Three by Pepe Escobar on Iran, China, and Russia
My melancholic contemplation of the Sixth Extinction (got as far as the White Nose Syndrome wiping out bats) has been rudely interrupted this week by the saber rattling flatulence emanating from the White House. I turned as this site has often turned in the past to Pepe Escobar, the former Roving Eye of Asia Times and the best correspondent in English on subjects like the New Silk Road and a region he calls “Pipelinestan.”
I found three articles that provided enough perspective to restore my sense of history. Lately, whenever I find myself watching a Trump clip, I think if Winston Smith in 1984 discarding bits of history down the Memory Hole, one of Orwell’s most chilling symbols.
Besides, Pepe always has the best nicknames for his targets.
PEPE ESCOBAR: Iran Squeezed Between Imperial Psychos and European Cowards
Berlin, Paris and London assumed Tehran could not afford to leave the JCPOA even if it was not receiving any of the promised economic rewards. Now the EU3 are facing the hour of truth, writes Pepe Escobar.\
Special to Consortium News
The Trump administration unilaterally cheated on the 2015 multinational, UN-endorsed JCPOA, or Iran nuclear deal. It has imposed an illegal, worldwide financial and energy blockade on all forms of trade with Iran — from oil and gas to exports of iron, steel, aluminum and copper. For all practical purposes, and in any geopolitical scenario, this is a declaration of war.
Successive U.S. governments have ripped international law to shreds; ditching the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is only the latest instance. It doesn’t matter that Tehran has fulfilled all its commitments to the deal — according to UN inspectors. Once the leadership in Tehran concluded that the U.S. sanctions tsunami is fiercer than ever, it decided to begin partially withdrawing from the deal.
President Hassan Rouhani was adamant: Iran has not left the JCPOA — yet. Tehran’s measures are legal under the framework of articles 26 and 36 of the JCPOA — and European officials were informed in advance. But it’s clear the EU3 (Germany, France, Britain), who have always insisted on their vocal support for the JCPOA, must work seriously to alleviate the U.S.-provoked economic disaster to Iran if Tehran has any incentive to continue to abide by the agreement.
Protests in front of former U.S. embassy in Tehran after U.S. decision to withdraw from JCPOA, May 8, 2018. (Hossein Mersadi via Wikimedia Commons)
Russia and China — the pillars of Eurasia integration, to which Iran adheres — support Tehran’s position. This was discussed extensively in Moscow by Sergey Lavrov and Iran’s Javad Zarif, perhaps the world’s top two foreign ministers.
At the same time, it’s politically naïve to believe the Europeans will suddenly grow a backbone.
The comfortable assumption in Berlin, Paris and London was that Tehran could not afford to leave the JCPOA even if it was not receiving any of the economic rewards promised in 2015. Yet now the EU3 are facing the hour of truth.
It’s hard to expect anything meaningful coming from an enfeebled Chancellor Angela Merkel, with Berlin already targeted by Washington’s trade ire; a Brexit-paralyzed Britain; and a massively unpopular President Emmanuel Macron in France already threatening to impose his own sanctions if Tehran does not agree to limit its ballistic missile program. Tehran will never allow inspections over its thriving missile industry – and this was never part of the JCPOA to begin with.
As it stands, the EU3 are not buying Iranian oil. They are meekly abiding by the U.S. banking and oil/gas sanctions — which are now extended to manufacturing sectors — and doing nothing to protect Iran from its nasty effects. The implementation of INSTEX, the SWIFT alternative for trade with Iran, is languishing. Besides expressing lame “regrets” about the U.S. sanctions, the EU3 are de facto playing the game on the side of U.S., Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates; and by extension against Russia, China and Iran.
Rise of the Imperial Psychos
As Tehran de facto kicked the ball to the European court, both EU3 options are dire. To meaningfully defend the JCPOA will invite a ballistic reaction from the Trump administration. To behave like poodles — the most probable course of action — means emboldening even more the psychopaths doubling as imperial functionaries bent on a hot war against Iran at all costs; Koch brothers Big Oil asset and enraptured evangelist, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and paid Mujahideen-e Khalq asset and notorious intel manipulator, National Security Advisor John Bolton.
