Who would have thought that the entire geopolitical reality we live in, as well as the patently partisan impeachment procedure, could be explained through Trump’s policy on Iran? Russia, EU, Israel-Palestine, Latin America, the U.S. and impeachment – yes, all roads lead to the Islamic Republic.
While America’s chattering class focusses on impeachment, President Trump is pivoting off his NAFTA revision and some success in forging a China deal, and turns his focus on the EU.
January 24th saw millions of Iraqi citizens turn out in the streets to force the U.S. to end their occupation. This is only compounded by the fact that neighboring Iran likes this too.
While the end of the U.S. presence in Iraq is an Iranian policy regardless of whether conservatives or reformers like Rouhani are in power, Trump’s policies have had the effect of boosting the profile of Iran’s conservatives.
But behind Trump’s policy on Iran we can see a dynamic network of interdependent global relationships, ones which had been built up for successive administrations and came to characterize this generation’s iteration of Trans-Atlanticism. Japan was away from the old agreement as the U.S. increasingly abandoned trilateralism, and brought in China instead.
The China Vector
So what happened? China was admitted to the World Trade Organization in 2001 as the result of pushes by then president Clinton. What would later become the ‘reformed’ Clinton Foundation received tremendous ‘philanthropy’ from Chinese donors in what was inarguably a quid pro quo. While this was good for China and ultimately worked against the very same ‘globalization’ that neo-liberal administrations like Clinton’s had otherwise worked for, what we saw instead was the framework for an emerging multipolarity.
Greed, individualism, quarterly thinking, and political games – China successfully worked all of America’s structural and ideological weaknesses to its own advantage, and why shouldn’t they have? It’s only rational statecraft.
Favoring Red China as a hedge against the USSR and to ‘split’ global communism, however, had been the Kissinger policy put into practice during the Nixon administration. It predates the Clintons by a generation.
At this time, supporting economically backwards China was more damaging to the USSR as an adversary than it detracted from U.S. policy. The whole overarching concept was the containment of Eurasia, or the ‘center’ of the geopolitical chessboard, a view that has predominated the field and U.S. policy for over a century. This involves pressuring the center from the periphery, and causing a split in that center – between USSR and China. After that success, it would only be a matter of a few decades before the entire USSR would come apart at its seams.
Trump’s strategy has been something like the reverse. Now, the general plan was to strengthen Russia’s position against China. That Russia and Europe are coming closer together is a matter of fact probably beyond U.S. policy to control, more to the point that the USD is no longer the world’s sole reserve currency. But if the EU-Russia bloc can see China as a problem and not a solution, then Trump’s ideas are bearing fruit.
So why not strengthen the USSR at the expense of China back then? Because then the USSR was the stronger entity, and also it would mean pushing the rest of Europe into the USSR – the opposite of U.S. policy and one of the reasons it had originally been supportive of Germany’s Third Reich. In strengthening the USSR, it would ultimately be able to quickly switch course, take Europe and also start supporting China again, and would no longer require U.S. support. America’s worst nightmare – a united Eurasia – would come into being that much faster.
Writing on England’s geopolitical domination of France and Germany, E.H Carr, the grandfather of modern International Relations, explained that English policy had been to promote a strong Germany policy against France until Germany was too strong. Then, conversely, to promote a strong France policy against Germany until the same. This is the basic logic behind Trump’s frustrated agenda on Russia, the EU, and China – a gambit where all roads lead to Iran. Trump’s real commitment has been that the only military target of his administration would be Iran, something that helped him win support of Israel at a time when Tel Aviv and Washington were at odds over the Trans-Atlantic push to bring Iran into the sphere of west-friendly nations.
Trump’s faced tremendous backlash, his policies muted, dulled, partly aborted, and he faces impeachment – really over these policies. The odd thing about relationships such as U.S.-China, is that they take on a life of their own. Relationships are built, bureaucracies begin to form, and policy furthers itself based on its own forward inertia. They push forward long after their expiration date. The meaning of it changes entirely.
This much is critical, for as China’s power increased tremendously in part due to U.S. favoritism on trade, it no longer needed to maintain an anti-Russian position in order to maintain the forward inertia built up through its American channels as well. By the start of the 21st century, it was now China gaming the U.S. As a result of interdependence, China had a free hand to also work to building solid relations with Putin’s Russia.
Latin America, Iraq, the EU, and a Sovereign Europe
On the EU side, the U.S. had engaged in significant ‘subsidizing’ of the European economy after WWII. Though with the U.S. effectively being Europe’s army, it really meant that Europe couldn’t have an army or a foreign policy of its own. With the U.S.’s main banks tied into Europe’s banking structures, Europe conducted trade using the USD, despite building its own currency which launched in 1999 as the Euro. Before the Euro, there was no way for any European enterprise to succeed without it also strengthening the USD.
But it strengthened the USD so artificially that the U.S. became a goods importing rather than exporting country. Americans could buy more despite fewer dollars earned, as rising un-and-underemployment steadily rose to the crisis proportions we see today. Credit bubbles were created to simulate ‘off-setting’ this imbalance, meanwhile creating a psychology of debt servitude and forced-labor into the service economy. This would create anti-immigrant sentiments, and also create some support for wars for oil if it meant cheaper gas at the pump. It would also create sentiments for single-payer healthcare, lower interest rate home-loans, and a call for a higher minimum wage.
