Moon of Alabama — May 21, 2018
The Trump administration made it perfectly clear today that it wants regime change in Iran by whatever means it has.
In a well-promoted speech at the Heritage Foundation Secretary of State Pompeo laid out twelve demands towards Iran. He threatened the “strongest sanctions in history” if those demands were not fulfilled.
But the demands do not make sense. They only demonstrate the incompetence of the Trump administration. The means the Trump administration laid out to achieve its aims are not realistic and, even if they were implementable, insufficient to achieve the desired results.
Iran is asked to stop all uranium enrichment. Stopping enrichment is a no-go for Iran. The program has wide support in Iranian politics as it is seen as an attribute of its sovereignty.
Pompeo demands that Iran closes its heavy water reactor. Iran cannot close its heavy water reactor. It does not have one. The one it was building in Arak was disabled under the nuclear agreement (JCPOA). Concrete was poured into its core under the supervision of IAEA inspectors. How can the Secretary of State of the United States make such a fact-free demand in a prepared speech?
Another demand is that Iran ends its support for the Palestinian resistance. This is also a no-go for Iran as long as the Zionist occupation of Palestine continues. There is a demand that Iran does not develop “nuclear capable” missiles. Iran had already committed to that under the JCPOA Trump killed. Another demand is that Iran pulls back all troops from Syria, and ends all interference in Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Together these demands ask for a wholesale change of Iran’s national character and policies. It is apparently supposed to become Lichtenstein.
The Trump administration has no way to achieve that goal.
With painstaking work, the Obama administration managed to get much of the world to agree to sanctions on Iran. It was possible because the other countries trusted Obama’s assurances that he would keep his side of the deal and seriously negotiate. International unity and trust was necessary to achieve the nuclear agreement.
Now Trump wants much more but he has no united international front behind him. No one trusts his word. The Europeans are enraged that Trump s threatens them with secondary sanctions if they stick to the agreement they signed and continue to deal with Iran. While they may eventually fold and to some extent stop dealing with Iran, they will also try to circumvent those unilateral U.S. sanctions.
Neither China nor Russia nor India will stop doing business with Iran. For them, the unilateral U.S. sanctions are opening new markets. The French oil company Total announced that it will stop the development of Iran’s South Pars gas field to avoid secondary U.S. sanctions on its other interests. China said “thank you” and took over the work. Russia will likewise jump in where it can. Its agricultural industry will deliver whatever foodstuff Iran wants and needs. It will continue to sell weapons to Iran. China, India and others will continue to buy Iranian oil.
The Trump administration will cause some economic pain. It will also make the U.S. and Europe weaker and Russia and China stronger. The threat of secondary sanctions will eventually lead to the creation of a sanction-secure parallel global economy. The SWIFT banking information exchange which routes international payments between banks can be replaced by country to country systems that do not depend on a sanctionable institutions. The U.S. dollar as a universal exchange medium can be avoided by using other currencies or barter. The nonsensical use of economic and financial sanction will end up destroying the U.S. ability to use them as a tool of foreign policy.
The Pompeo speech will unite the people in Iran. The moderate neoliberals around the current president Rouhani will join the nationalist hardliners in their resistance. The demands go way beyond what any Iranian government could concede. An Iran in which the will of its people counts will never agree to them.
The only way the Trump administration could possibly reach its aims is by regime change. But regime change has already been tried in Iran and it failed. The “green revolution” was strongly supported by Obama. But it was easily derailed and failed. Various assassination campaigns within Iran did not change its policies. Iran’s size and geography make a direct military campaign like in Libya impossible. Iran can retaliate against any strike by hitting U.S. interests in the Gulf.
The U.S. can and likely will continue to attack Iranian forces and interests in Syria and elsewhere. Its military will hassle Iran in the Gulf. The CIA will try to fuel internal Iranian unrest. Mounting sanctions will damage the Iranian economy. But none of this can change Iran’s national spirit as expressed in its foreign policy.
A year or two from now the Trump administration will find that its sanction campaign failed. There will be a push for a direct military attack on Iran. But plans for such an attack were also made under George W. Bush. Back then the Pentagon advised that such a war would cause it very serious losses and was still likely to fail. I, therefore, doubt that it will ever happen.
What else then is there that the Trump administration can do when its announced Plan A has failed?