The world became a measurably more dangerous place last week with the United States murder of Iranian Major General Qassem Saleimani and at least eight other prominent individuals including the SMU leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhardis.
Since the murder an increasing number of facts have emerged that cast particular insight into the conduct of the United States political leadership. These revelations will have a significant impact on the way in which the United States is viewed, not only in the Middle East, but throughout the wider world.
The first fact to emerge in the aftermath of Saleimani’s killing was that he was on a diplomatic mission (in fact travelling on a diplomatic passport) with the knowledge and presumed approval of the United States.
Saleimani was carrying documents that represented what might be termed tentative peace overtures from the Saudi Arabian government to the government of Iran. This of itself was a startling fact. Suspicion, distrust and animosity between Saudi Arabia and Iran has its origins in the often bitter conflict between the two major sectors of the Islamic faith, Sunni and Shia, of which Saudi Arabia and Iran were respectively two of the principal antagonists.
Saudi Arabia has also been the principal Arab supporter of the United States, and has spent hundreds of billions of dollars on US military equipment. The disastrous Saudi attack on Yemen suggests that the money was not well spent. Despite boastful claims by Trump about the alleged superiority of United States weaponry, a myth exploded in President Putin’s address to the Russian Parliament in March 2018, the Saudis have been singularly unsuccessful in overcoming the desperately poor Yemeni people and their successful resistance despite being heavily outgunned.
One possible reason for the Saudis apparent change of attitude toward Iran is that they have been conned, at massive expense, by United States claims of military supremacy.
It is also highly likely that the Saudis have finally come to accept that the Americans do not have the least interest in Saudi Arabia per se. The sole United States motivation is to retain control of the oil fields.
Further proof of this has been United States conduct in both Syria and Iraq. There is absolutely no foundation in international law for the United States military presence (and that of its tame acolyte Australia) or the British and French presence in Syria.
Despite the nominal withdrawal of some United States forces from Syria they have retained a presence in, and control of, Syria’s main oil producing area. Protestations about “protecting” the oilfields from terrorist control is total nonsense.
The fact that the United States is taking the oil and selling it for its own benefit is conclusive proof that their actions are actually illegal and governed overwhelmingly by what has always been the principal United States motive in the Middle East, control of the oil.
The same is even truer of Iraq whose vastly greater oil resources have been a principal United States target since at least the sanctions that commenced in 1991 and were accentuated by the 2003 invasion and occupation of that country.
Again, the utter contempt the United States has for international law is seen in their reaction to the recent ( 5 January 2020) resolution of the Iraqi Parliament that all foreign troops must leave their country. The Americans (and the Australians) simply ignored the resolution, further evidence of the utter contempt their respective governments have for international law except where it can be interpreted to support their interests.
Trump added insult to injury by demanding that the Iraqis pay his government billions of dollars for the United States military bases the US built in Iraq following the illegal invasion of 2003. It is further evidence of the utter contempt western governments in general and the United States in particular, show for international law when it does not suit their interests.
The 2003 invasion (like that of Afghanistan 17 months earlier} was based on a series of massive lies. Yet not a single political leader of the invading and occupying powers has been held legally accountable for the huge destruction and millions of dead and displaced people in Iraq following the invasion. The same is true of the politicians who authorised the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan.
Insult has been added to injury with the manifestly false claims that the western invaders are “fighting terrorism” and similar claims when the evidence that the so-called terrorist groups are instruments of United States foreign policy and have, in their various guises, been so for decades.
At the time of writing there were two further developments of potentially enormous magnitude. The first was the announcement that two separate attacks had been made upon United States military assets in Iraq by Iranian rockets. The Iranians seem to have ignored the valuable maxim that revenge is a meal best eaten cold. The ramifications of this attack are likely to be enormous.
Among the various threats that Trump has been tweeting about, much to the chagrin of at least some of his military advisers, is that he will attack Iranian targets including those of historical and cultural significance. It is a measure of how profoundly insane American foreign policy has become that the manifest illegality of Trump’s threats were not immediately greeted by denouncement from his own political and military elites.
The second development, also of enormous geopolitical significance, was the announcement that China has offered military assistance to Iraq. If accepted by the Iraqi government then this will also have ramifications of huge geopolitical significance. Iraq is a potential link in China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a game changing development that has enormous ramifications for China’s relationship with the Middle East.
It would also potentially place Chinese forces in direct military conflict with United States forces if the latter follow their historical pattern and only depart somewhere when forced to do so, as in Vietnam in 1975.
The situation obviously remains highly volatile. Which of several options actually prove to be the case is difficult to judge at this point. The stupidity of the United States actions, including but not limited to Soleimani’s assassination, makes confident predictions about the next steps almost impossible. Irrational and unpredictable behaviour seems to be the modus operandi of the current United States government.
Whether calmer heads in the United States Deep State will prevail is unpredictable. At the present time it is frankly impossible to predict the course of events with any confidence. It is always valuable to bear in mind that the Chinese phrase “to live in interesting times” is actually a curse.
James O’Neill, an Australian-based Barrister at Law, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.