RICHARD BUTLER Australia can expect to be asked to take part in an attack on Iran: unless Putin saves us.

US hostility towards Iran has reached a threatening level. Disarray in policy making, lies and, the absence of any clear strategy is involved. War is now at hand and may even seem easier for the US. Australia must think through its interests and principles on this and, ask the US substantive questions. Our participation in an attack on Iran is not simply a matter of Alliance duty. None of the main leaders who will meet Trump at Osaka, other than Putin can help. He could hose it all down. But, will he choose to?

Four days ago, President Trump publicly threatened Iran with obliteration. The next day he claimed he wanted to talk with them.Last night, in the US, the first of two televised debates amongst 10 candidates for nomination as Democrat candidate for the presidency; (the second 10 to follow tonight), the candidate who was seen to have won the zinger contest, was Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar. She remarked that, foreign policy should not be made ” through tweets sent by a person in his bathrobe, at 5 am”.

Trump’s tweet directed at Iran was replied to by the President of Iran. He said he thought its author displayed serious instability. This reportedly made the “stable genius” angry.

This exchange was occasioned by Iran’s shoot- down of a US “surveillance” drone which Iran claimed had violated Iranian air space. The US claimed that its aircraft had been operating in international air space. Both sides published coordinates designed to demonstrate the validity of its claim.

The US prepared a retaliatory strike but Trump cancelled it, he claimed with 10 minutes to spare. He said he had asked a last minute question about likely civilian casualties the strike would cause. When he was told they would number some 150. He said he thought that it would represent a more than proportional response, so he cancelled it; even though, he said, the aircraft were “locked and loaded”. It was indicated later that the mission had not, in fact, commenced.

Commentators experienced in situation room briefings expressed extreme doubt about Trump’s considerate narrative, stating that damage estimates were always given, up-front, in such briefings, as they formed a core part of the advice and analysis presented.

No one is unaccustomed to Trump lying about virtually everything. Indeed it is striking to experience how commonplace it now is, in mainstream media here, that casual reference is made to the President lying, again. But, unusual alarm is being expressed about the current policy formulation process in Washington. Descriptions of dysfunction, general disarray and, lamentations about the absence of any clear strategy abound; And, this is compounded by continual uncertainty about what the President will say about any of it, at any stage.

In this particular case, it must be noted that these critical observations did not include any questioning of the legitimacy or purpose of US surveillance flights being conducted over the Persian Gulf, or, the large scale US military deployments there.That is a deeper, geopolitical question touching upon the US’ imperial reach and, is beyond the scope of this essay.

What is at issue here is the fact that, at present, the US has set itself on a path of conflict with Iran, which is widely thought would have catastrophic outcomes.

The origin of this present situation is Trump’s decision, a year ago, to withdraw the US from the agreement with Iran (JCPOA) under which its programme leading to the development of nuclear weapons was put on ice for at least 15 years. JCPOA continues to be endorsed by all other parties to the agreement and all other relevant states, with the exception of Saudi Arabia, Israel and, the UAE. It has been recognised by UN Security Council. Up to the present, Iran has adhered to it, in spite of the US’ withdrawal and that has been verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Now, the Trump Administration is pressuring others, including NATO allies to join it in denouncing JCPOA and in the coming fight with Iran. Sanctions are threatened on those, including allies, who trade with or extend financial services to Iran.

This US obsession with Iran and apparent determination to enter into conflict with it, is marked by two main things:

1.A US/Saudi/Israel alliance aimed at Iran and supported by massive new US arms transfers to the area, principally to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Trump is going ahead with $8 billion of such sales to Saudi, circumventing Congress’ rejection of it on the ground of Saudi military action in Yemen and, the Saudi murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

2.The weakening of nuclear non-proliferation strictures applying to the region. The US is underway to make transfers of nuclear technology to Saudi; continues to protect Israel’s nuclear weapons status; and, has essentially implemented Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies to wards Iran and its nuclear activities.

