Is War With Iran Coming?

You probably saw this yesterday.

If you spent any time online yesterday, you probably saw that it became a meme. Everyone was doing mocking tweets of it, for petty grievances or incredibly specific references to their particular profession. Here’s Uproxx calling it an “incredible meme“, which, immediately, seems to be a fairly blithe and stupid and of-the-moment self-reflective response, a product of our warped media age, to the President of the United States sounding like a maddened incel about nuclear war.

Of course, it also could be self-protection, a layer of irony to shield ourselves from the horror of the day, from the fact that this half-bright toddler, made dumb and cruel by wealth, could kills hundreds of thousands, if not more, without anyone legally able to stop him. Maybe making jokes about everything perpetuates our false and woozy times as much as it protects us from it, but if we’re already in that terrible loop, it’s hard to get out.

Or maybe the reaction of Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif summed it up.

He doesn’t take Trump very seriously. He sees this as bluster, the same kind that led to the North Korean “talks”, in which NK didn’t change their position at all and the US gave up its biggest bargaining chip. More likely, he understands that Trump is seen as weak after clearly kowtowing to Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, and needs to rally Republicans that are more than ready to circle the wagons for him.

I think that’s dangerous though. It is dangerous to draw parallels between North Korean bloviating and threatening Iran. For one thing, inasmuch as there is a Middle East strategy in Trump’s empty toothpaste tube of a mind, it is to side with a coalition os the rich Gulf states (minus Qatar) and Israel against Iran. There are obviously a million problems with that plan, and I think even in a moral vacuum it is ultimately unworkable, but I can at least make the case that there is a strategy (again, with the caveat that this team isn’t able to pull it off).

For another thing, as hawkish as some of his team was on North Korea, that was small beer compared to their warboy attitude toward Iran. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the Christianist bigot, doesn’t really believe Iran has a right to exist as an independent, non-colonized state. He thinks it should be a vassal to the West and have no say in its own destiny.

General Mattis is more rational and not driven by bigotry, but he (to a large degree correctly) sees Iran as the main driver of conflict with the US in the region, particularly in Iraq. He knows that Iran is responsible for chaos and the death of US soldiers in the region. One could argue that there shouldn’t have been US soldiers in Iraq, but that doesn’t (and probably shouldn’t) matter to Mattis. His job was to fight for the US, and so his overall Middle East perception is that Iran is the enemy. He is, after all, a general, with the good and bad that brings.

And John Bolton? Do you even have to ask?

It’s not just Bolton. The entire GOP and most of the Democratic Party has seen Iran as the primary villain in the world since the moment the last primary villain, Saddam Hussein, had his statues toppled. There is actual weight behind this push to war.

It’s important to ask why. If you want, you could trace the last 40 years since the revolution and the hostage crisis, or go back to 1953 when the CIA helped overthrow the elected government and reinstitute the decadent and almost louche cruelty of the Shah’s regime.

But this is about more than just specific events. It is Great Power competition, as the US, the last vanguard of the West in the Middle East, tries to maintain its dominance of the last 150 years. US actions in Iran must be analyzed by the individual players and the truth of recent history, but they also have to be seen through the prism of colonialist appetites and the reemergence of a historic power, partly due to a reaction to said colonialism.

That’s what Zarif meant in his tweet. Iran, in one form or another, has been around since Europeans were living in huts along muddy rivers. It has continuity, and even though Europeans have dominated recently, that’s a historical blip. Trump is just fighting a rearguard war.

He’s also assuming that this is just bluster, and is playing the role of statesman, almost laughing at Trump, rolling his eyes. “Yes yes- oh, is he yelling again? Goodness, how frightening!”  I think that’s his primary goal here, taking advantage of the broken Western coalition, and showing that he is more reliable than Trump. And, thanks to Trump’s actions, that’s not a bad plan.

This is very bad. For one thing, Trump’s peak idiocy, exemplified by violating the JCPOA, strengthens the hand of Russia and China in the region, mostly the latter, and weakens any US attempt to bring a modicum of stability.

