Iran

Tensions with Iran are continuing to heat up. Reports of a tit-for-tat seizure of oil tankers between the UK and Iran threaten to lasso the UK into the conflict. And wouldn’t you know it, none other than National Security Advisor John Bolton has been suspected of setting this trap for the UK in order to inflame tensions and bolster the US side. 

Regardless of whether Bolton and his team were directly involved, Bolton’s strategy of maximum pressure was bound to result in such incidents- who knows how many more will occur in the coming days.  

As was reported by Narges Bajoghli on Democracy Now! July 22nd, Iran has been retaliating against US economic sanctions and military pressure to demonstrate that Iran would not stand idly by in the face of foreign aggression.

Noam Chomsky recently offered his thoughts concerning Iran. In his view, the Trump Administration isn’t intending to go to war with Iran, but instead ramp up tensions in order to manufacture a crisis for the upcoming election and then offer to ‘solve’ it once re-elected: 

If the Trump strategists are thinking clearly — and I assume they are — the best way to approach the 2020 election is to concoct major threats all over: immigrants from Central America coming here to commit genocide against white Americans, Iran about to conquer the world, China doing this and that. But we will be saved by our bold leader … the one person who is capable of defending us from all of these terrible threats, not like these women who “won’t know how to do anything,” or “sleepy” Joe or “crazy” Bernie. That’s the best way to move into an election. That means maintaining tensions, but not intending to actually go to war.”

This, though, contradicts the apparent intentions of Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to goad Iran into war, but time will tell. One thing is clear: a combination of dropping the US out of the Iran Nuclear Deal (or JCPOA), the economic sanctions, and military pressure are strengthening the position of Iranian hardliners, including the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Iran, notably, does not have a nuclear weapons development program and poses little to no threat to the United States. Much of the fear that is manufactured by the media and politicians regarding Iran is just that- phony smokescreens invented by those who seek to project US imperial ambitions abroad. 

North Korea

North Korea has been featured in the news lately as a result of the Trump Administration attempting to restart diplomatic talks after the failed summit back in March. The previous breakdown resulted from US demands for North Korea to dismantle their nuclear program before granting any North Korean concessions (such as the lifting of economic sanctions or providing aid) could be met- a predictable result. 

Trump deserves credit for re-establishing diplomatic ties with North Korea. Yes, the first summit failed, but the effort counts. 

Trump himself recently flew to North Korea where he soon after became the first sitting US president to enter North Korea. The trip was another in a series for the Trump Administration, whose goals are the denuclearization of North Korea. What has been achieved so far is: 

  • A pledge from North Korea to suspend nuclear and long-range missile tests 
  • A shut down of North Korea’s nuclear test site
  • North Korea releasing US prisoners
  • US pledge to suspend military exercises with South Korea

The last claim is apparently shaky, as it’s being reported that there is an exercise currently planned between the US and South Korea, a breach of the agreement, as North Korea warns.  

Despite this, North Korea represents a different strategy for the Trump Administration compared to the significant military pressure exerted upon Iran, for example. There are two notable differences between the two countries: 1) North Korea bordering South Korea, forming a direct potential threat to US Camp Humphreys (an $11 billion installation) and 2) North Korea already possessing nuclear weapons (despite lacking a reliable long-range missile delivery system)- the most effective deterrent a nation can possess. 

It appears unlikely that the Trump Administration could muster the unity needed between Bolton and Pompeo on one hand who favor hardline and confrontational approaches and Trump who appears to desire a diplomatic means to the ultimate goal of a denuclearized North Korea. Still, the concessions gained on both sides seem somewhat promising compared to historical US-North Korean relations. 

Venezuela

Another matter of tentative good news on the US foreign policy front is Venezuela. After months of attempting an illegal overthrow of President Nicolas Maduro, The Washington Post and Business Insider are reporting that President Trump appears to be losing interest in the coup attempt. 

Administration officials, speaking on conditions of anonymity, describe Trump’s attitude that he “always thought of [Venezuela] . . . as low-hanging fruit” which Trump “could get a win and tout it as a major foreign policy victory.” “Five or six months later . . . it’s not coming together.”

April was a key moment on the US-backed coup attempt via opposition leader Juan Guido. Coups and revolutions nearly always require support (or non-involvement) of the military. The coup backers attempted to flip high ranking military officials in their loyalty from Maduro to Guido, but recently failed. The Trump Administration’s sought after “easy win” has thus turned into a difficult task, potentially turning Trump off from the ordeal- for now.

Some pressure from the Trump Administration to overthrow Maduro is likely to continue, however. US-backed Guido has recently attended protests and attempted to gain the support of oil conglomerate Chevron, which currently operates in Venezuela. 

Yet, pressure on Maduro’s overthrow has lessened from the fever pitch last written about in War Report 1. With continued oil sanctions on Venezuela- a primarily oil exporting country- revenues will continue to choke, thus continuing the political instability of Maduro’s government. The Trump Administration’s coup attempt may have decreased in pressure as of late, but expect that pressure to remain one way or another. 

