Trump is Wrong Over Iran, But Europe Can’t Afford to Divorce the USA – The Guardian UK

Trump is Wrong Over Iran, But Europe Can’t Afford to Divorce the USA

Bruno Tertrais | The Guardian UK

No other USA president has been as antagonistic to European principles. But there’s no alternative to a strong transatlantic partnership

In 2003 a USA-led war in the Middle East fractured western unity and divided the European family. It was a trauma of historic proportions, a watershed in some ways comparable to the 1956 Suez crisis.

With Donald Trump’s decision on Iran, we may be on the verge of another such moment. On the surface, things may not look as bad as they did in early 2003.

At this point, USA military action against Iran is a worst-case hypothesis – not a plan. No 180,000-strong force is being built up near Iranian territory. Nor are Europeans split into two camps.

In this current crisis – and despite Brexit – Europeans look like they’re sticking together.     

Trump’s decision is not only extraordinarily brutal, it affects a project whose origins are found in a European initiative taken in the autumn of 2003, when the UK, France and Germany sent their foreign ministers to Tehran for talks: That project was aimed at limiting and controlling Iran’s nuclear programme through peaceful means. It took 12 years of international diplomacy, in which Europe played an important role, to reach the nuclear deal that Trump has now decided to tear up.

Make no mistake, the first country ​to benefit from a breakup between the USA and Europe would be authoritarian Russia

This USA move amounts to an open assault on multilateralism – something that, as history has taught us, Europeans have an existential interest in protecting and upholding.

Trump’s decision is an own goal. USA credibility will be severely affected. When a German chancellor declares – as Angela Merkel has just done, for the second time in a year – that Europe can no longer rely on the United States of America, you know something is amiss. Many others will now ask:

How can we ever again trust a country that can withdraw overnight from solemn international agreements?

This could end badly. When Trump realises his strategy is bound to fail, he may want to resort to military force.

Trump’s decision on Iran comes after a year and a half of insults, disparaging comments, and decisions that run counter to European and western interests. He cares little about NATO, and believes the USA isn’t getting a fair return on its investment in European security. He has withdrawn from the Paris climate agreement; and has imposed tariffs on steel and aluminium.

Therefore, is it time for Europe to seek a divorce from the USA? Well, not quite. For several reasons, we should refrain from entertaining confrontation.

Europe may be the largest trade bloc in the world, but in truth it does not have the capacity to tackle 21st-century challenges on its own, and it would have even less capacity to do so if its relationship with the USA came fully apart.

There is simply no alternative to a strong transatlantic partnership. There is no available spare superpower with which Europeans would share enough interests to build a new form of alliance:

China and Russia offer no such alternative. Besides, transatlantic flows of trade and capital stand at the heart of the global economy, and they are irreplaceable.

Another reason to maintain a partnership with the USA is the magnitude of the security risks Europe faces. Islamic State might be militarily defeated, but jihadist terrorism is a generational challenge:

We cannot afford to turn our backs on cooperation with the USA. The trauma of terrorist attacks in Europe remains vivid.

And then there is Vladimir Putin’s Russia, a regime challenging our continent’s security and actively seeking, through various means, to weaken and divide Europe and the west.

Make no mistake, the first country to benefit from a breakup between the USA and Europe is authoritarian Russia.

Certainly, USA-Europe relations are now entering troubled, uncharted waters. But this could be a phase. Trump will be there for another three or seven years. But by historical standards, that’s a short period of time. The USA is a vibrant and innovative economy with a dynamic, multicultural population, and is an optimistic society that cherishes individual freedom. That won’t go away. We need to think about the future.

For us Europeans, today’s choices are difficult and there are real dilemmas. Building European unity is the first imperative. Some member states of the EU – especially in the central and eastern parts of the continent – may perhaps be tempted to give a nod to President Trump for tactical purposes – as a down-payment for US security protection. But that would be a miscalculation, as European discord would only benefit Russia.

We need to be firm with Washington. The nuclear deal, or what remains of it, needs to be supported. If it collapses entirely, that should not be because of us. Trump has taken an extraordinary gamble, and we in Europe would be the first, outside the Middle East, to suffer the consequences if yet more chaos and war erupts. Our least bad option is to show we’re ready to do what we can to preserve the 2015 deal. We need to mitigate the impact of USA sanctions on European business.

