One of the most concerning things about President Trump, which has become increasingly obvious ever since he was inaugurated President, is that he is a President who those around him find very easy to manipulate. There are numerous reports, which I believe, that he tends to do whatever the last person he speaks to urges him to do.
Unfortunately Trump’s intense hostility to Iran means that he has just been manipulated by arguably the most dangerous man on the planet, with the result that the US is now drifting into an alliance with Saudi Arabia against Iran.
That Iran is in almost every respect a far more modern and far more democratic society that Saudi Arabia is or can ever be I have previously discussed. That under the leadership of its de facto ruler – the 31 year old Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – Saudi Arabia is on course to bankrupting itself, making it an inherently unstable partner and ally, I have also recently pointed out.
The problems with the leadership Prince Mohammed bin Salman do not however end at the Saudi border. His public comments show that he is also pathologically hostile to Iran, more so – if that is possible – that any other Saudi leader. Consider for example his quite extraordinary and very alarming comments about Iran in his recent interview with Al-Arabiya, a media broadcaster funded by the Saudis which reflects their views
Can we see a direct dialogue with Iran in the future despite what it is doing in the region?
How do you communicate with someone or a regime that’s completely convinced that its system is based on an extremist ideology that relies on texts in its constitution and in Khomeini’s legacy and that stipulates that it must control Muslims in the Islamic world and spread the Twelver Jaafari sect in the Islamic world so Imam Mahdi comes.
How do I convince these of anything? What interests are there between me and them? How do I communicate with them?
When there’s a problem between me and another state, we begin by solving it. For example, if there’s an economic problem, we communicate and I see what you want and you see what I want and we understand how to address the problem.
If, for example, it is a political problem, like the case is with Russia and how we communicate regarding Syria, we discuss what their interests are and what my interests are.
How do we communicate on Yemen? We discuss interests.
But with Iran, how do we communicate? Their logic is based on the notion that Imam Mahdi will come and that they must prepare the fertile environment for his arrival and they must control the Muslim world.
They deprived their own people of development for more than 30 years and put them through starvation. The people have bad infrastructure because the regime only wants to achieve this aim related to Imam Mahdi.
The regime will not change its mindset overnight; otherwise, its legitimacy inside Iran will come to an end.
The mutual points, which we can agree on with this regime, are almost non-existent.
This regime was tested during more than one phase, like during the time of Rafsanjani and everything turned out to be mere charades. The strategy of expansion was adopted after the Khomeini revolution happened. When the world got angry, they brought a peaceful leader and at the time it was Rafsanjani. They did that to gain the trust of the world and our trust. They gained our trust.
After that they got to another phase of providing a good environment, an extremist leader was assigned so the expansion resumes. This is what we saw during the reign of Ahmedinejad and we saw how they expanded in Iraq, Syria and other areas.
Then they’d assign another leader to maintain the gains and satisfy the rest of the world (NB:this comment clearly refers to President Rouhani – AM).
Then they’d again assign an extremist leader to resume expansion.
This will not happen. This is over. A believer is not bitten from the same hole twice.
We were bitten once. We will not be bitten again.
We know we are a major target for the Iranian regime. Reaching the Muslims’ qibla is a major aim for the Iranian regime.
We will not wait until the battle is in Saudi Arabia but we will work so the battle is there in Iran and not in Saudi Arabia.
(bold italics added)
This is paranoid stuff. It says that regardless of what ruler the Iranian people choose, and regardless of what the Iranians themselves say, Iran is in reality always on a mission to conquer Saudi Arabia and all Muslims everywhere, supposedly because Khomeini programmed Iran that way and Iran’s constitution requires it, and nothing can ever change it.
I cannot speak of Khomeini, though I remember him well and I cannot remember anyone reporting him speaking in this way. However the text of Iran’s constitution can be easily found, and it contains none of the apocalyptic and megalomaniac injunctions Prince Mohammed bin Salman says it does. Instead it contains provisions like this
In accordance with the sacred verse of the Qur’an (“This your community is a single community, and I am your Lord, so worship Me” [21:92]), all Muslims form a single nation, and the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran has the duty of formulating its general policies with a view to cultivating the friendship and unity of all Muslim peoples, and it must constantly strive to bring about the political, economic, and cultural unity of the Islamic world.
