Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s press conference yesterday was a tired retread of neoconservative talking points that stretch back to the Bush the Lesser administration. Watching him drone on like the second coming of Dick Cheney was a sharp refutation that anything about our policy in the Middle East was ever going to change.
Tillerson’s comments lacked perspective. Instead of building on the grudging acknowledgment that Iran has been in compliance with the terms of the controversial nuclear deal, he quickly launched into a fusillade of old canards that can only be seen as increased belligerence in the future.
His continuing to brand Iran as the largest “state sponsor of terrorism” in the world is simply a restatement of our dubious goals in the Middle East, namely regime change in the service of important military and energy interests.
It’s also the height of irony.
He knows that we are fighting alongside the brutal Saudi Arabians in Yemen against the Houthi rebels, who themselves are a proxy group for Iran. And yet, it has been well-established, the Saudis along with the Turks, Qataris and Israelis are supporting nearly every Sunni Wahabist group of animals in Syria pledged to the overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad.
He knows it is not Iran that bombs and invades countries around the world that impede their national interest.
He knows it is not Iran that engages in regime change operations which leave power vacuums for groups like ISIS and Right Sector to fill, like in Libya and Ukraine.
This press conference was a blunt reminder that one, in geopolitics facts don’t matter only power, and two, that changing U.S. leadership does not change policy.
It was also further confirmation that rapprochement with Russia is now off the table in the Trump White House. Trump has been either coerced or convinced, depending on your point of view, that Russia truly is an existential threat to our future.
An argument he flatly rejected on the campaign trail.
If he was simply trying to disprove the Democrats’ moronic ‘Russia hacked muh election’ nonsense, these diplomatic provocations would have ended when Tillerson left Moscow last week.
But they didn’t.
The reality is Russia, Iran and China are moving into a tripartite Strategic Alliance that will see all of them members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization – think NATO for the Asian jet set – as well as partners in China’s One Belt, One Road initiative to connect Shanghai with London and nearly everyone in between, especially Tehran.
The idea that Trump can use renegotiating a signed nuclear armament agreement as a negotiating tool is not only weak but foolhardy. Trump knows he has nothing to offer either Russia or Iran except the stick.
— Tom Luongo (@TFL1728) April 20, 2017
China, on the other hand, has a credit bubble to deal with, and could use our help navigating it. But the truth there is if China goes down, it takes everyone with it. So, economic Armageddon is no more a real negotiating fulcrum than actual Armageddon.
For these reasons and others, Russia has pretty much told Trump to go suck old eggs and come back when he learns how to negotiate on the world stage like a man.
Tillerson announced that Trump has ordered a full review of the Iran Nuclear Deal by his National Security Council. This will be an exercise in confirmation bias designed to try and make Tehran worry a bit.
But, in order to regain some semblance of control over future negotiations with Iran he has to put the deal in jeopardy. It’s obvious Trump feels the deal lets Iran off the hook to develop nuclear weapons. It is also obvious that the reason we feel so strongly about this is that we reserve the right to change the regime of anyone not under our control financially and, by extension, militarily.
This is why Iran would want a nuke, to back Washington off and force negotiations on a more equal footing.
The conservative talking points that former President Obama paid Iran ‘bribes’ to get our sailors back after they wandered into Iranian territorial waters is nonsense. Trump fanned that idiocy to score cheap political points during the campaign but he should be smart enough to have actually read the deal, seen our actions and admit that we were the ones not in compliance with it.
The assets returned were those frozen since 2012 when we put on economic sanctions against Iran and cutting them out of the SWIFT electronic payment system; causing a hyperinflation of the Rial and crushing their oil and gas industry. The goal was regime change. It failed.
We did the same thing in 2014 to Russia, crashing the price of oil and starving their banking system of dollars. The sanctions forced companies like Gazprom, Rosneft and Sberbank to pay off their dollar-denominated debt as opposed to rolling it forward.
It cost the Russians nearly $200 billion to do this.
It took an international incident and a lame-duck President looking to screw with Hillary Clinton for us to finally comply with the terms of the deal. Conservative news outlets like Drudge and Breitbart had a field day. Obama laughed and Hillary struggled to recover.
Trump’s repeated comments that the deal was ‘horrible’ may be true from a hard negotiator’s perspective, especially if he truly feels we need global nuclear disarmament, which I’m still willing to grant is true. But the return of Iranian assets after four years of being held hostage was the first thing put on the table, not the last.
Obama refusing to honor deals was the most consistent part of his presidency. Obama undercut his Secretary of State, John Kerry, multiple times in Syria and Ukraine. Multiple times we agreed to ceasefire plans with Russia and multiple times those ceasefires were broken.
It’s a hallmark of our State department. Whenever we begin losing significant ground overseas we call for peace talks. These are used to buy time and resupply our proxies before creating a false narrative in the news to violate the agreement.
Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
Russia has had enough of this and hoped for Trump to be different. He has turned out not to be. In fact, to this date, he and Tillerson are worse than Obama and Kerry. Something I didn’t think was humanly possible. But, there it is.
Understandably, the Russians were very wary of Trump’s early whispers of rationality. Like good economists, they only judge American actions not their words.
The view of Iran as an implacable enemy hell-bent on destroying the U.S. is only supportable if you believe making America great again must involve crushing every country attempting to pursue its own interests. This is why Russia is so hated and feared in Washington. A cursory review of Russia’s military hardware and economic makeup tells you that Russia has the will and the means to resist U.S. imperialism.
An alliance with Iran and China shuts us out of fomenting chaos in central Asia.
Tillerson’s comments put paid Kissinger ‘divide and rule’ strategy cooked up during the transition period, post-election. Trump is trying to isolate Russia from Iran and China by making Iran nervous and offering China help.
If Trump and his besties continue on this path they will have parlayed an already bad hand in Asia into a miserable one. And we’ll wind up being the ones isolated.