Ali Abootalebi – Informed Comment https://www.juancole.com Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Thu, 13 Aug 2020 05:45:53 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.15 The Lion & the Dragon: Understanding the New Iran-China Strategic Partnership https://www.juancole.com/2020/08/understanding-strategic-partnership.html https://www.juancole.com/2020/08/understanding-strategic-partnership.html#respond Tue, 11 Aug 2020 04:07:18 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=192504 Eau Claire, WI (Special to Informed Comment) – On July 11, the New York Times reported on the Iran-China new economic and security partnership, detailed in an 18-page proposed agreement, that would clear the way for billions of dollars of Chinese investments in energy and other sectors. The proposed 25-year roadmap between Iran and China is titled “Comprehensive Strategic Partnership between the I.R. Iran and P.R. China” and in its opening statement says: “Two ancient Asian cultures, two partners in the sectors of trade, economy, politics, culture, and security with a similar outlook and many mutual bilateral and multilateral interests will consider one another strategic partners.”

The partnership would vastly expand Chinese presence in banking, telecommunications, ports, railways, and dozens of other projects. In exchange, China would receive a regular and discounted supply of Iranian oil over the next 25 years. The document also describes deepening military cooperation, potentially giving China a foothold in a region through joint training and exercises, joint research and weapons development, and intelligence sharing. All this would then undercut the Trump administration’s efforts to isolate the Iranian government because of its nuclear and military aspirations. It has been argued that “even the partial implementation of a Chinese-Iranian strategic partnership would signal a major escalation in the U.S. strategic competition with China and blow a hole in the administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran at the same time.”

The reaction to the deal from inside Iran and the outside have been varied, pending on the ideological and political foundations of such opposition. The Iranian groups and individuals opposing the Islamic Republic establishment have been swift to label the deal as one of the sell-outs to the Chinese at the expense of Iran’s national interest but to the benefit of the ruling regime. The U.S. State Department for its part referred to the planned agreement as a “second Turkmenchay”—the infamous Agreement between Persia and the Russian Empire, which concluded the 1826-28 Russo-Persian War, stemming in vast territorial losses to Iran; territories that now make up parts of modern-day Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey.

The Iranian leadership is accused of being afraid to share the details of the pact because “no part of it is beneficial to the Iranian people.” Inside Iran, former President Mahmud Ahmadinejad warned in a speech in late June that a 25-year agreement with “a foreign country” was being discussed “away from the eyes of the Iranian nation,” and former conservative lawmaker Ali Motahari, suggested on Twitter that before signing the pact Iran should elevate the fate of Muslims who are reportedly being persecuted in China. There are also hundreds of touted commentaries and video-clips on social media platforms, harshly condemning Iran’s political leadership of treason for ‘leasing and surrendering its sovereignty’ over the Persian Gulf Kish Island.

The details of the deal are yet to be published and the Iranian Parliament must debate and vote on the matter. President Hassan Rouhani’s chief of staff, Mahmud Vaezi, has reiterated that the framework of the agreement has been defined, adding that the negotiations are likely to be finalized by March 2021. Vaezi has also said the agreement does not include foreign control over any Iranian islands or the deployment of Chinese military forces in the country.

The debate inside Iran over the effect of US sanctions only exposes the divergent interests of the ‘pro-west’ and the ‘pro-east’ camps. The structure, organization and the future direction of Iran’s economy have been vehemently debated since the advent of the revolution. The debate is largely between ‘the private-marketeers’ and those favoring a more ‘state-dominated’ economy. Successive Iranian governments have followed domestic and foreign policies, always coming under attack as being either ‘pro-market’ and ‘pro-west,’ e.g., President Rafsanjani’s tenure, or as dominated by populist ideas and policies conceived as detrimental to sound political economy, e.g., President Ahmadinejad’s tenure. These camps regard themselves as either ‘conservative’ or ‘reformist’ but without clear delineations over policy choices and recommendations in tackling development challenges and social ills.

Embed from Getty Images
BEIJING, CHINA – DECEMBER 31: China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi shakes hands with Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif during a meeting at the Diaoyutai state guest house on December 31, 2019 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Noel Celis – Pool/Getty Images).

In recent years, this polarization surrounds the debate over whether Iran should, after years of internal debate, sign into the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an Intergovernmental Organization that was created by the G7 in 1989 and whose primary mission is “to set standards and promote effective implementation of legal, regulatory and operational measures for combating money laundering, terrorist financing and other related threats to the integrity of the international financial system.” The ‘western camp’ supports JCPOA and hopes for a post-Trump dialogue with the United States, while ‘eastern camp’ sees signing into FATF as a western ruse to get access to Iran’s financial transactions overseas. These include Iran’s financial support of Hamas and Hezbollah and the Syrian government, all of which have national security consequences for the country.

The absence of political parties in Iranian political scene has been a major contributor to the confusion over policy debates and options. The presence of powerful individuals, factions, and power elites have led to political squabbling and finger-pointing and unaccountability in a system that permits genuine political debate over policy options to degenerate into personal attacks and name-calling for policy failures. The failure to systematically implement economic privatization, that is protected in the constitution and supported by the top political leadership, or personal attacks on foreign minister Javad Zarif and his cohorts who negotiated the JCPOA for three years on behalf of the country, are two recent examples of political and ideological pandemonium due to the absence of delineated and structured political parties and platforms. Such political wrangling and uncertainties only diminish the significance and the potential benefits that the new Strategic Partnership with China can create. The new deal is an opportunity for Iran to break through its isolation but it should not mean the end of Iran’s ties with Europe and even the United States, as Iran’s geostrategic location has been and will continue as a bridge between the East and the West.

Iran’s Political Economy of Sanctions

Iran has since the revolution in 1979 experienced widespread economic sanctions, diplomatic pressure and has been portrayed as a pariah state in search of a nuclear bomb, part of an ‘axis of evil,’ a state sponsoring terrorism, and responsible for ‘proxy wars’ in the region and all that ills the region, including disarray in Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon, and perpetuation of war in Yemen! Iran in 2020 is the most severely sanctioned country in the world. As any keen observer would note, the United States’ primary difficulties are with Iran’s foreign policy doctrine and practice, and not so much its nuclear program. For Iran, the China deal is the result of more than forty years of the implacable US and its allies’ hostility toward the Islamic Republic.

Sanctions are injurious and hinder good governance. Sanctions affect the supply and demand and prices in an economy, causing inflationary pressure, particularly a rentier economy with heavy reliance on imports of manufactured products and the technology associated with it. Sanctions also contribute to misappropriation of resources and increased corruption, rentierism (rant khary), inflation, income and wealth gap, popular discontent, and even social unrest.

Sanctions have disadvantaged American and Western companies of a lucrative market in Iran. Western companies like Peugeot, Renault, Volkswagen, Total, ENI, Samsung, among many others, have, fearing US legal and financial reprisal, abandoned Iran’s mark. The auto industry is a key driver of Iran’s economy, the operation, and prosperity of which keeps more than 60 other industries moving. The industry “is only second to its energy sector, accounting for some 10 percent of the gross domestic product and 4 percent of employment.” Foreign companies that made cars in Iran decided to leave after US President Donald Trump revealed new sanctions on the Islamic Republic. Renewed sanctions led to delays in car deliveries and a shortage of parts and by June 2018, a month after sanctions were renewed, “car production dropped by 29 percent contrasted with the same month a year earlier.”

The dollar has progressively been weaponized to undermine governments opposing US views on global relations, as in Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, Russia, and a host of other countries. Without access to the SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications system), Iran is practically robbed of almost all international transactions, including receiving money for its oil exports. The US Institute of Peace reported in 2012 that Iran was using more than 60 tankers—roughly two-thirds of its tanker fleet–to store up to 40 million barrels of crude oil at sea while it located buyers.

AsBloomberg reported on April 26, 2020, “Denied services by the solitary bank that had been used by Chinese authorities to defy U.S. secondary sanctions for over a decade, Iranian executives have been forced to turn to what they call chamedooni (suitcase) trade, referring to payments made in cash and transported across borders in hand luggage…by using front companies and payments routed through third countries or paid in cash, Iranian firms and their most loyal Chinese partners should be able to ensure that bilateral trade doesn’t hit zero. But the inefficient and opaque methods now required to facilitate payments will put an inherent limit on how much trade can take place.” The International Monetary Fund for its part has given lip service to Iran’s legitimate request for assistance to stave off the coronavirus in defiance of their proclaimed ‘neutral stand’ in the management of international monetary exchanges and development assistance and guidance!

The oil sector exports fell from around 70% of the total export ($68.5 billion) in 2017 to nearly 50% in 2019 ($59.3 billion). By July 2019, Iran’s total oil exports fell to as low as 100,000 bpd, down from around 400,000 bpd in June. Even China changed its buying patterns. It doubled its oil imports from Saudi Arabia from the previous year. Beijing imported 1.8 million bpd from the kingdom in July, up from 921,811 bpd in August 2018.

Iran “was exporting 2.7 million barrels per day—775,000 bpd to China or 29 percent of total sales. By September 2018, the Islamic Republic’s total exports plummeted to 1.3 million bpd.” Eventually, Iran resorted in January 2019, to offer discounts to Asian buyers. It “cut the price of Iranian light crude by $1 per barrel, approximately 30 cents a barrel lower than Saudi Arabia’s light crude. It was the largest discount Iran had offered against Saudi prices in more than a decade.”

The Central Bank of Iran (CBI) monetary policy is also considerably challenged and swayed by the US sanctions. For example, the ongoing volatile currency market in summer 2020 that has seen the further depreciation in Iran’s rial is, separate from domestic wild speculation in the currency and gold markets, partly a result of increased liquidity in the market, itself due to vast government borrowing to finance social welfare and economic policies in the age of COVID-19 pandemic.

President Rouhani’s government has borrowed a vast amount of rial through issuing bonds against the hard-earned foreign currencies in the possession of Central bank for national development projects. Indicating budgetary pressure on the government to fulfill all its obligation, CBI announced on August 5 that domestic bonds issuance that began in early June had earned the government more than $2.1 billion in new resources. These bonds were offered in maturities of one to four years with yields between 16.7 to 19 percent. Given Iran’s complex and polarizing politics and sanctions pressure, the CBI remains helpless in its command over foreign currency holdings and independent monetary policy and thus a supervisory and controlling role over the value of the rial.

The overall damaging impact of sanctions cannot be overlooked, notwithstanding some may argue that sanctions are a blessing as it has compelled the country to become self-reliant in certain sectors of the economy as in the defense and nuclear programs. To Iran’s credit, the country has slowly moved away from a rentier economy over the past forty years toward a ‘welfare state’ with increased reliance on food production, non-crude, petrochemical commodity export, and tax collection revenues.

The Iranian economy has reduced its dependence on the export of crude oil, although the oil sector remains central in the country’s earned foreign currency. The Rouhani government’s proposed 1399 (2020-21) annual budget (570, 000 Billion Tomans) projected an unparalleled 30.7% collection from taxes (175,000 Billion Tomas) and only about 8.4% (48,000 Billion Tomans) from the oil sector while the share of government cash handouts and subsidies set is 23.5% (134,000 Billion Tomans). (These numbers are calculated by this author based on a reported recent interview with Mr. Muhammad B. Nobakht, Head of Iran’s Budget Organization.)

A Deal or A Partnership?

Iran is the most populous, geopolitically positioned, and developed country in West Asia, and it is only natural to seek a long-term trading partnership with the second (and soon to be the first) economy in the world. Iran also is in dire need of foreign investment in its energy and infrastructure projects, estimated at $250 and $150 billion in the coming years. Such projects necessitate long-term foreign direct investment (FDI) and commitment. China today is Iran’s biggest trading partner. Bilateral trade between the two countries rose from almost nothing in the early 1990s to more than $50 billion in 2014; it considerably increased from $400 million in 1990 to $1 billion in 1997, largely due to expanded energy trade. Between 2000 and 2012, China hovered between 9 percent and 14 percent of its oil imports from Iran.


Source: U.N. Comtrade

The discussions over the current strategic partnership proposal go back to President Xi Jinping’s visit to Tehran in 2016. According to Iranian officials, the deal would vastly expand Chinese investments in banking, telecommunications, ports, railways, and dozens of other projects in exchange for Tehran supplying Beijing with discounted oil for the next 25 years. The deal would also possibly include joint military training, exercises, counter-terrorism cooperation, intelligence sharing, and arms transfers to Iran. Iran-China relations is geared to set a roadmap for a multi-faceted strategic partnership.