Beyond the Middle East/Gulf region, the Trump Administration has advanced further its programme of dismantling the international nuclear arms control regime as presently constituted. The major Treaty on which it is now focussed, for extinction, is the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. The US is reportedly considering reviving its nuclear testing programme.

These are the contexts in which we can expect, although it may already have been launched, the US to ask Australia to join it in the fight against Iran; that is, beyond any virtually un-consulted involvement by Australia, through US use of the joint communications facilities, in Australia.

If we are asked to take part in a military action against Iran, deploying our military resources, how will Australian policy makers assess that?

If sense were to prevail we would want to know: why, to what end, with what strategy, with what proposed outcome, for what duration. We should reject any suggestion, which can expect will be the made, that elementally, we are being asked to take part, as a dutiful ally.

Above all, we should ask the questions about nuclear the nuclear arms control regime; as a country which for almost 50 years has strongly supported and in some instances played a key part, in the development of that regime. That commitment has supported our national security more certainly than guaranties voiced by the US. It’s why. for example, Indonesia is not nuclear armed. We need to know, what the US proposes to replace JCPOA with. So far it has told no one. But it has spoken of war.

It would be a more than bitter irony for us to take part in a military action against Iran on the side of two nuclear armed states, US and Israel, and a nuclear aspirant, Saudi Arabia, in order to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Having made this point, it should be remarked that the whole phenomenon of the possession of nuclear weapons is marked by a fundamental; have and have-not, hypocrisy. Such inequality does not sustain stability in relations amongst states.

Trump will be in Osaka for the G20 meeting this weekend. The Iran issue will be discussed, mainly privately. France, Germany, UK, Russia and China all want JCPOA to continue. They do not want the US to attack Iran.

China’s focus will be on trade issue ( and it ignores sanctions on trade with Iran ). The western 3 are all weakened for various well known reasons. So, that leaves Russia.

Trump and Putin are scheduled to hold a bilateral meeting. A critical issue will be what decision Putin will take on Trump and Iran. If he wanted to, he could offer significant assistance, given his influence in Tehran. In a more sensible world than our current one, the two could even decide to approach Iran together, to work out a modus vivendi. A problem with this, on Trump’s side, no matter what warm feelings he has expressed in the past towards Putin personally, is that he may now be constrained in making any agreement with Putin, by his unresolved domestic political situation with respect to his past dealings with Russia, including during the 2016 elections.

Lies do come home to roost.

Whatever we decide to do in response to any US request for us to take part in action against Iran should be based on our national interest and principles and, hopefully, being told no more lies. The principle that whatever one does is best done for the right reasons, seems sound.

Richard Butler former Ambassador to the United Nations; Executive Chairman of UNSCOM the UN Special Commission to disarm Iraq.


Richard Butler AC former Ambassador to the United Nations; Head of the UN Special Commission to Disarm Iraq.

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14 Responses to RICHARD BUTLER Australia can expect to be asked to take part in an attack on Iran: unless Putin saves us.

  1. Avatar David Macilwain says:

    In 2015 when Tony Abbott decided to join the US forces already illegally deployed in Syria, it was reported that he had asked Washington to send a request for assistance in the “fight against Islamic State”. (This gave partial cover for a deployment otherwise justified as “preventing cross border attacks on Iraq from ungoverned space in Syria”.) While circumstances are hardly comparable, it seems that Morrison is following the same pattern, as it is reported today that he has already offered “assistance” to US forces before the US asked for it, and even before it was clear what those forces might be doing in a “very short war” that the US will win, according to Trump. Morrison appears to suggest that helping the US “maintain freedom of navigation” through the Straits of Hormuz would be something Australia could do, which only shows he is as detatched from reality as the US hawks and their puppet president, who started this war. We need only consider how the allies might protect Arab oil shipments destined for Australia, the US or Europe, while preventing Iranian oil shipments destined for China, perhaps in the face of the Chinese navy securing the passage of Iranian tankers?
    It’s schoolboy stuff, and hard to see how Putin could respond. He might simply follow Xi’s comments that the Gulf was standing at a crossroads between war and peace, and act accordingly.

