Profile picture
TJ
, 41 tweets, 12 min read Read on Twitter
Now a shooting war with #Iran appears to have been avoided, at least for the weekend, it's vital we pause and ask ourselves the basic questions: What's the strategy? Is there even one? How did we get into this mess? And, how do we get out of it?

Time for a #geopolitics thread!
Right, so, here's the bottom line: The US has worked itself into a position whose likely outcomes are (a) war (b) internal regime change or (c) lasting damage to U.S. global leadership. I think we're heading for the latter. But first, I want to back up and review how we got here
For about 30 years, the U.S. & Iran maintained a cold, uncomfortable peace, generally content to hurl no more than invective at each other. Even in #Iraq, where #IRGC-backed militias attacked US forces, the two found their strategic interests aligned more often than not.
The greatest threat to this cold peace had been the potential for Iran to develop nuclear weapons, which would have upset the power balance in the #MiddleEast, including by creating an existential threat to Israel. The US, as a #hegemon, doesn't like upsets to regional balance.
The Obama Admin may not have been delighted by Iran's violent and destabilizing regional activities, but was willing to live with a level of Iranian malfeasance. It carved off Iran's nuclear program with the #JCPOA, and set aside Iran's other problematic activities 'for later.'
This approach was the source of much friction between the Obama Admin and its regional partners such as Israel, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, but the US called the shots, offered sweeteners, and dragged its regional partners into grudging, unenthused, support for the approach.
But while Iran and the Obama Admin were wrapping up their negotiations on the #JCPOA, which was signed in July 2015, a series of other events were taking place - a set of coincidences of history that would fundamentally reshape the relationship between the two countries.
The first was the Arab Spring. To observers in the Gulf, the fall of Ben Ali, Gaddhafi & Mubarak was nothing short of shocking, as was the idea that Egypt could be ruled by the #MuslimBrotherhood, an organization historically hostile to the ruling families of Arabia.
When the Egyptian Army overthrew #Morsi, the rulers of Saudi and the UAE breathed a sigh of relief - and promised themselves they'd never again allow the fate of the Arab world to rest in the hands of other nations and their people.
Yet in 2014 just such a situation developed to Saudi's immediate south, in Yemen, coming to a head in January 2015, when the #Houthi movement overthrew the Saudi-aligned government. That same month, #SaudiArabia crowned a new King, Salman, and then it got a new Defense Minister:
Mohammed bin Salman - #MBS.

MBS took it as his charge to roll-back the Houthis in Yemen just as the Muslim Brotherhood had been rolled back in Egypt. Within months of taking office, he led Saudi and its allies across the border. The #Yemen War had begun.
So, by Spring 2015, you have a new generation of Gulf leadership who saw what happened to rulers during the Arab Spring. They have the economic and military might to make sure it never happens again - not to them, not to any other country in the region, democracy be damned.
The problem is, America. It's still quite keen on democracy in places like Lebanon and Tunisia. On top of that, it's pursuing a deal with Iran that fixes the globally destabilizing aspect of its behavior (nukes) but does nothing to roll back Iran's activities around the region.
Then, a couple of months later, a few thousand miles away, a man rides down an escalator.

Thee Gulf powers see their chance. Through a combination of early outreach via #Flynn. sweet-talking #JaredKushner, and promising billions in arms buys, MBS and MBZ make a breakthrough:
They get a POTUS who couldn't care less about the details of foreign policy, and an Admin that promises them all the support with none of the strings attached. So long as the cash keeps flowing, Saudi and the UAE have effectively a carte blanche to solve the regions' problems.
And that gets us back to Iran. Remember the cold peace I described? A key part of it was that a certain level of Iranian malfeasance would be tolerated so long as it didn't upset the regional balance of power. That was an American policy, built on American interests.
Instead, the Trump Admin has prioritized the interests of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Israel, none of whom are interested in maintaining the balance of power. And it is their interests, not American interests, that are currently driving the tensions with Iran. #AmericaFirst?
Nothing, really, has changed about Iran in the last 3 years. And nothing, fundamentally, has changed about America (I'd like to think). Yet overnight, it seems, we've quit the #JCPOA and announced we will squeeze Iran until it changes its behavior, its government, or both.
There are certainly many legitimate reasons to oppose the Iranian government. It is a theocratic tyranny that terrorizes and tortures its way to the ends it desires from Beirut to Baghdad to Buenos Aires. But that isn't new, and nor is the limited threat it poses to America.
No, what's changed is our perspective. The US now looks at Iran through the eyes of the Gulf. That's unwise: we're a global power, and our outlook should be global.

Taking a break now.

Coming in Part 2: Why America's current Iran policy is a threat to our global priorities.
Alright, let's continue.

