By Giancarlo Elia Valori*
John Bolton, the current national security adviser of Trump’s Presidency who has replaced the already dismissed Gen. McMaster, believes that the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran is a “strategic defeat” for the United States.
Bolton also believes that it would always be better to follow the example of the Osirak attack on June 7, 1981 with the Israeli Operation “Opera” (or Babylon) or the Israeli attack of 2007 on the alleged Syrian nuclear reactor in the Deir-ez-Zor area.
A reactor, however, manufactured by North Korea.
That was the operation Israel named “Outside the Box”.
Hence, to quote again Bolton, “to stop Iran, bomb it”.
Not so long ago, the idea of the US national security adviser was also to bomb North Korea just to stop its nuclear activity.
How can the activities of immediate revenge on the South Korean territory be considered in the US strategic equation?
“Collateral damage”, i.e. the destruction of the only credible ally, apart from Japan, throughout Southeast Asia.
Now the agreement between the two Koreas and Kim Jong Un’s request for direct talks with President Trump have materialized – certainly not for fear of Bolton’s simplistic bomb religion.
Arms, however, never make politics.
Nevertheless they can be used, as little as possible, if you still have a political strategy in mind vis-à-vis countries, such as Iran and North Korea, which have never been afraid of the US carpet bombing.
If, however, the most reluctant countries with respect to Bolton’s brilliant ideas are destroyed, what would be the political result?
It would simply be the total loss of value of the US word towards all and each of the other members of the P5 + 1; the likely and relevant residual counteraction by both North Korea and Iran on South Korea, the Lebanon and (obviously) Israel; finally, the almost inevitable trigger of a chain of actions and reactions that would set fire to the whole Greater Middle East.
What is the first goal? Just think about it for a moment.
It is obviously the total insularization of Europe, which still believes that its union and its single currency are not against US long-term interests.
The EU and Great Britain will soon realize that the strategic automatism inherited from the end of the Second World War has no longer value in the relations between the two shores of the Atlantic.
However, what could the rational goal of this military action against North Korea and Iran be, apart from Doctor Strangelove-style libido of some US decision makers?
Very probably no goal at all or the worst possible one, i.e. the closure of the whole system between Suez and the Persian Gulf, and finally the strategic non-viability of the entire Islamic Shi’ite or Sunni world, as well as the total block of the energy, political, strategic and defensive link between the European Union and the Koranic universe.
This would not be good even for the United States.
The fact is that, strangely, the well-known and very old mistakes of the US intelligence on the North Korean, Syrian, Iraqi or even Libyan arsenals, make most of the US defense establishment even think that it is necessary to bomb more, and not less, the Axis of Evil- as Bolton clearly says.
The less we know about Syria, Iran and North Korea, the more we destroy them. A very logical idea. Hence also the wrong places would be bombed.
Let us also imagine to what extent a tactical bombing on North Korean positions would weigh and be impactful, just now that North Korea is starting a meaningful, verifiable and useful dialogue with South Korea and its strategic allies, namely Japan and the United States.
The logical consequence would be at least the US abandonment on the part of South Korea and Japan.
All this while President Trump is declaring from the rooftops he wants to leave Syria and thus make his Sunni allies engage on the ground – although we can easily predict they will refuse flatly.
Hence they are all very dangerous options for the United States and the whole West, which would find themselves to no longer have credibility, clout and role throughout Asia.
For a power like the United States the fact of losing face and the value of its word, as well as always and often unreasonably choosing to resort to weapons, even when this is not devoid of dangers, are satanic temptations that the United States must avoid throughout the Middle East and Asia.
Hence the counter-arguments relating to Bolton’s “carpet bombing” are even obvious.
Firstly, as shown by the data provided in the last meeting (held around March 20, 2018) of the P5 + 1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, Great Britain, United Kingdom and the United States), i.e. the group that reached the nuclear deal with Iran in 2015, the Shi’ite Republic of Iran has so far fully implemented the rules enshrined in the eaty – as evidenced by the IAEA official data.
The IAEA report of February 22 was also accepted by all the JCPOA members, including the United States, who took note of Iran’s “continued adherence” to the letter and spirit of the 2015 deal.
What is the meaning of destroying with bombs – if they ever succeed in doing so without setting fire to its borders -a country that all signatories (including the United States) consider officially compliant with the implementation of the rules enshrined in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action?
To possibly achieve Syria’s cantonization?
Paraphrasing Voltaire, a great evil for a little good.
If anything, with a view to putting an end to the Sunni jihad on the Syrian territory, the E3 -i.e. the group of the three European countries belonging to the P5 + 1 – immediately pointed out, in a confidential report, that we could sanction other new people and entities – already identified -that collaborated in the Iranian (conventional) missile tests, in the framework of the seven-year cooperation between Iran and Syria.