Freedom of religion
The official religion of Iran is Islam and the Twelver Ja’farî school [in usul al-Dîn and fiqh], and this principle will remain eternally immutable. Other Islamic schools, including the Hanafî, Shafi’î, Malikî, Hanbalî, and Zaydî, are to be accorded full respect, and their followers are free to act in accordance with their own jurisprudence in performing their religious rites. These schools enjoy official status in matters pertaining to religious education, affairs of personal status (marriage, divorce, inheritance, and wills) and related litigation in courts of law. In regions of the country where Muslims following any one of these schools of fiqh constitute the majority, local regulations, within the bounds of the jurisdiction of local councils, are to be in accordance with the respective school of fiqh, without infringing upon the rights of the followers of other schools.
Zoroastrian, Jewish, and Christian Iranians are the only recognized religious minorities, who, within the limits of the law, are free to perform their religious rites and ceremonies, and to act according to their own canon in matters of personal affairs and religious education.
In accordance with the sacred verse (“God does not forbid you to deal kindly and justly with those who have not fought against you because of your religion and who have not expelled you from your homes” [60:8]), the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran and all Muslims are duty-bound to treat non-Muslims in conformity with ethical norms and the principles of Islamic justice and equity, and to respect their human rights. This principle applies to all who refrain from engaging in conspiracy or activity against Islam and the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran is based upon the rejection of all forms of domination, both the exertion of it and submission to it, the preservation of the independence of the country in all respects and its territorial integrity, the defence of the rights of all Muslims, non-alignment with respect to the hegemonist superpowers, and the maintenance of mutually peaceful relations with all non-belligerent States.
Ownership of natural resources
Article 153 Any form of agreement resulting in foreign control over the natural resources, economy, army, or culture of the country, as well as other aspects of the national life, is forbidden.
Right to self determination
The Islamic Republic of Iran has as its ideal human felicity throughout human society, and considers the attainment of independence, freedom, and rule of justice and truth to be the right of all people of the world. Accordingly, while scrupulously refraining from all forms of interference in the internal affairs of other nations, it supports the just struggles of the mustad’afun (the oppressed – AM) against the mustakbirun (the oppressors – AM) in every corner of the globe.
Some of these provisions are based on general Islamic concepts universally shared by all Muslims, whilst others reflect the origins of Iran’s Islamic Republic in the revolution that brought down the Shah. Others are standard provisions common to most constitutions.
The provision in Article 11 about the essential unity of all Muslims – including Sunni and Shi’a Muslims – and of all Muslims forming a single community of believers, is one that all Muslims share or are supposed to share. It does not imply a desire to conquer other Muslim states as part of some apocalyptic project to pave the way for the coming of the Mahdi. On the contrary Article 152 specifically rejects “all forms of domination, both the exertion of it and submission to it”, whilst Article 12 calls for respect to be shown to other forms of Islam – including Sunni Islam – and Article 13 calls for similar respect to be shown to Iran’s historical religious minorities, the Zoroastrians, the Christians and the Jews.
As for Article 154, the provision aligning Iran with the struggle of the oppressed everywhere reflects Khomeini’s ideas and the Islamic Republic’s revolutionary origins. The Oxford Dictionary of Islam explains the concept in this way
Mustad’afun: the lower classes; the downtrodden; the meek; “the barefoot.” Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (d. 1989 ) popularized this concept in revolutionary Iran. The term also refers to those who are deprived of the opportunity to develop their full potential. Khomeini spoke of two diametrically opposed versions of Islam: that of the mutakbarun (the rich and arrogant) and that of the mustadafun. This group was Khomeini’s popular base of support; he maintained that the Islamic revolution ( 1979 ) was made by the mustadafun and must serve their interests.