China and Iran have suffered occupation and humiliation in the hands of the West, are believers in national self-reliance, and hold a ‘non-interference’ view in other countries’ national sovereignty issues. Both countries are chastised for their pursuit of national integrity and sovereignty and fending off Western interference, the roots of which date back to the cold war years, e.g., Taiwan, Tibet, and the Sino-India relations, the 1953 coup d’état and the support of the authoritarian rule in Iran, and sanctions and the overall animosity directed at the Islamic Revolution. Both countries are geostrategically located and can benefit from complementarity in resource possession, potential production capacities, and trade and security.

Iran’s geopolitical realities necessitate playing its role as a vital economic crossroad between the East and the West. The meaning of the deal remains: Persian Gulf can become the next borderline dividing the security and strategic interests of a rising China within an emerging ‘new cold war’ from the historical US interest in support of the conservative Arab States, Israel, and access to energy resources. Iran’s ‘bridging role’ success depends a great deal on the post-Trumpian American foreign policy position towards China in whole and US interest in the Persian Gulf and the greater Middle East in specific. At this juncture, a US return to the Iran nuclear deal agreement, JCPOA, is a must, and so is the acknowledgment that Iran is a pivotal state in the Persian Gulf, suggesting its participation in the regional peace and stability is essential. Otherwise, the option for a US political and diplomatic rapprochement with Iran is precipitously vanishing, to the likely detriment of Persian Gulf socio-economic development and security. As New Times reported on July 11, Iran and China were closing on a partnership deal in defiance of the US and that the investment and security pact would greatly extend China’s influence in the Middle East, throwing Iran an economic lifeline and creating new crossroads with the United States.

In security and military matters, “because Iran, like China, seeks to avoid import dependence, Beijing is a desired partner—willing to transfer knowledge and expertise as well as critical subsystems.” This has enabled Iran to produce its modifications of Chinese cruise and ballistic missile systems. Iran has also over the years “purchased advanced submarines, fighter aircraft, tanks, and surface-to-air missiles from Russia, but after 1995, when Russia pledged that it would not make further arms contracts with Iran, Iran resume looking to China for conventional arms.” Beijing also “recognizes that preventing Iran from improving its military is a U.S. priority, and it may exploit U.S. sensitivity on this issue to attempt to influence U.S. policies in other areas.

For example, after the United States announced it was selling F-16s to Taiwan, China revived a proposed transfer of M-11 missiles to Iran, which had earlier been canceled because of U.S. pressure. Ties to Iran thus provide Beijing with additional leverage in negotiations with the United States.” Similarly, Beijing has played a major role in Pakistan’s nuclear program to counter India and US pressure. In the 1980s, China apparently provided Pakistan with proven nuclear weapon design and enough highly enriched uranium for two weapons…China has also played an active role in Pakistan’s missile program. Furthermore, China, “with its UN seat and desire to reduce U.S. hegemony, was one of the few major powers willing to maintain strong and cordial relations with Tehran during the more radical days of the revolutionary regime.”

The Iranian-Sino partnership entails both a pull and push factor. Iran badly needs foreign investments and China can extend its reach into the Middle East via Iran while achieving its share of the one-road-one-built (BRI) initiative. The BRI that would connect China via land and sea with the rest of the world may be construed as China’s ambition at becoming a global player, but would this be to the disadvantage of countries involved in the project? The answer is a resounding no, given the historical Western colonialism of much of Asia, Africa, and South America that also included victimization of China (recall, a Western colonial expansion that began in the late 1400s, lasted until the end of World War I, resurrected through imperial ambitions, left a trail of plundering of resources, manipulation, slavery, genocide, racism, and even eugenics! The Western colonial and imperial involvement in China itself translated into more than 100 years (1800-1949) of foreign occupation, humiliation, territorial losses, mass starvations, and civil wars.

This is not to argue that China does not have ambitions to project power and influence beyond its region. China’s model of investment in the BRI project shows its investment in accessing minerals, raw materials, and infrastructural projects through leasing and control of resources. China’s investments involve mostly on resource extraction and infrastructural projects and less on the development of human capital in the targeted countries. Still, China is doing what no other private financial sector is willing to do: to invest hundreds of billions of dollars on projects that others dare not to invest, e.g., the Karakoram Highway project in Pakistan, with only the pledge of a return in the future through operational leases and control of ports and facilities for a defined-time-period, e.g., Vietnam, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Pakistan.

The Karakoram Highway project will cut China’s import of oil from the Middle East by two-third from 9000km via sea to 3000km. This will seriously augment China’s access to the oil-rich Middle East but will potentially improve Pakistan’s long-term national development that for decades has experienced poverty and significant income gap, political instability, terrorism, and military rule, factors easily dispiriting to any investors. Pakistan-China trade stood at only $6.2 billion in 2016 but is expected to grow exponentially. The Kashgar to Gwadar Port is part of the BRI project and involves projects in rail, port, energy, and construction development. It is projected to improve Pakistan’s GDP by 2-3% point in the next 15 years. The project is further creating an estimated 500-700 thousand jobs with a projected $3 trillion turnaround in trade and commerce. China in return has a 40-year lease of the Gwadar port.

China is doing what the World Bank has failed to do since the 1950s: to provide a sizable amount of state capital at a lower interest rate for development projects in the developing ‘third world.’ The IBRD has only delivered about $500 billion in loans to alleviate poverty around the world since 1946, with most of its funds collected in the world’s financial private markets with its shareholder governments paying merely about $14 billion in capital. China, on the other hand, relies on its own earned dollars and other hard currencies to finance the BRI projects with an estimated 1-2 trillion dollars over the years to come. This will extend China’s sway beyond Asia and into Africa, Europe, and South America. China is the first non-Western country in modern times challenging the Western path to development and hegemony, and that is an disconcerting proposition to many.

China is a regional power and its power will only grow in the coming years. The repercussions for US-Sino relations and global power politics of a rising China are paramount. China has greatly gained from the liberal international political economy since the 1980s, but it has always been hasty to presume that China will ultimately embrace the Western democratic political system, propagated by neoliberals in the United States and Europe. China may in the future accept a more competitive political system but recall that the path to (liberal) political democracy is grueling and takes decades, indeed centuries before it develops and matures. One only needs to study the experience with democracy and its development in the West. Yet, China is rising.

Conclusion

The signing of the Iran-China Strategic Partnership is only the natural outcome of a rational, calculated approach to foreign policy in the promotion of two country’s respective national interests. Indeed, there are always ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ in any such agreement—and any human interactions–as different players within each country may wish to boost their own professed individual, group, elite, political class, and/or national interest. This produces confusion and disputes over what constitutes the national interest of a country in any matter! The state in China and Iran remain the central player in the economy, the polity, and society and the triangular State-business-labor relations.

Ultimately, the responsibility for the long-term national development of any national project lies with the host country. As stated above, there are always winners and losers in any human ventures, notwithstanding the wins and losses are, like anything else in life, relative. As such, major winners in the Iran-China Partnership are the national organizations and businesses associated with the state like the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and its affiliated companies and entities and various state-affiliated foundations. Iran is endowed with vast natural resources but, more importantly, it has an impressive human capital. Should the deal decisively end Iran’s Western-imposed isolation, the country can, if ensued with a sound approach to matters of governance, rapidly become a major economic, trade, and commerce powerhouse in West Asia. (It is noteworthy to mention discrepancies in views of government foundations and their role in the Iranian economy, like Bonyade Mostazafan, the Astane Qodse Razavi, or Setade Ejraye Farmane Imam: while the US Treasury claims foundations under the Iranian leadership has tens of billions of dollars in the country’s budget scheme, Iran authorities have always repudiated this. In a recent interview, an Iranian economist claims the foundations’ share of the national (not government’s) budget is 5.4% or under 3% of the country’s economy. This is in sharp contrast with Mostafa Kavakebian, a former parliamentarian and the head of Hizbe Mardomsalari or peoples’ party’s claim that foundations’ budgets are several times larger than that of the government!)

The Iran-China Comprehensive Strategic Partnership deal is not one of a choice between the East or the West. Iran’s ‘pivot to Asia’ is not necessarily a pivot away from the West as much as it is a push away by the West. As Majid Reza Hariri, Chairman of Iran-China Chamber of Commerce has asserted, “it is others who refuse to cooperate with us. If we have no economic ties with the US following the 1979 embassy hostage-taking, it was the Americans who cut ties with us. Those who claim that Iran is being colonized by China can come and we will offer to sign similar agreements with them.” As for Europe, Paolo Magri, in Annalisa Perteghella, ed. Iran Looking East: An Alternative to the EU? comments: “the Iranian case powerfully demonstrates; it is the weakening of the transatlantic bond and the EU’s inability to play a leading role in safeguarding engagement with Tehran that ultimately made Tehran look east for alternatives.”

It is only through dialogue that the US and Europe can reach a compromise in their corresponding geostrategic and military/security calculations and priorities. For now, the view from Tehran is that no matter what Iran does, the United States will not stop its antagonism and pressure for regime change. The United States can and must recognize the legitimate role of Iran as a regional power with regional interest. This demands the acknowledgment that along with the rise of China the geostrategic realities in the Persian Gulf, and the wider Middle East, is changing.

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Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

Caspian Report: “China and Iran draft a $400 billion pact”

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The Kushner “Deal of the Century”: If Only America’s Profound Betrayal of the Palestinian People Came as a Shock https://www.juancole.com/2020/02/americas-profound-palestinian.html Mon, 24 Feb 2020 05:04:08 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=189294 Eau Claire, WI (Special to Informed Comment) – President Trump unveiled his administration’s Israeli-Palestinian peace plan at the White House on January 28, 2020, telling Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel that there are ‘many, many countries who want to partake in this,’ and predicting that “you are going to have tremendous support from your neighbors and beyond your neighbors.” The architects of the plan, the trio President’s Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, Jason Greenblatt, long-time confidant, and chief legal officer to Trump’s business, and US ambassador to Israel, David Fried­man, are staunchly pro-Israel, and they have manufactured a plan without any input from the US State Department and in negation of all previous US pledges, commitments, and support for a ‘reasonably-viable’ two-state solution within the framework of international law. Muriel Asseburg of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs wrote earlier in April 2019… “the US Administration’s record to date suggests that the initiative will pri­ori­tize Israeli interests over Palestinian rights, ignore fundamental principles of inter­national law, and steer well away from the idea of two sovereign states. The Palestinian leadership’s rejection must, therefore, be expected. The incoming Israeli government is likely to treat that as a green light to implement those elements of the plan that serve to maintain its permanent control over East Jerusalem and strategic areas of the West Bank. This course also risks breakdown of the already precarious Israeli-Pal­es­tinian cooperation on conflict management.”

The ‘peace plan’ essentially asks the Palestinians to surrender; a take it or leave it to offer, refuse the plan, you will be even worse of while Israel will get what it wants. The so-called peace vision would allow Israel to keep the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley, and a unified Jerusalem, ensuring that some 700,000 Israeli settlers can remain on lands captured by Israel and under Israeli law. The Palestinians are told to build their capital in the small town of Abu Dais in a poor neighborhood in east Jerusalem, cutting it off from the city by a concrete separation barrier. A new Palestinian state would be demilitarized, relinquishing considerable security control to Israel. Palestinian refugees also must forget their dreams of a return to their homeland. A land swap with Israel with extending Gaza strip’s territory to the south for the loss of land in the West Bank, and Gaza and the West Bank will be connected via a tunnel. A US and Arab and Western allies’ goodwill provides a $50 billion reward to pay for infrastructure and development of the proposed Palestinian State. The will-be disjointed Palestinian State’s internal and external security and sovereignty will be limited by Israel’s. Predictably, the Palestinian leadership has vehemently rejected the ‘deal of the century’ proposal, as have 94 percent of the Palestinians. So, no serious observer of the Middle East could believe the merits of the plan and its chances of success.

The question remains as to why initiate a plan with zero probability of success? Are the architects behind the plan or in the Trump administration so divorced from the realities of the Middle East that they cannot comprehend the plan’s biases and therefore its ultimate demise? Or, is it plausible that the assured Palestinian rejection will legitimize final Israel’s crawling efforts at taking full control of much of historical Palestine? A Palestinian refutation of the plan and the expected divided response from Arab countries will only set the stage for yet another ‘Palestinian rejection’ of a ‘peace plan,’ blaming the Palestinian leadership for ‘another missed opportunity’ to climb on the ‘peace wagon’ while giving Israel the opportunity to strike the final blow to the dream of the ‘two-state solution.’

