Trump cancels US participation in the Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA), against international law. This leads now to the (legal under the terms of the multilateral agreement) increase by the Iranian government (under pressure from the right-wing “Principalists” in its parliament) in the number of centrifuges it is deploying to enrich uranium. It is thus shortening the breakout time for acquiring a nuclear device.
Trump then makes a wild and vague deal with a like-minded dictator (Kim), which although historic and signed, is a threadbare rehash of previous agreements signed with North Korea in the 1994 and 2005.
So is the problem that North Korea actually has nukes and Iran doesn’t (yet)? Is the lesson that to impress the Americans you have to have nukes? Iran is going to attacked because it doesn’t have a deterrent? Maybe, but this is isn’t the essence of the problem. There is no plan to take on Iran militarily and actually never has been. Gareth Porter in Manufactured Crisis has shown that even Netanhayu was always bluffing about attacking Iran (it was all about bluff and counter-bluff on both sides), and Trump is certainly not going to want to put troops on the ground to fight Iran.
Both he and the Pentagon (although perhaps not his mentally disturbed National Security Adviser) understand the failure in Iraq, while Iran, on the other hand, has always been a much bigger fish. Paul Jay sets out the case for “Trump the Peacemaker” being cover for preparing war against Iran. Given Trump’s disconnected and impetuous policy-making this seems unlikely. One has to note that Iran is much more powerful (and its national security establishment – the IRGC- much more experienced) even than it was in 2003, while the US is beset with problems with all its allies across the world: problems of Trump’s own making. This is hardly an environment in which the US could plan a major military offensive against such an asymmetrically powerful nation.
Using its vast conventional missile capability Iran could easily destroy the Saudi Arabian Gawar oilfield (the planet’s largest single field), as well as Tel Aviv (either from Lebanon or even from Iran), irrespective of US patriot missiles protecting them (Russia has shown the limited capability of this kind of defence to concerted attacks). It could also block the Persian Gulf for traffic, especially the Straights of Hormuz, by sinking the US 6th Fleet, deploying and using SS-N-27A “Sizzler” missiles (ground to sea missiles that accelerate to twice the speed of sound, 2 km before their target, flying only feet above sea level). The US admits it has no defence for this capability. Iran acquired the technology from China, and all of China, Russia and India, as well as Iran possess them.
Such missiles are almost as strategically important as nuclear weapons, when a narrow objective like the straights of Hormuz is to be destroyed/blocked, while sizzler missiles are much more likely to be used in conflict than nuclear weapons, even if you possessed the latter.
In addition, as far as Trump’s own attitude to the region is concerned, we have to take into account the fact that he is pressuring the Pentagon on pulling out of Syria (which is why the Turks are now getting their way about the alliance between the US and the Kurds in Northern Syria, against the objections of CENTOM Chief Gen. Vogel). This goes against the views of his mentally disturbed National Security Adviser, whom Trump only hired in order to get a massive (2020) campaign donation from Rebecca Mercer. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Pompeo follows the President’s line and doesn’t deviate, taking on the Pentagon’s middle management, especially Joseph Votel on this matter. Votel doesn’t want to cooperate with the Turks after Erdoğan’s ejection of his allies and contacts within the Turkish army after the failure of their attempted coup in 2016.
Trump has no policy other than self-aggrandisement and getting re-elected. His Jerusalem move and cynical stroking of the Wailing Wall is all about campaign contributions and domestic political support. He did a lot for his base of religious nuts already with the Jerusalem decision, he doesn’t have to do more, no-one in the US political scene can now outflank him on the Zionist front. He isn’t going to risk all that by going to war in the exceptionally dangerous and ropey situation the US is in right now, against Iran.
So, on a lighter note, is the nub of the matter as to why cancel the JCPOA and then do a deal with Kim simply that he is an unaccountable dictator, whereas Iran is a complicated polity, with a parliament and an ideology that makes no sense to someone like him? Yes, but you have to understand the detail. A Tweet by Trump suddenly revealed all according to the BuzzFeed UK editor:
AND FINALLY IT ALL MAKES SENSE.
Trump: "You've got great beaches… I said to him, you could have the greatest hotels in the world."
— Patrick Smith (@psmith) June 12, 2018
As Trump said in his Singapore press conference, these guys (meaning Kim and Co.) own all the real estate between China and South Korea – … can’t be bad, can it? If he had one iota of strategic sense though, he would have realised that in signing such a vague deal without easing sanctions, which was Kim’s main aim in the whole peace process, he has opened up the golden opportunity for China to do just that, and for Kim to launch (largely with Chinese and South Korean help) his own personal chain of hotels along the country’s beaches. Eat your heart out Donald…