Remember those two cult movies that pushed Arnold Schwarzenegger into a Holywood start – Conan the Barbarian, and its sequel – Conan the Destroyer? Especially, the second movie poster with a muscular Arnold wielding a huge sword, ready to slay Thoth-Amon the wizard, and the mighty Dagoth, the monster? Trump seems to be the contemporary Conan, using a political sword and attempting to destroy perceived failures/issues.
Will Trump’s destruction spree create more problems for the US and the future Presidents, than resolving any of the existing regional and global issues?
Demonizing Iran: Reading between Trump’s Lines
The reasons for Trump’s exit are simple. In his own words, “The Iran deal is defective at its core. If we do nothing, we know exactly what will happen. In just a short period of time, the world’s leading state sponsor of terror will be on the cusp of acquiring the world’s most dangerous weapons.” Two points are clear in Trump’s basic position – that Iran is world’s leading state sponsor of terror, and it is closer to acquiring nuclear weapons. Trump’s reasoning based on the above is clear: how can a State, that sponsors global terrorism be allowed to have nuclear weapons?
But how accurate are the above two reasoning? Or, is there a sinister prejudice that Trump is hiding under a principle of terror state acquiring nuclear weapons? It appears so. Outside the US, there is a general understanding that Iran has been complying to the nuclear deal. There were international inspections; those countries that are part of the nuclear deal from EU are convinced about Iran's compliance.
Is Iran sponsoring terrorism and destabilizing the Middle East? It is ironical that the US has to complain about destabilizing the Middle East and supporting terrorism. From Syria to Afghanistan and from al Qaeda to the Afghan Mujahideen, there is enough evidence to prove who is the real culprit to peace and stability in Middle East.
Saudi Arabia on the west and Pakistan in the east of this region have done enough damage to destabilize the Middle East than any other country. And both countries are closer to Washington. Pakistan, even has a fully matured nuclear weapons programme, unlike Iran.
So, Trump's position that Iran is the only destabilizing force in the Middle East is unacceptable. US, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Turkey – all these countries have played a substantial role in destabilizing the region. US leads the pack.
Trump’s Plan-B in Iran is worse than Plan-A: There won’t be a “Persian Spring”
Is there a Plan-B for Trump on Iran? Yes. And will it work? No.
In his own words, “As we exit the Iran deal, we will be working with our allies to find a real, comprehensive, and lasting solution to the Iranian nuclear threat. This will include efforts to eliminate the threat of Iran’s ballistic missile program; to stop its terrorist activities worldwide; and to block its menacing activity across the Middle East. In the meantime, powerful sanctions will go into full effect. If the regime continues its nuclear aspirations, it will have bigger problems than it has ever had before.”
Trump seems to believe that the Iranians under sanctions will rise up and overthrow their regime and enter into a new agreement with the US. His message to the “long-suffering” people of Iran is the following: “The people of America stand with you. It has now been almost 40 years since this dictatorship seized power and took a proud nation hostage. Most of Iran’s 80 million citizens have sadly never known an Iran that prospered in peace with its neighbors and commanded the admiration of the world… (the leaders of Iran) are going to want to make a new and lasting deal, one that benefits all of Iran and the Iranian people. When they do, I am ready, willing, and able. Great things can happen for Iran, and great things can happen for the peace and stability that we all want in the Middle East.”
Trump’s Plan-B is less likely to occur. There won't be a Persian Spring in Iran. An Iranian youth movement against the regime, similar to the Arab Spring in the Middle East-North Africa (MENA) region, but supporting the US can only be a Trump dream.
Iran presents a complex picture. There have been economic hardships, thanks to the sanction regime. But, Iran withstood the sanctions bravely.
Iran, by no standard is a model democracy, but in the Middle East, no other country have a better record in holding elections or providing a platform for the young generation. Israel is the only exception. The regime in Iran during the initial decades was dictatorial after the 1979 revolution. However, during the last decade, Iran has come a long way. The regime has cautiously opened up, allowing popular debate and representation. Iran is no Saudi Arabia, or even Qatar. Outside Israel in the Middle East, Iran has a better track record on governance process.
If there are new sanctions, leading to popular protests, instead of a “Spring”, it would be winter. The reformist leaders, including the present one Rouhani, have systematically side-lined the hardliners within Iran during the recent years. The withdrawal of US from the nuclear deal is likely to provide the much-needed fuel for the hard-liners who will start a campaign against engaging the world.
Plan-B: What about rest of the world?
The success of Trump’s Plan-B to bring Iran down on its knees will also depend on how the rest of EU and Russia along with China will respond to Trump’s exit from the Iran nuclear deal. The nuclear deal with Iran was not a bilateral agreement signed by the US; it includes five other countries - UK, France, Germany, Russia and China.
Will they go with Trump's Plan-B, or stick with Plan-A? There have been enough inputs from the EU countries at the highest level advising Trump not to break the deal.
EU's decision is likely to be measured on Iran. Two issues will lead Europe’s response to Trump’s exit from the nuclear deal. First, the foreign policy objective. Besides Obama, the leaders of Europe have invested substantially in the Iran nuclear deal. In fact, it was the European leadership, which led the dialogue with Iran, which pressurized Tehran to agree to the agreement; the dialogue didn’t come in a day. It was a painstaking process. Will Europe want to see the deal collapse, because Trump wants to be a destroyer and withdraw from international agreements? Less likely.
Second, outside the State, thanks to the nuclear deal, the European industry has heavily invested in Iran. From the energy major Total in France to automobile giant Volkswagen in Germany – the European industry has signed multiple agreements in Iran. Though the Trump administration has instructed these European industries to close down, this is less likely to happen.
Response from two more countries, which have signed the deal with Iran along with the US – Russia and China - will shape Trump's mad path. Russia’s political linkages with Iran have been well documented and needs no special mention here. The latest news from China a few days ago – about a cargo train carrying more 1100 tons of Sunflower seeds from Inner Mongolia to Tehran – clearly is a message from Beijing. Trump’s exit means less to China’s economic plans involving Iran.
Finally, how will Iran respond to Trump’s accusations? And what will Tehran make of Trump wanting to withdraw from Iran’s nuclear deal, while wanting to strike one with North Korea? Under the leadership of Kim Jong-Un, North Korea went ahead with nuclear and missile tests; it developed ICBMs and threatened to reach New York. After calling him a madman, Trump today wants to deal with Kim. Why? Will Iran also start believing that the only way to deal with the US is to go ahead with its nuclear and missile programmes?
US and Global Agreements: Trump’s Destruction Spree
Is there a method to Trump’s madness?
Those who are critical of Trump seem to ignore his uniform approach. He has been consistently destroying major agreements that the US was either part of, or has invested substantially. One could also see a remarkable consistency in Trump trying to undo Obama’s major foreign policy decisions and achievements.
Not that Obama had many foreign policy achievements. But some of those issues/treaties that Obama administration invested their energy were substantial. The Trans-Pacific Partnership, Climate Change and new Middle East – were some of those major foreign policy investments of Obama administration.
Trump is systematically going after the above. So, it is just not the nuclear deal with Iran.
So, where will this lead the US towards? Is Trump trying to revive the Monroe doctrine, in making “America great again”? Will the US survive Trump?
Back to Schwarzenegger, Conan the destroyer. After finishing his conquests and slaying all those mythical beings, in the end, Conan does not stay with the Kingdom. He leaves to pursue his adventures. Later, Trump may also leave to pursue his business interests. Not only the successive American Presidents will have to deal with what Trump has undone, but also, the rest of us.
Welcome to the world of Trump, the Destroyer.