One can see why the Saudis and Prince Mohammed bin Salman would be not be happy with this, and might see Islam interpreted in this way as a threat to their positions. However the fact remains that this is a stance ultimately rooted in the ideology of post Second World War anti-colonialist movements, possibly also drawing ideas from 1970s Catholic Liberation theology and Marxist class struggle theories, such as might be expected of a 1970s revolutionary leader, which is what Khomeini ultimately was. It is not a theological call to conquer the Muslim world in order to pave the way for the Mahdi, and the wording does not allow for it to be interpreted in that way.
The problem is that not only does Prince Mohammed bin Salman make all these groundless and paranoid assertions about Iran, but in typical Dr. Strangelove fashion he talks of launching a pre-emptive war to prevent the terrifying things he expects from Iran from coming to pass. How else is one to interpret his astonishing comment about “not wait(ing) until the battle is in Saudi Arabia but….work(ing) so the battle is there in Iran….”.
This is the man, with his alarming combination of recklessness and paranoia, with whom Trump is aligning the US. Moreover Trump has now agreed to give this man – who is openly talking of launching a pre-emptive war against Iran – $300 billion of US weapons to upgrade his military.
Even Prince Mohammed bin Salman probably realises that even with this tidal wave of weapons Saudi Arabia can never by itself defeat Iran. However by lending him US support Trump is also making it possible for Prince Mohammed bin Salman to leverage US support in order to create what he obviously intends to be a Saudi led Sunni grand coalition against Iran.
This is what the so-called Riyadh Declaration – signed by Trump and 55 other Muslim leaders during Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia – is all about. That it is Iran and not Al-Qaeda or ISIS which is the primary target is obvious from the text. This straightforwardly sets up a military alliance led by Saudi Arabia with its headquarters in Riyadh. Its purpose supposedly is to fight terrorism. However Al-Qaeda and ISIS – the two great terrorist organisations which straddle the Middle East – are mentioned in the case of ISIS only once, whilst Al-Qaeda is never mentioned at all. Contrast this with what the Riyadh Declaration has to say about Iran
2- The leaders confirmed their absolute rejection of the practices of the Iranian regime designed to destabilize the security and stability of the region and the world at large and for its continuing support for terrorism and extremism.
3- The leaders condemned the Iranian regime’s hostile positions and continuing interference in the domestic affairs of other countries in a flagrant violation of the principles of international law and good neighborhood, confirming their commitment to confront that.
4- The leaders are committed to intensify their efforts to observe the security of the region and the world at large, and firmly confront the subversive and destructive Iranian activities inside their countries and through joint coordination.
5- The leaders underlined the dangerous Iranian ballistic missiles program and denounced the Iranian regime’s continuing violations for Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
It is impossible to avoid the impression that alongside his wildly over-ambitious domestic and economic policies, Prince Mohammed bin Salman also intends a war against Iran, and is trying to involve both the US and the rest of the Muslim world in it.
In reality Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s plans are most unlikely to work out as he imagines.
Firstly, it is barely conceivable that most of the other Muslim leaders who signed the Riyadh Declaration seriously intend to involve their countries in a Saudi led war against Iran. Probably they only signed the Declaration in order to get their hands on the Saudis’ money. Once it is in their pockets all the brave words about a Saudi led alliance against Iran will surely be quietly forgotten.
Secondly, one has to wonder how enthusiastic the US public will be if one day its leaders demand that the US go to war with Iran to extricate Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Saudi Arabia from whatever mess they get themselves into.
As for the Saudi military, as my colleague Adam Garrie rightly says, its performance in combat has been dismal. It has failed to defeat even the lightly armed Houthi militia in Iran, and even with $300 billion of extra weapons from the US it stands no chance of ever defeating Iran.
The fact that Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s plans for war against Iran are completely unrealistic – just as his grandiose economic schemes are – does not however make him any the less dangerous.
The fact remains that President Trump – almost certainly without fully realising it – is committing the US to support the reckless projects of a wilful young man with overweening ambitions and only a tenuous grasp of reality, who is talking – apparently in all seriousness – of setting the whole Middle East on fire by launching a war against Iran.
That in itself in itself should be a cause of serious concern. However in the US it seems it barely is.