The Pompeo-Bolton gangster maneuver is hardly Bismarck’s Realpolitik. It consists of relentlessly pushing Tehran to make a mistake, any mistake, in terms of “violating” its obligations under the JCPOA, so that this may be sold to gullible American public opinion as the proverbial “threat” to the “rules-based order” doubling as a casus belli.
There’s one thing the no-holds-barred U.S. economic war against Iran has managed to achieve: internal unity in the Islamic Republic. Team Rouhani’s initial aim for the JCPOA was to open up to Western trade (trade with Asia was always on) and somewhat curtail the power of the IRGC, or Revolutionary Guards, which control vast sectors of the Iranian economy.
Washington’s economic war proved instead the IRGC was right all along, echoing the finely-tuned geopolitical sentiment of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, who always emphasized the Americans cannot be trusted, ever.
And as much as Washington has branded the IRGC a “terrorist organization,” Tehran replied in kind, branding CENTCOM the same.
Independent Persian Gulf oil traders dismiss the notion that the kleptocrat House of Saud — de facto run by Jared “of Arabia” Kushner’s Whatsapp pal Mohammed bin Salman (MbS), the Saudi crown prince – holds up to 2.5 million barrels of oil a day in spare capacity capable of replacing Iran’s 2 million barrels of exports (out of 3.45 million of total daily production). The House of Saud seems more interested in hiking oil prices for Asian customers.
Washington’s energy trade blockade of Iran is bound to fail.
China will continue to buy its 650,000 barrels a day – and may even buy more. Multiple Chinese companies trade technology and industrial services for Iranian oil.
Pakistan, Iraq and Turkey — all bordering Iran — will continue to buy Iranian high-quality light crude by every method of payment (including gold) and transportation available, formal or informal. Baghdad’s trade relationship with Tehran will continue to thrive.
As economic suffocation won’t suffice, Plan B is — what else — the threat of a hot war.
It’s by now established that the info, in fact rumors, about alleged Iranian maneuvers to attack U.S. interests in the Gulf was relayed to Bolton by the Mossad, at the White House, with Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben Shabbat personally briefing Bolton.
Everyone is aware of the corollary: a “reposition of assets” (in Pentagonese) — from the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group deployment to four B-52 bombers landing in Al Udeid Air base in Qatar, all part of a “warning” to Iran.
A pre-war roaring crescendo now engulfs the Lebanese front as well as the Iranian front.
Reasons for Psychotic Rage
Iran’s GDP is similar to Thailand’s, and its military budget is similar to Singapore’s. Bullying Iran is a geopolitical and geo-economic absurdity. Iran may be an emerging Global South actor — it could easily be a member of the G20 — but can never be construed as a “threat” to the U.S.
Yet Iran provokes psychopathic imperial functionaries to a paroxysm of rage for three serious reasons. Neocons never mind that trying to destroy Iraq cost over $6 trillion — and it was a major war crime, a political disaster, and an economic abyss all rolled into one. Trying to destroy Iran will cost untold trillions more.
The most glaring reason for the irrational hatred is the fact the Islamic Republic is one of the very few nations on the planet consistently defying the hegemon — for four decades now.
The second reason is that Iran, just like Venezuela — and this is a combined war front — have committed the supreme anathema; trading on energy bypassing the petrodollar, the foundation stone of U.S. hegemony.
The third (invisible) reason is that to attack Iran is to disable emerging Eurasia integration, just like using NSA spying to ultimately put Brazil in the bag was an attack on Latin American integration.
The non-stop hysteria over whether President Donald Trump is being maneuvered into war on Iran by his pet psychopaths – well, he actually directed Iran to “Call me” — eludes the Big Picture. As shown before, a possible shut down of the Strait of Hormuz, whatever the reasons, would be like a major meteor impact on the global economy. And that would inevitably translate as no Trump reelection in 2020.
The Strait of Hormuz would never need to be blocked if all the oil Iran is able to export is bought by China, other Asian clients and even Russia — which could relabel it. But Tehran wouldn’t blink on blocking Hormuz if faced with total economic strangulation.
