JOHN TULLOH. Count Australia out on Iran, Uncle Sam.

A U.S. presidential executive order makes it illegal for America to target a foreign leader for assassination. But it seems it is perfectly acceptable to try to throttle another country’s struggling economy as a means of getting rid of its leader through regime change. This appears to be the raison dêtre of President Trump in dealing with Iran.  

He is not short of chutzpah on this matter. He was not content just to withdraw unilaterally from the UN-endorsed agreement under which Iran limits its nuclear ambitions in return for the easing of sanctions. He now wants to cripple Iran economically with unprecedented US sanctions, impose blackmail-like conditions to withdraw them, threaten businesses in the abandoned partners if they trade with Tehran and then round up a global coalition to really sink the boot into the ayatollahs.

It is to be hoped that Canberra’s response will be to say ‘Count us out’. If you can threaten to destroy the leader of another country last year and now plan to sit down and talk with him, why can’t you do the same with Iran? After all, they haven’t threatened you, unlike Kim Jong-un, even though they may still regard you as ‘the Great Satan’ and with some justification for the chaos the US has created in the Middle East, starting with supporting Saddam Hussein in Iraq’s bloody war against Iran.

But the fear is that Australia will be as dutiful as ever in bowing to Uncle Sam’s wishes even though we have no grievance against Iran. Last week Australia joined the US in being the only countries to vote against the UN human rights council’s resolution to set up an ‘independent, international commission of inquiry’ into the Gaza killings. With 60 Palestinian demonstrators killed on one day by gunfire and just one Israeli injured by a rock, the most obvious moral question would be to ask why such a disproportionate outcome. Like 14 other countries, Australia could have abstained and instead gave some limp reasons to justify its vote.

When it comes to Iran, Australia would be better off following the example of Europe. Britain, France and Germany as well as the EU have made it clear that they intend to remain in the Iran deal. It may not be the ideal one, but it’s the most secure one provided Iran abides by it which it has to date. Furthermore, EU countries are looking at switching US$ transactions with Tehran into euros and legal action through the WTO if there is restraint of trade. Australia’s trade with Iran is tiny – mainly agricultural products – but the government should remind itself there is no greater disciple of free trade than Australia.

We have no argument or dispute with faraway Iran. We must not allow ourselves to get entangled in the unlikely triumvirate of the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia. America is consumed with vengeance for past humiliations; the threat of Iran has become an echo chamber for Benjamin Netanyahu despite some of his military chiefs with contradictory opinions; and the Sunni-dominated Saudis regard the Shiite ayatollahs as if they represent a rival religious tribe, never mind their three-year proxy duel in Yemen.

Iran is no angel, of course, in its ambitions to maintain, if not spread, the Shiite influence in the Middle East. None of the other parties involved is, either. Rarely have there been so many fault lines with the Iraqis, Iranians, Kurds, Saudis, Syrians, Turks and separate militias all stirring the cauldron along with Russian and US help.

Why provoke even more regional fractures if the accord breaks down altogether, giving Iran the excuse to resume its former nuclear ambitions and risk a new war? Trump has already alienated his European partners with his extreme foreign policy impulses. European Council President Donald Tusk went as far as to denounce ‘the capricious assertiveness of the American administration’.

He might also have noted the increasingly aggressive rhetoric out of the White House now that Trump has the truculent John Bolton as his national security adviser. The president made the ludicrous claim that whenever you find terrorism, you will find Iran’s involvement. Bolton nearly wrecked the proposed US/North Korea summit by threatening to ‘do a Libya’ (as in removing Gaddafi) if Kim did not toe the line.

It is a pity neither man has tasted the real impact of war. Both got deferments from having to serve in Vietnam. They might learn the triumph of reconciliation, especially with a country as well educated as Iran and whose people have so much to offer if the Middle East is ever to enjoy stability.

Just as Americans have every reason to feel outraged that another country may well have manipulated the result of their last presidential election, so Iranians would if they felt they had been coerced into submission by a foreign power with only its own interests in mind.

FOOTNOTE. The US ban on foreign leader assassinations was introduced by President Ford and reinforced by President Reagan. This followed CIA efforts in the 60s, probably with presidential approval, to bump off irritants to Washington like Fidel Castro, Patrice Lumumba in the early days of the Congo’s independence and even its theoretical ally, South Vietnam’s Ngo Dinh Diem. But the executive order did not deter George W.Bush targeting the presidential palace in Baghdad at the start of the Iraq War in 2003 with clearly one intention in mind. Unfortunately for him, Saddam Hussein wasn’t home at the time. 

John Tulloh had a 40-year career in foreign news.  

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Peter Small

Great essay John. Australia risks, as the world moves on from the post second world war American era, of being left stranded and lonely in the US, Saudi and Israeli camp. Hated and despised by the rest of the World and with the wrong friends and allies