[Picture via Iran: Art & Architecture of Persia]
Those on the Left who opposed Trump from the very beginning but who supported Hillary may finally speak out against a potential war, since this time it will be carried out, if it does, by a Republican. Not that their words or protests will change much.
To those on the Left who oppose Trump and opposed Obama’s wars as well, Trump is Bush on steroids. They never gave Trump a chance to begin with, and from their perspective, this is but a confirmation of the sinister plans as well as power of the neocon establishment. Nor did they ever bother to understand the mindset of Trump, Stephen K. Bannon and of Trump’s massive backbone of white working-class supporters. Many Leftists believe that all right-wingers are the same. All are ignorant, uninformed or outright dumb, and are to be hated or mocked with equal intensity. This is perhaps one of the reasons why the Democrat candidate, Hillary Clinton, has lost.
But if the neocons are in power just as they had been for decades, why is Trump seeking improved relations with Russia in stark contrast to the policies of President Obama? Why is he easing the sanctions? Why is he silent on Ukraine? And why is Trump not calling for the removal of President Assad?
Clearly, the new administration is operating from a new mindset. Even as it is learning on the way and jumping from one declaration to the next, arguing that Trump is pursuing business as usual misses the mark.
What is the mindset and coherent logic behind the Trump administration?
For a start, a complete break-up with every Obama policy.
Obama’s agreement with Iran on its right for nuclear power, is perceived as a weakness and a bad deal from the perspective of Trump. If Obama was ‘weak’ on Iran, Trump will be ‘strong.’ The administration is pursuing a reactionary policy, but one that makes sense considering the fact that it is seeking to start a new page in American history. The key question is whether words would be followed by actions.
However, from the start, Trump’s proposals were contradictory. He called for the US and Russia to fight together against ISIS in Syria and expressed some degree of support for President Assad, under whose protection minorities have been safe and religious liberty has been guarded. At the same time, he has spoken out against Iran, although Iran has been leading the fight against Sunni terrorism in Syria. Hezbollah, supported by Iran and contrary to the ignorant comments of US politicians, has been liberating Christian churches in the country.
The Trump administration is looking to recreate America as a Judeo-Christian civilization and eradicate radical Islam. That much can be gained by the record of Bannon’s writings and interviews. But President Trump also said in his inaugural address that “it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first” and that “We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone.” If Trump meant what he said, then this means two things. One, that even if US goes after ISIS in Syria, President Assad will remain in power therefore assuring stability and the sovereignty of Syria will be respected. Second, that if Iran is seeking to protect itself but is not seeking harm for its neighbors, it should not be perceived as a threat and therefore should not be attacked.
But does Iran seek to protect itself?
Considering the 8 year-long war of aggression by Iraq’s President Saddam Hussein against Iran and the support of Washington to the former – that involved Saddam’s use of chemical weapons,- the CIA’s involvement in the 1953 coup that removed Iran’s legitimate Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadeq, and constant US efforts to sabotage and undermine Iran since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, it is not too hard to understand why Iran would be very concerned about its security and believes it can only rely on itself for protection. Moreover, the Iranian Shiites’ consciousness is deeply ingrained by centuries of persecution by the Sunni majority and fears not to stand on its own, be the price as it may be.
Critics of Iran may say it intends to destroy Israel and is a threat to the US. Inflammatory comments by Iranian leaders regarding a country with whom it shares no borders have not been helpful in convincing many that Iran does not plan to attack Israel. At the same time, Israel has been assassinating Iranian scientists with the goal of jeopardizing the Iranian nuclear program since it does not wish to have a country in the region that can threaten it. This, despite the fact that Iran has legitimate concerns for self-defense and Israel itself holds many nuclear weapons according to estimates.
Why then is Trump turning against Iran? Do countries not have a right to their way of life as long as they do not attack others?
One explanation may be ignorance. From the perspective of some US leaders, history began fairly recently, and the US government seems to be outright ignorant of Israel’s security needs or the fact that Iran is a proud heir of the ancient Persian civilization, home to various museums and historical architectural gems (all of whom would be destroyed in a case of a war), whose contemporary population is highly educated and cultured and where other religious minorities are highly respected. There are many ancient churches in Iran but not a single church in Saudi Arabia. Why then is Saudi Arabia a US ally and Iran is deemed an enemy? It is no coincidence that there have been no terrorist attacks in the US by Iranians.