The reason why all attempts at peace based on the 1967 UNSC Resolution 242 have failed is Israel’s unwillingness to ‘give up’ what is mandated and necessary. Israeli political class has since 1967 operated to ‘manage’ and not to resolve the conflict, giving the appearance of a genuine partner in peace negotiations but never willing to abide by the terms of the UNSC resolution 242. The Israeli narrative has always blamed the Arab States and/or the Palestinian leadership for the lack of success or the failure of peace negotiations while consolidating its physical control of land and resources in the occupied territories. The Israeli Jewish population even today believes ‘settlement’ can best serve Israel instead of recognition of a Palestinian state with its own viable territorial control. In Early 2018, only 39 percent of Israeli Jews favored a strive towards a permanent arrangement, with the vast majority favoring other options like annexation, the status quo, and separation from the Palestinians. Only 45 percent of Israeli Jews agree to a recognition of a Palestinian state (not necessarily the map of it) in a peace plan in January 2020.

Given the disarray in Arab politics, itself a product of the post-cold war era, the September 11, 2001, and the Arab Spring movements in 2011, the timing of the proposed peace plan is suspect and promises its failure. The wider regional and global events have long overshadowed and marginalized the plight of the Palestinian people. These events include, but not limited to, the Iranian Revolution (1979) and the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88), the Israeli invasion and occupation of Lebanon (1982–2000, 2006) and the besiege of Gaza (2008, 2014, and ongoing), the first Persian Gulf War (1990-91), the September 11, 2001 terrorists attacks on America, the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003), the continuing split in the Palestinian leadership (1983 in Lebanon, 1987 Hamas-led Intifada, and 2006 Hamas electoral victory), the Arab Spring movement (2011—present), the U.S. and NATO intervention and regime change in Libya (2011), political change in Egypt (after Muslim Brotherhood electoral victory in 2015 and the consequent military Coup d’état), the Saudi Arabian intervention in Bahrain (2011) and Yemen (2015), and the ongoing and devastating war in Syria since 2011. The latest blow to the Arab States and the Palestinian leadership and people is the destruction of Iraqi and Syrian states and infrastructure and the threat of Daesh and instability to Lebanese and Jordanian national cohesion, and the new wave of Arab and Palestinian refugees.

A Palestinian dilemma is that they have been victimized for decades by both Israeli occupation and brutal Arab political classes, whose interest is in the preservation of the socioeconomic and political status quo in their respective countries instead of serious efforts in pursuit of a viable Palestinian-Israeli peace plan. The Palestinian issue has been used as a rallying cry for Arab unity and as an expression of the Arab regimes’ sacrifices for the Palestinians, e.g., loss of territories, hosting Palestinian refugees. The Arab world, for the most part, has remained divided and uncertain over domestic and regional ‘security threats,’ only to show frivolous unity in the Arab League meetings while ‘betraying’ the Palestinians in the name of regime and/or national interest, e.g., 1970-71 Jordanian civil war, 1976-1990 civil war in Lebanon, and Egypt (1979) and Jordan (1994) peace treaties with Israel without concessions for the Palestinians. The rise of Iranian power is the Arab States’ latest excuse to deflect their endemic problems in governance by inflaming a Sunni-Shi’a divide and the fabrication of a security threat to their respective states.

Real Intentions, False Pretenses

The history of Israeli negotiation efforts tells of an approach designed to, (a) neutralize the Arab States and thus leaving the Palestinian leadership at the mercy of its terms of surrender, and (b) to negotiate terms that at best lead not to the creation of a ‘viable’ two-state solution based on the 1967 UNSC Resolution 242 but to an outcome similar to what the ‘deal of the century’ offers—a settlement that is tantamount to a surrender. Meanwhile, Israel’s approach to the conflicts since 1967 has been one of its management of the conflict instead of its resolution.

The Madrid talks and the Oslo process began unsurprisingly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the destruction of Iraq’s military and economy in early 1991, US military presence in Saudi Arabia for the first time, and its rise as the ‘indispensable hegemonic power’. The imbalance in bargaining power between the Palestinian leadership and the Arab states on one side and Israel on the other was astonishing, especially when the lone hegemonic power, the United States, took the center-stage to finally ‘resolve’ the conflict. The Oslo process promised on paper a peace based on UNSC resolution 242, but it only prepared the road for a Palestinian failure in fulfilling its end of the deal. Article 1 of the declaration read:

The aim of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations within the current Middle East peace process is, among other things, to establish a Palestinian Interim Self-Government Authority, the elected Council (the “Council”), for the Palestinian people in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, for a transitional period not exceeding five years, leading to a permanent settlement based on Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.

Palestinians agreed to the 1993 ‘Declaration of Principle that also forbade Yasir Arafat’s PLO’s participation in the negotiations (Palestine was represented by the Jordanian-Palestinian delegation from only the occupied region when PLO leadership was in exile). PLO’s Yasser Arafat did manage to come back to the West Bank and to establish a headquarter in Ramallah, a small town in the West Bank. However, the agreement provided for the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) municipal—not sovereign— control over Areas A (towns) and B (villages), leaving the vast Area C that connects towns and villages via road under Israeli’s! Yasser Arafat was elected president of the Palestinian National Council in 1996 with 88.1 percent of the popular vote but with little authority and resources. The PNA remained dependent on money and logistical support from the United States, the UN, Arab countries, and Israeli returns of tax funds owed to the PNA. The US supported and encouraged the PNA to ultimately ‘settle for peace’ but not a peace deal based on resolution 242. In the end, the Palestinian leadership denunciation of violence in 1988 that jump-started talks in Madrid and the Oslo process failed after twelve years of diplomacy. Israel, however, gained a peace treaty with Jordan, added an additional one million incoming Russian immigrants throughout the 1990s that further pushed Israeli politics to the right, and doubled the population of settlers in the West Bank and Gaza during the supposed peace talks that was led by the ‘left-leaning’ labor party in violation of a promised freeze in Israeli settlement activities! The number of settlements and settlers has continued to rise since the 1990s under different pretenses and excuses.

Oslo’s legacy read like a litany of promises deferred or unfulfilled. Throughout the 1990s, the Oslo process avoided negotiations over all central issues—the status of East Jerusalem as a Palestinian capital, the right of return of refugees, questions of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, allocation of water resources, and the final map of the Palestinian state—postponing them to the final stage of negotiation! The Oslo peace process achieved what it meant to do: to neutralize Jordan where seventy percent of its population were Palestinians and to blame the Palestinian leadership for its eventual collapse while allowing Israel to expand its settlements in the occupied territories with the US muted support and finance through different military and non-military schemes, including guaranteed loans that has allowed Israel to borrow money and finance its settlement activities at lower interest rates at the expense of American taxpayers! As the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, noted in late 2016 the settler population in the West Bank alone — not including East Jerusalem — had increased by nearly 270,000 since the 1990s-era Oslo peace accords and by 100,000 since President Barack Obama took office in 2009. The failure of Camp David II in 2000 effectively declared the demise of the Oslo Process.

The collapse of negotiations in 2000, with most Palestinians still living in poverty and growing increasingly desperate, led to a new wave of violence. Israel continued to blame Arafat for the violence–even that which was perpetrated by Hamas and Islamic Jihad, groups that had probably never been under his control. The collapse of peace talks and the declaration of intifada II by the Palestinians led to the election of a hawkish right-wing government in Israel. Then, Mahmoud Abbas became the new chairman of the PLO and was elected president of the Palestinian Authority in January 2005 but without much power to pursue a final peace deal. Instead, Abbas could not stop Hamas’ electoral victory in Gaza in 2006 that brought more division within the PNA leadership, as well as within the divided Arab world.

Since 2001, the ‘Arab radical camp’ (Iraq, Syria, Libya, Algeria, and Hamas and some Palestinian factions) are all either neutralized through direct military action (Libya, Syria, Iraq) or are rendered ‘tamed’ (Algeria, Egypt, Morocco) or are weak and almost irrelevant (Hamas, Islamic Jihad). As expected, the Persian Gulf Arab States have cautiously welcomed the plan, balancing their concerns over regime survival and the will of their respective populace in an already turbulent region. The United Arab Emirates’ ambassador to Washington, Yousef al-Otaiba, has called the plan “a serious initiative that addresses many issues raised over the years,” and Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has issued a muted statement saying that it “appreciates the efforts of President Trump’s administration to develop a comprehensive peace plan.” Kuwait and Morocco have stated that they ‘appreciate’ (Morocco) and ‘highly appreciate’ the peace plan while Jordan and Egypt are juxtaposing their financial and security dependence on the United States and Israel with popular demand from their respective population. The only potential serious threat to the plan comes from the ‘Resistance Front’ consisting of Iran, Lebanese Hezbollah, and much weakened Palestinian Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and what is left of Syria.

Israeli settlement activities without US financial and political support would have remained limited. Israel remains the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. foreign assistance since World War II. To date, the United States has provided Israel $142.3 billion (current, or non-inflation-adjusted, dollars) in bilateral assistance and missile defense funding. Almost all U.S. bilateral aid to Israel is in the form of military assistance, although from 1971 to 2007 Israel also received significant economic assistance. According to Congressional Research Service, as of 2019, Israel has issued $4.1 billion in U.S.-backed bonds, and might still be authorized to issue up to $3.814 billion in U.S.-backed bonds. Although Israel must not spend the money for settlement activities, “U.S. officials have noted that since Israel’s national budget is fungible, proceeds from the issuance of U.S.-guaranteed debt that are used to refinance Israeli government debt-free up domestic Israeli funds for other uses” (p. 29). Israel unlike any other recipient of US financial aid receive its aid in a lump sum during the first month of the fiscal year, allowing it to invest the funds in the U.S. and earn interest on them. The foreign assistance appropriation bill signed on November 5, 1990, provided this special treatment for Israel.

According to the Israeli settlement watchdog Peace Now, more than 3 million people live in the West Bank and 86% of them are Palestinians. There are 132 settlements and 113 outposts – settlements built without official authorization – in the West Bank. The group says more than 413,000 settlers live there, with numbers increasing year on year. (Out of 126 outposts established: 2 outposts were evicted (Migron and Amona); 15 outposts were legalized (three as independent settlements and 12 as “neighborhoods” of existing settlements); at least 35 outposts are in the process of being legalized. The outposts phenomenon started mainly under Netanyahu as Prime Minister in 1996 (during the Oslo), and it was stopped only in 2005. In 2012 the government of Netanyahu started to establish illegal outposts again. The rise of Hamas and the split in leadership since 2006 has eroded the Palestinian position. Today, the Palestinian Authority (PA) oversees merely 18% (Area A) of the West Bank, where it can control internal security but not complete sovereign control. Areas B (21%) where PA controls education, health, and the economy, and Area C (60%) is outside PA’s sovereign control, where Israel has the ultimate say in matters of security and all that falls within its security parameters, including, communication, transportation, and governance in general. The Palestinian people remain divided between those living in the West Bank under the PA rules and those living under Hamas control in the Gaza Strip.

Under the Trump Administration, U.S. policy toward the Palestinians has revealed its true partial bias favoring Israel. In 2018, the Administration significantly cut U.S. funding for the Palestinians, closed the PLO’s representative office in Washington, DC, and merged the U.S. consulate general in Jerusalem (which had dealt independently with the Palestinians for decades) into a single diplomatic mission with the U.S. embassy to Israel. The U.S. Embassy move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May 2018 has de facto meant the recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the entire city of Jerusalem, leaving the small town of Abu Dais on the outskirts of Jerusalem as a future Palestinian State framed within the ‘deal of the century offer.

Conclusion

Israel has always considered the Arab states and not the umbrella Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) as its true adversary. That is, the road to a peace settlement must travel to Arab capitals—mainly Cairo, Damascus, Amman, Beirut, Riyadh, Baghdad, and Libya’s Tripoli. The peace treaty with Egypt (1979) and Jordan (1994) left PLO without the support of its two major allies and made sure of the defunct 2000 Camp David II settlement offer’s failure. Israel has over decades managed to neutralize the Arab States while the United States and its Western allies have taken care of the so-called ‘Arab radical’ states–Iraq, Libya, and Syria—through sabotage, invasions and regime overthrow. With the Arab radicals out of the way and the oil-rich, moderate Arab Persian Gulf countries already in the ‘Western Camp,’ the road is now paved for the imposition of the final solution: A Palestinian surrender of all that is relevant to a viable two-state peace deal. The alternative one-state solution has never been contemplated by the Israeli leadership although some in the Palestinian leadership have raised it as a solution to call Israel to account for its declared democratic mantra and values. As democratic and progressive that solution may be, prospects for its realization, given the Israeli politics and the state of world affairs, is none.