For another, it somehow makes Iran look like a reasonable power. It’s not! The regime is as cruel as the Shah as even more oppressive, corrupt to the bone, and stifling to generations of Iranians. It exports war and terror around the region. Even if you agree that Iran should, or at least absolutely will, reassert itself as a regional power, there is no way to argue that the current regime is doing so responsibly or is a force for good.

That’s not a call for violent regime change. That would be another generational disaster, would lead to ridiculous chaos and suffering, and could break the US military or force it to reinstitute the draft. But given the weight of the two countries, and Trump’s need to show strength, we could drift toward war.

Even if you think Trump is blustering in order to sound tough and repeat what he sees as his huge success with North Korea, these things can have a momentum. Given the teams in place, it is far from impossible.

In the long run, this is a common story. A fallen empire, made weak and soft and stupid, is dominated by outsiders, who eventually get weak and soft and stupid themselves. At the trough of their decline, they are led by the very worst, and have one last desperate attempt to reclaim what is “theirs”. A generation of violence and upheaval follows, and the newer empire fades into infighting and irrelevance.

In the long run, that’s a common story. Unfortunately, we don’t live in the long run. We live in the present, which has become mirrored and refracting, an endless series of impulses and truthless narratives and escapes. But no matter how many memes are made, the forces of history have a way of imposing reality. America in the 21st century is not immune to that. That we ever thought ourselves inoculated have made us impossibly sick.

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Iran, Israel, and Syria: Does What Came Before Show What Will Come Next?

Location of the Golan Heights

Last night, it looked like we were about to plunge into the new and most dangerous phase of a constantly-mutating series of wars in the Middle East. Over a tense few hours, Iran and Israel exchanged strikes, in what was either a display of signaling or a sign of things to come.

Or, of course, both.

Israel carried out widespread deadly raids against what it said were Iranian targets in Syria on Thursday after rocket fire towards its forces which it blamed on Iran, marking a sharp escalation between the two enemies.

I know that yesterday I said today’s post would be about the medium-and-long-term ramifications of the US announcing it was going to violate the JCPOA, but events, as we see, quickly overtook long-term thinking. They have a way of doing that.

So what do these strikes mean? Since, as of this writing (around 1:00 CST), there haven’t been further significant exchanges, we can begin to hazard a few guesses, knowing all the while that predictions only serve to make you look foolish, and bland gamesmanship is grotesque when real lives are on the line.

So to do a quick recap of last night’s events: Iran, shortly after announcing that it would abide by the JCPOA, but making clear that could change if the European signatories changed their tune, launched rockets at Israeli positions in the Golan Heights, which has been occupied by Israel since the ’67 war.

Israel retaliated, claiming to take out “nearly all key Iranian military targets in Syria”. The reason for this significance isn’t just that Israel was attacked; that is common. But up until now, it has been through Iranian proxies, such as Hezbollah. This was the first actual Iranian strike, and the first time Israel has attacked Iranian forces/infrastructure directly.

So…does this mean war? Right now, it looks like it doesn’t. Indeed, on the surface, it looks like Iran swaggered, and Israel punched back, demonstrating clear power, forcing Iran to back off. That might be the case. This may have been a little bit of eagerness, a few punches thrown in the chaos of war, before both sides backed down.

Right?

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Anti-JCPOA Arguments: Should The US Violate Treaties?

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The President of the United States of America

Trust me: I’d much rather be talking about Michael Cohen getting millions of dollars from Russian billionaires and huge corporations in some kind of slush fund. I can’t wait to see the explanations for this. The dude has three clients! Were they hoping to buy face time with Sean fucking Hannity?

But, as fast as the news moves (and don’t get me wrong, this might be huge), the top story of the day is still the United States President, former reality TV host and failed casino owner Donald Trump, announcing that the US would violate the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

The fallout of this is already beginning to take shape, although its outcome is very far from certain. Iran has announced that they are staying in the treaty, condemning the US for violating its agreements, and explicitly tying it to the Paris Accords. But at the same time, they also announced that they would prepare to ramp up their nuclear program is the other signatories followed suit.

