Is Iran being set up for a ‘limited scale conflict’ just before the U.S. presidential election? This is a suspicion that might be far from the minds of North and West European leaders, hailing from countries that, since World War II, have been skeptical of war, especially in their own neighborhoods. But Iran is not really in their neighborhood. Will countries like Germany, France or Brexiting-U.K. have the conviction or coherence to stand up for Iran, which has been pushed into a corner by the one-sided withdrawal of Donald Trump’s U.S. from the international nuclear deal brokered under former U.S. President Barack Obama? It remains one of the great ironies of politics today that Mr. Trump is such good friends with North Korea, which seems to have no intention of abandoning its nuclear weapons, and so belligerent towards Iran, which did sign an international nuclear deal!
Liberal Europe might have trouble imagining the effect of a ‘limited scale conflict’ on a national electorate just before elections, but surely we Indians have larger imaginations? I am not saying that Mr. Trump and his publicity troops are planning a ‘hot’, instead of the currently ‘cold’, conflict with Iran. What I am saying is that there are very good ‘factors’ which may lead to it.
Demonstration of ‘greatness’
Mr. Trump needs a ‘patriotic’ surge to be certain of victory in the coming presidential election, and he is a politician not averse to chest-thumping heroics at the cost of other people’s sons. Not surprisingly, this year marked the first 4th of July celebration in recent memory that was highly politicized and in which the U.S. armed forces were clearly inserted into the current Republican slogan of ‘Make America Great Again’. It was also a far more military show than in the past. This overlap of the ‘greatness’ of the American military — U.S. military expenditure in 2018 was around $650 billion (China was second with $250, and Saudi Arabia and India, hurrah, were third and fourth with about $67 each) — with the political rhetoric of ‘greatness’ pursued by Mr. Trump’s Republicans can lead to a ‘demonstration’ of ‘greatness’ on Iran.
Such a ‘demonstration’ is likely in other ways too. For instance, the U.S.’s two best friends — Saudi Arabia and Israel — clearly want Iran dismantled as much as possible. The rhetoric of ‘Islamist terror’ can be used to effect this, particularly because most Americans cannot distinguish between Shia and Sunni Muslims, and hence do not know that the hated Islamic State and al Qaeda are Sunni, while Iran is Shia.
To this will be added a certain section of the liberal voice in the ‘free’ West: people who have good reasons to dislike the clerical regime in Iran, people who would like to see Iran become democratic. While their reasons are good, many of them are too idealistic or too removed from Iran to think of what might happen once the conflict begins — and escalates. Perhaps I am being pessimistic, but I have seen a number of countries go to pieces under the flag of ‘freedom’ in recent years: Iraq, Libya, Syria, Sudan. In every case, there was hope and many good arguments for a change of regime. In every case, the hopes have been belied and, looking back, the earlier status quo seems to have been a relative mercy.
Moreover, North and West European states are bogged down in a post-Brexit situation, have highly developed but stagnant economies, and pacifist but increasingly parochial electorates. They would not be willing to do much to stop a conflict. Given the fact that the two biggest industries in the world — weapons and oil — might have vested interests in a ‘limited conflict’ in Iran, and these industries are not voiceless in Europe either, one can also expect the worst.