I wrote in 2017 that “Arab governments have been too inept and corrupt to effectively negotiate on behalf and in the interest of the Palestinians,” and second, “successive Israeli governments have had the upper hand in power parameters and in negotiations, with the intention to dictate the terms of a Palestinian surrender while neutralizing Arab States’ security threats,” and that “the United States has been far from a neutral third-party mediator, using its hard and soft power in the service of a ‘peace settlement’ or a ‘conflict resolution’ instead of a genuine peace.” The Oslo process only neutralized the Jordanian threat and left the Palestinian leadership at the mercy of the Israeli protagonists and their American supporters. The failure of Camp David II (2000) showed the total weakness and dependence of the Palestinian leadership on their Arab patrons and the United States who in the end blamed Yasser Arafat for its failure. Abandoned by the Arab States, Yasser Arafat in 2000 could not betray the Palestinian people’s trust and agree to the terms of the agreement: to effectively forsake the dream of statehood and control over East Jerusalem and the right of return of the Palestinian refugees.

Today, with the Arab world divided and in its weakest point in recent history, the Palestinian leadership remains more vulnerable than ever to the Israeli and American pressure. Israeli settlements have expanded in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, where settlers’ population now is about 700,000. Gaza is a vast prison camp surrounded by Israeli and Egyptian soldiers, and at the mercy of political events happening outside its borders. Syria’s Golan Heights and its precious water resources also remain under Israeli control. Palestinian refugees’ number in the millions and there are no signs of hope of a return now or ever!

Far from being a neutral mediator, the United States’ policy preferences have helped perpetuate a dominant Israeli position in its relations with the Arab states and the unresolved Palestinian dilemma. The U.S. policy has also continued with its traditional support for Israel and the defense of authoritarian but friendly Arab regimes, significant arms transfer, and a ‘declared war’ on terrorism that has effectively brought chaos and destruction to much of the region. The U.S. continues to overlook Israeli stockpiles of nuclear weapons and its illegal occupation of Arab lands and settlement activities. The Trump administration has finally revealed the true US defunct declared neutral mediator role in the conflict, boldly offering a deal of the century that simply is ‘the sale of the century’. The deal of the century has, at last, revealed the decades-old-open-secret U.S. partiality as a mediator in the conflict, ensuring Israeli preeminent power superiority over the Palestinian leadership and the Arab States, and tolerating Israeli territorial expansion and annexation of territories in dispute while helping with its management of the conflict. Now that the two-state solution is practically dead and the one-state solution is extremely unpalatable to Israel, the stage is set for more years of violence and bloodshed ahead. Such an offer is befitting a president who is a ‘real estate deal maker’ in his heart and impervious to the long-term consequences of US policy.

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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

TRT World Now: “Trump’s Middle East Plan: Mohammad Shtayeh, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister”

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Iran is not Going Away, and Trump’s only hope of Success is not War but a Deal https://www.juancole.com/2020/01/going-trumps-success.html Mon, 06 Jan 2020 05:03:29 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=188373 Eau Clare, Wi. (Special to Informed Comment) – Much has been speculated and written about the possibility, trajectory, and the likely consequences of a war between the United States and Iran. In case of a wider war that may threaten the survival of the Islamic Republic, Iranian leadership will inevitably push for an all-out war that will drag Saudi Arabia and Israel into the fore. In the worse scenario, Iran will fall into disarray and instability and with a possibility of military rule under the remnants of the Iranian military and the Revolutionary Guards Corps, the IRGC. The consequences of such a war will also impact Iran’s immediate and far neighbors, as far away as Israel, Lebanon, and Jordan.

With essentially weak and ineffective governments in Kabul, Tehran, Baghdad, and Damascus, terrorism will reign rampant and more violent than before, with inevitable spillover into Europe, and Northern America. Millions of new refugees will push their way Westward toward Europe, destabilizing Turkey along the way. The United States, in turn, will be bogged down in a state of hostility for years to come and with trillions of dollars wasted. The US presence in the region will be extremely costly, hastening its hegemonic decline. Moreover, the inevitable rise in the price of oil and natural gas will have a wider global impact: It will weaken European economies’ already fragile state and will slow down the economies of China and India as major importers of oil. In the long term, Iran will further distance itself from the West and will accelerate its nuclear program. The consensus, therefore, should be that such a war of choice must be inconceivable.

President Donald Trump so far remains the only president in recent memory to not have led the U.S. in an invasion of a foreign land under some pretext. President Trump’s preoccupation with domestic politics and a brazen confrontation with US economic partners, be it China, Canada, Mexico, or the European Union, leaves little incentives for yet another US military involvement in the Middle East. This is particularly true for a president whose rise to power and hopes for a second term owes something to the promise of ‘No Endless Wars.’ The question, therefore, remains as to how the U.S. should deal with Iran and its, so-called, ‘mischiefs?’ Iran has been accused of sponsoring terrorism, pursuing nuclear weapons, meddling into affairs of other countries, and suppressing its citizens in violation of basic human rights. Despite such highly exaggerated and misconstrued claims, the rise of Iran as a regional power is positive for the U.S. long term interest in the region. The hastened assassination of the second most powerful and popular man in Iran, the head of Iran’s revolutionary guard’s Quds force, Qassim Soleimani, and his Iraqi associates, can only telltale, at best, of a badly miscalculated advice or, at worst, an ideologically driven move colored with personal score boarding.

The rise in Iranian power can be funneled toward regional peace, stability, and cooperation; Iran’s wider regional participation can serve the cause of Persian Gulf security and reduce U.S. military presence in the region in line with a ‘Trumpian America First’ slogan. Given the increasing Russian footprint in the region and fast-paced regional development, a U.S.-Iranian rapprochement can be instrumental in serving the cause of peace and cooperation and prosperity in the Persian Gulf region and beyond. For a successful rapprochement between the United States and Iran, however, the United States needs to remain true to the fundamental principles of Realpolitik in dealing with Iran in pursuit of its longer-term national interest. Such an approach would require the U.S. reverting to its cold war policy of political realism that relied on regional

cooperation in countering threats to the region. The neoliberal and neoconservative driven U.S. Mideast policies have led to wars, instability, and uncertainties and at the expense of its national interest. To this end, several factors are vital to consider.

First, it is paramount for the United States to acknowledge Iran as a ‘pivotal state’ with legitimate interests in regional politics. Iran shares national characteristics with countries designated as ‘pivotal states;’ countries with important national characteristics, pivotal in the management of regional affairs, e.g. Mexico, Brazil, Algeria, Egypt, South Africa, Turkey, India, Pakistan, and Indonesia. Pivotal states share certain characteristics in common, including, large population, important geographical location, economic potential, and physical size, and their fate is vital to the United States’ overall global policy. What really defines a pivotal state is its capacity to affect regional and international stability. A pivotal state is so important regionally that its collapse would spell transboundary mayhem: migration, communal violence, pollution, disease, and so on. A pivotal state’s steady economic progress and stability, on the other hand, would bolster its region’s economic vitality and political soundness and benefit American trade and investment (p. 37).

Iran’s cultural heritage and history, human capital and natural resources and geostrategic location stand out in West Asia and as a corridor to Europe, the Persian Gulf, and Africa. Iran is a country of 83.75 million and has the longest shoreline in the Persian Gulf and the sea of Oman. It sits on 7% of world minerals, including copper, iron ore, uranium, gold, and zinc, and lead, and is ranked among 15 mineral-rich countries. Iran’s proven oil reserves are the 4th largest in the world and its natural gas’ rank second (perhaps even first after reports of some new discoveries) in the world, just behind Russia. Iran’s economy has been under strain since the revolution and yet it is ranked the 18th largest in the world, with a GDP (PPP) of more than $1,627 trillion dollars in 2019, and a per capita of $19,541, 1.14% of the world economy.

According to the United Nations, Iran’s Human Development Index (HDI) value for 2017 was 0.798— which put the country in the high human development category— positioning it at 60 out of 189 countries and territories. Between 1990 and 2017, Iran’s HDI value increased from 0.577 to 0.798, an increase of 38.3 percent: Iran’s life expectancy at birth increased by 12.4 years, mean years of schooling increased by 5.6 years and expected years of schooling increased by 5.7 years, and its GNI per capita increased by about 67.5 percent between 1990 and 2017. Iran has slowly moved away from a rentier state, dependent on the export of crude oil into a welfare state with a diversified economy. Iran’s military also is ranked 14 in the world in 2019 by Global firepower or as the 13th most powerful military in 2018 by the Business Insider.

Second, the United States must accept that Iran has legitimate national concerns over its domestic and regional security and developmental issues, and not be viewed simply as a pariah state. Iran shares a long border with Afghanistan and is vulnerable to the presence of ‘hostile’ US and NATO troops so close to its border. It has also lost thousands of its border guards and soldiers in countering narcotrafficking, terrorism, human trafficking, and smuggling. While Iran had nothing to do with the events that inspired the September 11, 2001 attacks on America, it was labeled as a member of the ‘axis of evil’ by the neoconservative-dominated administration of President G W. Bush and it has paid dearly for the U.S. declared war on terrorism.

Iran has experienced the sociopolitical and economic turmoil of the 1978-79 revolution, terrorism and insurgency since the1980s, a devastating and costly war with the invading Iraqi army, two major U.S. invasions of its neighboring Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003) with consequent instability and flood of refugees into its territory, forty years of uninterrupted UN and/or US and European economic sanctions and political pressure, and the hostility of much of the Arab world, spearheaded by Saudi Arabia. This is while the government has since the revolution tried building the foundations of a Shi’a-based Islamic Republic by a process of ‘trial and error,’ resulting in ideological and political factionalism, mismanagement of the economy, and political corruption. Iran’s experimentation with Islamic Republicanism has raised many questions and concerns about the nature of the state-society relations. The future shape and nature of democracy in modern Iran must be determined by the country’s historical, cultural, and modern indigenous sociopolitical and economic experiences.

Whether the experimentation with Islamic Republicanism can succeed or not, it is a matter for the Iranian populace to decide. Regardless, Iran has gone through drastic national changes, making it a much more dynamic and exuberant country with tremendous potential for national development. Structural changes in Iran since the revolution has led to a dynamic and inquisitive population and society who has proven persistent in its quest for more social freedoms and good governance. The population of the country is relatively young, very educated and technologically savvy. More importantly, the populace and civil society in Iran today gravitate towards the West in intellectualism and societal needs and expectations. The United States’ conflict with the government’s foreign policy orientation must not isolate and punish its populace. In the end, whether Iran’s future embraces an ‘Islami constitutionalism’ or liberal constitutionalism, or a different political makeup, the post-revolution generation has embraced causes of national development and peace and regional cooperation and integration. A policy of engagement with Iran is much more efficient and promising in the long run. Iran’s potential for rapid growth and development is very bright, should its economy and polity be integrated into the regional political economy.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II coined in 2004 the phrase ‘Shia crescent’ that supposedly implied a ‘Shi’a unity’ that went from Damascus to Tehran, passing through Baghdad. The Shia crescent tag was an unfortunate statement, presuming the root of anxieties, worries, and conflicts in the region is sectarian and not political. As Ian Black of BBC commented, the narrative simply was simplistic, “smoothing over local factors of ethnicity and nationalism to provide a single, overarching explanation. In a region where political discourse is often coded, it was highly unusual to hear such blunt language.” Iran’s support for its ‘proxy’ allies is a calculated policy to empower forces beyond its borders that are ideologically and/or politically are potential allies. Iran does not control or direct its ‘proxy’ forces: Tehran has never been interested in cultivating a network of completely dependent proxies. Instead, it has tried to help these groups become more self-sufficient by allowing them to integrate into their countries’ political processes and economic activities and helping them build their own defense industries—including by giving them the capability to build weapons and military equipment in their own countries rather than rely on Iran supplying them. https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/10/16/irans-proxies-hezbollah-houthis-trump-maximum-pressure/ Lebanon’s Hezbollah (Party of God) and Iraq’s Hash al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization Forces, PMF) are primary examples of such groups.

