Josef Braml: "Iranians grossly miscalculated"
Tensions between the United States and Iran have escalated dramatically earlier this year after the killing of General Qasem Soleimani by the U.S. military, in response the IRGC attacked U.S. military bases hosting U.S. troops, without causing any injuries. Web.de presented the interview with expert of the German Association of Foreign Policy (DGAP) Josef Braml.
- Recent developments in Washington and Tehran relations have been evaluated as de-escalation. The Iranian 'revenge attack' caused no casualties among Americans, while Donald Trump backed away from the threat to target Iranian cultural sites. How dangerous is the situation?
- It seems that the situation between the U.S. and Iran has become less tense. The focus of attention is once again shifting to the main "bone of contention" - the nuclear deal, which, according to the U.S., has long ceased to work. After Trump withdrew from it, there were only two possibilities left: either the U.S. and Israel put up with the possibility of Iran creating an nuclear bomb, or they start delivering preventive strikes against Iran. According to the U.S., the Iranians had a new chance to change their behavior, that is, to stop all actions that threaten Israel, stop uranium enrichment and other nuclear activities, as well as stop conducting "games" in the region. If the Iranians continue their previous course, it will be playing with fire. Iran should never be mistaken again by deciding that Trump, for internal political reasons, would not risk launching a military campaign. That is, either Iran ceases uranium enrichment and its regional "games", or it may aggravate the war. After all, the war, in one form or another, has been waged for a long time.
- Is the ball in Iran's court now?
- Yes, the U.S. government clearly showed Iran by killing Soleimani that its previous assessment of the U.S. strategy on Iran was erroneous. The Iranians believed that because of American weakness and the impending withdrawal of troops, they could expand into the region. Iranian strategists like General Soleimani thought that the U.S. withdrawal from the region would only be a matter of time, and Tehran would be able to challenge its archenemy - Israel. But the Iranian command has grossly miscalculated, and should reconsider its position as soon as possible. In order not to jeopardize their own regime, the Iranian leadership must make peace not only with the United States, but also with Israel.
- They often say that Trump is impulsive. Does Trump have a strategy in his policy towards Iran?
- He has a strategy, and it is simple. Israel and the United States share a common position that the nuclear deal does not eliminate the Iranian threat. According to this position, Trump’s decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal and put additional pressure on Iran was logical. Europeans do not share this position of the United States. They believe that the deal limited Iran’s efforts to create nuclear weapons. Europeans were confronted with a fait accompli, and Europe could not oppose anything serious to the geopolitical pressure of the United States. Americans called on European firms to stop commercial relations with Iran if they did not want to risk access to the American market or the ability to make transactions in dollars. Although the Europeans created the INSTEX mechanism, which is designed to facilitate trade with Iran, but this mechanism did not convince the Iranians. The Iranian regime has no motivation to stay in the deal anymore.
- Trump called on Germany, France, the UK, Russia and China to abandon the Iran nuclear deal, and recognize the danger of the Iranian regime. How should Germany position itself?
- German diplomats should take into account that the nuclear deal, despite all the diplomatic efforts to save it, now has zero significance. An old Native American proverb says: "when the horse dies, get off." Americans has a name the Middle East for the region that we call the Near East - because it is actually closer to us. When the Americans drop bombs there, they have to deal with far less consequences than the European continent. NATO’s European allies should take Trump’s demands seriously and do more for their security, including in the Middle East.
- The foreign policy crisis has diverted attention from U.S. domestic political topics. Meanwhile, the impeachment process is the first topic on the agenda there. Is it possible to say that Trump expects to divert attention from the impeachment process?
- That was not the main reason. Most likely, the Iranians made a mistake, believing that they could advance in the region due to Trump's internal political problems. The Iranian leadership should have understood that Trump would respond if he was given a reason to strike - and the Iranians were on the way to this. Trump will use foreign policy threats to unite the government around him. Even the Democrats in Congress will find it difficult to resist the will of the Supreme Commander. They will be forced to rally around him, and criticism and control will be perceived poorly in such a situation. Undoubtedly, these events also changed the agenda and focus of attention. Italian political theorist Machiavelli would definitely advise Trump to find some conflict in order to distract attention from internal problems.
- What is the role of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in this process?
- Pompeo has a hardliner stance on Iran.
- How can military action affect Trump's re-election chances?
- The 'war president' has the best cards in his hands to win the election. This applies to the presidential election, as well as to the congressional elections this year. Trump is supported by only the Christian right-wing voters, he rallies Jewish voters around him. An especially important role is played by Florida. Trump sends a message to his voters: "Whoever stands on the side of Israel, stands on my side, because I protect Israel from Iran, which wants to wipe this country off the face of the earth." This is not only about Jewish voters, but also about the evangelists, one of the central electoral groups of Republicans who, in anticipation of 'salvation', have great interest in Israel.
- Didn't Trump make an election promise to withdraw troops from the crisis regions?
- Yes, that's right. And he partially fulfilled this promise. The Americans withdrew many ground forces, including with the goal of reducing their own responsibility in the case of a military confrontation. After possible preemptive strikes, the United States has fewer targets in the region for Iran’s retaliatory strikes.
- Many Democrats are skeptical of U.S. intelligence reports...
- If the Iranians give a clear reason to start war or continue their work to develop a nuclear weapon, the debate in the Democratic camp will change very quickly, becoming much more 'patriotic'. In this case, the Democrats will have to stand up for Israel - not least to convince their voters. An attack on the U.S. embassy may lead to escalation and domestic political support for the U.S. military operation just as quickly.