Trita Parsi for VT and NBC News
President Donald Trump set out to pick a fight with Iran from the early days of his administration. But a set of astonishing developments has pulled the rug out from under his feet, and the next three months will determine whether Trump will opt to escalate his provocations or find a face-saving exit from his bravado.
Only a few months ago, Trump was oozing with confidence, having pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal, worked with the Saudis to squeeze oil exports and announced the reimposition of sanctions to the pleasure of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
As a result, the Iranian currency, the rial, was tanking and a noticeable sense of nervousness permeated Iran. The country had weathered sanctions before, but something felt different this time around.
Trump certainly thought there was: “I know they’re having a lot of problems and their economy is collapsing,” he told reporters on July 12. “[A]t a certain point, they’re going to call me and they’re going to say, ‘Let’s make a deal’.”
Fast forward five months, though, and all three pillars of Trump’s policy of strangulating Iran are at risk.
First, Saudi-US relations now arguably face the greatest crisis in history following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The US has long turned a blind eye to the Saudis involvement in the spread of terrorism, but Trump’s shameless protection of the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed Bin Salman — who the CIA believes, with high confidence, ordered the murder — may be considered egregious.
Republican Senators who were briefed on the matter by CIA Director Gina Haspel this week left with little doubt of Salman’s guilt. “You have to be willfully blind not to come to the conclusion that this was orchestrated and organized by people under the command of MBS and that he was intrinsically involved in the demise of Mr. Khashoggi,” Trump ally Lindsey Graham said after the briefing.
Even if the Republicans end up siding with Trump on continuing relations with Saudi Arabia on the current terms, the Democrats are unlikely to simply allow the relationship to return to business-as-usual.
This is partly because the Saudi-U.S. relationship embodies everything progressives oppose: A cozy relationship with a brutal authoritarian ruler driven by the greed of arms manufacturers, all while the U.S. is complicit in a Saudi-engineered famine in Yemen and the House of Saud’s human rights and women’s rights abuses.
Plus, Saudi has already annoyed Trump by cutting its oil production, arguably undermining its sole role in Trump’s Iran strategy.
Second, Israel has played a critical behind-the-scenes role in Trump’s Iran policy. Netanyahu, in particular, has been a central conduit for the relationship between Salman and Trump’s son-in-law and advisor Jared Kushner, which in turn helped pave the way for the close coordination between Saudi Arabia and Israel, and for the U.S. to turn against Iran.
But Netanyahu is now facing an existential fight for his political future. Israeli prosecutors have recommended indicting him again this week and he may soon face early elections as his government collapses. Though the next Israeli government is not likely to pursue a different Iran policy, it may not unconditionally embrace Trump and the Saudi Crown Prince as Netanyahu has. This could create a dangerous crack in the U.S.-Israel-Saudi front against Iran.
Third, Trump’s own political maneuverability is at risk: Trump will face far greater political obstacles going forward from the midterm elections, with the House likely investigating everything from his taxes, to his relationship with Saudi Arabia to his policy of picking a fight with Iran. Forced to play defense at home, Trump may not be able to continue to make Iran a priority.
But the most important indicator of the eventual failure of Trump’s Iran policy lies not with the health of the pillars, but what the current sanctions policy failed to produce before it was at risk.
Trump promised that the Iranian currency would continue to fall and that Tehran’s oil exports would go down to zero. Yet, though the Iranian economy certainly is hurting, the currency has stabilized and Trump was himself forced to issue eight sanctions waivers to European and Asian countries, undermining the policy from the get-go.
And the whole plan was predicated on the idea that an economic collapse would compel Iranians to rise up against their government. According to the New York Times, Trump was presented with a $2 billion plan to destabilize the Iranian economy and manipulate social media to foment unrest in Iran by causing the Iranian public to lose confidence in the regime’s ability to survive. Much indicates that the plan was adopted by Trump, yet it failed. The rial has stabilized and few are today willing to bank on the regime’s demise, even though the public’s discontent with the country’s theocracy remains very high.
Today, if you’re sitting in Tehran, you’re probably more confident in the future than if you’re in Riyadh or Washington. Trump has thrown everything he has at Iran, and it hasn’t worked. And once the European “Special Purpose Vehicle” — an alternative payment system that will enable companies to defy Trump’s sanctions — is up and running next year, the Trump’s Iran strategy may face yet another crippling blow.
The question is what Salman and Netanyahu will push Trump to do once the failure of the current policy is evident. If past is prologue, they will press him to go to war. But, at that point, even Trump may grow tired of being treated as the junior partner in this relationship.
Trita Parsi is the author of “Losing an Enemy — Obama, Iran and the Triumph of Diplomacy” and the founder of the National Iranian American Council.
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What I wonder is if the NWO will set up Tulsi Gabbard as the next POTUS?
It does follow since the NWO sported a “serious” guy in Bill Clinton, a truly satirical comedian in GWB (which no one yet seems to have realized that he played us all; he played the part of the Fool).
Then the NWO shifted to another “serious” guy that was going to be the black muslim 666 but he did not manage to start WWIII, and now Trump has to play the same role GWB was cast for; the Hegelian Thesis of incompetent elected officials that cannot stick to agreements (think Iran) and all that jazz; stupid; offensive; forgetful…
After WWIII there will be a global outcry to “save us from the politicians” – the Hegelian Thesis – and then the NWO will offer their already planned Synthesis of Ten World Regions. Werner von Braun said that a One World Government will only come forth after fake alien attacks by Area 51 built UFOs.
Edward Dodge, your comment is a very good, nice and short, a comprehensive view of the reality of life here in the states.
The Persians have put up with so much crapola from Israel and the US. I think it’s more than just a tempest in a teapot. The stronger they get; the weaker we get.
A great observation, indeed. Though it’s painful to see the majority of the American public are more concerned about Sunday football or NBA games’ scores than the direction of their country on the international stage, a complete disconnect from who & where their foreign policy makers are taking them!
I think Americans are becoming more engaged (awakened, if you will). Unfortunately, we see it most in polarization. I wouldn’t be too hard on them though. They have an economy in which wages haven’t kept up with inflation in four decades, a media that doesn’t inform, a government that has too many secrets, and a society that has been bombarded with non-stop psyops, chaos, and change.
Donnie the Draft Dodger is Netanyahu’s lapdog, he’ll do anything Bibi tells him to do.
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