Trump and the Iranians

What made the US president climb down from his tree?

By Abdel Bari Atwan

Nobody understands Donald Trump or knows how to deal with him and his arrogance better than the Iranians. Their firm and solid response to his surprise offer earlier this week to meet with them without preconditions at any time they choose clearly and boldly confirms this.

Trump said that meeting with the Iranians would be ‘good for them, good for us, and good for the world,’ adding: ‘If we could work something out that is meaningful, not the waste of paper that the other deal was, I would certainly be willing to meet.’

In addition, US National Security Council Spokesman Garrett Marquis said Washington was prepared to act to end sanctions, re-establish full diplomatic and commercial relations, permit Iran to have advanced technology, and support the Iranian economy’s reintegration into the global economy.

The question to ask here is what lies behind this sudden outbreak of American magnanimity and a complete change of tone? From threatening to destroy Iran by imposing unprecedented crippling sanctions on it, preventing it from exporting a single barrel of oil, and urging Saudi Arabia to hike its oil production in order to flood the market and bring down prices; to issuing an open call for dialogue accompanied by a series of diplomatic and political inducements.

Before answering, it should be noted that most of Iran’s reactions to Trump’s generous offer have come from second-rank officials, and focused on ridiculing it and the man who made it and insisting that Trump should first reverse his decision to withdraw from the nuclear agreement and suspend all economic sanctions imposed on Iran.

Trump’s strategy has been exposed and is now obvious to the most inexperienced political novice. First, he escalates his threats and exaggerates the size of the ‘stick’ he intends to wield in the hope of intimidating his opponents and dragging them to the negotiating table, and then he climbs down from the tree he has just ascended. The man is a toothless hyena. He does not dare to actually wage war, and would not know how to, in any case, his expertise being confined to business deals and exhibitionist muscle-flexing.

It should be stressed that Trump and his administration’s U-turn came only after it became apparent that the Iranians were not in the least bit intimidated by his threats to strangle them economically, his hints of war, or his talk of creating a ‘Sunni Arab NATO’ – with Israel as an unofficial ninth member — in preparation for an assault on the Islamic Republic. Their response was to give a green light to their Yemeni Ansarullah allies to fire missiles at Saudi warships and oil tankers near the Strait of Bab al-Mandeb. That was intended to alert the US and its allies that much of the world’s shipping and half its oil exports are now at the mercy of the alliance that Tehran leads. Today Bab al-Mandeb, tomorrow the Strait of Hormuz, was the message. This was a mere starter, and the main course would be much more substantial.

A cowed Trump retreated after President Hassan Rowhani warned him that any  attack he ordered on Iran would trigger ‘the mother of all wars,’ and the Revolutionary Guards’ Qods Force commander, Gen. Qassem Soleimani, cautioned that if Trump started the war, it would be Iran that determined how it would end, and blocking the Strait of Hormuz would be only a small part of its response.

What Trump forgot, amid his preoccupation with his sex scandals and criticism of his pathetic performance at the Helsinki summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, is that the US, by his own admission, was defeated in the war in Syria after spending $70 billion on it. And by whom? The Russians, Syrians, Iranians and Hezbollah. It has also yet to win the Afghan war 17 years after launching it. Indeed, it is at a loss as to how to extricate itself from that costly entanglement and is currently negotiating with the Taliban in Doha in the hope of cutting its losses. Moreover, Trump has turned the US into the most hated country in the world, not least by its European allies.

Trump is only a lion when he is dealing with the Arabs, and only in the Gulf region. They bow to his dictates, obey his orders, and submit to all his extortionist financial demands and his taunts that they would not survive for a single week without American protection.

Rowhani said he had turned down eight offers to meet with Trump because he does not trust a man who does not respect his own country’s signature, echoing   the Iranian supreme leader’s assertion that any such meetings would be ‘a waste of time.’ That is the difference between our Arab leaders, who bend over backwards to be granted an audience with the US president, and their Iranian counterparts.

The Iranians could well agree to meet with Trump if they sensed some willingness to meet their requirements in a way that alleviates the suffering of their 70 million population. That is exactly what they did when they concluded the nuclear agreement after five years of negotiations. Some Arabs berated them at the time and accused them of capitulating, and later criticised Trump’s withdrawal from the agreement and urged that it be preserved so as to avoid the consequences and costs of its abrogation – most importantly, a regional nuclear arms race that Iran would be bound to win, as it has already covered much ground in this field.

North Korean President Kim Jong-un accepted his American counterpart’s invitation to dialogue and went to the Singapore summit with his head raised high. Many detractors expected him to submit and raise the white flag of surrender. Yet The Washington Post reports that he has begun developing new missiles, more powerful than those that already fill his military arsenal, that can strike deep inside the US. We did not hear a single word about this from Trump, who seems to have swallowed his tongue and learned the virtue of silence.

We can be sure that the members of the prospective Arab NATO, which Trump ordered to be formed in conjunction with Netanyahu to wage war on Iran, are sweating profusely at the turnabout in the position of their master and his extending a hand of dialogue to Tehran without pre-conditions. They may be kicking themselves at the failure of their wager that the US and Israel would bomb Iran back into the Stone Age as they have been hoping. They must also regret having spent hundreds of billions of dollars on warplanes and missiles in preparation for taking part in this momentous event.

We wish that our Arab ‘leaders’ would learn something from the Iranians and North Koreans rather than be squandering our wealth in pursuit of the mirage of a war on Iran – fought on their behalf by the US and Israel — aimed at destroying it just as they destroyed Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Libya. That would teach them something about dignity and self-respect. And it would enable them to develop a proper Arab strategy for achieving strategic equilibrium in the region and establishing an effective Arab deterrent force, to offset the nation’s biggest enemy Israel, and also achieve a military balance with Iraq.

Will these ‘leaders’ heed with such a call? We think not. Otherwise, we would not have reached our current sorry state in which the entire world sees us as a byword for stupidity, backwardness and submission.

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