Time to consider weekly global headlines in an ever-changing world
Selected News Headlines
9 October-13 October 2017
9 October 2017, Washington D.C., United States – The New York Times – Anticipation that President Trump will decertify the 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal began to ramp up as this week.
Trump believes that Iran is in violation of the agreement, placing him at odds with his senior military advisors such as General Jim Mattis (see: UR 25-29/09/17).
Even the organisation that is in charge of monitoring Iran’s nuclear program, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), has verified that Iran has not strayed from the tenets of the agreement.
But the US President, as commander-in-chief, is prepared to argue that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is not in America’s national interest because Iran is actively extending its strategic power in the Middle East by supporting terrorist activities in Yemen, Lebanon (by supporting Hezbollah), and its active support of besieged Syrian president Bashar-al-Assad.
Trump believes that these latter activities undermines the JCPOA agreement.
It does not.
The JCPOA is specific to the containment of Iran’s nuclear program. It was not designed to contain Iranian conventional strategic power in any other respect.
Conflating these two issues will raise the ire of Tehran and elements of the international community with existing or pending commercial interests in Iran.
The likelihood of the reimposition of economic sanctions on Iran as a consequence of President Trump’s decertification of the JCPOA may threaten billions of trade dollars other countries have with Iran, especially if a new sanctions regime targets Western firms that have only recently established a foothold there.
And then there is the other elephant in the room. Iran is not a ‘victim-state’, easily bullied or intimidated by US power. After some 30 years of economic sanctions and of studying the behaviour of the international community, the Mullahs in charge are not without some say in how things will develop should Trump do what many are saying he should not. There will be consequences for decertification, and they will be unpleasant for Trump and the Washington beltway.
10 October 2017, Washington D.C., United States – Associated Press – In a week again dominated by Donald Trump, friends of the US President are urging him to fight against Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into the 2016 Trump presidential campaign’s alleged links to Russia.
Strangely the President has been relatively quiet about this probe, and the press has not pushed for too much information about its findings so far, especially at the international level. But it should be noted that this does not mean that the investigation into Russian ties to the Trump presidency has gone away.
The White House has said that it is fully cooperating with the investigation.
However, it is suspected that Trump’s calmness belies the fact that the unpredictable head of state is just biding his time before he strikes at the legitimacy of the Mueller probe.
Nonetheless, his allies in the Republican Party are nervous.
They think that the President is not fully aware of major problems this investigation poses for the reputation of the current administration, one that has been rocked by controversy from the moment Donald Trump was inaugurated last January.
Nonetheless, there is the ever-present threat of the President using his preferred communications platform, Twitter, to rail against the Mueller investigation the moment his ‘gut’ tells him too, possibly jeopardising his legal defence team’s best efforts at protecting the US president.
11 October 2017, Seoul, South Korea – Reuters – Rhetorical hostility in the war of words between Washington and Pyongyang reached another milestone of aggression with North Korea retorting to Trump’s ‘only one thing will work’ comments (08/10/17) by stating that it ‘will settle the Final Score’.
North Korea’s foreign minister proclaimed to Russian media that President Trump “has lit the wick of war”. In an ironic move, political autocracies China and Russia have been positioning themselves diplomatically to dampen the war-talk, so far without a great deal of success.
It has been speculated by some that American pressure on Iran is possibly intensifying North Korea’s resistance to take the diplomatic route for a climb-down.
Pyongyang, though internationally isolated, has understood the fate of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi. Kim Jong-un is determined not to either hanged or sodomised to death by his enemies.
Nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles are a rational way of deterring foreign military intervention and ‘regime change’.
Iran, having a larger population, much greater strategic depth and an active military presence in other Middle Eastern countries, can afford to play a more conciliatory role with the US when it feels that its overall position is not threatened. North Korea does not have these Iranian advantages. It either capitulates to US demands, delegitimising Dear Leader Kim Jong-un and threatening his rule, or confronts the Americans with the full force of its deterrent, hoping the other side, namely the Americans, don’t take things to the ‘next level’.
President Trump seems quite happy to play this game of grand strategic ‘chicken’. He believes that American power is omnipotent and that any war in Korea will be uncomplicated and short, limiting any collateral damage to neighbouring China, South Korea and Japan. This belief in American military omnipotence has died many times on many battlefields since the end of World War II and the so-called ‘rise of the American century’. Primitive groups in undeveloped countries have, often at great cost to themselves, confronted the US and survived or even won. North Vietnam reunified with the South in spite of massive and direct US combat assistance to South Vietnam. The Taliban is still in control of a large chunk of Afghanistan in spite of 16 years of US involvement there. Technology alone does not win wars, mindsets win wars. Trump’s belief in American military magnificence again puts the wrong emphasis on how to successfully prosecute a war in the contemporary age. If one aims to win a war, technological tools are only part of what is needed to be brought to the table. Understanding whom one is likely to fight and what will motivate them to sue for peace is the other ingredient. Not much effort has ever been placed in the latter and way too much faith has been placed in the former. If a war breaks out in Korea this situation is likely to repeat itself.