This is pretty smart, I think, even if it is super predictable. The upshot is that the European countries in the JCPOA have to choose between an Iran acting all pious and responsible, and the United States, which Iran is painting as essentially a rogue state. That Iran, itself a very, very bad actor, is able to do this is because, between this and the Paris Accords and a million other pointless acts of dumbshow hostility, Trump is handing them a brush and the paints, and saying “I am a rogue state. Paint me like you do your French girls.”

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Iran Deal is Peak Trump: Reality Show Engineering, Fake Toughness, and Bone-Deep Ignorance

Spoiler! It won’t be the correct decision.

President Trump is expected to announce Tuesday that he will not continue a waiver of sanctions against Iran, according to current and former U.S. and foreign officials, a major step toward ending the nuclear agreement he has called an “insane” deal that “never, ever should have been made.”

The decision follows the failure of last-ditch efforts by the three European signatories to the agreement to convince Trump that his concerns about “flaws” in the 2015 accord could be addressed without violating its terms or ending it altogether.

In this one decision, a monumental decision, portentous in every way, we have the essence of the Trump administration boiled down.

Manufactured reality show drama. While other Presidents have made it clear when they are going to give a speech, only Trump likes to tease out his decisions, with the weight of a commercial break. He still sees himself as a reality show judge, sitting on the high chair, with supplicants having their fate decided. And in a way, he’s correct. There’s no doubt that he’s brought the language of the genre to our politics, with its phony drama, heightened personal confrontations, and (most importantly), the wholly false idea of Himself being a man to whom people need to listen. That it has become, well, reality, is our nightmare. The tweet tease is small in the grand scope of things, but demonstrates the essential seriousness with which he approaches his job (which is to say: none at all).

Fake tough guy New York style negotiating, you understand? The essence of Trump is that he’s a fake tough guy. His entire persona, which he doesn’t try to hide, is that if you go after him, he’ll sue you. If you insult him, he’ll sue you. It’s maddening, because being able to afford high-priced lawyers is not actually tough! It’s hard-nosed, or whatever, and works really well in the world of New York real estate, I guess, where everyone thinks they’re some kind of street thug. Trump is part of this, Kushner definitely is, as is Rudy, and Cohen, and a ton of other people around him, who are beginning to realize that manipulating tabloids isn’t the same as life-or-death decisions with nowhere to hide.

This is painfully clear in Iran, where Trump brings his one negotiating idea- that you can walk away- to the table. That’s all he knows! It’s his one trick, because it makes him seem tough, but it has backed him into a corner. The other partners, especially Russia and China, aren’t about to back out of the JCPOA. In fact, those two are probably pretty glad America is, because it undermines US leadership even more (and that had little ground beneath its feet anyway), and forces Iran to turn more toward Eurasia.

There are times when this tactic works, even perhaps on the international stage. One could argue that being willing to go nuclear was a from of “walking away” in the Koreas. I personally think that it might have played a part, though once Kim had reliable ICBMs the game was essentially over. But even if you think it worked with North Korea, even if you think it was the only factor that has led to these historic times, you have to recognize that it doesn’t always work.

But these are essentially parochial dummies with one trick. And it isn’t going to work with Iran. Good luck telling Trump that, though, because of Point #3.

Essential bone-deep ignorance. The Iran deal was a masterwork of diplomacy, retroactive justification for Obama’s Nobel Prize. He (and John Kerry, and a host of others, but we have an auteur vision of geopolitics) convinced Russia and China to levy punishing sanctions on Iran, when neither of them particularly wanted to. In exchange, Iran essentially gave up its nuclear program, the one guarantee of non-interference, and agreed to the most invasive inspection regime in human history.

But Trump is clear this was the worst deal ever made, because Iran also got some things out of it.

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Endless War and Our Complicity: The Failure of the Sanders-Lee Yemen Bill Continues Genocide and America’s Brutalization

(Note: I was working on this piece for another publication before the bill in question failed to reach the floor, thanks to the shameful and bloodsoaked votes of 10 Democrats. So it might be too late, but only now, and hopefully there will be another fight. The article still stands, though, and I think illustrates how the bill failed with neither sound nor fury nor even a passing thought.)

