Sunni jihadists. Iran is fighting those groups, not fueling them. Almost every terror attack in the West has had some connection to Saudi Arabia. Virtually none have been linked to Iran.” (Why does Iran attract such disproportionate wrath from the US? The Godfather does not approve of true sovereignty being exercised by an inferior in such a critical area of the world.)
    link to detailedpoliticalquizzes.wordpress.com

  11. Just compare the following excellent speech by President John F. Kennedy with the hateful and ignorant speech delivered by Trump at the UN General Assembly two days ago, and you will see how far the level of discourse by American politicians has fallen. While Kennedy spoke about peace as a process and how to achieve it, Trump spoke about totally destroying North Korea for its nuclear programme, while uttering not a word about Israel’s arsenal of nuclear weapons amassed through deceit and in violation of the NPT. The same policy that Kennedy advocated towards the former Soviet Union could be carried out towards the Middle East and the Islamic world to give rise to cooperation rather than confrontation.
    link to youtu.be

  12. Having now read the speech and thought about it, I think it’s far more important than most here realize. This speech represents Trump having totally boxed himself into a guarantying the worst sort of failure, with Iran, NK, and for US interests in the World.

    Unless he soon repudiates strongly everything he just said, here is how it games out:

    He will abrogate the agreement. The rest of the World (apart from Israel, KSA and Samoa) will continue with the agreement, despite desperate efforts to coerce new sanctions the US and Trump no longer have the political capital to insist on. Merkel etal have anticipated this change in any number of statements.

    The US and then must attack Iran, given how he has no other choice at this point but to look like a toothless sap.

    The US military doesn’t have the means to invade Iran successfully, so there would have to be a lot of stand-off missle strikes, along with whatever Israel and KSA might do. The US will become the World’s great pariah, as Iran just absorbs it all, now fully and thoroughly supported by the rest of the World.

    NK and SK ,noting how any agreement they might reach with the US would be worthless, cut a deal directly between themselves. It would see all US forces kicked out of SK, which is quite strong enough to defend themselves.

    Maybe this is Trump’s intention, crafty as he is: the US becomes ostrasized and irrelevant, while Iran and NK become more stable with their new relationships.

    NKwill keep a few nukes for protection, and the rest of the world would finally get past the US, leaving it and Israel isolated and irrelevant.

    • I think the key surprise that could be sprung on America is a backchannel deal by China and South Korea. They have shared distrust of Japan, whose militarists will use N. Korea as an excuse to push for nuclear capability. That is completely unacceptable to Japan’s neighbors.

  13. The rationale for this posturing can be at least partially explained by what happened in Vietnam so many years ago. They defeated the US fair and square on the battlefield, yet you’ll never hear any American in a leadership role acknowledge it. Iran did the same thing with the embassy takeover. It made the mighty USA appear vulnerable. The macho teenager response can be partially attributed to this.

  14. Taking Trump’s nuclear threats lightly is foolhardy at best. malPOTUS can’t wait to nuke someone. It could be Iran or North Korea or even Venezuela?

    Best guess, fossil-fuels will be involved.

  15. As I have noted before, Iran has had 35 years to carefully analyze USA military strengths and weaknesses, often up close, in neighboring countries. Iran has also spent valuable capitol on building the human and physical infrastructure needed to have a cost effective, efficient and deadly defensive capability (note that the USA capability is extremely costly and usually ineffective, but can be deadly).

    As a result, Iran will successfully defeat any USA attack and humiliate trump, while also hurting the USA economy.

    China and Russia will help Iran because it will severely weaken the USA and increase the power of China and Russia.

    Trump is BADLY misreading the situation and the USA is going to get burned.

    Iran is NOT as weak as trump thinks it is.

  16. It took a lot of work to negotiate the agreement. The U.S.A. SIGNED the deal as did the other countries. The other countries are still fine with matters.

    It is true, Iran really didn’t get much out of the deal except they got to go shopping for needed items, including jets. Of course the countries who benefited from that were the countries who agreed to the deal.

    if Trump has the U.S.A. withdraw from the deal, he will clearly demonstrate he is unbalanced as most of think he is. Why Trump wants to make trouble with Iran is beyond me. They are just another country, going about its business. Now of course Bennie is ever so happy I’m sure about Trump’s position, but really Israel has always been able to take care of itself and I never got the impression Trump cares enough about Israel to make it the reason to drop out of the agreement.

    it maybe that Trump never got over the take over of the American embassy and therefore hates the country. I just can’t figure out what in it for him, if the U.S.A. WALks away from the deal. Oh, wait, Iran won’t let him build a Trump tower in their country and won’t sell Ivanka’s line of shoes.

    • I suspect Trump is barely aware of the embassy standoff or Iran’s involvement with blowing up the US marines barracks in Beirut back in the day.

      Mattis, the neocons, and the neocolonial establishment certainly didn’t forget, along with Iran’s most egregious crime of all: failure to submit. And if Iran is allowed not to pay a price FULLY commensurate with that last offense, it emboldens others, and the whole edifice of US economic existence is imperiled.

      Trump’s ignorance is irrelevant: he exists to be managed.

      Notice that wapo account, of how he was brought about by The Generals to double down on Afghanistan? It involved showing Trump pictures of Afghan women in miniskirts during happier times.

      With that in mind, absolutely anything can happen, and probably will.

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