A German idea immediately supported by France, which fears the disruption of its positions in Syria and elsewhere.
Germany has already made clear that it will not participate in any military operation in Syria jointly with the other Western powers.
Moreover, in Bolton’s mind – following his statements to the letter – the only alternative to the so-called Syrian-Iraqi Caliphate would be a new Sunni State in Syria.
However, how could we be sure that this new Sunni State would not soon be turned into a safe haven for the Caliphate’s jihad, which has not yet been defeated between Syria and Iraq?
Nevertheless Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar have always had quite different ideas on how this new Sunni State should be, which would probably still be at the mercy of jihadist extremism.
Said extremism would immediately expand to Iraq and Jordan, thus undermining the lopsided strategic equation left on the ground by the United States after the hasty and ambiguous victories against Saddam Hussein.
What operational option would the United States choose, if Syria were destroyed to cantonizeit ethnically and according to religious fault lines?
A divided Syria and, indeed, cantonized as a Swiss valley is of no use to anyone, certainly not to Assad, but not to the various participants in the war against him, including the Caliphate’s jihad.
But not even to the United States, if you think about it.
In the first phase of the war against Assad, Saudi Arabia had placed all its eggs in the basket of a Lebanese Shi’ite, namely Okab Sakr, an old client of the Hariri family.
As is well-known, however, this family does not currently enjoy the favour of the new master of Saudi Arabia, namely Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.
In the Syrian theater, Qatar operated with a defector from Assad’s regime and two other aides with minor roles and the new Qatari acquisition was Abdulrahman Suwais.
Nevertheless the geopolitical (and economic) clash between Saudi Arabia and Qatar immediately moved to the local Syrian clients of the various Arab powers, with Qatar using forces linked to the Muslim Brotherhood and Saudi Arabia using Sakr, its broker and intermediary for the war against Assad, that – however – collected battalions of jihadists not yet linked to the so-called Al Baghdadi’s Caliphate.
But in a quite haphazard way.
Moreover, all the three Arab and Muslim countries that supported Assad’ Sunni enemies have always thought that – apart from their rivalries – sooner or later the United States would have arrived to solve the Syrian issue for them.
This perception is the only rational factor we can note in President Trump’s current positions.
Former President Obama, however, did not claim the criterion of his “red line” in September 2013, after Bashar al-Assad allegedly using chemical weapons against a “rebellious” – i.e. Sunni and para-jihadist – part of his population.
Only in the summer of 2014 – immediately after Prince Bandar bin Sultan’s resignation as Head of the Saudi intelligence-did real collaboration begin on the Syrian territory between Saudi Arabia, CIA and the US State Department.
Before the closure of the Syrian-Iraqi border, carried out by the so-called Caliphate in the summer of 2014, the many Sunni groups operated only with the huge resources provided by the various private donors, without much support from the Saudi government.
However, after the expansion of the Caliphate, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey agreed to support one single Sunni-jihadist movement, namely Jaysh-al Fatah(the “Army of Conquest”).
Nevertheless, some money still reached the multifarious and chaotic Sunni opposition to Assad’s Alawite and pluralist regime.
The “Conquest” movement was coordinated by the Saudi Koranic scholar, Abdullah Al Muhaysini, and the Jaysh forces operated mainly in Idlib and in Hama and Latakia.
Hence the jugular veins of the Russian-Syrian system.
In an interview of early April 2018 released to Time, however, Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman said: “Bashar can stay”.
The Saudi Prince’s reasoning is obvious: Saudi Arabia wants to fund (possibly with a trillion US dollars) Bashar al-Assad’s regime, even if he considers it takfir (apostate) so as to avoid Iran’s further penetration into Syria.
A Saudi strategic flexibility going as far as even creating a new relationship with the Jewish State.
What about the United States? Has it the same fantasy and creativity as Saudi Arabia?
However , the new “Sunni military alliance” – also created in 2015 around the Saudi forces – cannot replace the US military and strategic clout in the region.
Hence, according to Bolton and many of his aides, the United States should foot the bill and pay the price of the Islamic Military Alliance, an Arab NATO aimed against the Shi’ites and designed to favour the current oil balance of the OPEC Sunni system.
Hence why should the United States bring all this grist to the Saudi mill, just when the shale oil and gas make the United States autonomous from an energy viewpoint?
Moreover, during the last meeting of the “Sunni NATO” held at Manama in October 2017, the Head of this Alliance, namely Pakistani General Raheel Sharif, did not mention any ongoing operation between Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.
Therefore the limit of the Sunni engagement in Syria has already been tacitly achieved.
Hence if the United States commits itself to fighting Iran – passively and in vain – after the manipulated destruction of the JCPOA, it will only serve the Saudi interest and not its own.
Yet another long war that will lead to nothing, but only to an increase in the US military budget – the now well-known North American military Keynesianism.
