09.08.2018 Author: James ONeill

The Latest US Sanctions Point to a Declining World Superpower

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On Monday 6th of August the United States imposed a fresh set of sanctions on Iran. These are intended as a prelude to even stronger sanctions to take effect in November. The clearly stated intention is to break the Iranian governments will to resist American demands, and to cause such domestic pain that the Iranian people Will rise in revolt against their government and bring about the long sought after (by the Americans) regime change.

These policies I’m not new. The first ‘regime change’ operation in Iran that occurred in 1953 when a combined CIA-MI6 operation toppled the democratically elected government of Mohammad Mossadegh and replaced it with the brutal rule of the Shah.

The Shah in turn was overthrown in the Islamic revolution of 1979 and ever since it has been a central goal of the United States government, driven in no small part by the violent and racist regime in Tel Aviv, to reverse that Revolution and reinstall a government in Tehran that (a) is pliable to United States wishes; and (b) represents no challenge to Israel’s quest for regional dominance.

In a recent and widely quoted article, the American journalist Eric Margolis (28 July 2018) wrote about “The Coming War Against Iran.” The article has been widely, and in my view correctly, criticized, as for example in a comprehensive analysis by the Saker (3 August 2018).

Margolis is correct in suggesting that the United States’ weight of numbers in missiles and bombers could wreak significant damage on Iran’s infrastructure and cause huge civilian casualties. That however, is not the point. There is absolutely no justification under the international law for such an attack. While on their past record it would be naïve to dismiss the possibility of the Americans, or one of the regional stooges, from creating a false flag event to provide an ostensible excuse for the attack, there is now enough well-founded cynicism about such matters to make it an extremely risky proposition. The political fallout for the Americans would also be substantial.

The damage that could be inflicted would not only be reputational. The Iranians do not have nuclear weapons such as deterred the United States from attacking North Korea, notwithstanding similar overblown and infantile rhetoric that preceded an actual meeting between their respective Presidents. There was at least the appearance of a wish to work constructively toward a resolution of long standing issues. The post summit demands and claims of the Americans suggest that it would be unwise to assume any immediate likelihood of actual progress.

The Iranians do however, have a large arsenal of missiles ranging from the Safir missile with a range of 350km to the Soumar cruise missile with a range of up to 3000 km. That means that there is no country within the Middle East, with their American bases, that are not within range. According to a fact sheet produced by the American Security Project (US Military Bases and Facilities in the Middle East, June 2018) there are literally dozens of US military facilities and thousands of military personnel that would be vulnerable. These include the US naval forces central command headquarters in Bahrain, base to the US 5th fleet, and the biggest US base in the Middle East at Al Udeid in Qatar.

The Israeli nuclear weapons facility at Dimona, a strike against that could have potentially devastating environmental consequences, is also within range. It is always interesting to contrast the coverage in the western media of Iran’s non-existent nuclear weapons program (almost always presented as an existential threat) and the way that same media tip toes around Israel’s actual stockpile of nuclear weapons; its non-participation in the nuclear non-proliferation treaty; and its resolute refusal to allow any inspection of its nuclear facilities. It is a measure of hypocrisy not lost upon the Iranians.

Even the potential that the Iranians have to block the Straits of Hormuz, a strategic waterway through which more than 18 million barrels of oil pass each day, would have profound consequences. In the event of an actual outbreak of hostilities, no insurance company in the world would provide cover for any tankers traversing those waters. Some analysts have predicted oil going to US$200 a barrel, a boon to oil producing countries such as Russia and Venezuela not reliant upon the Straits of Hormuz, but disastrous for nearly everyone else.

The painstakingly negotiated joint comprehensive plan of action (JCPOA) by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany and Iran and the EU in a representative capacity, unanimously ratified in 2015 by the UNSC, was unilaterally abrogated by the United States in May 2018.

That unilateral withdrawal, in the face of multiple certifications by the Atomic Energy Agency that Iran was in full compliance with its obligations under the JCPOA, did more than confirm the Russian view that the United States was “not agreement capable.” It was merely the latest in a long history of US abrogations of multilateral treaties, including the 2002 withdrawal from the ABM treaty, and the 2017 withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord.

The reputational damage to the United States done by this constant breaking of agreements entered into by the other parties in good faith should not be underestimated.

Trump followed his tirade of threats against Iran with an offer on 30 July to meet them “any time they want to” without preconditions. This was met with understandable skepticism by Iran’s President Rouhani, who pointedly observed that the US administration is not able to prove its trustworthiness for any negotiations after its withdrawal from the JCPOA and a number of other international treaties.

In an interview with Iranian TV on 6 August 2018 Rouhani said:

“We are always in favour of diplomacy and talks. But talks need honestly. Negotiations with sanctions doesn’t make sense.”

There is however, a further and very important reason why Iran will not be attacked and that the illegal US sanctions, while causing undoubted pain in Iran, will ultimately fail in their objectives.

That reason relates to Iran’s geographical location and it’s corresponding centrality to the most important geopolitical transformation currently underway. Iran is a crucial component of China’s BRI. It is an associate member of the SCO, a key partner of the International North South Transportation Corridor, and has recently signed trade agreements with the EAEU.

Both Russia and China have made significant capital investment commitments, both actual and promised. China has refused point-blank to participate in the United States’ sanctions war against Iran, which is clearly sees as a strategic asset, and not only because it takes a significant and growing percentage of Iran’s oil exports.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova pointed out that:

We have never supported and will not support the policy of unilateral sanctions, as we are convinced of their illegitimacy and are determined to move forward in our multifaceted cooperation with Iran.”

Iran is also not without friends in the region. Relations with Turkey are better now than for a very long time. Turkey has also made significant moves to distance itself from the United States, most recently at the BRICS summit in South Africa where it made clear its desire to become a member of that body, which of itself currently accounts for more than 40% of world trade.

Iran also enjoys good relations with Iraq and Syria, playing an important role in the latter’s war where again in contradistinction with the United States it is an invited participant within the parameters of international law.

Iran has also entered into negotiations Qatar for the joint development of the giant South Pars gas field that is shared between them.

The latest round of sanctions that the United States has imposed are not restricted to Iran. The US administration has threatened that they will sanction any country that trades with Iran. This necessarily includes countries that are supposedly friends and allies of the United States, such as members of the European Union, Canada and Australia.

On one level, those threats are illustrative of the extraordinary hubris that characterizes US foreign policy: a determination that others will bend to US dictates or suffer the consequences. As Andrei Martyanov points out, America’s geopolitical “theory” is both highly unimaginative and rigid. Its main fallacy is an assumption that the United States is eternal and ever omnipotent. Both are false notions (Losing Military Supremacy, Clarity Press 2018).

The latest US sanctions perfectly encapsulate this weakness. Iran will undoubtedly suffer some pain. The European countries, despite their protestations to the contrary, will probably succumb to US pressure to a greater or lesser extent. But the longer-term consequences will be far reaching.

The US has been further exposed yet again as not only “not agreement capable”, but a nation prepared to sacrifice friend and foe alike in a vain attempt to stem the inexorable transfer of geopolitical power east to Eurasia, with China, Iran and Russia as three of is centrepoints in a new world multipolarity.

James O’Neill, an Australian-based Barrister at Law, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.


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