Our limitations are, however, rather obvious. Europe can’t afford a transatlantic trade war. Its companies and banks do much more business on the other side of the Atlantic than they will ever do with Iran.

If anything, this crisis should bolster calls to build up Europe’s defence capabilities. We should think of that ambition as a win-win proposition: As both a way of dispelling USA statements saying we refuse to carry our share of the security burden, and as insurance that protects us against further erratic behaviour from Washington.

Since 1945 the transatlantic relationship has been the bedrock of Europe’s economy and its security. One should tread carefully with that legacy. No other USA president has ever been as antagonistic towards Europe and towards the principles it defends. The American people elected Trump as president, so we have to respect that. But what we don’t have to respect are the decisions he takes that have negative consequences for everyone, ourselves included.

In 2003 my country, France, staunchly opposed the Iraq war, alongside Germany – notwithstanding, we were entirely unable to prevent it. Now Europeans have to find a way to mitigate the destructiveness coming out of the White House; and we must also be clear-eyed about what our capacities truly are.

  • Bruno Tertrais is deputy director of the French thinktank Fondation pour la recherche stratégique
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  • Clyde Duncan  On 05/17/2018 at 4:33 pm

    Europe Must Make Trump Pay for Wrecking the Iran Nuclear Deal

    Simon Tisdall | The Guardian UK

    Britain should cancel the president’s visit and join with allies to impose diplomatic and economic sanctions on the USA

    Donald Trump’s torpedoing of the Iran nuclear deal on highly specious and misleading grounds is an act of wanton diplomatic vandalism fraught with dangers.

    While the 2015 agreement may not yet be wholly sunk, it is holed below the waterline. Many in Tehran will see the sweeping re-imposition of USA sanctions as a declaration of war. As for Trump, he has once again proved himself the master of chaos.

    This aggressive bid to further isolate Iran appears designed to ultimately enforce regime change. In the short-term it will destroy remaining mutual goodwill, undermine pro-western Iranian opinion, empower hardliners, trigger an oil price crisis, and increase the risk of conflict centred on Syria and Israel.

    It raises the spectre of a regional nuclear arms race; and damages the western alliance to the advantage of Russia. It is a Crimea-sized blow to the primacy of international law.

    Yet Trump’s short-sighted folly, far from being unprecedented, is entirely consistent with a long history of similarly disastrous Middle East policy missteps by previous USA presidents.

    The region is littered with the corpses of momentously misconceived and wrong-headed USA policies, spawned by the same noxious mix of ignorance and arrogance now permeating the White House. In this respect, Trump is no different from many of his modern USA predecessors.

    Iran, as ever, is a case in point. The 1979-81 Tehran hostage crisis is usually referenced by those seeking to explain enduring, official USA enmity. It’s true America’s national humiliation was considerable, and Jimmy Carter paid the political price. But the Iranian people’s real offence was not the embassy siege.
    It was their presumptuous overthrow of the shah’s autocratic, pro-American regime in the 1979 revolution.

    The USA and the UK, after all, had gone to considerable trouble in 1953 to keep Iran in line, covertly ousting its democratically elected government of prime minister Mohammad Mosaddegh. Their loss of influence, consequent on Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s assertion of absolutist clerical rule, was the product of their own machinations. Here was the genesis of lethal USA backing for Saddam Hussein in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.

    The fight to repel Saddam’s invasion took 300,000 Iranian lives. Its cost, and causes, are not forgotten.

    Close by the Khomeini mausoleum south of Tehran, I once walked among the well-tended, shaded graves of hundreds of “martyrs” interred in Behesht-e Zahra cemetery. The war was a national trauma.

    Yet there has been no USA APOLOGY, NOR ANY THOUGHT OF ONE.

    Although the USA finally turned on Saddam in 1990, although Iran helped track al-Qaida following the 2001 attacks, and even though the nuclear deal elicited significant concessions, venomously irrational, unmitigated USA hostility persists.

    Among the many USA-fomented catastrophes in the Middle East, George W Bush’s 2003 decision to invade Iraq without a plan was a standout moment, unrivalled in its strategic incoherence and staggering incompetence.

    It destabilised Iraq territorially and economically. Bush’s “axis of evil” rhetoric and “global war on terror” fuelled sectarian violence and jihadism, playing midwife to Islamic State. And the ensuing, lengthy occupation failed to entrench inclusive democratic governance, as the next Iraq elections may again demonstrate.

