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Trump and Iran: Restraint not rhetoric

2017-02-10 00:00:28
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Donald Trump is newsmaker extraordinary. It is no exaggeration to say that from the day he assumed office on January 20, not a single morning passes without a breaking news item connected to him being flashed across the TV screen as we switch on to CNN.  There is little rest for news hunters hounding him. ‘Controversial’ is perhaps the most used word in news items about him.
Besides his extraordinary newsworthiness, he has become the pivot of international politics, as though world politics revolves around him. Rarely do we read an international political or economic analysis where Trump or the unpredictability associated with his policies is not mentioned.  Almost all analyses point to the uncertainty if not chaos he has created in international affairs.  Guessing the trajectory of his policies is not a matter for political pundits alone. It is increasingly becoming a job for psycho analysts. 


One of the perilous uncertainties is Trump’s Iran policy.  Will he start a war with Iran? Or is the hostile rhetoric just hype? Whatever it is, a dangerous situation is developing in the Persian Gulf amidst a war of words between the two countries, especially in the wake of two missile tests carried out by Iran. 


That Trump will turn hostile toward Iran was evident even during his campaign, but many dismissed his anti-Iran rants as a political gimmick.  They are wrong. Trump appears to be gearing for a clash with Iran.  Since he took office, he has been accusing Iran of being the main state sponsor of terrorism.  In the wake of the Iranian missile test, he tweeted this week “Iran is playing with fire - they don’t appreciate how “kind” President Obama was to them. Not me!” He has also blamed the Iranians for an attack carried out by Yemen’s Houthi forces on a Saudi military vessel.
In another tweet he said, “Iran, #1 in terror” and questioned how the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran was ever signed. 


As has been with many of the Trump charges, the allegation that Iran sponsors terrorism does not stand a fact check. The mainstream US media, which are usually fast to point out the factual errors in Trump statements, for obvious reasons, would not say that Iran has not been associated with any of the terrorists activities since the 9/11 attacks and more so after the United States’ 2003 Iraq invasion that subsequently paved the way for terror groups such as ISIS to emerge.
Given the US media’s hostility towards Iran since the hostage crisis of 1979 and given their pro-Israeli prejudice, their silence or suppression of facts is not unexpected. 


So Trump and his team have a freehold on Iran-bashing.  Under a normal or establishment US president, a real shooting war between Iran and the United States may appear far-fetched, given the disastrous consequences of such a war and Iran’s ability to strike back.  But with Trump at the helm, predicting war or peace is like playing Russian roulette. 


US Defence Secretary James Mattis is an avowed anti-Iranian. He believes that Iran is the single most enduring threat to stability and peace in the Middle East. Trump’s National Security adviser Mike Flynn has already put Iran on notice in response to the Islamic Republic’s January 29 missile test, which the Trump administration saw as a violation of the Obama era nuclear treaty.  Ironically, Trump, during his campaign, vowed to dismantle the treaty which the United States and five other world powers signed with Iran.


So it came as no surprise when Trump seized on the Iranian missile test to issue a series of warnings to Iran and slap fresh sanctions.  Just as Trump, Israel and Saudi Arabia also blamed Barack Obama for the Iran deal, in terms of which some sanctions on Iran were lifted in exchange for Iran shelving its nuclear material enrichment programme. Interestingly, despite Trump’s anti-Muslim credentials, Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies view Trump as a friend because of his anti-Iran stance.  Some of them even have welcomed the travel ban on the people of seven Muslim nations. 
Iran, however, hit back by denying visas to US wrestlers who wanted to take part in a competition in Iran and launched another missile test last week, in addition to conducting a military exercise and further cutting down transactions in dollars.


In a further rub, Iran’s spiritual leader Ayatollah Khamenei in a speech this week scorned Trump. He said: “We are thankful to (Trump) for making our life easy as he showed the real face of America. He (Trump) says ‘You should be afraid of me’. No! The Iranian people will respond to his words on February 10 (the day on which Iran celebrates the victory of the 1979 Islamic revolution) and will show their stance against such threats.”


Reacting more hawkishly to the second Iranian missile test, White House spokesperson Sean Spicer warned the Iranian leader, “There’s a new President in town” and the administration would not “sit by” to allow the Islamic republic to pursue its military ambitions. 


“I think the Ayatollah [Iran’s Supreme Leader] is going to realise there’s a new President in office….  He {the new US president} will continue to take action as he sees fit.” 
However, the White House acknowledged the missile test was not a direct breach of the 2015 nuclear pact though it “violates the spirit” of the deal. Then why is this anti-Iran onslaught?
Iran should have exercised restraint in responding to Trump’s tangled tweets.


It should try to sustain the process which it together with the United States had put in motion during the Obama administration to improve relations. Instead, Iran resorted to diplomatic or political populism to respond to Trump’s warnings.  Iran should have displayed diplomatic magnanimity and shunned action or rhetoric to provoke Trump. It should not play into Trump’s hands and give him an excuse to start a war with Iran or dismantle the nuclear deal or, on the pretext of fighting Iran, implement his outlandish plan for America – a plan that undermines human rights, democracy and liberal and moral principles. 


Perhaps, Iran, by confronting Trump, wants to prompt him to take the United States on the path to ruin?
However egregious the double-standards-ridden US foreign policy has been and however horrendous its war crimes record, the United States’ contribution towards the progress of humanity by way of discoveries and inventions in the field of science, medicine and technology is so voluminous that the rest of the world is heavily indebted to it. Besides, the ongoing protests against Trump’s travel ban on Muslims from seven nations are a testament to the American people’s resolve to stand by moral principles. It is heartening to note that the good people are no longer silent to let evil to thrive. 


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