  2. Avatar J.Donegan says:

    “Some excellent comments on a good article.” Agreed James; indeed I think that not only is the standard of articles and comments herein very good, but a real shame that such is not readily apparent in our learned leaders.

    It seems to me that if this “folly” were to proceed, the US will find itself opposing the people of a nation determined to resist and having the will and the means to do so. I have a clear memory of a similar occurrence once before – at another time, in another country, in a long conflict that cost us dearly and left the other country with a poisoned environment and huge quantities of unexploded munitions – part of the price for successful resistance.

    And while the reason for the initial involvement of US troops was accepted by the Australian Government, as was the need for our involvement, the continuation of the conflict was the result of duplicity and subterfuge on the part of our “great and powerful friend”.

    Do we really want to go down this road again?

  3. Avatar Philip Bond says:

    What could be more cataclysmic, donald trump commander in chief leading us into war? Here the answer, prime minister Scott Morrison following.

  4. Avatar James O'Neill says:

    Some excellent comments on a good article. I hesitate to offer a slightly different view.
    My understanding is that both Putin and Xi, after talking to each other, telephoned Trump and advised him in no uncertain terms that it would be a grave mistake for the US to attack Iran following the shooting down of the US spy plane (they spared the accompanying manned aircraft, adding another lesson).
    Ignore Trump’s bluster. Iran is a key associate member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. Both China and Russia see Iran as a key component of their two related major economic developments. Both have made significant investments in Iran. Iran also has the military capacity to attack every US and US-allied military facility in the Middle East.
    Australia meanwhile is a hopeless vessel blowing in the wind of American imperial stupidity. It is no coincidence that Xi refused to meet with Australia’s current Prime Minister at the G20. The price Australia will pay for yet another act of military stupidity will be colossal.

    • Ramesh Thakur Ramesh Thakur says:

      “Australia meanwhile is a hopeless vessel blowing in the wind of American imperial stupidity”. Brilliant! But I would change ‘hopeless’ to ‘rudderless’.

  5. Avatar Kien Choong says:

    I’m not sure if I’m reading this article correctly. Is the author saying that none of America’s allies have any influence over whether America attacks Iran or not, and in fact, Russia has more influence than America’s allies? Or is it that America’s allies do have influence, but are unwilling to assert their views? Or is there another reading that I have missed?

    Because if my reading is correct – i.e., America’s allies either are unable or unwilling to exert any influence to prevent a US attack on Iran – it really is extraordinary. It either implies an unwarranted degree of pessimism by the author, or (if the author is correct), a failure of the Western alliance.

    Have I read the article correctly??

    • Richard Butler Richard Butler says:

      Dear Kien, I think you have understood the argument very well. Given that: May has resigned and the governance of the UK is in a state of deep division; Merkel is a place holder and the German polity is strained; Macron has great domestic difficulties; and, each of these faces domestic rejection of Trump and his conduct: it is hard to see how any of them would agree to join or support a US attack on Iran. This is not pessimism on my part but a description of the reality, as I see it. In my view a state of good health in the western alliance, including Australia, would be robust argument to the US that it should not attack Iran but instead re-open discussions on continuing the nuclear agreement.

  6. Avatar michael lacey says:

    RICHARD BUTLER Australia can expect to be asked to take part in an attack on Iran: unless Putin saves us.
    YES !!
    One needs however to ask the right question to what has happened!
    ‘This exchange was occasioned by Iran’s shoot- down of a US “surveillance” drone which Iran claimed had violated Iranian air space. The US claimed that its aircraft had been operating in international air space. Both sides published coordinates designed to demonstrate the validity of its claim.’
    And the question is what is an US military drone doing off the coast of Iran if the situation was in reverse it would never be tolerated !
    Goodness me here is another question that needs to be asked!