So the bottom line from the above is that the Trump Admin has made a fundamental shift in US policy on Iran, going from an approach based on regional stability and balance of power to one whose goal is the active rollback of Iranian regional influence.
Because the U.S., including its President, is uninterested in deepening its military involvement in the Middle East, the centerpiece of this rollback effort is economic - sanctions, to be precise.
The US hopes that by cutting off Iran's sources of revenue, the regime in Tehran will be forced to choose between bankrolling its proxies (like Hezbollah, Iraqi militias, arguably the Houthis) or cutting them off to save its economy, and ultimately itself.
The evidence to date suggests that this strategy is having its desired impact in terms of Iran's cashflow. Iran is, indeed, running out of currency, and as a result, it is cutting funding to its proxies.

washingtonpost.com/world/middle_e…
But the question is, will Iran really be willing to terminate its support to its proxies around the region so that, as Trump put in in a tweet today,

I don't think they will.

Part of the reason is that Iran sees its proxy groups as the means by which it exports the Revolution - a central part of the state's core narrative. Iran also sees itself as protector of the region's Shia populations, a role it will not give up;
But perhaps most importantly, Iran may be concerned that any political, military, or territorial advantage it cedes will be swiftly overtaken by Saudi and the UAE, who have made purging the region of Iranian influence a non-negotiable objective.
Politics need not be a zero-sum game in the Middle East - as Iraq and Lebanon demonstrate - but given the self-appointed role as kingmakers and defenders of the Arab world taken on by KSA & UAE, it could be understood why Iran may decline to reduce its regional presence.
So if ceding to the US demands is not likely to be on the table, what are the alternatives? Conflict is certainly an option, in extremis. But Iran would be wiser to do two things: to try and wait out the Trump Administration, and to find any way to obtain cash in the meantime.
That it may be able to find a source of funding despite the US sanctions is evidence that the Trump Admin shot itself in the foot by withdrawing from the JCPOA. It could have stayed in the agreement and sought expansion of the P5+1 remit to address Iran's other illicit activities
If the US had done so, it's quite possible it would have been able to make the case to the EU and Russia to expand the multilateral sanctions regime. But instead, by pulling out, the US has put itself in a position where it is applying unilateral sanctions.
US unilateral sanctions are powerful, of course. Given the choice of trading with Iran or trading with America, there's no nation on earth that would choose the former. But even though they may be followed, American unilateral sanctions are not particularly liked by our partners.
Sanctions, combined with what's seen as the unfairness of the US withdrawal, have spurred the EU to try and develop #INSTEX, a banking mechanism that the US sanctions wouldn't be able to touch, to allow European companies to keep trading with Iran.
lawfareblog.com/instex-blow-us…
In response, the US has threatened to sanction INSTEX; this, combined with last week's escalations in the Gulf may be leading Europe to reconsider the INSTEX mechanism - but Russia has said it will buy oil directly from Iran if INSTEX isn't established.

uk.reuters.com/article/uk-mid…
I suspect that one way or the other, Iran will find a way to obtain foreign currency. And to the extent it does, that may relieve the pressure that appears to have driven the recent regional escalations, providing a way out that otherwise would not exist.
So let's review: The US has become a partisan in a regional power struggle, adopting a set of policies that present Iran with no good options while withdrawing from the one agreement that provided America with a multilateral basis for its position;
But even worse, it seems the most viable way out of this avoidable confrontation will come through the creation of a banking system - whether European or Russian - designed specifically to bypass American sanctions. Once established, it will not be the last such mechanism.
This Administration started, under McMaster, focusing on great power competition. Now, under Bolton, it will likely sacrifice one of America's most critical tools of global influence - control over dollar trades - in pursuit of a shortsighted regional objective.
This is foreign policy malpractice. And yet here we are: the ebbing of US economic power may indeed be the preferable option than the military alternative this Administration, through its ego, caprice, and fecklessness, have laid upon the table.
/end.
@threadreaderapp unroll pls thx
Missing some Tweet in this thread?
You can try to force a refresh.

Like this thread? Get email updates or save it to PDF!

Subscribe to TJ
Profile picture

Get real-time email alerts when new unrolls are available from this author!

This content may be removed anytime!

Twitter may remove this content at anytime, convert it as a PDF, save and print for later use!

Try unrolling a thread yourself!

how to unroll video

1) Follow Thread Reader App on Twitter so you can easily mention us!

2) Go to a Twitter thread (series of Tweets by the same owner) and mention us with a keyword "unroll" @threadreaderapp unroll

You can practice here first or read more on our help page!

Follow Us on Twitter!

Did Thread Reader help you today?

Support us! We are indie developers!


This site is made by just three indie developers on a laptop doing marketing, support and development! Read more about the story.

Become a Premium Member ($3.00/month or $30.00/year) and get exclusive features!

Become Premium

Too expensive? Make a small donation by buying us coffee ($5) or help with server cost ($10)

Donate via Paypal Become our Patreon

Thank you for your support!