Iranian leadership believes the US-back attempt at regime change in Syria was a prelude to the downgrading and the destruction of Lebanese Hezbollah and military action against Iran itself. That is, regime change in Iraq, Libya, and then in Syria would sniff out Iran’s regional influence, making it a much softer military target. The United States is thus viewed as hostile and interventionist, with intention to topple the regime, proven by not only its historical role in the 1953 coup d’état of the legal Iranian government of Muhammad Mosaddeq, but by the vehement rejection of the Islamic Revolution, disregard for Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical weapons during the Iran-Iraq War, the 1988 shooting down of its passenger plane, the imposition of decades-long sanctions, freezing of Iranian financial assets, rejection of Iranian civilian nuclear progress for clean energy, withdrawal from the UNSC sponsored nuclear agreement, JCPOA, repeated threats to attack Iran, and now the assassination of the head of Iran’s revolutionary guard’s Quds force, Qassim Soleimani. Iran has for most of the past forty years has been a subject of repeated US and Israeli threats of military attack and regime change, with even hints of Israeli nuclear strike against Tehran!

Third, U.S. Mideast policy since the advent of September 11, 2001, terrorist attack has been dominated by the hawkish neoconservative ideologues of the GW Bush years (2001-08); the interventionist neoliberalism of the Clinton (1992-2000) and the Obama (2008-2016) years, and now the haphazard policy of ‘neomercantilism’ of Donald Trump presidency. In spite of its declared policy of a ‘war on terror,’ U.S. actions have contributed to the spread of terrorism across the region and onto Europe, the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS, or the Daesh), continuing support of Arab authoritarian rulers despite their horrendous human rights records, and emboldening Israeli political rights to avoid any serious attempt at resolving, not merely managing, the Palestinian issue. Billions of dollars have been spent in the US invasion of Afghanistan (war of necessity) and Iraq (war of choice). The Arab Spring movements also prompted US-led NATO operation in Libya (another war of choice but under the guise of neoliberal idealism of ‘Responsibility to Protect’) and in Syria (another war of choice instigated by U.S. allies’ proponents of regime change in Syria, namely Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Israel). The United States’ support for the Saudi Arabia-led supposed coalition to intervene in Yemen’s civil war since 2015 has meant the perpetuation of Yemeni conflict and unimaginable sufferings for its people.

The changing dynamics of regional politics demands a more pragmatic U.S. policy. Instead, U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq opened the way for increased Iranian influence in both countries. Iran has used its Shi’a doctrine’s soft power to recruit Afghan and Iraqi fighters to join the Syrian forces fighting radical foreign-supported militants. Furthermore, the US and its regional allies’ intervention in Syria only incited Iran’s fear of a US-backed attempt at regime change after Syria. The power vacuum created by the US and its Arab allies’ policy of regime change compelled the Assad regime to ask for a more entrenched Iranian participation. Iran’s involvement in Syria would have remained limited to military and economic cooperation, short of its current (and future) military presence and foreign-fighters recruitment and sponsorship. Iran, however, is not the only external military force in Syria, as foreign fighters from Europe, Africa, Central Asia, and the Arab world have been fighting on opposite sides in the Syrian war theatre.

Some observers consider the Islamic Republic’s regional policies as diametrically opposed to the United States’. There are, however, some shared regional issues that are of mutual interest requiring Iran’s cooperation to secure the Persian Gulf and a more ‘tranquil’ U.S. presence in the region. Among other issues of mutual concerns are drug and human trafficking, combating terrorism, stability and national integrity of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, and the end of the war in Yemen. The U.S. can help strengthen ties among regional actors, including Iran, in settling their differences in the service of peace, prosperity, and shared interest, while taking confidence-building measures to ease tensions with Iran. The United States’ return to the nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA, can lead to further negotiations over Iran’s role as an instigator of regional cooperation and development. A policy of engagement is far more fruitful than the current policy of mistrust, punishment, and isolation.

The assassination of Qassim Soleimani has seriously undermined the voice of reason on both sides, with threats and counter-threats coming out of Tehran and Washington. President Trump’s administration almost certainly consulted the Israeli government before the strike on Soleimani and his Iraqi associates, and without any Iraqi input into the matter. Such hasten actions defy thoughtful and strategic principles of realpolitik and only serve voices of radicalism in both administrations in Tehran and Washington.

Conclusion

Iran’s foreign policy doctrine and behavior is fundamentally defensive in nature, reflecting its lesser military capabilities and the state insecurity in the face of persistent external hostility and threats at regime change. Iran utilizes anti-Americanism and Islamic revolutionary rhetoric as ‘soft power’ to mobilize transnational popular support and militia groups in the neighboring countries, where the U.S. and Israel are perceived as enemies and the source of instability and discord. The Islamic Republic remains steadfast in its ‘Neither East, Nor West’ slogan, instigating national self-reliance and development while maintaining an independent foreign policy. Iran’s closer ties with China and Russia is as much a strategy of necessity as it is a strategic choice, given the U.S.-led hostility of the West. Iran has had a long historical tie with Europe and still can benefit from Western technical and technological expertise. A policy of isolation is only bound to further push Iran into the bosom of Russia and China, with long term economic and political consequences for the Persian Gulf and wider regional security and commercial activities.

Iran’s involvement in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen is defensive against serious threats from radical Salafi militants and aims to extend its strategic depth to further (along with the help of Hezbollah in Lebanon) deter them and to counter an American or Israeli preemptive attacks on its nuclear and strategic assets without fear of reprisal. Iran has legitimate national and regional interests. The removal of serious external threats can leave wider room for diplomacy and rapprochement with the West and the United States. The inclusion of Iran in any Persian Gulf security arrangement is indispensable and that itself is contingent upon recognizing Iran as a pivotal state whose regional role can be instrumental in peace and security that can also safeguard a better, more balanced U.S. Mideastern policy.

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Related video added by Informed Comment:

NBC News: “Engel: Strike On Soleimani Unites Iran After Years Of Internal Division | Meet The Press | NBC News”

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40 Years on, is Iran a Status Quo Power or a Threat to ME Regional Security? https://www.juancole.com/2019/01/threat-regional-security.html Thu, 31 Jan 2019 05:59:56 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=181919 (Informed Comment) – The US-Iranian relations remain conflictual forty years after the revolution and with an uncertain future. The US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s announcement that Poland will host an international conference on Iran in February has angered Iranian officials, prompting foreign minister Javad Zarif’s tweeting the upcoming summit as America’s anti-Iran “circus.” Secretary Pompeo on a tour of the Middle East pushed for the US-backed initiative to form what some have termed an “Arab NATO” to bring the region together in a military alliance to counter threats from Iran. The question remains: Is Iran really a threat to its neighbors or the United States? Why is Iran such a threat, given that the country is tackling with serious sociopolitical and economic issues internally and is facing a great degree of hostility from abroad? Perhaps, the source of an Iranian threat rests elsewhere?

The United States’ narrative of a hostile Iran is in line with the historical Western domination of the region that favors weak and dependent states, bounded by the parameters of a patron-client relationship that almost always prioritizes the interest of the former at the expense of the latter. As such, no ‘client’ state must challenge the patron’s hegemonic presence, interest, and control, even to the detriment of its own national interest. Among the central U.S. grievances are Iran’s pursuit of nuclear and missile technology, its ‘obstruction’ of the supposed Middle East ‘peace process,’ its intervention in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, its past involvement in the Beirut attacks of the 1980s and the 1996 Khobar Towers (Saudi Arabia) bombing of an American troop residence and providing lethal aid to non-state actors in Lebanon, Iraq, the Palestinian territories, and Afghanistan. The list of US complaints against Iran fails, however, to address the root cause of the Iranian state behavior: how Iran’s foreign policy doctrine and behavior is fundamentally defensive in nature, reflecting its lesser military capabilities and the state insecurity in the face of persistent external hostility and threats at regime change. Iran utilizes anti-Americanism and Islamic revolutionary rhetoric as ‘soft power’ to mobilize transnational popular support and militia groups in the neighboring countries, where U.S. and Israel are perceived as enemies and the source of instability and discord. The Islamic Republic, contrary to the Arab States, is challenging the historical patron-client parameters and is, thus, designated as a ‘regional threat.’ Iran has legitimate national and regional interests. The removal of serious external threats can leave wider room for diplomacy and rapprochement with the West and the United States.

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French President Emmanuel Macron (R) meets with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (L) on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly at the UN headquarters on September 25, 2018, in New York. (Photo by LUDOVIC MARIN / AFP/Getty Images).”

Iran’s Military Power

The transformation of Iran into an apparently regional power is largely the consequence of Iran’s national progress and events that followed September 11, 2001, including the US expensive and unwise invasion of Iraq. Iran’s participation in regional affairs has been, except for Lebanon, defensive in nature. Its involvement in Lebanon dates to the early 1980s when ‘volunteers’ traveled to Lebanon to fight alongside the Shi’a fighters against their rivals. (Recall, Lebanon’s civil war (1976-1990) saw foreign intervention by many countries, including Israel, Syria, Iraq, the United States, France, the UN, and Iran.) The intercession was a controversial issue for Iranian decisionmakers since Ayatollah Montazeri, and not Khomeini, championed support for Lebanese Shi’a. Otherwise, Iran was fighting Iraqi forces at the time for its territorial integrity and regime survival; a war that the US and its allies and the entire Arab World, except for Libya and Syria, supported.

Iran’s ‘asymmetric warfare doctrine’ means that it principally focuses its military doctrine on defense, deterrence, and asymmetric warfare. Iran’s harsh rhetoric in foreign policy is not a reflection of its actual capabilities and intention for open aggression; it is a defensive posture stemming from serious external threats to its regime survival and national sovereignty. The list of US grievances of Iran’s behavior does not address this point. A recent study argues that “Iran’s military is beset with structural, organizational, and capacity problems that prevent it from completely operationalizing Tehran’s doctrinal ambitions for asymmetric warfare, and that these problems are likely to persist over the next five to ten years. The bifurcated nature of the Islamic Republic’s security structures continues to create institutional friction that stunts the development of a truly integrated force. Bureaucratic inertia and other features of Iran’s defense establishment will likely keep Iran’s military capability mired in industrial-age conventional warfare, even as Tehran aspires toward an asymmetric warfighting doctrine.” The study, however, also confirms that in the long run, Iran’s efforts to attain self-sufficiency in military equipment is bound to make it stronger and a major player in the regional affairs.

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Iranian protesters hold a portrait of the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force, Gen. Qassem Suleimani, during a demonstration in the capital Tehran on December 11, 2017, to denounce US President Donald Trump’s declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. (Photo by ATTA KENARE / AFP) (Photo credit should read ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images)

The Iranian ‘threat narrative’ only help legitimize the presence of US and Western military troops and arms sales to the region and consequently heightening regional tension. The United States has over 54,000 troops in more than a dozen Middle Eastern countries and is maintaining military bases in seven of them. According to the Pentagon’s quarterly reports on US military personnel, published in November 2018, the number of US soldiers and civilians working for the Department of Defense in the Middle East was 54,180, up from 40,517 during the first two quarters of 2017. Indeed, the number of US soldiers and civilian support staff deployed to Syria and the broader Middle East had surged by more than 30% over summer 2017. The increase held true for combat zones such as Syria and Iraq as well as neighboring countries that host US military bases.

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Iraqi protestors burn a US flag during a demonstration in Baghdad on April 15, 2018, opposing the joint Western air strikes against Syria’s regime. – The United States, Britain and France took military action in response to an alleged chemical attack in the rebel-held town of Douma a week ago that killed at least 40 people. Iraq warned that Western air strikes on Syria were a ‘very dangerous’ development that could fuel a jihadist resurgence in the region (Photo by Ahmad al-Rubaye / AFP) (Photo credit should read AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images).

Meanwhile, the United Kingdom has renewed its age-old colonial presence in the region, setting up a new military base in Kuwait and advancing its naval presence in Bahrain. Previously, on February 22, US Navy and Coast Guard units had joined Iraqi Navy and Kuwait Naval Force and Coast Guard vessels for a trilateral exercise(TRILAT) in the Persian Gulf that was the third of its kind since March 2017. Not to fall behind, France opened its naval base in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in 2009 that also stations troops and planes at Al-Dhafra Air Base, home to some of the 5,000 American troops stationed in the country.