 

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100 were killed when the Saudi bombed this funeral with US bombs

 

Do you believe the US President, Democrat or Republican, should have the unlimited power to wage unlimited war wherever he wants?

Do you believe that the United States should wage or abet war around the globe, without citizens or their representatives being able to have a say?

Do you think that the United States should be complicit in a genocidal war, even when we have essentially zero real interests in the outcome?

Does what your country does affect you? When blood is spilled in poor places, when families are pulverized into infinity by the sudden flash and pulsing thunder and tearing, renting metal, paid for with your money and launched in your name, does it matter? What responsibility do we have to the world, to ourselves, to history?

These are some of the questions being asked by a Joint Resolution introduced by Bernie Sanders and Mike Lee, saying that US support for Saudi Arabia’s murderous intervention in Yemen has never been authorized by Congress, and should therefore stop providing arms, tactical advice, and military support.

The legal heart of this question asks what it means to be at war in America in the 21st century. At its heart lies the tension between the War Powers declaration at our post-9/11 unlimited war on terror, which has created such an expansive and long-lasting view of war-making that it passes essentially unnoticed when the US participates in a non-Qaeda-based civil war on the Arabian peninsula.

Here’s the War Powers resolution of 1973.

The constitutional powers of the President as Commander-in-Chief to introduce United States Armed Forces into hostilities, or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances, are exercised only pursuant to (1) a declaration of war, (2) specific statutory authorization, or (3) a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.

And here’s the Authorization of Military Force, passed right after September 11th:

(a) IN GENERAL- That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.

Now, in theory, these don’t contradict each other. Indeed, the AUMF was drawn from clause 3, the “national emergency”. (For the definitive history of the AUMF, you should read Greg Johnsen’s Buzzfeed piece on it.) You might notice, though, that it changes “national emergency” to language allowing for the President to “prevent any future acts of international terrorism” by “nations, organizations, or persons.”

Whooboy! That’s the issue, right there. Because: what does that mean? In practice, it has meant: whatever the President wants it to mean, and that has been consistent through multiple administrations, through Bush, Obama, and now Trump. And since there is nobody reading, and indeed, nobody alive or who has ever lived in any conceivable universe, who admires all three of those men, we see that this is an enormous problem.

(And if you doubt its bipartisan credentials, remember that it was essentially reauthorized just last September, even as everyone understood the Current Occupant was a reckless fucking idiot.)

It has been a bloody disaster in practice far more than in theory, of course. There will be a million different opinions about US involvement in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Niger, Nigeria, Ethiopia, and who knows how many other nations in the years since 9/11. But there is probably no one, except maybe Max Boot, who supports them all. But the President has been allowed to wage war and kill human beings in all these lands, with essentially zero oversight, because of those words.

So why is Yemen now an issue? It’s because Yemen is the apotheosis of this madness, a country whose war is only tangentially about terrorism, and in which our pointless involvement is directly abetting one of the great humanitarian catastrophes of the 21st century.

Yemen’s History is Its Present

It’s hard, possibly impossible, to overstate the degree of horror in Yemen. A civil war has engulfed the country for 7 years, or 10 years, or 14 years, or 24 years, or maybe 28 years. It’s probably best to say that the country has had overlapping civil wars for decades now, and all that stress has come to a head in the last three years.

Those three years have seen a vicious Saudi “intervention” against the Houthis, a group that had been fighting the government of the late Ali Abdullah Saleh since 2004, and has taken over control of large swaths of the country.

Saudi intervention has been a long-running war crime, a series of murderous bombing campaigns led by the US-blessed Mohammed bin Salman, wildly-corrupt future king and murderer of Yemen.  The Saudi campaign has pounded Yemen, deliberately targeting food and sanitation centers, destroying roads to cut off supplies, and blockading the ports.

 

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We’re supporting the side of a war who is doing this deliberately.