According to a dissident U.S. intel expert, “the United States is at a clear disadvantage in that if the Strait of Hormuz is shut the U.S. collapses. But if the U.S. can divert Russia from defending Iran, then Iran can be attacked and Russia will have accomplished nothing, as the neocons do not want detente with Russia and China. Trump does want detente but the Deep State does not intend to permit it.”
Assuming this scenario is correct, the usual suspects in the United States government are trying to divert Putin from the Strait of Hormuz question while keeping Trump weakened, as the neocons proceed 24/7 on the business of strangling Iran. It’s hard to see Putin falling for this not exactly elaborate trap.
So what happens next? Professor Mohammad Marandi at the Faculty of World Studies of the University of Tehran offers quite a sobering perspective: “After 60 days Iran will push things even further. I don’t think the Iranians are bluffing. They will also be pushing back at the Saudis and the Emiratis by different means.”
Marandi, ominously, sees “further escalation” ahead:
“Iranians have been preparing for war with the Unites States ever since the Iraq invasion in 2003. After what they’ve seen in Libya, in Syria, Yemen, Venezuela, they know that the Americans and Europeans are utterly brutal. The whole shore of the Persian Gulf on the Iranian side and the Gulf of Oman is full of tunnels and underground high-tech missiles. The Persian Gulf is full of ships equipped with highly developed sea-to-sea missiles. If there is real war, all the oil and gas facilities in the region will be destroyed, all the tankers will be destroyed.”
And if that show comes to pass, Marandi regards the Strait of Hormuz as the “sideshow”:
“The Americans will be driven out of Iraq. Iraq exports 4 million barrels of oil a day; that would probably come to an end, through strikes and other means. It would be catastrophic for the Americans. It would be catastrophic for the world – and for Iran as well. But the Americans would simply not win.”
So as Marandi explains it — and Iranian public opinion now largely agrees — the Islamic Republic has leverage because they know “the Americans can’t afford to go to war. Crazies like Pompeo and Bolton may want it, but many in the establishment don’t.”
Tehran may have developed a modified MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) framework as leverage, mostly to push Trump ally MbS to cool down. “Assuming,” adds Marandi, “the madmen don’t get the upper hand, and if they do, then it’s war. But for the time being, I thinks that’s highly unlikely.”
Guided-missile destroyer USS Porter transits Strait of Hormuz, May 2012. (U.S. Navy/Alex R. Forster)
All Options on the Table?
In Cold War 2.0 terms, from Central Asia to the Eastern Mediterranean and from the Indian Ocean to the Caspian Sea, Tehran is able to count on quite a set of formal and informal alliances. That not only centers on the Beirut-Damascus-Baghdad-Tehran-Herat axis, but also includes Turkey and Qatar. And most important of all, the top actors on the Eurasian integration chessboard: the Russia and China in strategic partnership.
When Zarif met Lavrov last week in Moscow, they discussed virtually everything: Syria (they negotiate together in the Astana, now Nur-Sultan process), the Caspian, the Caucasus, Central Asia, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (of which Iran will become a member), the JCPOA and Venezuela.
The Trump administration was dragged kicking and screamoing to meet Kim Jong-Un at the same table because of the DPRK’s intercontinental ballistic missile tests. And then Kim ordered extra missile tests because, in his own words, as quoted by KCNA, “genuine peace and security of the country are guaranteed only by the strong physical force capable of defending its sovereignty.”
Global South Watching
The overwhelming majority of Global South nations are watching the U.S. neocon offensive to ultimately strangle “the Iranian people”, aware more than ever that Iran may be bullied to extinction because it does not posses a nuclear deterrent. The IRGC has reached the same conclusion.
That would mean the death of the JCPOA – and the Return of the Living Dead of “all options on the table.”
But then, there’ll be twists and turns in the Art of the (Demented) Deal. So what if, and it’s a major “if”, Donald Trump is being held hostage by his pet psychopaths?
Let The Dealer speak:
“We hope we don’t have to do anything with regard to the use of military force…We can make a deal, a fair deal. … We just don’t want them to have nuclear weapons. Not too much to ask. And we would help put them back into great shape. They’re in bad shape right now. I look forward to the day where we can actually help Iran. We’re not looking to hurt Iran. I want them to be strong and great and have a great economy… We have no secrets. And they can be very, very strong, financially. They have great potential.”