The US and European states are the main arms exporters to the region and supplied over 98% of weapons imported by Saudi Arabia in 2017.” Arms imports to the Middle East doubled between 2013 and 2017: The US, the UK, and France were the main supplier of arms to the region, with the UK exporting nearly half of its arms to Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia and the UAE are among the top 10 arms importers in the world. Iran, in contrast, only accounted for 1% of arms imports to the region. Its military expenditures remain minuscule compared to its ‘rival states,’ amounting to only $14.6 billion dollars in 2017 for a country of 84 million and neighboring 7 (14, including regional neighbors in the Persian Gulf) countries. There is a major power with a historical bellicose relation to Iran’s north, the Russian Federation, and a NATO-member competitor in the West, Turkey, and less friendly and even hostile Saudi Arabia and some of the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members. Others in the region also outpace Iran’s military expenditures per capita and in real numbers by far, including Saudi Arabia ($69.5 billion), Israel (16.5 billion), Turkey (18.2 billion), and Kuwait (6.8 billion). Overall, the Arab World spent close to $120 billion on military in 2017, augmented by support from major Western countries, including the United States with a military budget of nearly $610 billion in 2017.

Iran Under Threat or as a Threat?

The new ‘Islamic Republic’ soon after the revolution declared its ‘neither East nor West’ doctrine in foreign policy, but soon found itself with countless enemies and few friends on the world stage. The voice of support from some ‘revolutionary corners’ remained mostly symbolic and without much tangible support. The new leadership has regarded the United States and the West in general as hostile, still refusing to accept Iran’s legitimate stance as a pivotal state. The list of grievances is long: The US is viewed as hostile and interventionist with intention to topple the Iranian republic, indicated by its role in the 1953 coup d’état of the legal Iranian government, vehement rejection of the Islamic Revolution, disregard for Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical weapons during the Iran-Iraq War, the shooting down of an Iranian passenger plane, imposing economic sanctions, freezing of Iranian financial assets, resistance to Iranian nuclear progress for clean energy, and threats to invade or attack Iran.

The September 1980 Iraqi invasion challenged Iran’s declared policy of independence and ‘self-reliance.’ The overwhelming material cost and the psychological impact of the Iraqi invasion lasted well into the following decades. The Iraqi invasion occurred when the Mujahidin-e Khalq’s violent acts of terrorism and insurgency had already shaken the foundation of the new state. The Iraqi military use of chemical weapons and Western countries’ silence, the bombardment of major Iranian cities and its oil terminals, the Western arms embargo, and the Arab countries’ vast financial support of Iraqi invasion verified external hostility. The mass flow of war refugees and internal migration into major cities, including Iraqi and Afghani refugees (after the 1979 Soviet invasion) and the material cost of war meant the devaluation of the national currency, the rial, and runaway inflation. Further, the United States’ sanctions have meant the denial of the Iranian economy and society from access to Western technology and investment, including spare parts to its airlines and access to medical equipment. Incidentally, Iran’s pursuit of missile and nuclear technology began in the early to mid-1980s.

The spread of Wahhabism and militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan since the 1980s posed, and continuing, another serious threat to Iran’s national sovereignty. Iran shares a long border with Afghanistan and is vulnerable to the presence of ‘hostile’ US and NATO troops so close to its border. It has also lost thousands of its border guards and soldiers in countering narcotrafficking, terrorism, human trafficking, and smuggling. The U.S. invasion of Afghanistan led to some limited cooperation, but mutual complaints remained throughout the years. Today, Iran’s participation through dialogue and economic cooperation with the Afghan government or the Taliban or in support of the minority Shi’a Hazara is indispensable to the cause of its own security but also that of Afghanistan’s and regional stability. Undoubtedly, Iran’s involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq would have remained limited, without the US invasion of these countries in 2001 and 2003.

Iraqi nationalists have raised serious concerns about Iran’s involvement there, but Iran’s relation with Iraq is as ‘natural’ as is the US relation with Canada. It involves shared mutual security, religious, economic and commercial interests. Many of the Iraqi opposition personalities and groups have deep connections with the Iranian ruling elites and religious establishments, with the Iranian-born Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani as the most senior Iraqi religious leader. Despite differences in approach and tactics, religious seminaries in Qom and Najaf mobilize vast popular support for their common cause of ‘Islamic unity’ in Iran and Iraq beyond differences in political setup and the Sunni-Shi’a divide. The Iranian mobilization of troops and involvement in Iraq after the Daesh capture of Mosul in June 2014 was, therefore, predictable. Recall, By mid-2014 Daesh controlled “a taxable population of some seven or eight million, oilfields and refineries, vast grain stores, lucrative smuggling routes and vast stockpiles of arms and ammunition, as well as entire parks of powerful modern military hardware.” Iran today remains concern about the terrorist threat of radical Wahhabi-inspired militant groups, while Iraq provides Iran with a significant level of strategic depth in thwarting militant terrorism. But, it was the US invasion in 2003 that helped Iran afford to extend its influence deep inside Iraqi society and the state structure. Iran has since expanded its influence and presence in Iraq through networks of political, security, economic and commercial venues, including Shi’a militia groups.

Iran’s increasing involvement in Syria is the result of the destabilization of Syria since 2011. The ‘easy’ NATO overthrow of Libya’s Muammar al-Qaddafi prompted the United States and its allies, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and (until recently) Turkey and Qatar, to pursue regime change in Syria. But, Iran and Syria had already signed a mutual defense pact in 2006 and formalized the establishment of a joint Iranian-Syrian Supreme Defense Commission to institutionalize long-term military cooperation. Syria’s uncompromising stance against Israeli occupation of its territory, its support for the Palestinian cause, its proximity to Lebanon, its access to the Mediterranean Sea, and its overall ‘anti-US’ posture in foreign policy made it a ‘natural ally’ for Iran. Syria also was one of only two Arab states that supported Iran in its war with Iraq. Iranian leadership keenly perceived the US-back attempt at regime change in Syria as a prelude to the downgrading and the destruction of Lebanese Hezbollah, and military action again Iran itself. That is, regime change in Iraq, Libya, and then in Syria would sniff out Iran’s regional influence, making it a much softer military target. Iran’s involvement in Syria, as in Iraq, is defensive and aims to extend its strategic depth to further (along with the help of Hezbollah in Lebanon) deter Israeli preemptive attacks on its nuclear and strategic assets without fear of reprisal.

Iran’s recruitment of Afghanis to fight in Syria has attracted serious criticism. However, Iran is not the only external force in Syria, as foreign fighters from Europe, Africa, Central Asia, and the Arab world have been fighting on opposite sides in the Syrian war theatre. This is not to justify the Iranian recruitment efforts, but to argue that the power vacuum created by the US and its Arab allies’ policy of regime change compelled the Assad regime to ask for a more entrenched Iranian participation. Iran’s involvement in Syria would have remained limited to military and economic cooperation, short of its current (and future) military presence. and foreign-fighters recruitment and sponsorship. The US and its regional allies’ intervention in Syria only incited Iran’s fear of regime change in Iran after Syria. The Russian Federation’s intervention was also predictable after the result of NATO intervention in Libya in 2011, and the Ukraine crisis in 2014.

The extent of Iran’s involvement in Yemen is highly overstated. The ‘Shi’a Houthi opposition to the corrupt central rule in Aden was and remains primarily a political movement, seeking structural change in the distribution of political power and socioeconomic resources. Yemen under Ali Abdullah Saleh experienced widespread corruption and mismanagement of the country. At the onset of the 2011 uprising, Yemen was one of the poorest countries in the world, with widespread unemployment and persistent inflation, and with billions of dollars in oil revenues embezzled or wasted. Forty percent of Yemen’s population lived on less than $2 a day. Whatever influence Iran may exert on the Houthi movement today, it is no more drastic than Saudi Arabia’s sponsorship of anti-Iranian-Shi’a antagonism in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

Saudi Arabia has a legitimate concern about the unrest in Yemen. However, the long term menace to the Saudi regime derives from its gathering domestic popular discontent with the ruling royal family and the political elite. Saudi Arabia has thus far encountered the Arab Spring by throwing money at the problem, but as the Jamal Khashoggi affair highlights, there are deeper issues within the Kingdom’s crippling prospects for political legitimacy, accountability, and good governance. Recall Saudi Arabia’s previous intervention in Yemen in the 1960s, then fearing Egypt’s Gamal Abd al-Nasser’s pan-Arabism.

The Real Threat to Regional Stability

As I have previously argued, most Arab regimes lack legitimacy to rule and are marred with insecurity. The Arab governments in the past one hundred years have done a poor job in their attempts at building viable nation-states, the shortfall rests with ‘political underdevelopment’ that is destined to catch up with the ruling elites sooner or later. Arab regimes have relied on different strategies to dominate political power and to endure their authoritarian rule, relying on: foreign security and financial assistance, as in Egypt and Jordan; neo-Patrimonialism, Rentierism and foreign immigrant workers, as in Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf states; state largesse and sheer brutality, as in Iraq under Saddam Hussein, Qaddafi’s Libya, and Syria under the Assad family; corruption, nepotism, and Patrimonialism as in Yemen under Ali Abdullah Saleh, Tunisia under Ben Ali, and Morocco’s King Hassan, or a combination of these.

The absence of political democracy, corruption, absence of transparency and accountability in the political arena, and the presence of a weak civil society impede active citizen participation in governance. This situation has resulted in the humiliation of Arab peoples dignity, al-hogra or ihtiqaar, and culminated in the still-unresolved Arab Spring movements since 2011. Some Arab societies like Tunisia and Egypt have embarked upon a desperate journey for political freedom, economic opportunity, and human dignity. This has happened while Islamic movements, e.g., Muslim Brotherhood, have been unable to fill the political/ideological void in gaining the trust of popular support in national movements for freedom, prosperity and dignity. Western military interventions have not brought security and democracy and have failed to resolve the deficit of good governance in places like, among others, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia.

Outside the Arab world, Turkey and Iran have demonstrated relative national congruence between the rulers and the ruled. Both countries are facing the daunting challenge of integrating political Islam within the broader cultural, sociopolitical and economic structure of society. Post Erdogan Turkey may abandon its experimentation with Islam in politics and return to its traditional republican ideals and nationalism. There is also much to speculate about the future direction of Iran’s experimentation with an ‘Islamic Republicanism.’ Iran has experienced a sociopolitical revolution in the past forty years, transmuting from a patrimonial, rentier state in the late 1970s into a welfare state with a dynamic society and well-established legal framework and social and political institutions. Its accomplishments in the nuclear, defense and scientific arenas are well documented, with major successes in education, medical biotechnology, and the health industries, while tackling an imposed eight-year war with Iraq in the1980s and almost non-stop UN and US sanctions since the revolution. Far from being a true republic, Iran’s journey away from monarchical dictatorship and toward a more open and dynamic society, however, must be recognized.

Iran’s experimentation with Islamic Republicanism raises many questions and concerns about the nature of state-society relation and the future shape and nature of democracy in modern Iran. The future will demonstrate if Iran will abandon republicanism for the sake of a ‘theocratic Islam,’ or will be forced to abandon political Islam for the sake of the separation of the mosque and the state and republicanism, or will succeed in approximating a ‘desired’ balance, where individual freedoms can be realized in a republic but where religiosity and matters of beliefs are also respected. Regardless, Iranian society is resilient, and, absent a major war or calamities, the future of national development is promising. Iran’s success in national development is more menacing to its rival Arab regimes than its nuclear or missile program.

Iran’s foreign policy since the revolution has championed ‘national self-reliance.’ This has been to the detriment of US military and political presence and interest in the Persian Gulf and the wider region. The rise of Iranian power is also at the heart of Arab regimes’ hostility towards Iran. The Arab political elites view Iran as a threat to their own existence, and not as a source with potentials for positive regional security cooperation and development. However, Iranian rise in power can be funneled toward regional peace, stability, and cooperation; Iran’s participation can serve the cause of Persian Gulf security and reduce U.S. military presence in line with a ‘Trumpian America First’ slogan. As a recent survey points out, majorities polled in Egypt, Turkey, and Iraq want either to see the Iran nuclear deal kept in force or want to see Iran brought into a larger diplomatic settlement. The November 2018 Zogby poll also reminds us that, “people in the region for the most part (outside of Saudi Araba and the UAE) really dislike US policy.” Most people reject US policy in the region that has protected Arab regimes at the expense of civil society and democracy. The historical ‘patron-client’ relationship between major powers and countries in the region must come to an end. This will not happen, however, so long as regimes in the region remain autocratic and authoritarian.

