By Patricia H Kushlis
Let me get this straight.
President Trump is planning to renege on the Iran nuclear deal but is pressing all steam ahead on a perhaps nuclear deal with North Korea. Is that correct?
Something doesn’t compute.
Look, I have no objection to settling the decades old conflict on the Korean Peninsula between North and South. The South Koreans refused to sign the armistice in the 1950s so a new approach seems to be way past time; and it’s good to see the two Koreas themselves take the initiative.
Good time to talk
Besides, the North just managed to destroy the mountain which they had been using to test nuclear weapons so it will take them time to adjust to a nuclear reality without their former test site. They likely have completed a testing cycle anyway so now is as good a time to talk – as opposed to test - as any. Whether they can actually pull this off is another chapter in the never-ending Korean Peninsula saga. I hope they can.
But why renege on the Iran nuclear deal?
But why renege on the multinational Iran nuclear deal which has been in place for a year and to which the Iranians are complying. Well, it seems to me there are two likely reasons:
1) it was negotiated under the Obama administration and Trump had demonstrated time and again his determination to eliminate all that the Obama Administration accomplished and if a deal included more than two parties then all the more reason to forget it; and
2) it’s all about oil and Trump’s fawning relationship with the Saudis especially King Mohammed Bin Salman.
In this case, I’m betting on oil and fealty to Salman. The former explanation seems like thin icing on the cake.
Think about it. The first place Trump stopped on his inaugural trip to Europe and the Middle East in late May 2017 was Riyadh where he was widely photographed stroking some kind of weird mystical greenish colored orb and blaming Iran for most of the problems in the Middle East.
He then went on to Israel to convene with Netanyahu, who also hates Iran, and finally Brussels for a NATO heads of state meeting. Later he sided with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt against the mostly Shiia Qatari government in a spat over funding terrorism.
The major problem for the US is that Qatar houses an important US military base in the Middle East. The only other problem is that it puts the US even more firmly on the Sunni side in this multi-centuries old religious conflict when the issue of funding terrorists is certainly as much an issue for the Saudis as it is the Shiia Iranians. In fact, much of the Sunni-Shiia rancor and ensuing violence is foremost targeted at each other in particular the two largest protagonists Saudi Arabia and Iran. Siding with the Saudis also inserts the US into the seemingly never-ending Yemen civil war that began with a botched intelligence raid shortly after Trump became president to Trump’s more recent attempts at playing peacemaker.
So what about oil?
The price of oil is not rock bottom but it has been higher. Saudi controls OPEC but Iran is a competitor and as international sanctions are removed on Iran the more Iranian oil hits the markets and the price per barrel for all oil producers declines. This is also a problem for states like Russia which is highly dependent upon the sale of fossil fuels internationally as well.
Of course, the development of alternative energy sources would resolve the Middle East and Russian oil dependency question, but American oil companies too have a stake in continued reliance on high global oil and gas prices which is why, from Trump’s perspective, Rex Tillerson with his friendly relations with the Saudis and the Russians, made a logical pick for Secretary of State. When his appointment did not turn out the way Trump had expected, he dumped him and turned to Pompeo. But Trump had also inserted his son-in-law Jared Kushner into the diplomatic stew.
Now that Kushner has been denied a security clearance and the continuing drumbeat of his questionable relations with Russians and Russian money laundering associated with the Kremlin, he seems to be less and less identified as Trump’s number one go-to guy for solving all the world’s problems – or even the Middle East’s thorny bramble thicket. In fact, he has almost disappeared from sight.
With Pompeo on the job less than a week, I see that he has been tapped to venture in that direction. Since Trump really has no Middle East foreign policy or clue as to solving the jigsaw puzzle known as the Middle East, perhaps Pompeo can fashion and implement one. Just as long as he bows, kowtows or genuflects appropriately to the green orb, the Kremlin’s double eagle and the unhinged occupant of the White House.