The end of the Iran deal and the beginning of a new age of Regime Change in the Middle East

Introduction

With Donald Trump’s exit from the 2015 JCPOA[1], the US has destroyed a deal that has taken three years of negotiation to reach. This is despite protests from major European nations such as France and Germany and their subsequent attempts to salvage the deal; although it now looks unlikely (Manson and peel, 2018). If the US sought to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, then the deal was functioning as intended; and if they sought to curtail Iran’s regional actions, then the best solution is to keep the deal whist simultaneously applying diplomatic and political pressure. In reality, the US withdrawal from the deal indicates that we may be nearing a new age of US Intervention in the Middle East (Walt, 2018). Throughout this essay, I will explain why I believe Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran deal indicates that the US is moving towards a new age of regime change in the Middle East, and what the motivations are behind this move.

 

Existing rivalries

Iran has been a thorn in the side of US policymakers since the 1979 revolution (Walt and Mearsheimer, 2007: 280). Only a year after the Islamic Republic was declared by Ayatollah Khomeini, the US adopted what would become known as the “Carter doctrine.” This aims to contain the spread of political Islam and anti-US sentiment, and over time, the US has committed more and more forces to contain the Republic (Bacevich, 2013: 181-3). Since then it has been the dream of US policymakers to install a friendly government which will protect its business interests, especially access to Middle Eastern oil reserves. Whilst simultaneously making sure that the country cannot oppose US encroachment and allowing for a reassertion of US dominance over the Middle East (Johnson, 2004: 189). This is in line with the fundamental aim of US foreign policy since 1945 which has always been to preserve US economic and later military hegemony in the region (Chomsky, 2012: 20-4), although it was made explicitly clear by the so-called “Clinton doctrine” (Chomsky,2007: 10).

The continued refusal of Iran to surrender to US style neoliberal capitalism combined with a win for the Moqtada al-Sadr and his Sairoon coalition in Iraq (containing two of the US’s biggest scapegoats in the form of Shiite allegiances and communists) (Beaumont, 2018) has made abundantly clear that the US influence appears to be waning in the middle east. As Chalmers Johnson predicted in his 2004 book the sorrows of empire, as the US becomes increasingly overextended, it will find itself needing to prosecute more and more wars all over the globe to maintain its position. Asserting complete control over the whole Middle East region, would in the long term free up some US forces for other theatres. With the ousting of Saddam and the ongoing conflict in Syria, Iran remains the only regional power which can seriously challenge the US position in the area. At a time where the US has to face rising great powers for the first time since 1991, its immense commitment to the middle east has made the so called “pivot to Asia” next to impossible (Bandow, 2017).

 

History repeating itself?

President Trumps rhetoric regarding Iran has been incredibly aggressive and the administration has placed the blame for all the current woes in the middle east, especially the ongoing Syrian, Libyan and Yemini civil wars, on Iran (Nasr, 2018: 108). While Iran is not without responsibility, particularly in regard to Syria and Yemen where it is backing the Assad government and Shiite militias (Juneau, 2016:656) respectively, the US also has to bear its share of the blame as is also involved in the above conflicts.