 

This has led, predictably, to mass famine and disease. Millions and millions of Yemenis face starvation, and it has seen the world’s worst cholera outbreak in decades. It seems to only get worse. It’s worth mentioning that the Houthis themselves have introduced a brutal rule, with executions, mass imprisonments, and vast corruption.

But don’t think the Saudis are intervening to protect human rights. Indeed, one of their bombing attacks, mostly done with US-supplied weapons, destroyed a prison where those innocents rounded up by the Houthis were living miserably. Freedom came at the bright and final light of an indifferent bomb.

So why are the Saudis intervening, and why does the US support them? It gets back, ostensibly, to Iran. Iran is supporting the Houthis, supplying arms, including missiles that can reach Riyadh. They are supporting their co-religionists in the Houthis, who are Shi’ites.

Because of this, we are told, the Saudis are fighting them. Yemen is a battleground in a larger civilizational war. And the US is deeply involved. The Trump administration, especially, has decided to go all in on the Saudi vs. Iran split, due both to a hatred of Iran, and a belief that helping the Saudis can lead to a regional peace deal which would make Trump look so damn good.

 

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Bragging and grinning about the weapons that lead to genocide

 

Except, it isn’t this neat. For one thing, as we’ve pointed out time and time again, Iran didn’t get involved in this war in the beginning. They were purported to, back in 2004, by Saleh himself, who wanted to turn the global community against the Houthis. And through the years, as everyone believed it, and as Iran became more invested in the regional frame of war, that they got more involved. After all, if everyone believes you are backing one side, that side better not lose.

But this isn’t based in the regional war; it is based in Yemen. The Houthi movement is part of general Zaydi discontent. Zaydi’s ran parts of north Yemen for 1000 years, before being overthrown in the 60s. In the ensuing civil war they were supported by the Saudis, who then thought monarchy trumped minor schisms. But they lost, and retreated to their ancestral safelands in the far north, near the Saudi border. Decades of neglect and minor oppression followed.

We then have to fast-forward a few decades. Yemen’s north and very secular, just-post-Communist south had united in 1990, but the marriage was a doomed one. When the bullets started flying in 1994, President Saleh used jihadis, just returned from Afghanistan and looking to spill more commie blood, as his troops. When he won, he let them essentially colonize the south, which led to years of discontent, boiling over into the Southern Movement in the late aughts (another of the overlapping civil wars).

That’s well-known, but what is less appreciated is that the jihadis were also allowed to build mosques and impose some thuggish demands on the Zaydis of the north. Now, a Saudi-based movement turned against the monarchists, and a younger generation (as well as one who had living memory of rule) chafed. War broke out in 2004, and lasted through six increasingly brutal rounds.

Now, if you’re reading this curious about terrorism, you might be wondering what the fuss is all about, or why I’m going so deep (although really surface level) into this. After all, the US has been fighting in Yemen for years. We’ve been battling al-Qaeda, the reconstituted al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and ISIS there for years, to one extent or another. Why is it weird we are doing stuff there now?

Well, it is true that Yemen has seemed a direct extension of the AUMF, at least in its more expansive interpretations. AQAP, especially, has long been a powerful branch of Qaeda, and seems like it will outlast ISIS. And there have been counter-terrorism raids by the Trump admin, which wants to expand their scope. While I think that is madness and will only help AQAP, it still does seem to fit into the rough definition of the AUMF. So what’s the big whoop?

Well, regardless of what you think of the AUMF, our support for Saudi Arabia isn’t covered. As we saw, the very Sunni Islamists terrorists we’re fighting were supported by, trained by, and brought to life by Saudi Arabia. And yes, the Saudi government, or at least parts of it, is against the radicals now. But regardless: the Saudis are not in Yemen to fight al-Qaeda. We’re helping the Saudis bomb Qaeda’s enemies, the Shi’ite Houthis.

Even if you think the Houthis aren’t our allies, and they certainly are not, this is so far beyond the scale of the AUMF as to be ridiculous. This only has to do with Iran, the true sworn enemy of ISIS and AQ, who hate apostates more than infidels. When you combine that with the reality that the hideous destruction of the country can only boost Islamic militancy, you’ll see we’re 180 degrees from even the most hawkish reading of that short paragraph.