Then again, Ayatollah Khamenei said: the Americans cannot be trusted, ever.
PEPE ESCOBAR: The Eagle, the Bear and the Dragon
The eagle has conveniently forgotten that the original, Ancient Silk Road linked the dragon with the Roman empire for centuries – with no interlopers outside of Eurasia, muses Pepe Escobar.
Special to Consortium News
>Once upon a time, deep into the night in selected campfires across the deserts of Southwest Asia, I used to tell a fable about the eagle, the bear and the dragon – much to the amusement of my Arab and Persian interlocutors.
It was about how, in the young 21stcentury, the eagle, the bear and the dragon had taken their (furry) gloves off and engaged in what turned out to be Cold War 2.0.
As we approach the end of the second decade of this already incandescent century, perhaps it’s fruitful to upgrade the fable. With all due respect to Jean de la Fontaine, excuse me while I kiss the (desert) sky again.
Long gone are the days when a frustrated bear repeatedly offered to cooperate with the eagle and its minions on a burning question: nuclear missiles.
The bear repeatedly argued that the deployment of interceptor missiles and radars in that land of the blind leading the blind – Europe – was a threat. The eagle repeatedly argued that this is to protect us from those rogue Persians.
Now the eagle – claiming the dragon is getting an easy ride – has torn down every treaty in sight and is bent on deploying nuclear missiles in selected eastern parts of the land of the blind leading the blind, essentially targeting the bear.
All That Glitters is Silk
Roughly two decades after what top bear Putin defined as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20thcentury”, he proposed a form of USSR light; a political/economic body called the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU).
The idea was to have the EAEU interact with the EU – the top institution of the motley crew congregated as the blind leading the blind.
The eagle not only rejected the possible integration; it came up with a modified color revolution scenario to unplug Ukraine from the EAEU.
Even earlier than that, the eagle had wanted to set up a New Silk Road under its total control. The eagle had conveniently forgotten that the original, Ancient Silk Road linked the dragon with the Roman empire for centuries – with no interlopers outside of Eurasia.
So one can imagine the eagle’s stupor when the dragon irrupted on the global stage with its own super-charged New Silk Roads – upgrading the bear original idea of a free trade area “from Lisbon to Vladivostok” to a multi-connectivity corridor, terrestrial and maritime, from eastern China to western Europe and everything in between, spanning the whole of Eurasia.
Facing this new paradigm the blind, well, remained blind for as long as anyone could remember; they simply could not get their act together.
The eagle, meanwhile, was incrementally raising the stakes. It launched what amounted for all practical purposes to a progressively weaponized encirclement of the dragon.
The eagle made a series of moves that amount to inciting nations bordering the South China Sea to antagonize the dragon, while repositioning an array of toys – nuclear submarines, aircraft carriers, fighter jets – closer and closer to the dragon’s territory.
All the time, what the dragon saw – and continues to see – is a battered eagle trying to muscle its way out of an irreversible decline by trying to intimidate, isolate and sabotage the dragon’s irreversible ascent back to where it has been for 18 of the past 20 centuries; enthroned as the king of the jungle.
A key vector is that Eurasia-wide players know that under the new laws of the jungle the dragon simply can’t – and won’t – be reduced to the status of a supporting actor. And Eurasia-wide players are too smart to embark on a Cold War 2.0 that will undermine Eurasia itself.
The eagle’s reaction to the dragon’s New Silk strategy took some time to swing from inaction to outright demonization – complementing the joint description of both the dragon and the bear as existential threats.
And yet, for all the spinning crossfire, Eurasia-wide players are not exactly impressed anymore with an eagle empire armed to its teeth. Especially after the eagle’s crest was severely damaged by failure upon hunting failure in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria. Eagle aircraft carriers patrolling the eastern part of Mare Nostrum are not exactly scaring the bear, the Persians and the Syrians.
A “reset” between the eagle and the bear was always a myth. It took some time – and much financial distress – for the bear to realize there won’t be any reset, while the dragon only saw a reset towards open confrontation.