  7. Avatar Iris Little says:

    And what of the changing position of Turkey. Is it moving into this emerging Eurasian align with Putin & XI through engagement in the Shanghai co-op, buying S-400s despite Pompeo & Trump’s threats to cut them out of the F-35? Turkey out of NATO. The Strategic implications are huge. Methink Putin & Xi will be quite happy to see Trump accelerate their plans for a new Eurasian block built around Belt & Road, bypassing the US dollar in trade, across non-aligned & US alienated countries across Central Asia, Asia, Middle East, Africa & South America. Just how important will appeasing the Saudi’s be, in 5-10 years, as world car makers increasingly drive the move away from fossil fuels?

  8. Avatar Iris Little says:

    No need to ask when our PM is breaking a leg to volunteer other people’s children to fight a war we have no reason to involve ourselves in. Trump’s obsession with Iran seems to me to be driven by his dangerous one-sided Middle East beliefs, driven by Israeli & Saudi self interests.
    The geopolitical alignments in Central Asia & the Middle East by Putin & Xi’s drive for a new north-south Eurasian alignment, through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Pepe Escobar’s Asia Times coverage of the 19th summit of the SCO in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan is worth reading. Another event largely unreported by our pathetic MSM.
    We shouldn’t be volunteering. We should stay out of other people’s wars. The geopolitical world is changing but our leaders cant see it.

    • Avatar Bruce George says:

      Yes, yes, yes! While the US claims to have strategic interest in our region it is we who live here and our strategic interests are simply not that of the US. Will someone please tell our PM.
      Any attack on Iran will inevitably lead to WWIII and that will be the end of the world as we know it.

  9. Avatar Rosemary O'Grady says:

    For Putin and Trump to ‘work together’ wrt Iran would fly in the face of all the modern history of Iran/Persia.
    This is not – really – about weaponry and lethal capacity; it’s about geopolitics: perceived strength and use of force.
    It might be worth remembering that Persia was the origin of Chess.

  10. Avatar Michael Hart says:

    We have already been asked and we will do as we told and we will participate because we surrendered our identity and interests and allowed them to be subsumed by Imperialist protectors a long, long time ago.

    Neither Russia or China have any interest in helping the Americans – they have already made it quite clear as recently as last week at the meeting in Israel between the Security Advisors of the US, Israel and Russia about Syria what they expect. They expect and require agreements made in good faith with honourable intentions and made with the standing and imprimatur of International institutions and frameworks to be upheld. They want such issues to be dealt with by adults within the international frameworks and systems developed for such relations between sovereign nations and with agreement on all sides. The same standard as they require and want to be maintained with issues relating to arms control, trade, borders and human relations.

    The genesis of this soon to be tragic folly is as you say deep, distant and convoluted requiring a treatise in its own right. But a folly it is. Russia and China have no serious strategic interests in the middle east other than the relationships they have and trade they have with nations that cause them no harm nor offer no threat. They also have absolutely no interest in being drawn into this folly but you can be sure they are well prepared for the outcome. They will not abandon Iran as an Ally or friend, nor will they fight on Iran’s behalf, they know already the Iranians are quite capable of doing that themselves.

    Trump initially backed off not because of the issue of 150 civilians deaths was a concern no he backed off because he read the Pentagon’s assessment of the serious loss and damage the Americans would incur engaging Iran. I am sure there are no shortage of other assessments concerning the outcome crashing western economies, disrupting global trade for ever and probably one or two who also mentioned what are you going to do about the radioactive contamination of the middle east from Syria to Somalia that will result from striking Iranian nuclear reactors.

    Nowhere in the all this madness do I see any Australian interest whatsoever.

    Putin’ s advice to Trump will be ‘ stop stepping on the rake’. Xi;s will be polite silence.

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