We Are the Nightmare We’ve Created

And yet, there is no outrage. There is no real debate. Sanders-Lee barely got any coverage, and its failure was completely ignored. That 10 Dems voted against it was met with outrage from several activist communities online, but I would be doubtful there will be much impact.

Granted, much of this can be tied to the daily cavalcade of tacky and obscene horrors committed by our slouchingly venal oaf of a President. It is hard for any story to get oxygen. But what has happened, what we’ve allowed to happen to ourselves, isn’t Trump. It’s bigger than that. It’s all-encompassing and generational. It’s where we’ve committed ourselves as a country, beyond party, beyond creed, and beyond reason.

We are so committed to an endless war, with endless permutations, that we greet its continuation with less than a shrug. We greet American complicity in what is nothing less than a genocide with indifference. We don’t even react when bombs we’ve created and sold on the cheap are dropped on hospitals, used to starve innocents and poison children. We can’t be bothered to care that our government is directly complicit in one of the true horrors of the 21st century.

We’ve also come to accept, bizarrely, that we can do this even in the face of abject failure. It’s not just that we’ve come to accept genocidal war. We’ve accepted it even though we know it does no good. We know that Iraq failed and made things worse. We know that Libya bred chaos and, in addition to the nightmares, created more safe havens for Islamists. We know that what’s happening in Yemen can’t end well, even if you only conceive of the world in the narrowest possible American-focused lenses.

So we’ve accepted total and complete war, and accepted we’ll lose. And we don’t care.

That’s terrifying and disquieting and teeth-gnashing and horrible on its own. But even if you accept all this, even if you think it is fine, as long as we are “fighting terrorism”, this particular intervention is pure madness. Because we’re essentially intervening on the side that is promoting terrorism, against the side that is supported by the #1 enemy of the combatants we’ve sworn to kill.

That isn’t to say Iran is the good guy. It’s just to say that being on the wrong, self-defeating side of this war isn’t a bug. It’s the whole goddamn point.

This is madness. And it is madness that we’ve accepted. It’s why Yemen may be the apotheosis of our post-9/11 state of myxomatosis-borne degeneracy, but, we recognize with frothing horror, might not end up being the worst.

Frayed Alliance: Turkey, Russia, and Iran Circle Back to Familiar Patterns

 

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he This map helpfully has every area I want to talk about

During WWI, the Ottoman Empire’s main concern wasn’t the British or French, and certainly not the Americans, but the Russians. The Russian Empire had fought the Ottomans time and time again throughout the centuries, with at least 11 distinct wars over territory.

Most of these wars revolved around the Balkans and the Ukraine, territory both empires thought was rightfully theirs. Russia, when the wars began in the 1600s, was an upstart, unfurling its frozen limbs from St. Petersberg after a slow recovery from Mongol depredations.

But conflict wasn’t entirely in Slavic lands. The reason why the Turks were so worried about the Russians, of course, was that the Russians had pushed their empire into the Caucasus Mountains, on the Ottoman’s eastern flank. That region, flanked by the Black and Caspian seas, was of vital importance to the local players, which is why a fur-hat dominated European hereditary dynasty fought bloody and indecisive wars to tame it.

This should clear everything up

Some of these wars that Russia fought for the Caucasus were against the region’s other historic power, the Persians. As Russia moved into that area, they fought a series of wars against the Persians, being rebuffed in the first war in 1651, but slowly gaining ground as the empires traded strength. By 1828, Russia was in firm control of what had been Persian territory.

As_Between_Friends_(Punch_magazine,_13_December_1911,_detail)

See?

So during the Great War, the Turks got awfully worried about the Armenians, Orthodox Christians who had spent nearly 100 years as part of the Russian Empire, serving as a buffer or a fifth column inside Ottoman territory. And it was pretty clear with whom the Armenians sided.

