By Henry Kamens for VT and New Eastern Outlook, Moscow
Iran not messing around these days. The Islamic Republic is in perhaps the best position it has ever been.
All the present allegations concerning Iran’s warlike intentions, and shades-of-subterfuge-flying-colours, make the situation somewhat ironic, and go further towards providing a moral high ground for the Iranians. They are also an opportunity for politicians and demagogues alike to show their true colours, if politicians actually have any.
Hard core Republicans, who never served in the US military, should know that these are the same people who took power as a result of the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Therefore they know the capabilities of the US when its bluff is called. They have also shown for 40 years that calling that bluff can gain it political and financial advantages which US allies, who seek the same thing through their associations, envy.
We will begin not from what we are supposed to know from the media, but from the reaction to Iran’s alleged involvement in the burning of Saudi oil via its so-called proxies. What evidence is there to support this notion? Where does it come from? If Iran did not do it, who did?
Firstly, let’s look at Trump’s Tweet: “Saudi Arabia oil supply was attacked. There is reason to believe that we know the culprit, are locked and loaded depending on verification, but are waiting to hear from the Kingdom as to who they believe was the cause of this attack, and under what terms we would proceed!”
What am I missing here – “waiting for verification from the Kingdom”, as if they want to ask the fox guarding the chicken house what actually transpired? So the Saudis are going to say that, despite all the support the US and other states has given them over the years, they were unable to repel the very enemy these arms were allegedly designed to protect them from? The Saudi monarchy would be the first victim of such an admission, given what has happened in other countries in the region.
The Saudis should be happy, as this attack is what was needed to raise the world price of oil to a level they can come closer to breaking even. It also improves the speed of those sales, as the perception that Saudi supplies are under threat will bring bigger money into the game from those hoping to make a killing while they can, and ring fence what is left for their own governments, as the incompetent Saudis obviously now need their support.
The Iranians are well placed to call Trump’s bluff. How else could the situation be described than a last ditch attempt to drag the US into the region? But is highly unlikely, considering the neighborhood—that Trump and the US military will actually come to the rescue of the Princes if Iran decides to kicks ass over these allegations. Iran, of all countries, should know this better than any.
The Timing is Perfect!
Nobody will protect Saudi Arabia, a corrupt terrorist state and funder of 9/11 and regional terrorism, particularly when Western governments have been embarrassed by their existing support for it, and want an excuse to get out. It is this very reason why the oil fire serves too many Saudi purposes – not only dragging the US in, but scaring it into thinking its own industries won’t run without it.
What Trump forgets is that Congress decides whether the US engages in war and foreign intervention, and fighting over burning oil in some faraway land is not in the National Security interest of the United States. US domestic oil producers could also not be happier with the increase in oil prices.
Let the fire burn some more! It will help Trump revitalise this industry if no other, and thus keep part of his election pledge to dispossessed industrial workers, squeezed out by nasty foreign competition.
The VOA, a “trusted source”, begs the question: “What good is all the US supplied weaponry in the face of drone attacks?” Not much, as the recent attacks on Saudi Arabia’s crude oil hub at the Abqaiq and Khurais production facilities so clearly demonstrates. A nation with a massive defence budget is still vulnerable to drone strikes, and primitive ones at that!!! This is where all the excuses for supplying these weapons in the face of Saudi atrocities have actually led.
It is rather ironic that an action originating in Yemen most probably destroyed the world’s largest oil refinery. Saudi Arabia has the world’s best air defences, and the best American technology oil money can buy. Yemen is supposed to be poor and ravaged, all the morre so since the Americans fled the conflict there. Who would want to be an indebted Saudi rather than a free and effective Yemeni?
Perhaps Saudi Arabia should have bought Russian technology instead, and that idea comes from the man himself. In the wake of the attack President Vladimir Putin offered to supply Saudi Arabia with Russia’s most advanced air defence systems, the Russian S-300 or S-400. These come highly recommended by the international community, albeit much to the dismay of the US Military-Industrial Complex, and even Turkey is buying Russian these days.
All Bark and No Bite!
All the while the US and the successor to Bolton are talking sanctions. Pompeo Calls Attacks on Saudi Arabia an ‘Act of War’ as Trump Tightens Iran Sanctions, as the New York Times reports. But in practice not much can be done, and that is only too obvious, especially as Trump is trying to stay focused on gaining another term in office.
Trump has told journalists that he has “many options” available on Iran, including the “ultimate option,” an apparent reference to military conflict with Tehran. Of course he has. But all the while he reiterates that things have not worked out during previous engagements, and counters the rhetoric of Foreign Relations Committee member Lindsey Graham by asking “how did going into the Middle East and these countries work out?”
