Rogue State Diplomacy
In this edition: (1). The Trump administration makes a mess of the tattered remains of America’s international standing, and reminds us why it was dumb to leave the Iran Deal; (2). The U.S. has long embodied the rogue state; this will need to change as the country continues to lose its vice-grip on world power.
One of the advantages of a Trump presidency— prospective Republican voters were assured in 2016— would be the man’s knack for deal-making. The shady business practices, the self-satisfied corruption, the strong attention to branding and marketing values, the obvious ability to grow a fortune, these would all serve the U.S., as the reality-star cum business mogul ascended the ranks of Republican hopefuls.
Looking back at the empirical reality of his dealmaking prowess, one finds escalating tensions with China, which includes the hardening of diplomatic channels like overworked arteries, as well as a near miss with North Korea and an obliterated Iran Deal. Trump’s love for the dictator aesthetic has been much commented upon, as well. But the most stunningly predictable of these botched deals was probably the Iran Deal.
In August, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo demanded that the “snapback” provision in the Iran Nuclear Deal be imposed at the U.S.’ request. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, aka the Iran Deal, which the U.S. quit in 2018, had a provision that would allow the re-instatement of sanctions against Iran in the event that they failed to uphold their end of the bargain. The provision was a unique stick found in the agreement to ensure Iranian compliance. Iran has appeared to make a good faith effort to uphold its duties under the agreement even after the U.S. unilaterally imposed sanctions and backed out of the deal. The international arms embargo on Iran is set to expire in October, unless the U.S. has its way.
The demand deepens the stupidity of the U.S.’s decision to pull out of the Iran Deal, which Republicans in the legislature had been pushing for since the agreement was reached in 2015, during the Obama Administration. Trump, relying on the “expertise” showcased in his book Art of the Deal, had described it as the “worst deal ever”.
The irony of the U.S.’ insistence did not make the other permanent members of the U.N.S.C. smile, let alone Iran.
Iran insisted that the U.S. forfeited the right to petition when it pulled out. Nearly all states declined to side with America. Indeed, the U.N.S.C. has ignored the behest to reimpose international sanctions, on the recommendation of all other members except the Dominican Republic. Pompeo’s response was to say that the European states are “siding with the ayatollahs”. American National Security Advisor Robert O’Brian, manifesting Godwin’s law, compared the Iran Deal to the 1938 Munich Agreement on Fox News. U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft described Iran as “the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism,” nearly outright scoffing that the countries opposing the U.S. were mucking around with terrorists. The Trump administration, it may be worth noting, has continued American ties to Saudi Arabia.
The U.S. has lost unrivaled dominancy of international politics, as regional powers like Russia and China are setting themselves up as superpowers.
China, in particular, has invested heavily in narrative shaping efforts (offering fellowships, opening Confucius Institutes, offering development loans) and in pursuing their Belt Road Initiative, an attempt to shore up infrastructure along the sea and railways in about seventy countries to set themselves up as the primary trading port similar to how they were during the Silk Road period of history. This is not to mention less couth practices such as their paranoid attempts to quash free speech, another form of narrative-influencing and consolidation of power.
As if in recognition of the power-struggle, it was American pressure, in part, that pushed Boris Johnson to scrap the UK’s 5G deal with Chinese company Huawei. The trade deal and, of course, the novel coronavirus enjoy some of the blame for rising tensions, too.
Losing face (and position)
The American response has been mostly to pick fights and to self-isolate.
In fact, the U.S. has consistently withdrawn from international cooperation over the past few years. The country removed itself from U.N.E.S.C.O. in 2017, and, in 2018, it pulled itself from the U.N.H.R.C. after the Human Rights Council labelled child-parent separations at the U.S.-Mexico border as “unconscionable”. Nikki Haley, who at the time was the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. under Trump, called the U.N. a “cesspool of political bias”.
Apparently, international diplomacy dies smothered by its own contradictions.
The U.S.’ bent pose on Iran is an unfunny reminder of the technical definition of “rogue state,” a state which considers itself above the norms of international law as expressed in documents like the U.N. charter, I.C.J. decisions, and extent treaties, as foreign policy critic Noam Chomsky reminds us, in his book on the subject, Rogue States (2000).
Chomsky’s book does a good job cataloguing some of the distaste and disregard for international norms felt by the U.S. in the second half of the twentieth century. But one might add that this is a norm of the office that the Trump administration has upheld into the twenty-first.
America has become comfortable in the posture of a unipolar power, and our tradition of “isolationism” has probably always been better described as “unilateralism”. The U.S. is continuing to isolate itself from other international actors. As the U.S. tumbles down the hierarchy of states able to project power internationally, it will desire an approach built on multilateral agreements and strong international norms. The international disregard for the U.S. position ought to be understood as a warning sign for unilateralist approaches moving forward.