After establishing itself, slowly but surely, as the most advanced military power on the planet, with hypersonic know-how, the bear came to a startling conclusion: we don’t care anymore about what the eagle says – or does.
Under the Raging Volcano
Meanwhile, the dragon kept expanding, inexorably, across all Asian latitudes as well as Africa, Latin America and even across the unemployment-infested pastures of the austerity-hit blind leading the blind.
The dragon is firmly assured that, if cornered to the point of resorting to a nuclear option, it holds the power to make the eagle’s staggering deficit explode, degrade its credit rating to junk, and wreak havoc in the global financial system.
No wonder the eagle, under an all-enveloping paranoid cloud of cognitive dissonance, feeding state propaganda 24/7 to its subjects and minions, keeps spewing out lava like a raging volcano – dispensing sanctions to a great deal of the planet, entertaining regime change wet dreams, launching a total energy embargo against the Persians, resurrecting the “war on terra”, and aiming to punishlike a Bat Out Of Intel Hell any journalist, publisher or whistleblower revealing its inner machinations.
It hurts, so bad, to admit that the political/economic center of a new multipolar world will be Asia – actually Eurasia.
As the eagle got more and more threatening, the bear and the dragon got closer and closer in their strategic partnership. Now both bear and dragon have too many strategic links across the planet to be intimidated by the eagle’s massive Empire of Bases or those periodic coalitions of the (somewhat reluctant) willing.
Friedrich Johann Justin Bertuch, the mythical creature dragon, 1806. (Wikimedia Commons)
To match comprehensive, in-progress Eurasia integration, of which the New Silk Roads are the graphic symbol, the eagle’s fury, unleashed, has nothing to offer – except rehashing a war against Islam coupled with the weaponized cornering of both bear and dragon.
Then there’s Persia – those master chess players. The eagle has been gunning for the Persians ever since they got rid of the eagle’s proconsul, the Shah, in 1979 – and this after the eagle and perfidious Albion had already smashed democracy to place the Shah, who made Saddam look like Gandhi, in power in 1953.
The eagle wants all that oil and natural gas back – not to mention a new Shah as the new gendarme of the Persian Gulf. The difference is now the bear and the dragon are saying No Way. What is the eagle to do? Set up the false flag to end all false flags?
This is where we stand now. And once again, we reach the end – though not the endgame. There’s still no moral to this revamped fable. We continue to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Our only, slim hope is that a bunch of Hollow Men obsessed by the Second Coming won’t turn Cold War 2.0 into Armageddon.
US-China: the hardcore is yet to come
The Trump administration’s response to China’s emergence has been to throw all sorts of spanners in the works, but tariffs won’t bring back manufacturing jobs
Let’s start with the “long” 16th Century – which, as with the 21st, also saw a turbulent process of marketization. At that time, the Jesuits and the Counter-Reformation were trying to rebound across Asia – but within a context where the rivalry between the Iberian superpowers of the age, Spain and Portugal, still lingered.
The Reformation first attached itself to the Dutch trade thalassocracy – a seaborne empire, under which commerce was paramount – over strict propaganda of religious dogma. Britain’s maritime realm was still biding its time. The emergence of Protestantism proceeded in parallel to the emergence of neo-Confucianism in East Asia.
Fast forward to our turbulent times. Marketization – renamed as globalization – seems to be in crisis. But not in the Middle Kingdom, which is now investing in globalization 2.0 amid increasing rivalry with the other superpower, the US.
The American thalassocracy is being superseded by the Revenge of the Heartland, in the form of the Russia-China strategic partnership – for whom Eurasian trade integration, as expressed by the New Silk Roads, or Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), is paramount over the Make America Great Again (MAGA) dogma.
Meanwhile, the re-emergence of Right populism in the West mirrors the re-emergence of pragmatic neo-Confucianism across Asia.
BRI – the prime vehicle for Eurasia integration – would have never come to light without China’s four decades of breakneck economic development.
