Role Model? What does it mean when the United States Secretary of State acts like one of the Godfather’s enforcers? How should the international community respond when a nation, armed to the teeth and openly contemptuous of the rule of international law, commands the rest of the world to join it in “crushing” its enemy?
MIKE POMPEO looks and sounds like one of Tony Soprano’s capos. That first impression was powerfully reinforced earlier this week when he addressed the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation. His speech, full of insults and threats to the government of Iran, was clearly intended to convey “an offer they could not refuse”.
When, a week or so ago, the late-night talk-show host, Bill Maher, made a case for the Trump Administration being indistinguishable from a Mafia family, his viewers no doubt appreciated the black humour of the comparison. It is now clear that Maher wasn’t joking.
What does it mean when the United States Secretary of State acts like one of the Godfather’s enforcers? How should the international community respond when a nation, armed to the teeth and openly contemptuous of the rule of international law, commands the rest of the world to join it in “crushing” its enemy?
Believing in the word of the United States, leading members of the European Union responded to the 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal by investing billions of dollars in the Iranian economy. Bad luck. Secretary of State Pompeo has told them to tear up their contracts and get the hell out of Tehran. In future, he warned them, any country trading with the United States had better not be caught trading with Iran also – not if it wants to keep its access to America’s markets. A number of European oil companies have already taken the hint and abandoned Iran to its fate.
And what is that likely to be? What does the United States expect Iran to do? If Secretary Pompeo’s speech is any guide, that unfortunate country is expected to render itself defenceless militarily and to abandon any pretence of conducting an independent foreign policy.
Iran’s production of advanced ballistic missiles – the only weapons in the Iranian arsenal capable of inflicting serious damage on a would-be aggressor – must cease.
The same cease-and-desist order has been slapped on Iran’s diplomatic relationships with Iraq, Syria, Russia, China and the rebel forces in Yemen.
Secretary Pompeo has further declared that Iran, despite it being a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and ignoring its membership of the International Atomic Energy Agency, has no right to possess a nuclear reactor – not even for the purposes of generating electricity.
Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, seated next to Vice-President Mike Pence, looks on as President Donald Trump addresses his Cabinet.
In other words, the United States isn’t making Iran an offer it cannot refuse, it is sending Iran an ultimatum it cannot possibly accept. In effect, Secretary Pompeo is demanding that the Iranians place themselves under the “protection” of the United States. Whereupon, having driven its European, Russian and Chinese competitors out of the Iranians’ oil and natural gas fields, the Americans will, presumably, settle down to suck the country dry.
Because, stripped of all the bombast and all the faux concern for the Iranian people, the real reason for the United States’ implacable hostility towards the government of Iran is that ever since the Islamic Revolution of 1978-79 the Ayatollahs have refused to let the USA “wet its beak” in their nation’s most valuable natural resource. The core of Secretary Pompeo’s message to Tehran’s leaders is, therefore, brutally simple. “If you continue to refuse America its cut, then the Global Godfather will rub you out. Capisce?”
In its determination to emulate La Cosa Nostra, however, the Trump Administration has all-too-clearly forgotten what happens to the Don who goes rogue and makes it impossible for the other crime families to do business. Nothing unites Mafia chieftains faster than a threat to their cash flows. As Bob Dylan puts it his poignant tribute to the maverick Italian-American mobster, Joey Gallo: “It’s peace and quiet that we need to go back to work again.”
If the United States insists on extorting a bigger slice of the global pie than the European Union, Russia and China can afford to concede, then they will have no choice except to come together in defence of their economic interests. If that happens, then the United States will find itself competing with a vast global alliance stretching all the way from the Pacific Ocean to the English Channel; the North Pole to the Cape of Good Hope. Militarily formidable and economically self-sufficient, this monster-of-America’s-own-making is likely to prove a great deal harder to intimidate than the beleaguered nation of Iran.
These gangsters will be packing nuclear pistols.
This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 25 May 2018.