Recently on July 25th, the 120 member nations of the Non-Aligned Countries (NAM) have approved a document officially recognizing Maduro as the president of Venezuela- a move that bolsters Maduro’s credibility internationally. 

Yemen

Dubbed the “worst humanitarian crisis in the world”, the Yemen Civil War continues to rage, resulting in over 3.2 million people requiring treatment for acute malnutrition (two million of which are children under five). The death toll has recently neared 100,000. 

But as the conflict has intensified since March, there is increasing pressure worldwide to end the civil war between Houthi rebels (supported primarily by Iran) and the Hadi government (supported primarily by Saudi Arabia). Check out War Report 1 for a brief description of the conflict. 

Michael Horton, writing for The American Conservative, recently summed up the conflict (source: ): 

The overt reason for Saudi and Emirati involvement is to defeat the Houthi rebels, a Zaidi Shia group with deep roots in Yemen. Yet this hasn’t been achieved. The two Gulf States claim that the Houthis are proxies for Iran, but it has become increasingly clear that they are fiercely independent, and while they receive limited aid from Tehran, they do not take orders.”

Horton further notes that foreign involvement boils down to neo-colonialism:

the covert purpose of the ‘intervention’ has less to do with perceived Iranian influence than it does with securing access to Yemen’s strategic real estate and its natural resources. Saudi Arabia and the UAE are engaged in a neo-colonial war for power, resources, and territory. The two countries, which are increasingly in competition with one another, are trying to carve Yemen up into spheres of influence.”

The balance of forces can be seen via the updated Wikipedia page here.

Green areas represent Houthi-controlled territory with the red representing Hadi government forces. Note that Saudi Arabia is shown grey in the bottom left portion of the map. The yellow portion, forming the land controlled by the Southern Transitional Council (STC), is notable. The Hadi and STC forces were originally a coalition against the rebel Houthis, but have since split and are actively fighting one another- further weakening the strength of both.

On the part of the US, crucial munitions and weapons are being sent to key Hadi supporter Saudi Arabia, in addition to logistical and intelligence support. Since the US is important in its support for the Hadi government via Saudi Arabia, there have been multiple bipartisan congressional efforts to stop it, each time resulting in vetoes by President Trump. Citing the horrendous war crimes and massive civilian casualties inflicted by the Saudis, many members of Congress from both parties have been attempting to stop all US involvement in the war.

Trump is likely to veto any legislation Congress sends his way regarding Yemen as he sees support for Saudi Arabia as key to his foreign policy by means of billions in weapons sales and oil exports. That hasn’t stopped Congress from trying to end US involvement, but more domestic and/or international pressure will be required if the US support is to be cut off. 

There are two practical ways of achieving this: 1) obtaining enough Congressional support to override Trump’s vetoes with a two-thirds majority in each house (Senate and House of Representatives) or 2) forcing Trump to abandon the Saudis by not issuing a veto. 

International pressure to end the Saudi support for the Hadi government is fortunately ramping up steadily over time, and it is starting to show concrete results. 

In June, the UK arms support for Saudi Arabia was ruled unlawful, citing airstrikes which killed civilians in violation of humanitarian law. 

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) have also recently began to withdraw from the conflict, as (source: https://www.middleeasteye.net/opinion/how-will-riyadh-cope-uaes-yemen-withdrawal) “UAE began pulling tanks and attack helicopters out of Yemen, as well as withdrawing hundreds of Emirati troops from the Red Sea coast.” The Hadi and Saudis have previously relied on a strong UAE role in the conflict, providing air support, intelligence, ground forces, and training to the forces fighting the Houthis. 

Turkey

Long a reliable US partner dating back to the Cold War, Turkey is now beginning to pivot it’s support to Russia. Being a current NATO member and even a hopeful future European Union member hasn’t been enough to overcome the recent tensions Turkey has with the West- the US in particular. 

Turkish President Erdogan has recently accepted delivery of a Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile defense system despite American pressure not to do so. Holding the S-400 system creates a security risk for the US, as Turkey recently ordered new American F-35 strike fighters- allowing Russian engineers who install the S-400 potential access to the F-35 has been deemed unacceptable by the Trump Administration, who has moved to block delivery and halt Turkish pilots training to use them. 

American officials warned Turkey against installing the S-400, citing a US law called Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which requires sanctions to be placed upon countries who make a “significant transaction” (source: https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/3364/text) with the Russian government, but the subjective wording leaves enforcement at the judgement of the US President. It’s unclear at this point if Trump will, in fact, impose sanctions on Turkey. 

Another point of contention between Turkey and the US of late has been the Turks fighting against the US-supported Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), primarily made up of Kurds in northern Syria. Turkey has long opposed Kurdish independence and have shown themselves willing to risk fighting a US-backed (and directly supported) SDF force in Syria, a bad sign which bodes poorly for US-Turkish relations. 

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