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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

CGTN: “CIA director: Iran is still abiding by 2015 nuclear accord”

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Saudi Arabia’s Brutal Game of Thrones signals its Lack of Democracy https://www.juancole.com/2018/10/arabias-thrones-democracy.html Tue, 16 Oct 2018 04:48:20 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=179417 (Informed Comment) – The disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi and his possible death at the hands of the Saudi state operatives in its consulate in Istanbul is a blow to responsible politics and advocates of international relations based on broad consensus over norms of behavior, the rule of law, accountability, and transparency. Mr. Khashoggi has sacrificed a great deal in his personal life and fortunes to pursue his journalistic call to speak truth to power, especially in his native country of Saudi Arabia. His disappearance and possible death is only the latest episode of Saudi political elites’ reckless silencing of political dissidents, and even treating own citizens as mere followers of the al-Saud ‘royal’ tribe.

The rise of Muhammad Bin Salman to political prominence as a declared reformer highlights the ‘rudimentary’ nature of power politics in the kingdom, where persons and personalism—the hallmarks of patrimonial power politics— can still dominate the country eighteen years into the 21st Century. Prince Salman has already pushed the Saudi-Iranian relations to the point of war, involved the country in a brutal war in Yemen, ostracized Qatar and created a crisis in the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council, and now the Jamal Khashoggi Affair. This is to say nothing of using the state power to embezzle money from power elite in the country in the name of fighting corruption. While broader social freedoms for women and men alike are tightly controlled, the ‘reformist’ prince silencing any voice of decent while ‘granting’ women the right to drive!

Little has changed since the rise of the country in the 1930s as the Saudi political system still maintains its initial tribal structure. Since its founding in 1932, the Kingdom has clinched on to its traditional tribal fundamentals dominated by the ruling family and its cohorts, while coloring itself with all the gleaming and reflective façades of modernity. The result has been, expectedly, a politically static Kingdom, where citizens are treated as mere subjects without fundamental human rights. The Saudi nationals of twenty-seven million share their misfortune with the Kingdom’s 8.5 million non-nationals who are even more deprived of basic human rights and decent economic life.

The populace has little to say about the very sociopolitical and economic policies that determine their livelihood and allows for the extent of public space in a thriving civil society. Similarly, Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy is a hostage to the narrow interest of the ruling elite, limiting the legal and institutional scope and the veracity needed for a dynamic and effective approach in pursuit of national interest. Without political change through either evolution or revolution, the future of the country and its foreign policy will remain incoherent, oppressive, and conflict-prone.

Saudi Arabia’s political economy rests on the twin pillars of neopatrimonialism and Rentierism: its political economy symbolizes that ‘peculiar modality of the capitalist mode of production—a mix of Patrimonialism, nepotism, and crony capitalism, pillaging of public property, swollen bureaucracy, and generalized corruption, against a background of great sociopolitical instability and the impotence or even nonexistence of the role of law—that is dominant in the Arab region’ (Achcar, p. 74).

The Kingdom has experienced little political change since the advent of the Arab Spring in 2011, and, public opinion remains irrelevant in the determination of sociopolitical, economic, and foreign policies. The populace has for long been dependent on government subsidies and largesse, especially during crises times. To manage the expectations of citizens, the Saudi government is spending far too much money than it can afford. In response to the Arab Spring in 2011, the Saudi government increased its spending by 25% on the previous year to quell potential dissent, which included around $130 billion of social spending, higher pay, and bonuses for public sector workers. As Mark Lynch argues: in almost every Arab country, the economic and political problems that drove the region toward popular uprising in 2011 are more intense today than they were seven years ago. Instead of democracy and accountable governments, the proliferation of weakened and failed states, as in Libya, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and the Persian Gulf States, poses serious questions about the future of politics in these countries and prospects for peace and regional cooperation.

With the bulk of its wealth coming from the sale of its natural resources rather than taxation, Saudi citizens have had relatively limited involvement in the political decision-making processes. The country remains one of the world’s most oil-dependent economies, with the sector contributing 78 percent of exports. Oil accounts for 90 percent of its exports and 50 percent of its GDP and oil constitute almost 70 percent of the Saudi government’s revenues. Energy consumption in the kingdom remains very high, surpassing those in the developed countries. Oil and gas sector scores 36 of 100 points and ranks 69th among 89 assessments in the 2017 Resource Governance Index (RGI). The RGI assessment reveals governance challenges that weaken accountability to citizens and could hinder achievement of Saudi Arabia’s long-term goals. In 2012,

The Wall Street Journal reported that Saudi Arabia might decide to reduce its energy subsidies, which comprise up to 20 percent of the government’s budget. Without a serious attempt at curtailing consumption and abiding by market mechanisms to manage the oil and gas sector, the increasing energy consumption, could make Saudi Arabia a net oil importer by 2030, as indicated in a report by Citigroup. The public sector remains immense: based on a poll conducted by Gallup, the government employs as many as eight out of every ten citizens.

The Vision 2030 promises privatization of the national oil company, the Aramco, to prepare investment in infrastructure projects. The success of this initiative will depend heavily on the ultimate valuation of the company, but Saudi Aramco’s governance receives a failing score in the index. As one observer summarizes, Vision 2030 “apparently seeks a rapid implementation of economic reforms that could have been instituted much more effectively over a longer timescale, but which have hitherto been deferred for years because they did not seem urgent and because they were presumed to have costs for political stability. A similar scenario could emerge with political reforms, which are endlessly deferred in times of social peace, but may well become a more urgent priority in the years to come.”

Saudi foreign policy framework and structure mirror-images its rudimentary domestic political structure and modus operandi. It fundamentally lacks the necessary accountable and credible foreign policy decision-making professionals and processes and is driven by special interests and corrupt politics; King Salman in 2015 dissolved 12 advisory councils and replaced them with only two: one overseeing national security, and the other tasked with guiding economic development. So, problems in foreign policy structure and function remain.

First, the Saudi foreign-policy establishment lacks any independence and its existence and operation rests primarily on the king and the ruling royals. Second, Saudi foreign policy concern is foremost over the security of the regime and not the broader national interest of the country and the populace. Third, the Saudi regime lacks the credible ‘soft power,’ except for throwing money at problems. Fourth, Saudi citizens are not equipped and are divorced from any input into decisions that are made in their names, and this makes the ruling elite a legitimate target of criticism and blame. The state sociopolitical and economic dominance means the absence of a vibrant civil society to counter the state power through organized social, political, and economic participation. Two primary agents of civil society—independent labor unions and political parties– are non-existent in the kingdom.

The creation of a regional grouping like the [Persian] Gulf Cooperation Council has resembled an informal gathering of some ‘heads of state’ without the necessary organizational and institutional structure in place for successful diplomatic engagement and confidence building. So, since the early 1980s, Riyadh and its GCC allies have failed to develop the grouping into a wider, more formal regional entity with institutional power and structure. The primary impediment? Lack of trust among the members, with smaller city-states fearful of Saudi rulers to hijack the Council to dominate the ruling families in Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates. King Abdullah warned the GCC members resisting the creation of a Saudi-led wider collective regional security in 2011.

The Kingdom has also since 2015 attempted to establish several informal multilateral coalitions and alliances in which combinations of various Arab, Muslim, and other nations participate under its leadership but within the traditional patrimonial hallmarks of informality and personalism. The Arab Coalition in Yemen, since March 2015 was followed by the Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism (IMAFT) in December 2015. The Anti-Qatar Coalition since June 2017 is to force its longtime GCC rivals to fall in line with Saudi strategic worldview. These ‘coalitions of the willing’ can also be easily disbanded once they have achieved their objective. As Rory Miller observes, absent an alternative that offers Riyadh the same opportunities to claim leadership of the Arab and Muslim world, informal alliances will remain central, although not necessarily effective, component of Saudi security thinking.

Regional politics and the advent of the Arab Spring made the kingdom to embark on a riskier foreign policy adventurism without the necessary groundwork in place. According to Saudi officials, Abdullah’s faith in Washington completely “evaporated” once the Obama administration called for Hosni Mubarak to give up power in Egypt after only days of popular protests in early 2011. The public rebuke of Bahrain’s ruling family that followed further antagonized Saudi leaders, but the deployment of a Saudi-led military force to Bahrain in March 2011 signaled a new turn. The 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, the JCPOA or the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, further reaffirmed the U.S. Middle Eastern policy objectives based on pragmatism.

To avert the popular desire for political change inspired by the Arab Spring movement, the regime lashed out at a supposed ‘Shi’a threat’ to the country and has since spent tens of billions on bribing its own population through cash handout, arms purchases, and lobbying. Subsequent involvement in Syria under Abdullah and in Yemen under Salman has also underscored this new Saudi willingness to take risks and project power beyond its borders without the Saudi populace having a say in policies impacting the lives of millions of people.

The Saudi government unease about a Shi’a threat to its national interests, its onslaught on Yemen, and its bullying the tiny state of Qatar to submit its sovereignty to the Kingdom reflect the use of archaic tactics in foreign policy. Such tactics are expected in the absence of legal, institutional, and democratic venues in the determination of national interest. The conduct of foreign policy without institutional and organizational logistics and procedures intact fails to embrace efforts at negotiations and conflict resolution through diplomacy to reach for common grounds with adversaries.

The war on Yemen has already led to catastrophic consequences for the Arab world’s poorest country and the Saudi people are hopeless in raising their objections to the brutal act of the state in the suppression of Yemeni people in their name. Saudi foreign policy adventurism is more a reflection of the regime anxiety about its own survival than a manufactured ‘Shi’a threat’ to the national security of the country. The Khashoggi affair only reflects the paucity of the kingdom’s foreign policy establishment and mechanism, itself a mirror-image of the state of its political underdevelopment.

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Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

Democracy Now! “Former Saudi Political Prisoner: Khashoggi’s Disappearance is Sending a Gruesome Message to Critics”

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Are US Middle East Policies against the Law? https://www.juancole.com/2018/04/middle-policies-against.html Tue, 24 Apr 2018 04:24:41 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=174689 The American foreign policy in the Middle East since the demise of the Soviet Union has oscillated between neoliberal and neoconservative interventionism. Both strategies have had long-term detrimental consequences for the United States’ national interest and the peoples in the Middle East and North African (MENA) region. Fundamentally, both strategies ignore the welfare of the peoples in the region. Similarly, the historically-dominant Realist perspective of U.S. foreign policy has had a ‘state-centric’ view of the world based on power politics and the pursuit of national interest that, despite its simplicity and efficiency, is neutral on the State’s ‘regime type,’ treating all states equal in matters of national sovereignty. This also implies that peoples’ welfare in any state is a matter of national sovereignty and is subject to non-interference by other states and central international actors like the United Nations.

The United States has, however, a long history of foreign policy interventionism in the name of national interest and peace but in violation of political realism, e.g., the balance of power, off-shore balancing. So, if president Donald Trump’s pull back from Syria appeals to political realists, his incoherent policy approach toward Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, and Russia leaves doubts about his administration’s true understanding of political realism and its principles.[1] The Progressive movement of the turn of the last century that sought to further social and political reform also failed in its idea of U.S. foreign policy as a force for positive change in the face of Realpolitik. This was despite its domestic agenda aiming at curbing political corruption and limiting the political influence of large corporations. The result was earlier U.S. interventions and colonialism in the form of American-Spanish war, intervention and occupation of the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Haiti.

An alternative U.S. approach can rely on international law and diplomacy and organizations, involving an expanded and restructured United Nations and other multilateral institutions and organizations in the service of sustainable development and global governance. International intergovernmental organizations such as the United Nations and its functional agencies (e.g., WHO, ILO, WIPO, UNESCO, IEA, OPCW, UNCDF, UNESCO, others), the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, The International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court, and the European Union can and are central players in global governance. Calls for the reform of the United Nations’ Security Council and other IGOs’ is not new and are really needed. (Recall, for example, the only expansion of the UN Security Council occurred in 1965, and there have been genuine debates for reform within the World Trade Organization framework.) The urgency of world politics today demands a more responsible global governance based on international law and through multilateralism and diplomacy to avert looming sociopolitical, economic, and environmental calamities.

