It’s a relief that last week’s story has been hosed down both here and in the US, but causes for concern remain.
The ABC story, that “senior people in the Federal government” believed that the US might well bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities as early as next month, and that Australia could be involved in targeting, caused a lot of concern. It was a relief to hear the Prime Minister describe it as simply speculation, and stress that it had not been based on any discussions with him, Julie Bishop, Marise Payne or the Chief of the Defence Force. In later news reports US Secretary of Defense Mattis describing the report as “fiction”.
Indeed it would be the height of absurdity, and of contradictory policies, for the US to bomb Iran to attack its nuclear facilities, given that the US has just imperilled the continued existence of an agreement specifically designed to halt Iran’s nuclear weapons program, an agreement which the IAEA has said is working effectively. But there remain reasons for concern, some to do with Iran and the situation around it, and some to do with American domestic politics. As regards reasons more to do with Iran, it is a fact that there are a lot of highly placed people in the US who are intensely suspicious of Iran and its role and ambitions in the Middle East, and who always thought that the nuclear deal with Iran was too soft. Trump’s National Security Adviser, John Bolton, is one of them. He is quoted in the “Sydney Morning Herald” as saying that “President Trump told me that if Iran does anything at all to the negative, they will pay a price like few countries have ever paid”. Israel, always influential in the United States and particularly so with the current government, has been active in seeking to establish Iran’s untrustworthiness in regard to nuclear matters.
Other reasons are more to do with US domestic politics, and the increasing pressure Trump is under, over scandals to do with women, Russian money going into his businesses, and Russian “collusion” with his campaign during the 2016 election. It’s a truism in international relations that a leader in domestic trouble may turn to a foreign adventure as a way of diverting attention from circumstances at home. Trump is known as a master of diversion, and in the enormously powerful US military he has a very potent instrument to use if he decides to take that course.
Geoff Miller is a former Australian diplomat and government official.