Another explanation is Stephen Bannon. Bannon, coming from a family of Irish union-member working – class Democrats, served in the US Navy during the Carter administration era. On a US Navy ship in the South Arabian sea, believing he is serving his country, Bannon watched the US Embassy hostage crisis in Iran and was humiliated by Carter’s speedily capitulation. Bannon went on to support Ronald Reagan, breaking away from his family’s tradition of voting Democrat. “I wasn’t political until I got into the service and saw how badly Jimmy Carter f—ed things up. I became a huge Reagan admirer,” Bannon said. But if Bannon is truly an anti- globalist, a case can be made to him on how Iran’s actions at the time were defensive, not offensive.
Bannon also seems to believe that Islam is a problem since it is expansionary. But Iran is a stabilizing force in the region and a bulwark against Sunni Wahabi expansionism. Iran has not been attacking its neighbors and its Shiite Islam should not be confused with Sunni Islam not only since the former is non-expansionary but also since Iran’s highly educated society with its rich arts, poetry, cinema and literature scene is on a whole other level compared to nearly anything found in most Arab countries. If Islamic expansion is indeed the problem, then Saudi Arabia is the obvious target due to its immense financial support for Wahabi schools and terrorism all over the world.
Then there’s Israel. Israel-Firsters in the US are wildly advocating the US will attack Iran, although Iran poses no threat to the US and although the invasion of Iraq, which they also supported, ended in a catastrophe. At the same time, Iran has not been wise by calling for the destruction of Israel, whether it is interpreted literally or symbolically. Jews, like Iranians, have suffered centuries of persecution and are understandably very concerned about their continued survival as a tiny minority in the Middle East.
But, for now, it is also reasonable to argue that Trump has embarked on a hard-line policy towards Iran, in order to reverse what he perceives as Obama’s weakness and the “bad deal” he gave the American people in the US-Iranian nuclear deal. Trump is trying to be everything that Obama was not.
While Iran’s security needs are understandable, it has not necessarily acted wisely in relation to Trump.
Following Trump’s visa ban on seven Middle Eastern countries, including Iran, the country took a hard-line by reciprocating with a visa ban on Americans. This in contrast to UAE and Saudi Arabia who wisely realized there is a new sheriff in town and that there is no reason to be on his bad side right away. The two Arab countries expressed an understanding for the visa ban. In addition, Iran went on to test a ballistic missile precisely at a time when the Trump administration is seeking to be respected (and feared) around the world. Iran would have been wiser perhaps to learn from Brazil who decided to continue with its plans to liberalize visa requirements for Americans although the US has been doing the opposite. Or from Russia that decided not expel the US diplomats from its territory following Obama’s expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats. If Trump wants to start a new page with his relations to the world, it makes sense to give it a try.
If President Trump’s inauguration speech is to be taken seriously, what does this mean for Iran?
Trump said that the US would collaborate with Russia in and destroy ISIS. This would secure Syria as a secular Syrian republic where the rich historical archeological riches and Christian heritage of the country are preserved and protected and put an end to the refugee crisis. If safety is restored to Syria, the Syrian refugees now in Europe can return home. By the logic of President Trump’s inaugural address, Syria has a full right to its sovereignty as long as it does not attack other countries.
If Sunni Wahabism is to be contained, Iran is essential. If victory in Syria is to be achieved, Iran is needed. If ancient cultures are to be preserved from the threat of Sunni fanatics who destroy historical treasures, Iran is a must.
Success in Syria and the Middle East at large must involve Iran since the country is a home to a rich Persian civilization and has been combating Wahabi terrorism.
If the US is serious on its non-aggressive intentions, it should work to recognize Iran’s right to full sovereignty and develop full diplomatic relations following the removal of sanctions. If the US seeks not to impose itself on others, the US would recognize the Islamic Revolution as the legitimate aspiration of the Iranian people and would not seek to impose western-style democracy on an ancient people subject to a history of colonial intervention. In this scenario, and following Trump’s understanding of the need for spheres of influence, Iran would seek to protect its interests only inasmuch as it comes to expanding its sphere of influence in Shiite-dominated regions.
The largest obstacle for a US-Iran alliance against ISIS is Israel.