Trump’s claims about continued WMD development are all too reminiscent of the days before the Iraq war. Back in 2003, despite a lack of any evidence regarding the presence of WMD’s, the US and UK were so determined to go to war that they decided to act anyway. Claiming that Saddam Hussain possessed WMD’s with fabricated and since disproven evidence (Oborne, 2016: 38-9). The reality in Iraq was the same as what appears to be happening now with regards to Iran, fear of WMD’s and the war on terror are being used to hide the real intentions of the US government. Those intentions being regime change, securing American oil security from the biggest regional rival to US influence and spreading the “American way of life” espoused by neoconservatives (Bacevich, 2013: 194), Almost exactly as played out in Iraq (Oborne, 2016:34). As in Iraq, when a peaceful solution to a crisis like the development of WMD’s is proposed and the demands implemented, all concerned nations should logically relax their rhetoric with regards to the nation developing WMDs. However, as happened first with Iraq and then Iran, once international bodies announce that the “rogue state” has disarmed or ceased production of WMDs, the US government unleashes far more vigorous and alarmist rhetoric to carry its population to war. For example, just months before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the New York times published an article entitled “U.S. SAYS HUSSEIN INTENSIFIES QUEST FOR A-BOMB PARTS.” This was based on information from “unnamed officials within the Bush government” and would be proven wrong shortly after the invasion (Webb, 2017). This is by no means the only example of the media promoting the image of Saddam both as a murderous tyrant and a man bent on destroying the United States. While the first is of course true, Saddam was far more focused on staying in power than in destroying the US and, in addition, posed only a limited regional treat after the 1991 gulf war during which the US massacred his retreating army and killing over 10000 Iraqi soldiers (Tucker, 2010: 718).

In spite of the major issues in the US claims, given that inspectors have verified that Iran has complied with all of the requirements of the deal (Kahan, 2017: 121), the US continues to push this claim on both its own people and the wider international community (Borger, 2017). While the wider international community doubts this, as shown by its continued support of the deal, the US population is more susceptible. Indeed, the US population is, and has been for some time, very easily manipulated and ready to believe what they are told with little question (Bacevich, 2003: 4). Indeed, one suggested strategy of US political elite Is to encourage extremely divisive debates within an acceptable political spectrum, which can give the illusion of discussion whilst people will not interfere with the government’s plans (Chomsky, 2003: 43). With this apparatus in place, all the US government need do is find a Casus Belli which is acceptable to its population, regardless of the underlying truth. This is something the US has done before, be it in Iraq (Oborne, 2016:165-6), Vietnam (Moise, 1996: 204) and even as far back as the Spanish American war of 1898 (Johnson, 2004: 39-43).

 

Neoconservative agenda

Bush(II)’s time in office lead to a revival of Reagan style Neoconservatism in the White House; something described by Bacevich (2013) as “inversed Trotskyism” on account of the desire to spread revolutionary American capitalism around the world. When Bush came into office he set about enacting a great Neoconservative crusade to ensure the preservation and continuation of what he saw as the American way of life. The early 2000’s where an era of great vulnerability in the US government and beneath the illusion of invincibility following the end of the cold war, the American position was still vulnerable. Initially, this was due to concerns over oil price shocks and supply access. Later, enhanced by the events of 9/11 the American populace fully believed that they were under threat from a new great evil, Terrorism. The administration had come to the conclusion that, as Donald Rumsfeld put it “we have a choice [either to] change the way we live, which is unacceptable, or change the way they live, and we…chose the latter” (Bacevich, 2016: 222). Iran sat firmly in the crosshairs of the Bush administration following the defeat of Iraq (Dorrien, 2004: 174), however the deteriorating situation in Iraq and Afghanistan meant that launching an attack would be very difficult, and public opposition to the ongoing conflicts would likely have limited both the ability to act.

Control over Iranian oil has been a long-standing desire of US policy makers, given that it is practically the only OPEC member which doesn’t use only Dollar (USD) for oil purchases. Similar reasons motivated the invasion of Iraq in 2003 which was, at the time, the only OPEC nation to have challenged the petrodollar (Shipley, 2016: 11-3). However, with the shale revolution now fully underway, America has once again become a net exporter of gas and oil and this has reduced its dependence of foreign oil and its vulnerability to shocks. Nevertheless, Iran’s refusal to submit to the will of the US has greatly angered many neoconservatives.

A third aspect of Neoconservative ideology which firmly opposes the Iran deal isn’t grounded in any logic or strategic reasoning, but instead a firm and doctrinal rejection of left wing ideas harking back to the movement origins in the 70’s(Bacevich, 2013: 70-1). This rejection is fundamental and came about as a result of both the movements hatred of communism and in part the influence of evangelicals upon Neoconservative thought (Bacevich, 2013: 123). The JCPOA was drawn up under Democrat president who was despised by the neoconservative right and so it must be rejected outright regardless of the ramifications.

