Like two adjoining tectonic plates, the German and the Slavic peoples have been set to grinding again by the Great Rump's decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear arms agreement. Recall that two world wars started there: first with the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in June 1914; and second, with the Nazi German invasion of Poland in the fall of 1939. The decision the Great Rump's, our president, made against the advice of many in the US government and heads of state of nations also involved in the agreement, coupled with His insistence that other signatories join Him in sanctions against Iran, has put Germany, in particular, in its old quandary: East or West? With extensive trade with both Iran and strong Iranian ally, Russia, its economic interests would suggest ignoring the Great Rump's decision. But where do German political interests lie?
It may be the most important question of the day. If not, at least considering the German situation will deepen our understanding of how great the damage is that the Great Rump is doing to the cause of peace and how much closer He is bringing us to war.
It seems that to understand the meaning of the Great Rump's presidency requires some study in two crises: foreign affairs and criminal law. -- blj
Has the Trump administration thought any of this through? The crisis is beginning to feel very much like that in the buildup to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Some of the same figures, such as the national security adviser John Bolton, are the very same neoconservatives who believed that invading and occupying Iraq would be an easy business. They sound as if they are bringing the same blend of arrogance and ignorance to their coming confrontation with Iran. -- Patrick Cockburn, Counterpunch, May 11, 2018
Trump’s Iran Debacle: What Will Germany and Russia Do?
It falls to Germany to save the Iran nuclear deal and try to prevent a devastating new Middle East War, argues Daniel Lazare.
By Daniel Lazare Special to Consortium News
In the wake of Donald Trump’s thoroughly unsurprising decision to scuttle the Iran nuclear accord, two countries that may be most in the hot seat are Germany and Russia. The big question now is whether their mutual discomfort leads them to find common cause.
Angela Merkel’s plight is especially painful. Not only are Germany’s extensive business links with Iran at risk thanks to Trump’s decision to re-apply sanctions, but the German chancellor’s political fortunes have taken a beating thanks to years of American incompetence in the Middle East.
In Libya, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton devoted two weeks during the 2011 Arab Spring to persuading Qatar to join the anti-Gaddafi coalition, only to stand by and watch as the oil-rich emirate seized the opportunity to distribute some $400 million to murderous Salafist rebels spreading anarchy from one end of the country to the other. The result was a failed state that soon turned into a jumping-off point for hundreds of thousands of desperate refugees making their way to Germany and other parts of the European Union.
Remarkably, Clinton did the same thing a few months later in Syria by teaming up with Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and other Arab gulf states to fund what would soon become a full-scale Islamist invasion. The upshot: more murder and mayhem, more refugees, and more terrorism when ISIS – funded by the Saudis and Qataris according to no less an authority than Clinton herself – decided to extend its jihad to Paris, Brussels, Nice, Manchester, Barcelona, and Berlin starting in November 2015. As if that weren’t enough, Washington irritated its German partners by opposing the Nord Stream II natural gas pipeline, a Russo-German project headed by ex-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, and then, under Trump, by pulling out of the Paris climate accords last June.
A bruised and battered Merkel thus saw her share of the vote shrink by more than twenty percent in last September’s German federal
election while the anti-immigrant Alternative für Deutschland saw its portion more than double. Now, Trump’s decision to dump the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the Iran nuclear agreement is formally known, is making matters much, much worse. First, Israel took advantage of the move to launch its biggest attack on Syria since the 1973 Yom Kippur War, raising prospects that Middle East chaos may be poised for yet another upsurge. Then US Ambassador Richard Grenell showed what America really thinks of its German partners by tweeting: “As @realDonaldTrump said, US sanctions will target critical sectors of Iran’s economy. German companies doing business in Iran should wind down operations immediately.”
Grenell, a former Fox News commentator, sounded like an all-too-typical American boss barking an order at an unpaid intern. Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn described the tweet as an “impertinence” while Andrea Nahles, leader of the center-left German Social Democrats, said: “It’s not my task to teach people about the fine art of diplomacy, especially not the US ambassador. But he does appear to need some tutoring.”
Quite right. But Germany is not the only one feeling the pain – Russia is too. It is allied with Iran in support of Syria’s embattled president Bashar al-Assad, yet has somehow managed to maintain good relations with Israel. This is why Putin invited Benjamin Netanyahu to be his personal guest at this week’s May 9 Victory Day celebrations in Moscow where the Israeli prime minister joined Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic in laying a wreath on the Soviet Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. When Putin paid tribute to the Soviet troops “who saved Europe and the world from slavery, from the horrors of the Holocaust,” by defeating Nazi Germany (quote begins at 2:00), there was no doubt as to whom he was addressing.
