Among the many self-flattering epithets it gives itself, the US has always claimed to be the “leader of the free world”. It’s a rather patronizing notion that America views itself as a selfless protector and benefactor of its European allies and others. This fairytale depiction of the world is coming to a rude awakening as American power buffets against the reality of a multi-polar world.
Less a world leader and more like a blood-sucking leech on international relations.
We got a clear view of the contradiction in America’s narcissistic mythology with US President Donald Trump’s announcement that he was disavowing the multinational nuclear accord with Iran last Friday.
Trump didn’t axe American participation in the deal just yet, but he has put it on notice that he or the US Congress may terminate the accord over the next two months. How’s that for high-handed arrogance?
However, there was near-unanimous push back around the world to Trump’s disparagement of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which was originally signed in July 2015 by the US, Russia, China, European Union and Iran. All the signatories uniformly rebuked Trump’s attempt to undermine the deal, which is supposed to lift international economic sanctions off Iran in return for curbs on Iran’s nuclear program.
While Trump accused Iran of “multiple violations” of the accord, all the other stakeholders asserted satisfaction that Iran has in fact fully implemented its obligations to restrict uranium enrichment and weaponization of its nuclear program. The UN watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, also responded to Trump’s claims by reaffirming that eight consecutive monitoring reports have found Iran to be fully compliant with the JCPOA.
Britain, France and Germany, as well as Russia and China, have firmly said that the nuclear deal – which took two years to negotiate during Barack Obama’s tenure in the White House – is not for renegotiation. A point which was reiterated too by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
The deal is also written into international law, having been ratified unanimously by the UN Security Council back in 2015. In a stinging admonishment to Washington, the EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Morgherini said: “This deal is not a bilateral agreement ... The international community, and the European Union with it, has clearly indicated that the deal is, and will, continue to be in place.”
Russia also denounced Trump’s over-the-top aggressive rhetoric towards Iran. The American president was almost foaming at the mouth when he labelled Iran “the world’s top terror sponsor” and accused Tehran of fueling conflict across the Middle East. Moscow said such rhetoric was unacceptable and inappropriate. Iran dismissed Trump’s accusations as baseless lies.
Evidently, Russia, China and the Europeans do not share America’s debased caricature of Iran. And who in their right mind would? The hackneyed American allegations against Iran are – as usual – not backed up with any evidence. They rely on bombastic assertion repeated ad nauseam. It is especially ironic and odious for Washington to accuse others of sponsoring terrorism, given the litany of illegal wars it has launched across the Middle East and the steadily emerging evidence of US links to terror groups in Syria’s six-year war.
Thus, the commitment by all the signatories – except Washington – to the Iranian nuclear deal is a stunning rejection of Trump’s aggressive stance towards Iran.
Ahead of Trump’s anticipated disavowal of the JCPOA on Friday, Germany’s foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel warned that such a move would “drive a wedge between Europe and the US”. Significantly, Gabriel said that Trump’s spurning of the accord was “driving the EU towards Russia and China”.
France’s finance minister Bruno Le Maire also warned the US not to interfere in Europe’s growing commercial ties with Iran. He was quoted as saying: “The US must not appoint itself as the world’s police man”.
Trump’s hostility towards the Iran nuclear treaty has created dissent within his own cabinet. His secretary of state Rex Tillerson and the defense secretary James Mattis are among those who were urging Trump to uphold the JCPOA. In the Congress, there are also many opponents to Trump’s desire to axe the deal, even among his Republican party. It remains to be seen if the Congress will call for new sanctions on Iran over the next 60 days, as Trump has requested. If Congress does, it will mean the US crashing out of the accord.
In theory, of course, the EU, Russia and China can continue to uphold the nuclear accord with Iran and conduct international trade and investment without the Americans. Russia and China have signed major oil and gas pacts with Iran over the past two years.
The European states have also lined up huge commercial projects and investments with Tehran in sectors of energy, engineering and infrastructure. Germany and France in particular have seen their exports to Iran soar since the signing of the JCPOA. With Iran’s 80 million population and vast oil and gas reserves, the Persian nation represents lucrative opportunities for Europe, given too the geographical proximity.
But the US is still able to exert tremendous power over international banking to the extent that it is having a chilling effect on other countries doing business with Iran. The European states are particularly vulnerable to American pressure.
In a Bloomberg report, it headlined: ‘Trump's Iran Decision Throws Uncertainty Into Business Plans’.
The report goes on: “Since a landmark nuclear agreement freed Iran’s economy from crippling economic sanctions, investors eager to tap the country’s energy reserves and its 80 million consumers have waited for signs it was safe to enter the market in full force… Donald Trump is about to signal that they should keep waiting.”
The US view of Iran is so warped – much of it from relentless propaganda demonizing the Islamic Republic – that it is evidently incapable of normalizing relations as it is obligated to do under the multilateral nuclear deal. Trump ironically accused Iran of “not living up to the spirit of the accord” when it is the US that has worked assiduously to undermine it.
Since Trump took office, he has reportedly cancelled all export licenses to Iran. His administration and the Congress have slapped more “secondary sanctions” on Iran over allegations that it is destabilizing the Middle East and for its support to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad.
These bilateral US sanctions inevitably have a deterrent effect on other nations doing business with Iran out of fear that they may be penalized in the future. Long-term investments over several years are prone to prohibitive risks due to the uncertainty about what Washington’s capricious policy towards Iran will be.
America’s unilateral, hegemonic conduct – accentuated under Trump – is rapidly alienating other nations. This president seems to operate a “withdrawal doctrine”, as Richard Haass, president of the DC-based Council on Foreign Relations, commented. Trump’s contempt for multilateral obligations peaked with his announcement back in June on backing out of the Paris Climate Accord. It has peaked again with his repudiation of the UN-backed Iran nuclear deal.
What is becoming increasingly apparent is that US unilateralism is all about pandering to its own selfish interests. Trump’s administration has hit Russia with more sanctions and has warned that European energy companies involved in developing the Nord Stream 2 gas project with Russia’s Gazprom will also be sanctioned. The flagrant agenda here is for the US to replace Russia as Europe’s gas supplier, selling its own more expensive fuel to Europe.
Likewise US hostility and sanctions on Iran are not just limited to its own perverse policies. Washington also wants to block others from also doing legitimate business and trade with Iran. For the Europeans struggling to boost their flagging economies, the impediments being thrown in their way by the US over Iran are another source of resentment towards American unilateralism.
This is not the idealized conduct of the self-proclaimed “leader of the free world”. America is increasingly seen as the “bleeder” – a declining power which wants to suck the economic lifeblood from others in order to sustain itself. This untenable American unipolar craving is inevitably hastening the reality of a multipolar world, as Europeans in particular realize that they can no longer afford to prop up America’s economic obesity.