Monday, January 28, 2019

US rattles its sabres over Iran

(Contributed)     29 January 2019

A recent hostile statement about Iran by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo rests upon a Cold War position dating to the earliest days of the Trump administration, and beyond.

It is not difficult to establish US desperation with Iran and the wider Middle East region.

Iran is the centre of Shia Islam, and has a clearly defined position in the wider region which the US has been seeking to destabilise for decades.


Problems, however, have arisen:


US forays into the region dating back two decades have not proved militarily or politically successful. The recent outcome of the US-led war in Syria is but another example of poor military planning which has resulted in a changing balance of forces against Washington and the Pentagon. 


In early January, US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, addressed a meeting in Cairo with a speech, 'A Force for Good: America's Reinvigorated role in the Middle East'. (1) It was a crude attempt to rally the Arab world against Iran, using flowery rhetoric which included a commitment to 'expel every last Iranian boot from Syria'. (2) No reference, however, was given to the US-led military capacity to achieve such an objective, particularly as the Trump administration recently announced the withdrawal of its troops from Syria.


US diplomatic animosity toward Iran began with the success of the Iran Revolution in 1979 which toppled their loyal puppet, the Shah,. The revolution also kicked a huge dent in US-led military and security planning as Iran was part of a highly secret signals intelligence network: centred upon US military facilities based on Diego Garcia, the arc of stations included Silvermine in South Africa, Kagnew in Ethiopia, Abu Musa in Iran, Subic Bay in the Philippines with Pine Gap in Australia. (3)


With the official opening of the signals intelligence network, Iran was elevated to the role of regional gendarme by the US in 1973, its large navy being used to protect shipping-lanes in the northern Indian Ocean. (4) Iran was also used by the US for covert operations, examples including an Australian front organisation for US intelligence noted for having secured the sale of a spy-ship for use in the Indian Ocean, together with Tehran being used to support  Kurdish rebellions in neighbouring countries. (5) 


Iran remains the centre of Shia Islam, with a clearly defined regional position for Muslims. It remains in opposition to Saudi Arabia, the home of Mecca, and a regional hub for 'US interests' and central to Sunni Islamic believers. Much of the friction and hostility in the Middle East, for decades, has taken the form of US-led diplomatic initiatives to pit Sunni Islam against Shia, to divide and weaken regional opposition to 'US interests'.


The US-led position has also taken the form of using Saudi Arabia to channel finance and arms to Islamic jihadists, as 'intelligence assets', to wage war in countries such as Syria. The US-led military objective had planned to topple President Bashar al-Assad and install a puppet regime headed by Ghassan Hitto, a former Syrian national who lived in the US for over three decades. US-led military planning included Hitto being installed as Prime Minister of an interim government, 'operating from rebel-held areas'. (6) The military planners were, however, rather optimistic and expected the establishment of the interim government to take about one month. Whether the government in exile was ever established remains questionable with little credible evidence available of organisation with any democratic credentials.


The fact that the government in question was supposed to be organised from rebel-held areas controlled by Islamic jihadists intent on creating Sharia dictatorships appear to have caused the US little concern; the credentials of Hitto were regarded as suitable for 'US interests' and he was, therefore, duly elected by ballot, in the foyer of a Turkish hotel. (7)


The US-led foreign policy, however, failed spectacularly to achieve its objectives in Syria or anywhere in the region. The outcome of the war in Syria, nevertheless, has proved particularly important; it is not only progressive-minded people who can assess the regional situation accurately. In the words of NSW Liberal Senator Jim Molan, former Chief of Operations for Coalition Forces in Iraq and retired Major-General with the Australian Army who is now a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee in Canberra, the US is faced with a situation where 'President Bashar al-Assad and his allies decisively have won'. (8) The US has, by implication, lost; the strengthening of the position of the allies, the Russian Federation, Iran and Turkey, also remains an important consideration as their position is now stronger, across the whole region.   


