The character and political needs of President Trump and the obsessions of John Bolton are coalescing towards US action directed at regime change in Iran. The reasons given for the current increase in US military deployments in the Persian Gulf demand careful, independent analysis, before Australia responds to any US request that it join it in its actions. It is not simply an Alliance issue.
There is a triangle in Washington which appears to be conspiring to attack Iran. Its three points are: an unstable, bullying President; a National Security Advisor, John Bolton, who is devoted to US militarism and refuses to even concede the existence of international law; and, Trump’s belief that he is both immune from any laws; and, addicted to the notion of distraction, as the means of deflecting focus from his errors and abuses of his office.
We know this because: the US is moving substantial military force into the Persian Gulf (a second carrier battle group and heavy bombers, both presumably nuclear armed) – a decision announced not by the President or, the Secretaries of Defence or State, but by Bolton; Secretary of State, Pompeo, flew to Baghdad last week for emergency consultations, inter alia, to reassure Iraq that this increase in US firepower near Iraq is not directed ( this time) at it; and, this week, Pompeo is to make a previously unscheduled trip to Brussels to speak with NATO allies about US plans.
Perhaps above all, we know of US intentions because key US figures, led by Bolton, have told us, for some time now, that they want the US to attack and bring down the Iranian regime. If they do this, it must not be forgotten, it will be the second time the US has removed an Iranian government.
In 1953, with the British, they removed the elected government of Iran because it had begun to nationalise Iranian oil resources. The reaction to this, was the Iranian revolution, the establishment of the Islamic Republic and, the hostage crisis throughout 1980.
It is significant that these moves are taking place exactly a year after Trump withdrew the US from the Iran nuclear agreement. In the period following the establishment of the Islamic Republic, Iran had worked to develop the capability of making nuclear weapons. That prospect was addressed by the Obama Administration which, together with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany and the EU, negotiated with Iran, an agreement (the JCPOA) which would prevent Iran from making such weapons for an initial period of 15 years, beginning in 2015.
The UN verification Agency (IAEA) has certified that Iran had adhered to JCPOA and is still doing so, even after the US withdrawal. That US decision was opposed by all other parties to the JCPOA.
The US has given only sketchy reasons for the steps it is taking. It has claimed that it has information that Iran is planning an attack upon US military forces/installations in the Persian Gulf region and, those of US allies. Pictures have been shown, of a vessel loaded with containers, moving down the Gulf. The containers were opaque but the US has stated that they contain Iranian missiles.
There are two main reasons for concern about this information.
First, it’s veracity. Many observers, including in western states, have taken the obvious point that the US track record on intelligence produced to justify military action in the region has been at least deeply flawed and in important aspects, fabricated, as it was to justify the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
So far, the US has done nothing in the present case, to answer these concerns publicly and credibly. It is depressing and remarkable, that the US seems to believe that it has no obligation to do so but, every right to call on others to accept and support its actions.
Secondly, military action against Iran is assessed as having the potentiality of authoring a wider conflict in the region whose scope and duration cannot be calculated but, is assumed would be on a large scale and could expand to include states such as Saudi Arabia and Israel; The latter possesses nuclear weapons.
Bolton is not amongst those who have sought to explain the current movement of US forces as having a deterrent purpose. In the absence of the sort of clear explanation that is needed, such a rationale is ludicrously imprecise and ignores the dangers attendant to such imprecision; principally, that military gestures and accidents can be misinterpreted and lead, quickly, to escalation of conflict.
On the assumption, possibly a somewhat fragile one, that the US will brief Australia fully on all of this, pursuant to the “Five Eyes” arrangements, we need to form an accurate, independent assessment of: the veracity of what the US purports to be the danger it is addressing; the measures it is preparing to take in addressing it; the time frame and scope of any action, including whether it is in fact, an action to bring about regime change in Iran; non-military alternatives considered, including talking with the Iranians.
Any request to Australia to participate in US actions should not be considered on the basis that it is an “automatic” alliance duty for Australia to take part in such actions. Our decisions should be shaped by our own assessments of the interests and principles of Australia and relevant international law, including that against aggressive war.
Our decisions should also reflect our sensible recognition of the possibility that the interaction of the three points of the current Washington triangle could produce a decision to take disastrous and illegal military action against Iran because a President: without any sound interest in or knowledge of foreign affairs but inclined to thugishness; found a willing Chancellor in John Bolton who has for over a decade has written and spoken hatred against Iran and Iranians; and had identified the need for a glittering distraction from the twenty plus law suits he and his Administration now faces, flowing from his unconstitutional rejection of the legitimate role of the Congress of the United States.
Along the way, it would be useful for Australian authorities to be informed of any US consultation with Saudi Arabia and Israel, on the US’ actions and of their possible involvement in it. This would likely shed more light on the inner nature of what is being planned; it’s purpose and, scope.
Hopefully one benefit from the present spinning of this malevolent triangle in Washington, may be that the call for an independent Australian foreign policy will get a more earnest hearing.
Richard Butler AC : former Ambassador to the United Nations; Executive Chairman of the UN Special Commission to disarm Iraq (UNSCOM)