So, in order to prevent the Russians from consolidating territory, they had gained from the Persians and using it as a launching ground for an eastern front, the Young Turks tried to eliminate the Armenians, whose crime was being in the middle of three great empires.

This is sort of a long way of saying: that’s where we are again today.

Post-West, A Region Falls Into Historical Patterns

I was thinking about this when I read an article on Eurasia Review, originally from the Tasnim News Agency. It is about the Iranian president criticizing Turkey for their incursions in Syria.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani urged that Turkey’s military assault on Afrin region in northwest Syria should come to an end, stressing that the presence of an armed force in another country needs the consent of that country’s government and people.

Now, you might be skeptical of Iranian concern for this, given that they have been operating in Syria for the duration of the war, being, along with Russia, the main supporters of Asad. Rouhani could probably scoff at charges of hypocrisy though, since his statement was couched by saying “needs the consent of…government and people.”

And he has the consent of the government, if you believe Syria really exists anymore, which I sort of don’t. The people? That’s a bit trickier. But the main point is that none of the major players are actually concerned with the wishes of a sovereign Syrian people. Instead, this is a regional battleground. For Iran, it is partly (largely) against the Sauds, but more and more, it is becoming the testing ground for old enmities against Russia and Turkey.

Last year I talked about these powers, and how they were maneuvering with and against each other. There was sort of an alliance between the three, but that, to me, was one of quick convenience, a way to fully and finally push out the US and the rest of the West. And that’s what happened: while we can still bomb Syria and supply Saudi Arabia to destroy Yemen, there isn’t much in the way of US influence.

Trump is so emotionally conflicted by this image

 

It is tempting to say that’s a void into these other powers are filling, but that’s not really accurate. Rather, the presence of the West is a recent imposition which has been removed. Your mileage may vary about Russia being the West or not, but there is no doubt it has been active in the region for nearly 500 years. While Russia has always cared about its east, and pushing into Europe, it is its south, with warm water, open ports, and route into the Indian Ocean, that has driven it.

Russia would love for Asad to win, and to be able to take advantage of a friendly country to establish warm water ports in the Mediterranean. Along with its Crimea grab, that would give it a foothold in the both that sea and the Black. And it needs those, because it is being outmaneuvered by both Iran and Turkey in the Caspian (which we talked about last year, my favorite to write and least-read article.)

But it isn’t like Turkey and Iran are buddies, either, as Rouhani’s criticism of Turkey shows. This is more Iran wanting Turkey to stay out of what it considers its zone, but Turkey wants to rid itself of meddlesome Kurds, and so is creating, in Afrin, a “buffer”.

If it happens to claim a chunk of Syria, well, what is Syria anyway?

That isn’t their only front either. They are also waging a war of influence in the Caucuses, with Azerbaijan beginning to turn toward Ankara, even though the historic Azeri heartland is split between that country and northern Iran.

And so that’s where we are. Once again, the Eurasian heartland is slowly being dominated by its historic powers, with Saudi upstartedness as essentially a rearguard action by the West. I have no idea who this will play out. But it is time to stop looking at the brief flicker of the 20th-century as a regional paradigm. For better or worse (but most likely neither, or both), it has been snuffed.

The new old reality is back.

 

 

 

A Reminder That Iran Protests Don’t Exist Because of or Despite the United States

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I am far from an expert on Iranian internal politics or its economy–though, if you’ve watched the shows or been on Twitter the last few days, that shouldn’t stop anybody from opining intently. Is this anti-regime? Pro-Trump? Anti-Trump? Does it show the nuclear deal was a success, or another capitulation? Should we investigate Hillary? What does Tucker Carlson think? Etc.

What is happening in Iran has quickly become, as these things do, internalized. It’s become about the United States, subsumed into our domestic debates and endless dining room squabbling. Who was right about Iran? Who was wrong?

This is frustrating, and not just because it is myopic, and frankly irritating as hell, but because it gets to the very heart of the problem: we don’t see the Iranians as actual people, but rather as pawns in our imperial power and our domestic maneuvering. And because of that, we’re almost doomed to make worse what could be a propitious moment in regional history.

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