Hastening US decline

Hastening US decline

Hastening US decline

Hastening US decline: Following Trump’s attack, Tehran will now calmly plot to oust America from the region.

Thanks to a calibrated Iranian response to the US killing of its top general and perhaps a bit of luck, the world has dodged a bullet. Iran’s announcement that it has ‘concluded’ its attack and President Donald Trump’s call to ‘embrace peace’ suggest war has been averted, for now. But between a deeply hurt Iran’s calm planning to oust the US from the region and a Twitter-trigger happy Trump the danger of war is never far away. Trump’s reckless policy may even have hastened the decline of American power in the region.

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In the aftermath of the drone killing of general Gen Qassim Suleimani who directed Iran’s foreign militia operations, Tehran has shown restraint and sophistication. Telegraphing the coming assault Iran had announced proportionate response and for the first time launched a missile attack against the US from its own soil. Some 20 ballistic missiles that were hurled at the American bases in Iraq landed squarely over hangars containing equipment, sparing bunkers where thousands of soldiers were huddled. One can’t be sure if they were meant to be harmless or American lives were saved by sheer luck. But experts note that the newly earned accuracy in Iranian targeting was shown recently when in September, 17 of the 20 missiles fired at Saudi oil terminals hit bull’s eye.

While Iran was seemingly keen to avoid provoking mercurial Trump, tactical restraint may also have been dictated by Iran’s desire to avert an all out war at a moment of great weakness. Iran’s economy is reeling from severe American sanctions. Tens of thousands have held violent demonstrations against the theocratic government in many parts of Iran. Anger at interference by Iran has also boiled over in Lebanon and Iraq. Showing sensitivity to its ally Tehran gave early warning of its missile attack on Iraqi soil, which seems to have been relayed to Washington.

This calibrated first response does not by any means signal the end of the tension that was initiated in 2018 by Trump’s scrapping of the Iran nuclear agreement. Ayatollah Khamenei said incremental military actions against the United States alone were “not sufficient.” The long term goal was laid down clearly. “What matters is that the presence of America, which is a source of corruption in this region, should come to an end.” The killing of the regime’s No 2 has already removed the self-imposed constraint of not attacking US forces from within Iran. The missile attack has also put America’s allies on notice about the punishment they might incur if they collaborated with the US against Tehran.  Iran also declared it would no longer be bound by the US-initiated multilateral nuclear agreement and may theoretically be five months away from weaponization. If it carried out its threat, under the shadow of a nuclear umbrella Iranian proxies in the region could cause havoc and hasten the US exodus.

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Already the US withdrawal from Syria has weakened its battle against Islamic State (IS). The mission is now further jeopardised by Iraqi parliament’s demand for American departure from Iraq. Iraqi parliamentarians are incensed by open violation of its sovereignty by the US drone attack at Baghdad’s airport that killed Suleimani. As the US presence and training mission in Iraq is linked with the fight against the remnants of IS, their expulsion would reopen the door for the extremist resurgence.

In an ironic reversal Trump who has long castigated Nato for being a useless organisation has now urged the organisation to step up its involvement in the Middle East. For European partners of the Iran nuclear deal who have long implored Trump not to abandon the agreement it might be a bitter-sweet call by the US president. Meanwhile Trump’s Russian friend President Putin is taking a victory lap in Syria where Russian troops have taken over positions abandoned by withdrawing American forces. Trump has produced exactly the opposite of what he sought to achieve by his ‘extreme pressure’ policy towards Iran.

Source: Times of India | Written by Nayan Chanda

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