Imagine you are a denizen of Melos enslaved by the Athenians during the brutal sack of that island in 416 BC. A year later you learn that your masters are preparing a massive expedition to Sicily as a starting point for the conquest of Italy and Carthage; and, furthermore, that they are hoping that the venture would force Sparta to sue for peace, help resolve the financial crisis at home, keep the restive Delian League under control, and intimidate Persia into passivity. As a shrewd man otherwise devoid of prospects, you’d probably hope that the Athenians proceed with their splendid plan with great speed and gusto.
Imagine you are a Balkan Christian enduring the third century of Ottoman misrule. It is early 1683, and the Sultan’s mighty army is marching past your village in the Morava Valley on its way north. But from a German prisoner you hear that the Christians were finally forming a league, with Bavaria, Saxony and Poland rushing troops to help Vienna and the pope providing funds. From a Greek auxiliary you hear that the Venetians are preparing a mighty fleet to take advantage in the Mediterranean of the Turks’ focus on the Danube. A monk returning from Moscow whispers that Russia would join the Holy League within weeks. You light your pipe, sip your plum brandy, and observe the long column passing through the valley below with a knowing smile. You don’t want them to turn back . . .
And now imagine, dear reader, that you are a Prussian farmer observing the steady eastward passage of the Grande Armée in June 1812 . . .
But enough imagining. To put it briefly, imperial overstretch has been the bane of many mighty empires—Paul Kennedy would say that hardly any can avoid it—as well as the hope of their unhappy subjects. Among those today I propose to include the majority of Americans themselves. They live under a regime engaged in the decades-long, psychotic quest for total hegemony overseas. Crucially, this venture which goes hand in hand with that regime’s systematic transformation of the Government of the United States into an out-of-control monster uninhibited by constitutional restraints and devoid of common decency. Patriotic Americans should hope for the defeat of their rulers’ imperial madness abroad, as is the only realistic hope of eventual liberation at home.
Looking at the U.S. foreign policy in this light, we are entering a period which is both interesting and potentially fruitful. Some fronts are being generously doused with gasoline (the Gulf), some are growing infinitely complex (Syria), some just wait to re-erupt (Ukraine). There may be a new war in the Far East, starting in Korea and possibly including China. Sudden escalation of tensions with Russia into crisis mode—possibly fueled by the ongoing deliveries of U.S. arms to the Kiev regime—is also a distinct possibility. But more likely than either of those is a new conflagration in the Middle East, involving Iran vs. Saudi Arabia and/or Israel at first, but ultimately including the United States as a direct participant.
From the standpoint of antiimperial/antiglobalist agenda, the next preferable war of choice for the United States should be the one against Iran. It would be costly enough in every respect to weaken the Empire and discredit its leaders and instigators, but it would not entail the risk of strategic nuclear exchange, which is inherent in provoking the Bear and/or the Dragon too far. At least in this respect, I am pleased to report that the Trump Administration has performed on cue. On May 8 the President announced that the U.S. would nix the Iran nuclear deal. There was no legal or rational basis for his discarding the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and the other signatories—China, France, Germany, Russia and the UK—all seem to want to keep it, for now. It is an even bet that Britain will break ranks, however, once the U.S. determination to escalate the Iranian crisis to an entirely new order of magnitude becomes fully apparent.
A reliable indicator of Washington’s intentions came on May 21. Speaking at the Heritage Foundation, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo presented twelve American demands which Iran would need to accept in order to avoid “the hardest sanctions in history” and the implied threat of regime change, instigation of ethnic rebellion, and outright war. It was a remarkable list, comparable in its strategic implications and intent to Roosevelt’s ultimatum to Japan in the summer of 1941.
Pompeo’s first three items demanded unconditional and permanent abolition – with no offer of reciprocal concessions – of Iran’s nuclear program of any kind; this goes way beyond the JCPOA terms.
His fourth demand, that Iran must halt missile development, would leave the country vulnerable to a hostile Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, which have some of the most advanced and destructive weaponry in the world, much of it made in the USA.
The next demand, for the release of Americans and others “detained on spurious charges,” is a red herring meant to humble: it would mean exterritorial legal immunity for privileged foreigners within Iran’s borders.
Pompeo further insisted that Iran must stop supporting “terrorist groups,” among which he specifically named Hezbollah and Hamas although neither fits the conventional definition of “terrorism” and neither has ever threatened the U.S. or Europe.
His demand for Iran to “respect the sovereignty of the Iraqi government and permit the disarming, demobilization and reintegration of Shia militias” is even more brazen, considering the U.S. government’s own record of “respect” for Iraq’s sovereignty, and the fact that those home-grown Iraqi militias have played a key role in defeating ISIS in Mosul and elsewhere.
Pompeo’s related eighth demand (“Iran must end its military support for the Houthi militia and work towards a peaceful political settlement in Yemen”) demands equally demeaning abdication of any role by Tehran in a regional conflict where Saudi Arabia is in fact the aggressor and serial violator of human rights.
Pompeo’s categorical demand for Iran’s withdrawal from Syria is also an outright fiat, since Iran’s presence (like Russia’s) is based on the invitation of that country’s legal government. The U.S. by contrast has no valid or legitimate mandate for its own involvement.
Demands No. 10 and 11 order Iran to end its alleged support for the Taliban and “other terrorists in Afghanistan,” and to terminate support for other, unnamed “terrorists and militant partners around the world.” For such Iranian support there is no solid evidence – certainly less than for the U.S. and its proxies’ support for Al Nusra and other jihadist monsters in Syria.
Finally there is the blanket order No. 12 to end Iran’s “threatening behavior against its neighbors”—meaning primarily Israel, but also Saudi Arabia and the Emirates—which is both so vague and so humiliating as to make it a priori intolerable.
As for America’s traditional European allies, Pompeo stated point-blank that the United States would “hold those doing prohibited business in Iran to account,” despite what he admitted were the “financial and economic difficulties” this would entail for “a number of our friends.” “Prohibited business,” needless to say, merely because Pompeo and his colleagues say so. The Europeans, I predict, will cave in eventually, hoping along the way to blunt the edge of U.S. policy in return for obedience. Some hope . . .
It is of course impossible for a sovereign government to accept any of Pompeo’s demands. The Iranians were not offered even a symbolic way out, and that was deliberate. The next stage is to accuse Iran of returning to the nuclear weapons program, and to “prove” this by the absence of proof that Iran is not doing so. And then a splendid little false flag operation involving an Iranian patrol boat, or a Saudi oil installation, or . . . the possibilities are endless. This is reminiscent of the propaganda blitz before the 2003 attack on Iraq: an exaggerated threat is coupled with the false assertion that nonviolent options are not viable, and then the assurance that it will be a cakewalk: “We’ll celebrate in Tehran in 2019,” John Bolton assured us in July 2017, and he is not a man to change his mind easily.
In the end, as in the case of the Athenian, Ottoman, French, German, and of course American empire, the misused power will inevitably generate countervailing power—but only after the world had become a poorer, nastier, and less populous place.
Historical parallels between eras and events are valid and important, because the factor of human nature remains relatively constant. The message of Thucydides is that States, threatened by the Imperium, should take on a balancing role as a deliberate policy designed to discourage or contain excessive power. A timely check is the best we can hope for America. An imbalance neglected for too long can only be resolved through the disaster of a lost war. America’s eventual demise is inherent in her present behavior. The fall will be well-deserved. Let us only hope it will not be fatally crippling.