Real interests of the United States – no longer servants to the House of Al Saud – which would be the interest of stabilizing the Middle East system to the lowest possible nuclear and conventional potential, possibly with a Conference between the P5 + 1 and Iran also meant for the new strategic redesign of the whole region, to be agreed also with Israel.
Nevertheless the European sanctions against Iran – the substitute for the US break with the JCPOA which, in all likelihood, will take place after May 12 – should anyway be supported by all 28 EU Member States.
This would be the project of the E3, the EU countries of P5 + 1.
This is clearly just a way to avoid the May 12 deadline proposed by President Trump – a snack of good European cuisine offered to the United States with a view to preventing it from reaching the bad military lunch against Iran.
However, how would the other non-European signatories of the 2015 deal react, when seeing that the United States increasingly behaves as a semi-legal actor and as a fully selfish element in the international geopolitical concert?
Obviously if the United States unilaterally withdraws from the JCPOA, the chances of a war against Iran will increase significantly, but is it certain that the United States will win it quickly and without extensive damage? Not at all.
Moreover, are we sure that the future world is still unipolar like the one immediately after 1989, as some residual and naive theorists of US operations in Iraq and Afghanistan still think?
Should we not currently say that both the great operations for “exporting democracy” have been a clear military, strategic, economic and geopolitical failure?
Iraq was almost given away to Iran which, in fact,is already using the Shi’ite majority of the Iraqi population as leverage. Afghanistan is still a strategic void where nothing has been decided yet, after almost two decades of war, while China is building its own Beijing-Kabul railway.
Hence if the EU accepts President Trump’s diktat on Iran to limit or abolish Iran’s missile activities, including the conventional ones, and its support for Bashar al-Assad’s regime, it will not achieve any of its goals.
Not even in this case is it conceivable that the United States limits their demands on Iran.
Iran, however, could choose to remain in the perimeter of the July 2015 deal, by stopping any regional agreement with Western powers and reacting immediately to local threats.
Another option – already partially verified in the recent meetings between the Iranian Foreign Minister and the British government – could be to collaborate with the individual European countries of P5 + 1 on issues other than those pertaining to the nuclear deal as – in this case – for the resolution of the Houthis’ Shi’ite insurgency in Southern Yemen.
A further option could be President Trump’s walking out of the JCPOA agreement- without saying goodbye – but not preventing the European countries to keep on having economic relations with Iran, and avoiding secondary and non-territorial sanctions, especially in the financial and banking sector.
An unlikely scenario – the war in the Middle East is also a war against Europe, for its final disruption and destructing as a US ally that believed to be more important than the United States.
However, anything can happen. The instability and volatility of the current US Presidency bode well.
Furthermore, if China, Russia and the EU remain party to the 2015 deal, Iran will have every reason to stay within the JCPOA perimeter and thus remove any US justification for a military attack on Iran or for a further phase of US sanctions only.
Moreover, considering the unreasonable and never decisive US presence in Yemen, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East, Iran could also play the card of further military pressure on US targets in all these regions, thus making the US actions extremely costly and, above all, harmful to one or more US Sunni allies.
Conversely, if President Trump re-imposes all sanctions, including the secondary ones, but walking out of the JCPOA, also Iran could withdraw from the July 2015 deal but remain in the nuclear non-proliferation system led by IAEA – and the two things are not connected at all.
Once again, what would be the rationale of a future US military attack on Iran?
In all likelihood, Russia and China would maintain relations with Iran, thus giving away the entire Shi’ite arc to Russia and China, which will use it excellently to ban all US presence beyond the Persian Gulf.
Hence the US strategic subjection to Saudi Arabia would be complete.
Moreover, Iran could make some surprise moves like the recent one by Kim Jong Un and inevitably make the United States sit at the bilateral table of talks on nuclear and even conventional weapons – and from a position of strength.
Having played all its cards on the fight against Iran, Saudi Arabia would be definitely taken aback and could not opt for a blind support to the United States during the new talks.
There is no guarantee it would be such as to serveall the Saudi regional interests.
Finally, the most unlikely scenario could be a EU that succeeds in convincing the United States to fully remain in the JCPOA, without any additional or already envisaged sanctions.
It is very unlikely and it is now clear that the US deep state wants to “bring democracy” also to Iran and, possibly, to the Shiite-Alawite part of Syria, thus destabilizing the most important Middle East buffer State and ultimately playing Russia’s and China’s game.
Clearly they will firmly keep the non-Sunni areas of the Syrian cantonization and will operate on them to reach the Arabian peninsula, thus heavily influencing the Sunni canton dreamed of by Bolton.
Obviously this will not happen with the war, but with the economic and infrastructural agreements we already see at work.
About the author:
*Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “La Centrale Finanziaria Generale Spa”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group and member of the Ayan-Holding Board. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title of “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France
This article was published by Modern Diplomacy