    Ronald Reagan used covert Middle East arms sales to fund an illegal war in Nicaragua in the 1980s. Likewise, the USA armed the Afghan mujahedeen, then blanched as they morphed into the Taliban.

    George HW Bush liberated Kuwait in 1991 only to betray Iraq’s Kurds and Shias when they demanded liberation, too.

    Bill Clinton tried to end the Palestine-Israeli conflict, inspiring great optimism. I recall standing on the White House’s south lawn in 1993 as Clinton physically pulled Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin together for a reluctant handshake that had taken decades in coming. “Enough of blood and tears, enough … The time for peace has come,” Rabin solemnly declared.

    But the time had not come. Blood continued to flow. Clinton’s efforts to play honest broker failed, like those of other American presidents, because, ultimately, the just claims of the Palestinians always proved UNEQUAL to Israel’s political, emotional, and financial clout in Washington.

    Far from endowing peace in Palestine, USA policy has underwritten a deepening divide, the expansion of illegal settlements, and now the provocative recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city. Arafat and Rabin are both dead. So too, almost, is the TWO-STATE SOLUTION.

    In the decades after the Suez Crisis in 1956, when Britain and France were shoved aside, successive USA administrations war-gamed the Middle East as part of a bigger strategic contest with the Soviet Union.

    If that meant propping up pro-western dictators such as Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and the Saudi and Gulf monarchs, then so be it. Yet as Condoleezza Rice, the former secretary of state, conceded in Cairo in 2005, it was a self-defeating policy:

    “For 60 years, my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region, here in the Middle East, and we achieved neither,” she said.

    In another famous Cairo speech, in 2009, Barack Obama promised a “new beginning”. The USA had treated Middle East countries as either proxies or enemies, he said. Instead, Obama promised, it would tackle religious extremism, Palestine, nuclear proliferation, democratic deficits and women’s rights. Yet for all that, not much changed in the Obama years.

    Only the Iran deal marked a clear shift – until Trump wrecked it.

    In many respects, the region’s problems have grown steadily worse under American tutelage. Witness Somalia, a failed state-turned-shooting range for US special forces. Witness Yemen, a humanitarian disaster wrought by the USA-armed Saudi regime.

    Witness Libya, anarchic product of made-in-America regime change. Witness Turkey where, in the age of Guantánamo, human rights increasingly count for naught.

    Unsurprisingly, terrorism, in many forms, is proliferating, as is displacement, poverty and youth unemployment. And all this without mentioning the post-2011 Syrian holocaust of half a million dead.

    Syria’s fate symbolises perhaps the biggest USA failure of all:

    Its hard-nosed refusal to support the Arab spring uprisings and stand up, despite Obama’s promises, for democratic self-determination.

    KNOW-NOTHING Trump is the direct heir to this grim litany of catastrophic presidential blundering.

    But that is not to say Britain and Europe should tolerate yet another avoidable Middle East disaster wrought in Washington. Just as Russia has been told certain actions are unacceptable and incur painful consequences if not reversed, so too should the USA be told.

    The European allies must, by all available means, undercut, circumvent and subvert Trump’s attempt to wreck the Iran deal.

    Closer ties should be pursued with Tehran, while escalating, punitive diplomatic and economic sanctions are levelled at Washington. Joint action should also be taken to censure the USA at the UN. A price must be paid for perfidy.

    Theresa May can make a start by withdrawing her ill-judged invitation to Trump to visit Britain.

    With his Middle East warmongering, as with his climate change denial and his other dangerous and divisive policies, Trump threatens British interests and international peace and security.

    It is no longer enough simply to complain and condemn. The moment for active resistance has arrived.

    • Simon Tisdall is a foreign affairs commentator

  • guyaneseonline  On 05/18/2018 at 4:21 am


    The European Union is planning to switch payments to the euro for its oil purchases from Iran, eliminating US dollar transactions, a diplomatic source claimed.
    Brussels has been at odds with Washington over the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, which was reached during the administration of Barack Obama. President Donald Trump has pledged to re-impose sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

    “I’m privy to the information that the EU is going to shift from dollar to euro to pay for crude from Iran,” the source told the agency.


    • Ron Saywack  On 05/18/2018 at 7:01 am

      Interesting development.

      The EU switch to the euro will undoubtedly have far-ranging, negative implications for the dollar (U.S. & Can, and, possibly, other currencies).

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