The 20th Century witnessed the death of 170 million people as victims of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.[2] The post-cold war alone has witnessed numerous conflicts, wars of aggression, failed states, acts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, terrifying environmental degradation and climatic concerns, and deregulated, hyper-capitalism with repeated international economic and financial crises (1994 Mexican Tequila crisis; 1997 Asian Economic Crisis; 2000 Dotcom crisis; 2007-08 (somewhat still ongoing) housing and financial crisis, just to name a few). The 21st Century has already witnessed high crimes committed, among others, in Rwanda, Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Sudan, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Myanmar.

The intention of this article is not to engage in a discussion of how to reform and build mechanisms necessary for a more constructive global governance. Instead, my contention is that strengthening the function and the utility of international law and institutions can greatly enhance global human security and governance. It can also help reduce the risk of major powers’ confrontation, evident in the conflictual world politics in the post-cold war aftermath. This can also help the United States to avoid continuously getting involved in global conflicts in the name of humanitarianism while violating international laws and principles. A point of departure here for analysis is to review and highlight deficiencies inherent in the U.S. Mideast policy, if not its overall foreign policy behavior built on paradigmatic assumptions and principles.

The U.S. Mideast policy has ignored the long-lasting crisis of governance that has left most of the populace of the Arab MENA region under authoritarian regimes, humiliated by defeat in wars, chronic inefficiencies and corruption, and overall poor governance. Both the neoconservatives and the neoliberals have selectively advocated support for authoritarian regimes and regime change through direct military intervention (the neoconservatives) or through pressure and NATO action in the name of human rights and humanitarian interventionism (neoliberals).[3] Both paradigms’ supporters in the U.S. foreign policy establishment are selective in their views on the significance of ‘principles’ and values” in determining policy choices: both are comfortable with supporting authoritarian but friendly regimes in the region (and indeed elsewhere in the world) while ignoring continuing human rights abuses in places like Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf States.

The United States throughout the 1990s remained the unmatched hegemonic power, supported by a booming domestic economy that saw economic growth throughout the 1990s: Between 1993 and 2000, the United States exhibited the best economic performance of the previous three decades. In 2000, its economic expansion surpassed in length the expansion of the 1960s, and thus became the longest on record. During Clinton’s second term, real economic growth averaged 4 ½ percent per year, and unemployment fell to 4 percent, although by the year 2000 the economy had returned to approximately the same point in the business cycle it had occupied in 1990.[4]

The ‘successful’ Persian Gulf War of 1991 saw Iraqi forces ejected from Kuwait and facilitated U.S. troops’ presence in the holiest land of Islam in Saudi Arabia. It emboldened the first post-cold-war American administration to counter Iraqi and Iranian ‘bellicose’ foreign policy posture through a ‘dual containment’ policy[5] and to also push for ‘the settlement of the long-enduring Arab (Palestinian)–Israeli conflict. Both China and the Russian Federation under Boris Yeltsin acquiesced to the American leadership in the Middle East and cooperated in the United Nations’ Security Council.

China’s eagerness for its further integration into the global political economy after 1989 Tiananmen Square incident ensured their cooperation. The Russian Federation’s embrace of an ‘economic shock-therapy’[6] to fix their ailing economy in the 1990s meant their full-fledged cooperation with the United States in the UNSC to pass resolution 660 (1990) to rally the U.S.-led coalition against Iraq to liberate Kuwait. Meanwhile, the United States’ push for the Oslo peace process led to the Oslo I (1993) and Oslo II (1995) agreements that also brought along the Jordanian-Israeli peace agreement in 1994, and the Wye River Memorandum in October 1998, outlining further Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank.

The consolidation of U.S. hegemonic presence in the region in the 1990s, however, remained largely insensitive to the continuing worsening of the socioeconomic and political situation in much of the Arab World. The 1990s witnessed the US dual containment policy of Iraq and Iran, resulting in the additional death of one half million of Iraqi infants in addition to its natural rate of mortality, and the expansion of Israeli settlement activities in the occupied territories despite Oslo agreements. The U.S. military presence in the region throughout the 1990s also ensured support for notorious regimes such as those in Tunisia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the Persian Gulf states, while anti-American sentiments remained widespread in the region. Terrorists’ attacks on U.S. interests continued throughout the 1990s, culminating in the 1996 Khobar Tower attack in Saudi Arabia, the 1998 attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and the attack on USS Cole in Yemen in 2000.

The September 11, 2001 terrorists’ attacks set the tone for the ‘new’ U.S. policy in the MENA region. The neoconservative camp in the George W. Bush administration did not hesitate to use the American military might in a new push to ‘rejuvenate’ the American hegemonic moment that had since 1990 dominated the world but had ‘remained underutilized.’ The United States in the post 9/11 world had the military and economic means, but it now had the ideological backbone behind a new strategy to change the world in its own image: to export democracy and to punish those opposing it, birthing the Bush Administration’s ‘Preemption Doctrine’[7] The declared war on terrorism only ‘legitimated’ a broader policy of interventionism, continuing support of authoritarian regimes and solidifying support for the state of Israel, while securing access to the region’s lucrative oil, natural gas, and consumer and financial markets, including the ever pervasive arms market.

Modern militant movements like the Wahhabis,[8] dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries in the tribal Arabia, the Muslim Brotherhood beginning in the 1920s, the Taliban in Afghanistan and the al-Qaeda since the 1980s, and a plethora of other extremist movements in the past few decades have aimed to take over the state to ‘restore’ justice and harmony through ‘Islamic governance.’ The U.S. policy of regime change (Afghanistan 2001, Iraq 2003, Libya 2011, Syria, ongoing), the expansion of a perpetual war on terror to Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, and parts of the African continent has opened the gates of political rivalries and open conflict. It has strengthened the resolve of militant Muslim groups in countering the U.S. military presence and its support for political status quo in the name of stability. Mainstream and militant Muslim groups alike have taken full advantage of the chaos to claim their own space as alternative visionaries in matters of politics and governance. The prolongation of American military occupation, political wrangling among competing Iraqi Shi’a and Sunni elites and groups, and al-Qaeda-inspired terrorism initially targeted the U.S. and its allies.

However, Iraqi chaos created the environment for the rise of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who broke off from al-Qaeda, with a deliberate strategy of inflaming sectarian and communal violence. In October 2004, Al-Zarqawi declared himself the “emir” of Al-Qaeda in Iraq. His followers broke from al- Qaeda, renaming itself the Islamic State of Iraq in late 2006, about four months after al-Zarqawi was killed by a targeted American airstrike.[9] This along with the ineptitude of the Shi’a-dominated government in Baghdad and the foreign occupation ensured the rise of extreme ideologies, facilitating the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Daesh has thrived on ultra-conservatism and sectarian killings in the name of its ‘true’ version if Islam ever since, while supported by the very authoritarian regimes responsible for its creation through ideological, financial, and political support, and under the U.S. protection!

The U.S. Mideast policy is short-sighted, inconsistent, and fundamentally ignores the welfare of the peoples in the region in pursuit of pragmatic national interest, or often in the interest of special interest groups and constituencies like the AIPAC, the oil industry, the arms manufacturers and the like, and in defiance of a realistic foreign policy. The gap between the rhetoric and policy encapsulated in selective and inconsistent behavior in matters of human rights and principles remain problematic. If the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 proved Saddam’s butchery and adventurism to the West, he was only praised and supported for his war against the Iranians! The eight years of a bloodbath in Saddam’s war against Iran throughout 1980s and the use of chemical weapons against Iranian troops and Iraq’s Kurdish population and the massacre of Shi’a and Kurdish population in March and April 1991 became only footnotes in the overall strategy of stability, security, and the protection of the State of Israel! Fast-forward to Syria in April 2017 and again April 2018, when the use of chemical weapons is used as justification of two US and allies’ missile attacks on Syrian territory in the long-running civil war since 2011.

The message of such strikes does not escape the sharp mind: U.S. (and the UK and France) can break international law while acting as the judge, the jury, and the enforcer. The outcry over the death of over one hundred victims of both chemical attacks, by still undetermined entities and as horrible as that is, fails to raise outrage over the death of half a million in the Syrian civil war, instigated and illegally intervened by multiple rivaling parties! (Recall, the U.S. presence in Syria without a UNSC mandate or a Syrian government invitation is illegal.) This is while the use of Phosphorous and cluster bombs by Saudi Arabia in Yemen and Israel in Lebanon and Gaza are totally ignored! The war on Yemen lacks any legal foundation and the United States has played a large role in providing weapons, intelligence, targeting expertise, and logistical support to the so-called Saudi-led coalition. The United Nations blacklisted the coalition for killing and injuring 683 children in Yemen and attacking dozens of schools and hospitals in 2016 alone.[10]

In closing, imagine if the U.S. hegemonic moment in the 1990s had invested money and energy in reforming and strengthening international institutions and the meaningful rule of international law and diplomacy in the elevation of human security and liberty. Instead, the first UN intervention in the service of collective security since the Korean War in 1950 saw the restoration of Kuwaiti sovereignty, but the death of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis through the war and the subsequent sanctions led to no attempt at reforming the UN! Similarly, the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, that remains unresolved seventeen years later, could have been averted: an international tribunal could have tried members of al-Qaeda responsible for their crimes against humanity. Later, the fabrication of the Iraqi regime in pursuit of weapons of mass destruction in 2003 led to an illegal war, causing regional and extra-regional interventions and the lives of millions adversely affected! The U.S-led NATO illegal operation in Kosovo in 1999 only emboldened its operation over Libya in 2011 that expectedly proved the initial calls for liberty and freedom in Libya hollow!

While the United States has spent hundreds of billions on perpetual wars, the Europeans at least promoted the cause of integration and cooperation through international mechanisms: The creation of the European Union (1993), the WTO (1995), the Kyoto Protocol (1997), the adoption of common monetary union (1999), and the creation of the International Criminal Court (1998). Conversely, the United States continues to defy a serious and persistent conduct of foreign policy behavior within the framework of international law, institutions, and norms while preaching it loudly: the Bush administration’s withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in June 2002, that led to Russia’s withdrawal from the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START II) in the same year, its refusal, until today, to ratify the Law of the Sea Treaty (LOST), and its June 2017 withdrawal from the mainly voluntary adherence to the 2015 Paris climate agreement only demonstrate a unilateral and detrimental approach to global governance. The United States and the global community can do much better than this.


[1] Stephen M. Walt, “Has Trump Become a Realist?” Foreign Policy, April 17, 2018. http://foreignpolicy.com/2018/04/17/has-trump-become-a-realist/

[2] R. J. Rummel, Death by Government, Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 2009. See also, https://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/NOTE5.HTM

[3] Sami G. Hajjar, “U.S. Military Presence in the Gulf: Challenges and Prospects,” U.S. Army War College, March 2002, http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/pdffiles/pub185.pdf

[4] Jeffrey Frankel and Peter R. Orszag, “Retrospective on American Economic Policy in the 1990s:Taxes, U.S. Economy, Monetary Policy, Federal Budget,” The Brookings Institution, Nov. 2, 2011.

[5] F. Greogry Gause, “The Illogic of Dual Containment”, Foreign Affairs, March/April 1994, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/iran/1994-03-01/illogic-dual-containment

[6] Newsweek Staff, “Shock therapy—With Emphasis on Shock,” 1/12/1992, http://www.newsweek.com/shock-therapy-emphasis-shock-197912 ; Jeffrey Sachs, “What I Did in Russia,” March 14th, 2012, http://jeffsachs.org/2012/03/what-i-did-in-russia

[7] Council on Foreign Relations, “The Bush Administration’s Doctrine of Preemption (and Prevention): When, How, Where,” Foreign Affairs, February 1, 2004, http://www.cfr.org/world/bush-administrations-doctrine-preemption-prevention-/p6799

[8] The Islamic Supreme Council of America, “Islamic Radicalism: Its Wahhabi Roots and Current Implications,”

http://www.islamicsupremecouncil.org/understanding-islam/anti-extremism/7-islamic-radicalism-its-wahhabi-roots-and-current-representation.html

[9] Ted Kemp, “Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is the man who founded ISIS,” CNBC, Thursday, 11 August 2016, http://www.cnbc.com/2016/08/11/who-founded-isis-abu-musb-al-zarqawi-started-the-terror-group.html

[10] Michelle Nichols, “UN blacklists Saudi-led coalition for killing children in Yemen,” Reuters, October 5, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-yemen-security-saudi-un/u-n-blacklists-saudi-led-coalition-for-killing-children-in-yemen-idUSKBN1CA2NI

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Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

CGTN: “UN Security Council agrees to intensify efforts on war-torn Syria”

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