But the launching of the Euro in 1999 had instantly felt effects. It allowed for the ‘Pink Tide’ sparked by Chavez’s Bolivarian Socialist Venezuela. It allowed Iraq, then under USD sanctions, to announce it would be holding reserves in the Euro and ditching the dollar. Democrat Bill Clinton responded by bombing. That set the stage of the second Iraq war, which folks whose memories still serve them, was opposed vehemently by all the major European countries. This was not due to altruism, but because Ba’athist Iraq under Hussein was switching to Euro reserves.
Just as U.S. policy on China eventually led to a China that could work with the U.S. while also building towards a larger Eurasian integration, U.S. policy on Europe led to an EU that had a free hand to support anti-U.S. (‘imperialist’) movements in Latin America. Rather than a Monroe Doctrine where the U.S. played middle-man to potential European investors, the EU’s direct relationship with the Pink Tide states relegated to the U.S. to working through an increasingly independent EU just to make deals in its ‘own back yard’.
How it all ties together
While American strategists were divided on China and Russia, Latin America was a unifying point. Obama policy on Latin America was carried forward by Trump. Obama made fragile promises to the EU on the scope. Trump did not.
Trump’s policies take this position to the next logical step – pressure on the EU to ‘voluntarily’ take a step back and include the U.S. in deals. This means backing out of supporting the Pink Tide, something we saw hints of surrounding the Guaido fiasco.
To do this, means to threaten a trade war with Europe, tariffs etc., to force them to an amicable position.
What Iran was clear on, as it was the Swiss investment sector that initially backed the once-named Persian Pipeline deal, is that the EU needed an alternative reliable supply besides Russia. The European economy has been relatively dependent on Soviet, now Russian, gas since the 1960’s. This dependency has only grown over the years, and American substitutes are simply much too costly.
EU policy to normalize its relationship with Iran was a Trans-Atlantic policy which would kill two birds with one stone. It would liberalize Iran and bring it out of the ‘Axis of Resistance’, as increasingly the fate of its own elites – backing moderate elements of the ‘Green Movement’ and reformism – would be tied to European capital vectors. It would also weaken Russia’s position, which was critical in America’s ‘Eurasian containment policy’, a policy inherited from men long-dead who did their thinking under significantly different technological and historical conditions.
Trump’s anti-Iran policy has more to do with opposing the Trans-Atlantic policy of the prior administration’s JCPOA, which he views as promoting the EU’s over America’s, than it does to open conflict with Iran. This aligns with Trump’s anti-NATO rhetoric, where ‘Europe pays its fair share’. Ending the JCPOA also makes Israel very happy, because Israel is content to keep Iran from having its more reformist and west-friendly wings in power. Israel wants Iran to maintain its position as part of a resistance Axis that relies in part on China and Russia. It seems Israel thinks this is the best way to maintain some control over Iraqi resources. This is part of its revised, non-territorial and rather instead economy- based ‘Yinon Plan’. Israel aims to pursue its dream of an Israel-Cyprus-Greece-Italy energy pipeline to the detriment of Turkey and Iran.
The Trans-Atlantic plan with the JCPOA was to build up reformism in Iran, by breaking it out of the Russian sphere through integrating a portion of Iran’s elites into the EU economy. That’s one less ally for Russia, and one more competitor on gas. While Rouhani’s administration in Iran exists to placate parts of the reformism fueling the Green movement, such pro-systemic reformism cannot exist forever in a dynamic scenario where a segment of Iran’s elites would be increasingly tied to the EU economy. Eventually we would find soft-power institutions like western NGO’s operating in Iran, westernizing its culture – this would be the real undoing of the Iranian revolution. This was the EU-Obama plan.
In this strange way, Trump and Israel are preserving the spirit and meaning of the Iranian revolution even though it comes at the criminal expense of Iran’s most vulnerable people. But where Israel gets mere formal recognition over a Palestine which it already effectively controls, from a U.S. unable to project real force in the region, the inability for Trump to deliver a real Russia-EU rapprochement in exchange for Russia abandoning Iran, has led to Israel losing the real prizes – Iraq and Syria to Iran.
All of this involves much more intrigue than a superficial overview, as this, can succinctly express. Changing U.S. policy cannot be accomplished in one or two administrations, but the strategic steps to do so can be set up such that the general tendencies to continue on the path have more gravity than not.
None of this is to say that Trump has been successful. Half-measures and half-successes can have opposite effects. The real successes for Trump have been in Latin America and Iran, where these very important pieces have been removed from the EU. All of this may be, however, slowing down the inevitable.
China is much better positioned to carry out the fourth industrial revolution, whereas the U.S. would need to significantly reapportion its military budget towards a state-planned economy in that direction. Barring that and despite Trump’s half-successes, the 21st Century looks increasingly Chinese and looking forward appears decidedly Islamic and conservative. Trump will survive impeachment and is likely to win re-election. But it remains to be seen if Trump’s geopolitical realignment was overly ambitious given the entrenched positions of America’s oligarchy. That elite is determined to go down with the ship, and threatens much of the world if it gets a hold of the nuclear keys.