In Tehran they are scratching their heads. It is comical that US President Donald Trump has selected John Bolton to be his National Security Advisor. Before the Iran deal was struck, Bolton wrote a feisty op-ed in the New York Times (March 26, 2015) entitled ‘To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran’. ‘Iran will not negotiate away its nuclear program’, he wrote. Three months later, Iran signed the nuclear deal and then the United Nations unanimously endorsed it. Bolton’s thesis was wrong. But it has not stopped his ascent.
A few months later the Russian armed forces entered Syria, ending any speculation of a major Western assault on either Syria or Iran. The Russians made it clear that they had set up a shield around the region. The new reality created by the Russians did not bother Bolton. He called for an attack on Syria. And on Russia. On March 7, Bolton told Fox News that the United States is moving ‘towards a conflict with Iran and Russia in Syria’. For Bolton, a ‘conflict’ means military action.
Surrounding Trump are now hawks eager for war against Iran and Syria, and perhaps even Russia. Certainly these hawks (Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley) have itchy fingers. War, for them, is the answer to every question.
Iranian diplomats scoff at the threats from Washington. They see it as largely hot air. Would the United States bomb Iran? Would the United States be willing to risk a military confrontation against Russia? How far would this madness go? These are fair questions. They are the kind of questions asked before the illegal US war on Iraq in 2003. Bolton was in support of that war. It destroyed a country and created instability in the region.
Europe Bows to Trump.
Earlier this year, European diplomats indicated that their countries would not be keen to escalate any confrontation with Iran. Europe is eager for Iranian energy. Cut off from Russian and Libyan energy, Europe has come to hope that Iran’s energy resources would flow towards its energy-hungry cities.
But, the sheer irrationality of Trump has befuddled the Europeans. On January 12, Trump told the Europeans that unless they ‘fix the terrible flaws of the Iran nuclear deal’, he would suspend US cooperation with the deal by May 12. Europe did not take him seriously at first. But then, with these new appointments, the mood has darkened amongst the Europeans. They feel that they must appease Trump. This is Munich once again.
At a meeting in Brussels on Wednesday, March 28, twenty-eight European Ambassadors were told by the British, the French and the Germans that something must be done. The document that these three countries presented before the Europeans had nothing to do with the Iran nuclear deal. There is actually nothing in that deal to revise. It is merely bluster from Trump and his neo-conservative hawks that suggests problems. The Europeans can’t find any loose ends. Which is why they turned their attention elsewhere: to Iran’s ballistic missile programme and its involvement in Syria.
Iran has a perfectly legal ballistic missile programme and – on the basis of international law – has been invited to assist the Syrian government inside Syria. There is no violation of international law in either case. One can be unhappy with both Iran’s possession of such missiles and one can be displeased about the nature of the war in Syria. But neither set the bar of illegality high enough to justify sanctions. Some European diplomats agree that this is merely showmanship to please Trump. Which is why the sanctions will merely target fifteen Iranian individuals and companies. They are to be the scapegoats to appease Trump’s rage. That is what the European’s hope.
International relations have become comical. Facts are irrelevant. Discussion is forbidden. Threats are the order of the day. Military action is the first option. This is the kind of attitude put forward by the United States government. The man who whispers in Trump’s ear asks him to bomb North Korea, Iran, Syria and Russia. He does not believe in dialogue, even when the facts suggest that dialogue is not only possible but that it is feasible. None of this will impact upon Bolton. The sound of a bomb against another people pleases him more than the steady motion of a friendly handshake.