Lindsey Graham has been very vocal, offering unsolicited advice as to how the Trump administration should conduct its strategy to combat [alleged] Iranian aggression and maintain relations with [purported] strategic allies such as Saudi Arabia.
He also has claimed fame by calling Trump a fucking idiot, though technically not directly, and, even worse names on many occasions, questioning his sanity and ability to perform his duties as commander-in-chief.
“So if I was the president, I’d tell the Iranians if there’s an attack on a ship or a pipeline or anything like that, we’re going to blow up your oil refinery and take you out of the oil business because they’re trying to drive up costs by creating chaos,” Graham says, as if taking Iran out of the business will not also drive up costs and create chaos.
It even gets better: If Iran “attacks shipping again,” US should consider “taking out their navy, oil refineries.” Presumably he would be doing this with a small portion of the weapons the same US has supplied to the Saudi government to make such an action unnecessary.
The feisty Senator tries his best to connect the oil refinery issue to unproven allegations of state sponsored terrorism and a threat to Israel’s security interests. And the BIG mouth is acting as if he is the official spokesperson, the mouthpiece of Trump, by saying that “the president has had it with Iran.”
Such sound bites are commonplace in the verbal firefight between the two. Trump has offered a reserved rebuttal to Graham’s assertion that the Administration’s response to Iran shooting down an American drone earlier this summer was viewed as “weakness,” with the President calling his response “a sign of strength. “It all depends who is doing the viewing of course, and why they are bothering to view it – the usual reason being to prove yourself right, rather than understand reality.
The last thing Trump and the US need is another engagement in the Middle East, especially in the wake of Israeli elections, so to hell with the Onward Christian Soldiers stance of many in his Administration. The most diplomatic language of Graham’s tweets is without doubt found in: “The problems with Iran only get worse over time so it is imperative we take decisive action to deter further aggression by the Ayatollah and his henchman.” But Trump does know that US involvement ion the Middle East also creates problems which get worse over time – the forty years since the Iranian revolution, to be exact.
Let’s not forget that Trump’s policy, dating back to even before he was President, 2014, remains clear: Saudi Arabia and other countries the US has an interest in should either “fight their own wars” or “pay us an absolute fortune to protect them.” It is doubtful, despite any recent statement, direct or indirect, that he will change this position. He may be locked and loaded, but there is no hair trigger.
All the while, Saudi Arabia conducts a war of aggression, contrary to Islamic Law and Nurnberg precedents, against Yemen. All wars of aggression are described as crimes against humanity by both. So much so that Islamic clerics are calling for a curtailment on the hajj to Mecca, so as not to indirectly support arms sales and human rights violations.
“The rising death toll of civilians killed by Saudi bombs in Yemen, the horrific slaughter of Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, and Riyadh’s aggressive approach to the Iran crisis have led some of Saudi Arabia’s Sunni allies to reconsider their unwavering support for the kingdom”, we are told. These Sunni allies could go further, but are hesitating because there remains a possibility that the US or any of its allies could become directly involved, leading most of them back into the Saudi fold.
However, notwithstanding the established connections between terrorism and Saudi money, few in Congress will support any policy that would result in the US becoming directly involved in a ground war, where US soldiers would be in harm’s way, especially with an election coming up. Can you imagine beginning such an action when you have no idea who your commander-in-chief is going to be?
Protect and Disserve
Despite all claims, the Saudis have clearly not yet been able to make a convincing case that Iran was directly involved in the oil terminal attack. Even if they could, the attack (if indeed it came from Yemen) was a protective reaction strike against an aggressor.
If that is sufficient reason for the US to go in, it might like to explain why it previously ran away from Yemen because it lost some pieces of paper, having pretended to be so tough by staying through war, kidnappings and the bombing of the US Embassy.
The US clearly has no treaty obligations to protect Saudi Arabia from its own self-inflicted security concerns in the light of its own sordid actions in the region—and that is saying it kindly.
As before, Trump will most likely keep true to his word, “showing strength” by doing nothing and keeping America and Americans out of harm’s way.
This is not because Trump is trying to be moral, or cares about life, but because he is being politically expedient, and realises that a war with Iran over Saudi Arabia would be the final nail in his coffin. Such a war would be remembered as his legacy, one even more distasteful than Obama inherited with Afghanistan and Iraq.
Henry Kamens, columnist, expert on Central Asia and Caucasus, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.