It has therefore become crucial for the US to maintain its Cold War diplomatic position toward Iran. The position has been clearly defined by Pompeo, who stated the US was 'casting the Islamic Republic as the Trump administration's top concern in the region at a pivotal moment in US-Middle East relations'. (9)  The foreign policy rests upon a revelation that the Trump administration 'asked the Pentagon to provide the White House with military options to strike Iran last year'. (10) It was further noted that John Bolton, appointed by Trump as an advisor and head of national security, 'personally supported regime change in Iran'. (11) Bolton is also regarded as being particularly close to Secretary of State Pompeo and their plan to 'develop a more aggressive policy to weaken the Tehran regime'. (12)


There was a great deal more to the US-led agenda with their Syria military plan.
President Bashar al-Assad and his supporters are from an Alawite background, closely allied with Shia. US-led involvement in initially creating opposition forces in Syria and elsewhere and then financing their attempt to destabilise Syria and install a puppet government in Damascus, were part of a larger, more comprehensive military plan to first isolate Iran from one of its closest supporters, and then topple the government in Tehran.


While the US-led military plan failed they still have to come to terms with the problem: denial is perhaps the best explanation although other factors can also be considered. Studies of the US intelligence services from credible sources also reveal the dysfunctional nature   of the Pentagon, creating serious problems for military planning. One revealed 'the CIA does not seem to have an efficient, centralised analytical apparatus, one that can distinguish credible intelligence from fantasy'. (13)  Another revealed a lack of practical expertise amongst military planners, where the intelligence services 'has very few field officers with mud on their boots any longer, but thousands of card-carrying members whose grasp of espionage begins and ends with the more lurid spy novel'. (14)


A further insight into the inner-workings of the Trump administration, likewise, revealed it had 'become a revolving door of deeply flawed individuals – amateurs, grifters, weaklings, convicted and unconvicted felons', with the 'White House filled with incompetent advisors and unqualified hustlers'. (15)


The speech by Pompeo in Cairo was evidence of the diplomatic position held by the US, without reference to a changed regional situation. While the US has failed to accept defeat, it has also failed to accept the logical outcome. The changing balance of forces in the region is moving against traditional US hegemonic positions. And it is there where further problems have now arisen.


The decision by President Trump to withdraw their 2,000 troops from Syria will create a difficult position for the Kurdish allies. Turkey has already announced military planning to confront the Kurdish resistance which Ankara has portrayed as a terrorist threat to their country and the region. (16)


The US response to the problem they have created in Kurdish areas has been characteristic of much of their other failed diplomacy: a statement from Trump threatened Turkey that if they moved to slaughter Kurdish peoples, their economy would be subject to 'economic devastation'. (17)


No reference was made to how the US was planning to conduct their economic warfare on a country with strong links to both the Russian Federation and Iran. Any attempt by the US to initiate such economic hostility would obviously push Turkey closer to their new allies, further strengthening a power-bloc which has successfully dealt with traditional US domination in the Middle East.


Such flawed diplomacy from the Trump administration has completely under-estimated the changing balance of forces in the region. US imperialism has been out-manoeuvred by forces more capable of dealing with the problems created by Pentagon military planners.


1.     'US to expel every last Iranian boot', The Weekend Australian, 12-13 January 2019.

2.     Ibid.

3.     UK decision to leave Persian Gulf – implications for US, Le Monde Diplomatique, December, 1976.

4.     Ibid.; and Maritime Operational and Communications HQ, The Star (South Africa), 10 March 1973; and, Security in the Mountain, The Star (South Africa), 17 March 1973.

5.     The Nugan Hand Swindle, The Book of Leaks, Brian Toohey and Marian Wilkinson, (NSW, 1987), page 219; and, Le Monde Diplomatique, op.cit., December, 1976.

6.     Long road from Texas to Turkey for Syrian rebels' boss,  Australian, 21 March 2013.

7.     Ibid.

8.     We'll take it from here, mate, Australian, 4 January 2019

9.     Weekend Australian, op.cit., 12-13 January 2019.

10.   White House sought options to strike Iran,  Australian, 15 January 2019.

11.   Ibid.

12.   Ibid.

13.   Espionage, Richard M. Bennett, (London, 2002), page 361,

14.   Ibid., page 357.

15.   Former ally lashed out at White House, Australian, 18 January 2019.

16.   Russia, Turkey in lock-step as US withdraws, Australian, 31 December 2019.

17.   America threatens to visit economic ruin on Turks, Australian, 15 January 2019.

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