Left-wing critics of the Trump administration are convinced that due to Trump’s steadfast support of Israel a war with Iran is in the works. There is truth to this but things are not as simple as it seems. This is since support for Israel need not mean support for a war in Iran. Leading Israeli pundits have been very worried following the tentative rapprochement between the US and Russia that President Putin will reach a deal with President Trump, allowing for Syria to remain a unified state with President Assad at its helm and therefore compromising Israeli security interests which are a balkanized Syria and a physically-isolated Hezbollah. Trump has threatened Iran but he also has displayed willingness to collaborate with Russia in Syria. This means that Trump may be open to persuasion on the part of Russia.
Perhaps more significantly, Prime Minister Netanyahu is currently under heavy corruption charges and his resignation may be inevitable this time according to members of his own Likud party. Netanyahu has been sidelined from the right. A majority of government members are pushing him to annex large parts of the West Bank (leading settler leaders have been calling for referendums in Palestinian villages on the question of them becoming part of Israel and accepting residency permits and even full citizenship including the right to vote), while Netanyahu prefers to stick to the unpopular status-quo of militarily occupying the West Bank. Netanyahu prefers to use the credit he has with Trump to convince him to attack Iran, while most of his government prefers to use the same credit to forget Iran and annex the West Bank.
Regardless of these important factors, support for Israel need not mean support for regime change in Syria and an attack on Iran. If one is to draw ramifications from the Judeo-Christian America-First ideology adhered to by Bannon, Trump can support Israel’s annexation of the West Bank due to his support for the Jewish state and can support President Assad in Syria as he is a protector of the Christian heritage of the country and since his removal will most inevitably result in chaos and a Sunni Wahabi takeover and the ensuing slaughter of all minorities.
However, at the same time, Israel-First lobbyists are currently working actively within the Trump administration to wage an unnecessary, costly and counterproductive war against Iran.
A key factor that motivates their war efforts, besides the desire to maintain Israel’s security superior in the region, is Iran’s support for Muslim Sunni armed groups outside of its sphere of influence against Israel.
For years, Iran has been seeking to lead the Muslim world by supporting Sunni groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Palestine, supporting the initial groups seeking to topple Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi, and supporting Kosovo’s plans to break away from Serbia. All these efforts and others have still not changed the fact that Iran is still widely disliked and distrusted in the Sunni world. However, Iran keeps futilely trying, therefore remaining loyal to its tenant of faith of standing up to oppression and fighting for justice, even when making such choices have been unwise politically, resulted in horrific failures (Libya for example) or has evoked the wrath and concern of the US and Israel.
If the US were to cooperate with Russia in Syria, a grand deal would be necessary. This would involve Iran and Israel.
Iran would have to cease to engage attempts to attack Israel in the West Bank while Russia would have to guarantee Israel will not invade South Lebanon.
Israel would have to cease continued attempts to sanction and sabotage Iran.
Iran has close economic relations with Turkey even though it has supported the Islamic State in the past and represses the Kurds. By this same logic, Iran could develop diplomatic relations with Israel with the goal of combating together Sunni extremism and removing the possibility of an attack of one country against the other. The late Fred Halliday whose expertise on Iran is well-known, wrote that contrary to popular misconceptions regarding Iran’s supposed ideological foreign policy, “the constitution of Iran commits it to supporting struggling Muslims around the world, but where a clear state interest clashes with Islamic solidarity, it is state interests which prevail. Hence Irans support for India over Kashmir, for Beijing against the Muslims in Sinjan, for Russia over Chechnya, and for Armenia against Shiite Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh.”
Do we stand at a time when Iran’s state interests entail reconciliation with the US and even with Israel with the goal of defeating ISIS and Saudi Arabia and therefore stabilizing the Middle East and providing peace and security to its residents?
On the other side of the world, a war would Iran makes no sense from an America-First perspective since it would not be a war for self-defense and would be very costly in all levels. Nor does it make sense from a Judeo-Christian perspective since Iran is home to large Christian and Jewish minorities and is non-expansionary. The strategic goal of the US should be the eradication of ISIS. Its defeat could be a lot easier with the help of Iran. If President Trump manages to use his supposed friendship with President Putin to secure Iranian-Israeli peace, he will make history. Such a step would not be easy, but neither would it be impossible. In any case, it is far easier to form peace between Iran and Israel as they don’t share a border and which their conflict has been going on only since 1979 than peace between the Palestinians and Israelis who have been at a conflict for over a century.
President Trump can opt for the defeat of ISIS and peace between Iran and Israel, and cleansing the Middle East from the Wahabi vermin, or he can pursue an unnecessary and costly war with Iran. The choice is his. As a man of action and a man of his word, this is an opportunity that should not be missed.