But the celebration also featured a traditional Red Square military parade featuring not only unmanned robo-tanks and Sukhoi Su-57 stealth fighters, but mobile batteries of anti-aircraft missiles. Less than twelve hours later, Netanyahu showed his thanks by destroying at least five Russian-made anti-aircraft batteries as part of the assault on Syria. According to the Israeli military, Israel notified Russia of the impending attack via “deconfliction” procedures in place since September 2015 – which means that Russia more or less assented to the destruction of its own defense systems.
It’s Up to Germany
This can’t go on, especially with Israel intervening ever more heavily on the side of pro-Al Qaeda rebels whom Russia, Iran, and Syria are trying to repel. The more the battle intensifies, the more impossible Putin’s position will become.
The man needs back-up, but from where? The answer lies in the other signatories to the JCPOA – China, the UK, France, and Germany. But the first is preoccupied with events in the Far East, the second is in political disarray, while the third is a joke thanks to the preening and arrogant Emmanuel Macron. That leaves Germany. If it provided Russia with even a modicum of support, the upshot could be a major shift in the way the deadly game of Middle East politics is played.
Germany has real clout with regard to the Jewish state. It is Israel’s biggest trading partner in Europe and, after the US, its second largest trading partner overall. It is an important cultural and scientific partner, while Berlin, in one of history’s more delectable ironies, is now home to one of Israel’s largest expatriate communities, some 15,000 Jews and Arabs who find life in the German capital freer and more vibrant than back home and, as a consequence, have peppered it with Hebrew-language kindergartens, a Hebrew library, a Hebrew literary magazine, a Hanukkah market, and Iranian-Israeli techno parties.
The same goes for Germany and Iran. As Gary Leupp recently pointed out in Counterpunch,Germany comprises sixty percent of EU investment in the Islamic state where it sells machinery, metals, chemicals, and agricultural products. With Daimler recently signing an agreement with Iranian Khodro to produce Mercedes-Benz motor vehicles, its investments are currently increasing at a rate of around about twenty-five percent per year.
Amid inflation, a currency crisis, and a growing strike wave, Iran is grateful for such business and desperate for more. So when Germany talks, it listens. Syria, much of which resembles postwar Berlin after a half-dozen years of imperialist assault, would listen as well if Germany gave it half a chance. Indeed, it would be so grateful for the slightest olive branch that Damascenes would no doubt take to the streets in celebration.
Walking on Eierschalen
So a joint Russo-German diplomatic offensive could provide the basis for a genuine realignment. Needless to say, there are a thousand and one reasons why this won’t occur. Germany walks on eggshells when it comes to Israel for obvious historical reasons and is therefore reluctant to do anything that might anger the Jewish state. It routinely defers to the US, which midwifed the German Federal Republic in 1949 and provided it with a veneer of political legitimacy in the ensuing decades. Public intellectuals like Jürgen Habermas have made careers out of arguing that Germany’s future lies in deeper and deeper integration with the liberal west, while NATO and the EU insure a deepening western orientation as well.
If Germany were to turn in the other direction, the protests would be deafening not only in Washington, Paris, and London, but in Berlin. They would be even more so in Poland, the Ukraine, and the Baltics where local nationalists, many leaning in an increasingly fascist direction, have come to rely on unbroken western support.
It would be a dangerous leap into the unknown on the part of a country that couldn’t be more risk averse. But Germany may have no choice. Trump is nuts, American power is receding more rapidly than anyone would have thought possible two or three years ago, while western liberalism is crumbling as well. Hardliners are in control in Washington where Republicans and Democrats compete to see who can be more obsequious to Israel and more hostile to all things Russian. The same goes for Tel Aviv and Tehran where, thanks to Trump, the hardliners are equally in the saddle.
If there are two countries that know what can happen when the crazies are in control, it’s Russia and Germany. But now that history has placed them in the same boat as it approaches the cataracts, Putin, for one, is rowing madly. Will Merkel lend a hand with the oars?
Daniel Lazare is the author of The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution Is Paralyzing Democracy (Harcourt Brace, 1996) and other books about American politics. He has written for a wide variety of publications from The Nation to Le Monde Diplomatique, and his articles about the Middle East, terrorism, Eastern Europe, and other topics appear regularly on such websites as Jacobin and The American Conservative.