My sharpest and most informed geopolitical readers, such as the wonderfully enigmatic Larchmonter, are in synch with my running conversations – for years now – with top analysts in Russia, China, Iran, Turkey and Pakistan; following the Obama administration’s fuzzy “pivot to Asia”, the Trump administration’s response to China’s emergence has been to throw all sorts of spanners in the works.
Thus, the current hysteria over tariffs, the trade offensive, the demonization of BRI, Made in China 2025 and Huawei’s 5G dominance, and all manner of disruptive Hybrid War tactics such as repeatedly claiming “freedom of navigation” in the South China Sea to progressive weaponizing of Taiwan.
All that duly fueled by non-stop hatchet jobs on media outlets, as in branding Huawei as “suspect” or “permanently untrustworthy”.
From the point of view of the hyperpower, there can be only one possible endgame: an amputated, permanently crippled and preferably non-stop aching Chinese economy – with unfavorable demographics to boot.
Soybeans from Ukraine are unloaded at the port in Nantong, in eastern China. Imports of soy used to come from the US, but have slumped since the trade war began. Photo: AFP
Where are our jobs?
Pause on the sound and fury for necessary precision. Even if the Trump administration slaps 25% tariffs on all Chinese exports to the US, the IMF has projected that would trim just a meager slither – 0.55% – off China’s GDP. And America is unlikely to profit, because the extra tariffs won’t bring back manufacturing jobs to the US – something that Steve Jobs told Barack Obama eons ago.
What happens is that global supply chains will be redirected to economies that offer comparative advantages in relation to China, such as Vietnam, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Cambodia and Laos. And this redirection is already happening anyway – including by Chinese companies.
BRI represents a massive geopolitical and financial investment by China, as well as its partners; over 130 states and territories have signed on. Beijing is using its immense pool of capital to make its own transition towards a consumer-based economy while advancing the necessary pan-Eurasian infrastructure development – with all those ports, high-speed rail, fiber optics, electrical grids expanding to most Global South latitudes.
The end result, up to 2049 – BRI’s time span – will be the advent of an integrated market of no less than 4.5 billion people, by that time with access to a Chinese supply chain of high-tech exports as well as more prosaic consumer goods.
Anyone who has followed the nuts and bolts of the Chinese miracle launched by Little Helmsman Deng Xiaoping in 1978 knows that Beijing is essentially exporting the mechanism that led China’s own 800 million citizens to, in a flash, become members of a global middle class.
As much as the Trump administration may bet on “maximum pressure” to restrict or even block Chinese access to whole sectors of the US market, what really matters is BRI’s advance will be able to generate multiple, extra US markets over the next two decades.
We don’t do ‘win-win’
There are no illusions in the Zhongnanhai, as there are no illusions in Tehran or in the Kremlin. These three top actors of Eurasian integration have exhaustively studied how Washington, in the 1990s, devastated Russia’s post-USSR economy (until Putin engineered a recovery) and how Washington has been trying to utterly destroy Iran for four decades.
Beijing, as well as Moscow and Tehran, know everything there is to know about Hybrid War, which is an American intel concept. They know the ultimate strategic target of Hybrid War, whatever the tactics, is social chaos and regime change.
The case of Brazil – a BRICS member like China and Russia – was even more sophisticated: a Hybrid War initially crafted by NSA spying evolved into lawfare and regime change via the ballot box. But it ended with mission accomplished – Brazil has been reduced to the lowly status of an American neo-colony.
Let’s remember an ancient mariner, the legendary Chinese Muslim Admiral Zheng He, who for three decades, from 1405 to 1433, led seven expeditions across the seas all the way to Arabia and Eastern Africa, reaching Champa, Borneo, Java, Malacca, Sumatra, Ceylon, Calicut, Hormuz, Aden, Jeddah, Mogadiscio, Mombasa, bringing tons of goods to trade (silk, porcelain, silver, cotton, iron tools, leather utensils).
That was the original Maritime Silk Road, progressing in parallel to Emperor Yong Le establishing a Pax Sinica in Asia – with no need for colonies and religious proselytism. But then the Ming dynasty retreated – and China was back to its agricultural vocation of looking at itself.
They won’t make the same mistake again. Even knowing that the current hegemon does not do “win-win”. Get ready for the real hardcore yet to come.