9 Jan 2020

Global response to events in Iraq

From Summer Times 2020/2021, 9:11 am on 9 January 2020

Donald Trump has announced that Iran is standing down from escalating conflict with the US, but Otago University international relations professor Robert Patman says there could be more to come.

US President Donald Trump speaks to members of the US military during an unannounced trip to Al Asad Air Base in Iraq, December 26, 2018.

US President Donald Trump speaks to members of the US military during an unannounced trip to Al Asad Air Base in Iraq, December 26, 2018. Photo: Saul Loeb / AFP

Professor Patman says Trump’s remarks this morning that Iran is stepping back from an escalating situation could be premature but it signals the US lacks an appetite for war with Iran. 

“If you decode that statement, I think Mr Trump is indicating he doesn’t want the situation to escalate to full scale conflict. He’s got to face re-election in November and all the indications are that American public opinion is against another war in the Middle East.”

He says the Iraq invasion went very badly for the US and was one of the countries biggest miscalculations in foreign affairs. 

“Iran is a much bigger country and more formidable. So I think Mr Trump believes he has sent a message through the assassination of General Soleimani and he’s trying to indicate that he hopes the situation can now be regulated in a way that doesn’t lead to war.” 

The reason it’s too early to say whether the situation will de-escalate, he says, is because Iran is deeply involved in both Syria and Iraq where Soleimani was involved in leading pro-Iranian militias. 

“Of course, Soleimani wasn’t acting on his own, he was acting - presumably - with the full support of the clerical regime in Iran. And the reason I say it’s too early to say whether it’s over is because I think the Iranians have been outraged by Mr Trump’s America First policy for some time.” 

He says Iranians were furious about the fact America withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal. 

“They thought that was totally unacceptable; that a superpower would sign up to a multilateral agreement, then a new president would come in and walk away from it.”

Professor Patman says Iran is retaliating against that decision with the missile strike and with the indication they are going full steam ahead with developing a nuclear capability. 

“The whole premise of Trump’s policy towards Iran was one of maximum pressure and he’s said he will not allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons. That remains to be seen.” 

He says Trump has form with his fierce rhetoric and ability to dial it down and showed that with his North Korea de-escalation. However, he believes Iranians are fully aware of the political system in the US and the constraints that puts on Trump. 

“That is why I do not think their retaliation is finished by any measure at all.”

Trump has vowed more economic sanctions on Iran which is already feeling the heat of US sanctions that have crippled its export industry. Professor Patman says it’s likely a ploy to get Iran to the negotiating table or force regime change, but so far it hasn’t worked. 

“All the indications are, so far, that the policy of maximum pressure against the Iranian regime has actually boosted it.”

  • Trump's White House address: Iran 'standing down' after missile strikes
  • Iran fires more than a dozen rockets at US bases in Iraq
  • Get the RNZ app

    for easy access to all your favourite programmes

    Subscribe to Summer Times 2020/2021

    Podcast (MP3) Oggcast (Vorbis)