How Will Europe React to Trump’s Dumping the Iran Deal?
by GARY LEUPP
People are asking how Iran will respond to Trump’s announcement about U.S.withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action signed by Iran, the U.S., UK, France, Germany, China and Russia in July 2015. I wonder how Germany, the world’s fourth largest economy, will react. Last month in her summit with Trump, Angela Merkel reiterated German strong support for the agreement. I wonder how France will respond. Emmanuel Macron, who also had a summit with Trump last month, reiterated French ongoing support. I wonder how Britain will respond. Theresa May has called the agreement “vital” and British foreign minister Boris Johnson is in Washington urging continuation of the deal.
Germany and France are among Iran’s top ten trade partners (despite the sanctions). They want to expand trade with and investment in the world’s 27th largest economy. With a huge territory, well-educated population of 80 million, rich natural resources and receptiveness to foreign capital, Iran looks like an attractive investment opportunity.
Germany comprises 60% of EU investment in Iran. It sells machinery, metals, chemicals and vehicles, and agricultural products and has a substantial trade surplus with the country. Its investments have been increasing by about 25% annually in recent years. German capitalists have been looking forward to this day. In January the Iranian Khodro auto manufacturer signed an agreement with Daimler to produce Mercedes-Benz cars in Iran beginning this year. These are the kind of deals the U.S. now wants to thwart by discouraging their international financing and applying sanctions of those who defy its geopolitical objectives. One can expect mounting resentment to the U.S. in Germany if the U.S. is seen as consistently demanding that German capitalists defer to U.S. policy in Iran and elsewhere.
Friction over Iran policy occurs as the German economy remains hurt by the application of sanctions against Russia. These were demanded by Washington following the events of 2014, supposedly in response to Russian aggression in Ukraine. (In fact, a U.S.-backed coup designed to produce regime change, NATO membership, the expulsion of Russia from its historic naval bases in Crimea and their acquisition by NATO provoked a predictable Russian response, whereupon Washington howled in protest, applied sanctions and demanded its western partners do so too.) A study completed last last year states that the sanctions had cost Russia some $ 65 billion, while counter-sanctions had cost the U.S. and Europe over $ 50 billion. 40% of the latter were German losses.
Many prominent Germans oppose the sanctions. Former chancellor Gerhard Schröder (Merkel’s predecessor for seven years) opposes the sanctions (and indeed says he can understand the reasons for the Russian seizure of Crimea). The minister presidents of Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia have both called for an end to the sanctions, which are particularly damaging to their economies. They are widely understood to have been adopted by the EU under U.S. pressure (aided by the UK—so long as it was a member—as Washington’s main agent within the EU) steering the union towards unwanted confrontation with Russia at U.S. behest.
Meanwhile multiple imperialist wars in the Middle East are flooding Europe, especially Germany, with refugees. It’s as though the U.S. has demanded that Europe handle the human cost of its reckless, disastrous interventions in adjoining regions. (Why can’t we just bomb them out, then you folks take them in? Or if not, build yourself some walls, and if the Muslims don’t go away, lock ’em up!)
As the U.S. seriously opposes trade (“free trade”) between Iran and Europe, demanding renewed “secondary sanctions,” U.S.-European frictions already at an unprecedented high (given such idiotic decisions as leaving the Kyoto Accord and recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, to say nothing of the general disgust with Trump as U.S. president), general inter-Atlantic tensions will likely rise. Trump is already abysmally unpopular in Europe, and most Europeans for the first time tell pollsters that their view of the U.S. is more negative than positive.
Italy and Greece buy Iranian crude oil and also support the JCPA. In fact, everybody does, except for Binyamin Netanyahu (who has Trump tied around his finger), Trump, the U.S. Congress, and ferociously anti-Shiite Sunni Arab monarchs, most notably King Salman of Saudi Arabia. It was affirmed by the United Nations by the UNSC resolution 2231 (2015). If the U.S. successfully sabotages it (not that this will be possible, as Condi Rice has recently remarked) Europe will be pissed. So will Russia and China, who are deepening ties with Iran. China is the first or second top trading partner with Iran, rivaling the UAE. It has plans to integrate Iran into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
In withdrawing from the agreement, Trump outrages the European corporations hoping to profit from massive new opportunities. He annoys Russia and China, but their dealings are less susceptible to U.S. obstruction. He annoys India, another top Iranian trade partner, although Trump has cultivated Prime Minister Moti so far. And Japan, which buys Iranian crude (and up until recent years was Iran’s #1 trade partner, before being overtaken by China).