The final aspect of Neoconservative ideology which features clearly in the Trump administration’s decision making, is that of unconditional and actually damaging support for Israel. The impact of both neoconservative preachers (both religious and political) and also the Israeli lobby had prevented any form of détente between the US and Iran, in part because Israel sees Iran as an existential threat. The Israeli government will likely hope for and encourage a US war in Iran in order to guarantee Israeli independence (Walt and Mearsheimer, 2007: 280-305). The Trump administration has done more than any previous administration to aid Israel, for example moving the embassy to Jerusalem and providing US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel (Zilber, 2017).

 

Hawks in the administration

The Idea of a war with Iran is popular among the many hawks in the executive branch. In particular with John Bolton, the current national security advisor, who in 2015 wrote an article in the New York times advocating for the invasion of Iran. The accompanying bout of anti-Iranian posturing, including threatening to sanction those nations who trade with Iran, including close US allies like France and the UK, is probably intended to gain domestic support as well as further reduce the likelihood that the deal will be saved by Europe, Russia, India and China and this aggressive posturing is just the latest in a series of moves which has seriously alienated many nations and lead some to accuse the US of being a rogue state (Burleigh, 2017: 255). Yet another example of this is Trumps approach to the G7 indicates that he intends to disregard the western allies own beliefs and instead make it clear that they are indeed subservient to the will of the USA (Sargent, 2018). His approach clearly favours the sword to the pen, and will likely further the decline of the US’s privileged global position as it continues to prefer using violence and threats to try and secure its position rather than diplomacy, as evidenced by the rapid decline of the state department under Trump (De Luce and Gramer, 2017).

These sanctions intend to provoke the Iranian people to rise up, overthrow their own government and voluntarily adopt neoliberal capitalism (Walt, 2018). However, this idea is simply naive. Iran has been under sanctions for decades with only limited opposition to the Islamic rule and never any serious challenge, as shown by the lack of rebellions within the country. In addition, long-standing anti-US sentiment suggesting that in the event of a regime change, without serious aid whatever regime came to power wouldn’t support the US (Andrews 2015: 34). Furthermore, after over 50 years of sanctions, Cuba hasn’t given in to US demands, and the same can be said for North Korea, Saddam’s Iraq and Gadhafi’s Libya which all have been under US sanctions for decades and if sanctions failed in all of these situations, it is unlikely that continued sanctions against Iran will make any difference (Walt, 2018). Sanctions will however likely strengthen the extreme wing in Iranian politics.

The Trump administration has also demonstrated no fear of accusing others of lying by using terms like “fake news” and “alternative facts” to prevent legitimate criticism and enable It to act as it wishes, all while discrediting any opposition by accusing them of being anti-American. This has alarming similarities to the McCarthyism which comprised much of the 1950’s and was used to silence opposition to the actions of the government by politicians who wouldn’t fall in line. In fact, it could be argued that in many ways, the whole Trump administration bears striking similarities to McCarthy’s time in office (Thompson, 2016: 1-2).

 

Conclusion

In conclusion, the US decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal was motivated by a desire to achieve regime change and eliminate the biggest threat to American hegemony in the Middle east (Iran). It has long been the dream of Neoconservatives to destroy Iran, both to punish them from daring to challenge the greatness of America and to defend Israel from the “existential” threat. The Trump administration has shown a clear rejection of diplomacy both in the Middle East and further afield and the current administration could use Iran’s nuclear program to provide a Casus Belli to invade regardless of the Iranian governments actually nuclear capabilities and will likely, as in Iraq, disregard the thoughts of the wider international community to achieve its goals.

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[1] joint comprehensive plan of action, often referred to as the Iran deal

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