Real loser in Iran nuclear deal row

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The blow dealt by the US to the nuclear deal will ultimately end up exposing and isolating not Iran but America itself

The recent withdrawal of the US from the Iran nuclear deal of 2015 comes amidst a series of executive actions that will hasten the uprooting of the present international order based on US hegemony since the last few decades. The upshot is that Asia is increasingly integrating itself and turning inwards, while Europe is gravitating towards Asia for partnership and support, particularly towards China. It is increasingly becoming costly to have economic relations or interdependence with the US — and countries are now looking for alternatives to the US. This has become crystal clear in the aftermath of the dismantling of the Iran deal.

The deal was one of convenience and aimed at ensuring a safety buffer. It had no conditions related to other aspects, such as Iranian political activities in West Asia or its ballistic missile programme, even though US's differences with Iran have always run deep. Even though Iran was complying, Trump now wants a ‘giant' negotiation that would enable US to curb all aspects of Iran that irks the former. The absurd demands released by US are both unrealistic and clearly aimed at bringing Iran to its knees and ensuring regime change in the country.

There is no reason for Iran or Europe to heed to the US. The only thing that is raising trepidation in Europe is not the US walkout from the deal, but its imposition of secondary sanctions on any entities that do business with Iran. And for Russia — itself hit with severe US sanctions in the wake of the Crimea crisis — and China, these considerations would matter less than for Europe and the UK, whose dependence on the US has been historical, but is now increasingly becoming a costly liability. Iran itself, would not be crippled by the US sanctions, even though it will take a temporary hit. There are many reasons for Iran being favourably placed because of its relations with countries that have little to do with the US, its parallel political economy and Shiite military power centres that have always ruled the country and its economy, and, its rising clout in West Asia. Iran is presently going from strength to strength in West Asia. Shiite Hezbollah — termed by the US as a terrorist group — gained immense popularity in the recently concluded elections in Lebanon, while elections in Iraq are seeing an unprecedented contest between five factions, all of which belong to the Shia sect and owe allegiance to Iran.

Besides this, Iran is already funding the Houthi rebels in Yemen to keep off Saudi Arabia. In Syria, it spent a major part of its money in propping up the Assad regime with the help of Russia and Turkey and in contravention of the US, Saudi Arabia and France. In the recent past, the legendary Iranian Revolutionary Guards and its overseas Quds forces fought to curb the rise of ISIS and rebel factions that were being funded by Western powers to ensure regime change in Syria. All in all, it is not difficult to understand why Iran's invincibility threatens everyone, especially the US allies in the region. In the present conflict in West Asia, it is rich for Saudi Arabia and its western allies to term Iran as a terrorist state. Historically, Saudi Arabia has funded — and continues to do so — Sunni Islamic extremism all over the world. Yet, the West labels Iran extremist. What frustrates Iran's enemies is its resilience and persistence. In international politics, Iran plays for long-term stakes and mostly succeeds.

Under present conditions, the sanctions are not likely to hit Iran that badly. Iran's largest trading partners are the sworn enemies of the US — Russia and China. Ever since the limited sanctions relief was provided after the 2015 deal, Europe has been fumbling for ways to explore Iran. But two years is too short a time to say that Iran was getting effective investments from the West. In fact, even after the lifting of the sanctions, many western banks did not initiate business with Iran due to US's wariness, while other major European and US companies had only initiated contracts to be operationalised. This however, simply means that the process of modernisation of infrastructure that Iran could have started will now be put on hold, if at all, since Iran has always had non-Western backups. If anything, the collapse of the deal will make US and European Union (EU) the real losers. 

India strongly supported Iran. Not only did it announce a doubling of oil imports from Iran in February, but, after the recent US pullout, immediately moved to ‘insulate' its relationship with Iran. It has announced that it will not allow its relationship with Iran to be dictated by third parties, even as US has called on 12 key allies, including India, to support it. But by now, India sees US for its unprincipled politics and since the last few months has been proactively strengthening separate relationships with China, Russia and Iran, through a series of ‘informal summits'. India's most crucial partnership with Iran is on the Chabahar project, which will bypass Pakistan and give India direct access to Afghanistan. Moreover, from a long-term perspective, a strong Shia power dominating in the Gulf is good news for India. In recent times, Wahhabism has hit India in Kashmir and Kerala and, to some extent, in Uttar Pradesh. Iran's partners, like India, had already anticipated arbitrary actions from the US and had, therefore, put the necessary currency safeguards in place. These arrangements raise a larger possibility of a future that could be the last straw to finish off US hegemony, namely, the prospect of completely bypassing the dollar payment system and, eventually, the dollar losing its status as the reserve currency of the world. Europe, now, would certainly prefer such an option. For Europe, staying with the US has become costly and unproductive, with threats at every step.

Besides these non-Western backups and Iran's growing relationship with countries that have little to do with the US, one has to also factor in the fact that Iran is not simply a country which will suddenly be hit by new sanctions. Iran has learned to survive under sanctions for years. As a result, the real thing in Iran is not simply the economy that Europe wants to invest in, but rather, a parallel economy run by the Iranian deep state under the control of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and other Shiite hardliner forces, who decide what gets done in the economy and where the money goes. This is mostly visible in Iran's strong forays across the Gulf and its external funding of Shiite groups like Hezbollah and Hamas.  That is why even after the sanctions were lifted , post-2015, foreign investors have had a devious time trying to navigate the corrupt and entrenched bureaucratic systems of the country. Everything, the whole political economy, remained the same, because the prospect of the opening up of Iran after sanctions has never suited the geopolitical aims of the real centre that has always controlled the country.

In a way, the blow dealt to the Iran deal by the US has been good. It has ended up exposing and isolating the US, which has opened up several war fronts with many non-Western countries. Nobody will ever trust the US enough to get into a deal with it, even after a change of Government. Alternative global arrangements that can insulate economies from the US will be developed and are already taking place at regional levels. The growing closeness of India, Russia, China and Iran and Japan due to alienation from the US also means that Asia can continue to grow powerfully. In the process, historical western supporters and props for radical extremism — of the ISIS kind — are taking a hit. China has already powerfully cracked down on radicalisation within is Uyghur and now, Hui populations and has completely banned traditional Arabic architecture, so much so, that now even mosques will be designed in the ‘Chinese' style.

These developments are further embroiling the Western world in its own political contradictions and divisions. The monsters of global terrorism spawned by the West for long, are finally coming back to bite it. It is quite possible that even the centres of terror activities will now be shifted to Western soil, and be driven out by counter-forces like Iran from Central Asia, thereby crippling the West. This is a precursor to the different kind of terms on which global politics is beginning to be conducted.

(The writer is with the Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies  and writes for The Resurgent India Trust)

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