The new administration in Washington has moved at a fast, to some dizzying pace, in just its first few weeks in office. If there has been a thread in the actions undertaken so far it is that there seems to be a consistent and credible case to be made that the pledges made on the campaign trail have manifested themselves into promises kept. So with this it provides a sound basis for looking ahead and projecting what we can expect to see regarding foreign policy and the posture that Washington might undertake.
There will be renewed focus on and a different position taken in three areas that are of critical importance not for the region but the geopolitical calculus as we have known it. The areas will be familiar and they will be Russia and Iran. It is important to understand a critical component to both nations before getting into specific issues.
Both Russia and Iran share one thing in common with Germany in the 1930’s during its rise from economic crisis to world power which took place in just seven years. Germany was looking for, among other things, someone who could bring its leaders credibility. For Berlin this credibility was obtained by being able to seek the direct attention of, and seek its participation as a diplomatic partner, in the items that it wanted to address. In the 1930’s this was Great Britain and to a lesser degree France.
By getting London and Paris to sit repeatedly with Berlin to discuss, and agree to the changing of the status quo, the announcement of conscription, German militarization of The Rhineland, The Saar returning to Germany by plebiscite, the creation of The Luftwaffe (banned by The Versailles Treaty), annexation of Austria, The Sudetenland areas of Czechoslovakia at The Munich Conference, it made Germany look as an equal to those very powers who had previously defeated it in World War I. For both domestic and international opinion Germany was now a great power again.
Under the current administration, continued behavior like this will be used as the means for walking out of the deal. In short it can be expected that the posture of Washington towards Iran will closely mirror that of Presidents Reagan and Bush.Faisal Al-Shammeri
Had there been a concerted effort to thwart its ambitions at any point in the process previously mentioned a very credible case can be made that World War II might not have happened. But by giving legitimacy to Germany and playing in the game Berlin wanted by offering access to a partner in these issues it assisted in making Germany stronger. Ultimately the diplomatic meetings between London and Berlin only made Germany credible as an equal. It was only through acquiescence and failure to understand the true means of Adolph Hitler that allowed that status for Germany to become a reality.
Both Moscow and Tehran need The United States to play this role that Great Britain played for Germany. Without US diplomats sitting with their counterparts in Moscow and Tehran it would make it much harder for them to get support for many of the achievements they’ve made during the previous administration.
What comes next?
So what now? If the pattern of campaign pledges becoming promises is to continue, then we can expect that the nuclear deal that Tehran so favorably negotiated on its own terms while flagrantly violating the letter of it will not go casually unnoticed by Washington. The testing of medium-range ballistic missiles and other offensive missiles will be looked at as a means for walking out of the treaty. Just this week The United States State Department said this to The Washington Free Beacon:
State Department spokesman Mark Toner told the Free Beacon that the administration is closely following reports on Iran's latest missile test and remains “deeply troubled” by the Islamic Republic's continued provocations in the region.
“We're aware of reports that Iran conducted a medium-range ballistic missile test in recent days,” Toner said. “We are looking into these reports. We are, however, well aware of and deeply troubled by Iran's longstanding provocative and irresponsible activities and we call on Iran to cease such provocations.”
Toner would not label the recent test a violation of the nuclear accord, but hinted that it could be the case. It remains unclear how exactly the Trump administration plans to respond to Iran's latest actions.
“All countries, including Iran, must fully and effectively implement all the provisions of [United Nations] resolution 2231,” which governs the Iran nuclear deal, Toner said. ”When actions are taken that violate or are inconsistent with the resolution, we will act to hold Iran accountable and urge other countries to do so as well. We vigorously enforce the measures contained in UNSCR 2231 related to the transfer of items related to ballistic missiles.”
Under the current administration, continued behavior like this will be used as the means for walking out of the deal. Actions like this are a flagrant violation of it and nearly all in The Republican Party vigorously have opposed the deal from the very beginning. And in the process Tehran will lose the partner that it had in the previous administration that acquiesced in their aims. The attack on a Royal Saudi Frigate, near the Bab al Mandab Strait connecting the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden, occurred in the same area where US Navy warships came under missile attack in October. This too will not go unnoticed or lack response. In short it can be expected that the posture of Washington towards Iran will closely mirror that of Presidents Reagan and Bush.
There has been much discussion about Washington-Moscow relations. Like Germany in the 1930’s needing Great Britain to sit with them at the diplomatic table for the highest of stakes, Moscow needs this as well. Russia wants to be seen as a great power, and Putin especially so. It’s intervention in Syria is an extension of that ambition. The staunch support internationally for Tehran is another example of that. It shows to it’s partners that it will keep its word to them and that Russian power is not only credible, but strong.
Faisal Al-Shammeri is a political analyst based in Washington DC. He tweets @mr_alshammeri