By Dr Alison Broinowski, AWPR Vice-President
The aggressive side of the Biden administration is becoming clear. Since the election, US foreign and defence policy has changed, if anything, for the worse. Biden has already taken a couple of swipes at Iran. In Alaska, Foreign Secretary Antony Blinken and National Security Agency Director Jake Sullivan asserted to China the US position on the list of grievances they inherited from Trump: the South China Sea, the Uighurs, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. In William Burns, Biden now has as CIA Director a former diplomat who backed the invasions of Kosovo, Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.
Biden has appointed as Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland, whose hostility to Iran echoes Hillary Clinton’s. Nuland is the wife of Robert Kagan, one of the authors of the Project for the New American Century in 1997. That was written when the Neo-Conservatives sought to take advantage of the collapse of the Soviet Union to gain complete control not just of particular oilfields or gas pipelines, but of the entire Middle East. The Pentagon listed Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Syria for ‘destabilisation’ within five years. Now, only Iran holds out.
As the ‘war on terror’ became a vicious cycle of revenge attacks with bombs and chemical weapons in cities across Syria, the US was repeatedly pressed by Israel to deal with Iran. The Ayatollahs’ nuclear ambitions were the pretext, despite Al-Khamenei’s fatwa on nuclear weapons, and despite Israel’s own unacknowledged nuclear arsenal.
Together the US and Israel had disabled Iran’s nuclear facility at Natanz with the Stuxnet virus in 2010. But whenever the Israelis lost patience with America, they would take matters into their own hands, as they did when Mossad raided Iran’s nuclear archive in 2018. Israel again bombed Iranian nuclear facilities in July 2020.
Having provoked Iran by escalating sanctions and declaring its Revolutionary Guards Corps a ‘terrorist’ organisation, the US increased its naval presence in the Gulf, in response to a series of attacks on ships and tanker arrests involving several nations. Australia dispatched HMAS Toowoomba to show the flag. In the following months, Israeli attacks on Iranian targets in Iran and Syria became so frequent that the Australian media took little notice, and mission creep was averted when Toowoomba quietly came home. In mid-2020, however, the RAAF secretly took over part of a program of Middle East drone strikes from Britain.
The world was shocked on 3 January 2020 when Trump ordered the drone assassination near Baghdad of General Qassam Soleimani, head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC) QUDS force, together with his Iraqi hosts. A month later, Iran exacted revenge when a US reconnaissance plane was shot down over Afghanistan, killing Iran Mission Centre Chief Michael D’Andrea and several CIA colleagues. Israel was accused in November of shooting dead Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a professor of physics and a Brigadier in IRGC, in his car outside Tehran.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in the last days of the Trump presidency, declared Iran the ‘new Afghanistan’ and a ‘geographic hub’ for al-Qaeda. Undeterred, Iran seized a South Korean tanker, seeking the return of assets frozen in Seoul because of US sanctions. A month later in February, Iran received at least $1 billion from two South Korean banks, and the ship’s crew were released, although the MT Hankuk Chemi remained impounded.
Although President Biden seeks to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) which Trump unilaterally abrogated in 2018, the US cannot expect Iran to renegotiate a treaty it has not broken. Instead, as Tehran promised, Iran will continue gradually increasing its uranium enrichment, no matter how onerous US sanctions are. Blinken’s lament that the US is being made to look weak and lacking in credibility is dangerous. Using force against Iran is likely to be met with defiance. It could be as disastrous as all America’s illegal acts of aggression since Vietnam.
The danger extends to Australia, even though we are not a party to the JCPOA, and Iran is not an enemy but a trading partner. As US propaganda and Israeli provocation against Iran increases, we could be dragged into war on the spurious basis of the unending ‘war on terror’. If that happens, it will confirm Malcolm Fraser’s conviction that the US alliance, which is supposed to protect us, actually exposes Australia to great danger.
To avoid a disastrous war against Iran or China, the Australian prime minister should be obliged to put any Australian force deployment to a debate and vote in Parliament, where our elected representatives would then be responsible for the outcome.
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