Much of the world thinks: “That air-head of a U.S. president is breaking with the entire world in order to cater to that lying Netanyahu’s bellicose anti-Iran (regime change) agenda. This is not good for free trade or world peace.” Tehran will benefit from global sympathy, viewed (again) as a victim of U.S. bullying. What Trump does on Iran could crack the Atlantic alliance. That would be one positive result. It is time for the “Shock and Awe” unilateralism of the post-Cold War era to give way to a multilateral world in which vicious figures like Trump and John Bolton can no longer call the shots.
Gary Leupp is Professor of History at Tufts University, and holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan; Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
“Iraq is at the muzzle of the gun,” says Ali Allawi, Iraqi historian and former minister, speaking of the increased turmoil expected to follow the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement.
It is not only Iraq which is in danger: an escalating confrontation between the US and Iran will affect the whole region, but its greatest impact will be in Syria and Iraq where wars have long been raging and Washington and Tehran are old rivals.
The US will rely at first on the reimposition of economic sanctions on Iran to force it to comply with US demands and hopefully bring about regime change in Tehran. But, if this does not work – and it will almost certainly fail – then there will be a growing risk of military action either carried out directly by the US or through “green-lighting” Israeli airstrikes.
Iran is for the moment reacting cautiously to Trump’s denunciation of the 2015 accord, portraying itself as the victim of arbitrary action and seeking to spur the EU states into taking practical steps to resist imposing draconian sanctions along the lines of those that were imposed before 2015. Even if this does not happen, it will be important for Iran that the Europeans should only grudgingly cooperate with the US in enforcing sanctions, particularly on Iranian oil exports.
A problem for the US is that Trump has made the Iranian nuclear deal negotiated by Barack Obama the issue on which he will test the limits of US power which he had pledged to expand. But the agreement is internationally popular and is seen to be working effectively in denying Iran the ability to develop a nuclear device. The US is therefore becoming self-isolated, with full support only from Israel and Saudi Arabia, in the first weeks of a crisis that could go on for years.
Already Trump’s determination to sink the deal forever has involved marginalising and humiliating France, Germany and UK. They had pleaded for it to be preserved but made more palatable to the US by separate agreements on ballistic missiles and other issues. Trump seems to have enjoyed the procession of European leaders from Emmanuel Macron to Boris Johnson asking for compromise, only to go away empty-handed.
If the European leaders now go along with sanctioning Iran, there will be even less reason for Trump to take their views seriously in future. They have already seen their attempt to appease him on climate change fail to produce anything, so they either have to accept that they have less influence and a reduced role in the world or make a serious attempt to preserve the nuclear accord.
But even if they do so, the US will be able to put intense economic pressure on Iran and its trading partners. Banks and companies are terrified of incurring the ire of the US Treasury and facing massive fines for even an unintentional breach of sanctions. Even if EU governments want their companies to go on investing in Iran, they may consider the risk too great.
Sanctions are a powerful but blunt instrument, take a long time to work and usually do not produce the political dividends expected by those who impose them. The Iranian rial may fall and hyperinflation return to 40 per cent, but this will most likely not be enough if Iran returns to enriching uranium. It has already said that it is not going to keep abiding by its part of the nuclear agreement if it is not getting any of the economic benefits promised.
What will the US do then? This is the crucial question for the Middle East and the rest of the world. Trump has just torpedoed any diplomatic solution to what he sees as the threat of Iran developing a nuclear bomb. The only alternative is a military response, but this would have to be more than a few days of intense airstrikes. Anything less than total war would not win for Trump the kind of results he says he wants.
Iran may be weak economically, but politically and militarily it is in a strong position in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, the countries likely to provide the main arena for the coming crisis. In all three places it is Iran’s fellow Shia who are in control and see the US as an ally of the Sunni states in what is in large part a sectarian Shia-Sunni conflict.
Has the Trump administration thought any of this through? The crisis is beginning to feel very much like that in the buildup to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Some of the same figures, such as the national security adviser John Bolton, are the very same neoconservatives who believed that invading and occupying Iraq would be an easy business. They sound as if they are bringing the same blend of arrogance and ignorance to their coming confrontation with Iran.