Trump, Bolton, Pompeo at Nato, 2018. Photo: wikimedia commons Trump, Bolton, Pompeo at Nato, 2018. Photo: wikimedia commons

Trump, John Bolton and Mike Pompeo have created a situation with Iran that is risking a new war in the Middle East, argues Chris Nineham

Giving some sense of how serious the situation is, two mainstream Democratic senators, Tom Udall of New Mexico and Dick Durbin of Illinois, were alarmed enough to write an op-ed in The Washington Post, warning “Sixteen years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, we are again barreling toward another unnecessary conflict in the Middle East based on faulty and misleading logic.” 

The US’s decision to pull out of the nuclear accord with Iran a year ago started a countdown to crisis. The sanctions that resulted have caused major damage to the Iranian economy. Oil production and overall GDP have slumped. Inflation is heading towards 40% and the Iranian Rial is under massive pressure. Despite issuing some protests, half hearted efforts by European Union countries have failed to challenge the US sanctions regime effectively or to provide alternative income flows for the Iranians. 

Not satisfied with the levels of economic pain created, in the last few weeks the US has stepped up the sanctions. Trump has removed limited waivers for some of Iran’s oil customers, and more recently, ended  permission for  Iran to enrich uranium or to transfer enriched uranium out of Iran in exchange for natural uranium. 

The result is that the benefits of sticking to the letter of the deal have declined to virtually nil for the Iranians.  Combined with the deployment of B-52 bombers to Qatar and the despatch of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln to ‘counter Tehran’ the situation can only be interpreted as one of extreme threat by the Iranian government.  

No suprises then that Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif believes that the Iranian people ‘have lost hope. They have lost faith in the utility of international engagement. And that is alarming.”

At least in public, the US’s plan A still appears to be to increase Iran’s economic pain to the point of stoking a domestic uprising that weakens the Iranian government’s sovereignty, removes the regime or at a minimum draws Tehran back to the negotiating table.

But anyone with any knowledge of the situation will be clear that these outcomes are unlikely. Given its recent behaviour there is no reason Tehran should have any faith in further negotiations with the US. Escalating sanctions are putting the Rouhani regime under pressure from hardliners to toughen its response to the West. Just last month, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, ousted the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and named a new hawkish chief.

The regime in other words is boxed in. Trump’s tweet saying he was hoping for a call from Tehran was strictly for domestic consumption. Worse, the suspicion must be that Bolton and Pompeo are seriously considering the use of force as a fallback. They are hardly denying  it..John Bolton threatened ‘unrelenting force’  when he annmounced the military escalations. According to a New Yorker profile of Bolton, as far back as last November he appeared to be proposing bombing a missile test site in Iran after the country test-fired a medium-range missile.

All this is taking place in the context of a strengthening alliance between the US, Saudi Arabia and Israel which aims to reassert US interests across the region. The Palestinians are already suffering

The anti-war movement needs to launch a very serious campaign to head off this danger. Step one has to be to ensure that the protests against Donald Trumps’ visit to Britain are massive and that opposition to his catastrophic foreign policy are at the forefront.

Chris Nineham

Chris Nineham is a founder member of Stop the War and Counterfire, speaking regularly around the country on behalf of both. He is author of The People Versus Tony Blair and Capitalism and Class Consciousness: the ideas of Georg Lukacs.

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