War With Iran? Count Us Out, Europe Says//Crimson Tazvinzwa
BRUSSELS — With strong memories of the last catastrophic war in Iraq, Europeans are united in opposing what many consider the United States’ effort to provoke Iran into a shooting war. Yet, despite the strains in trans-Atlantic relations in the Trump years, flat-out opposition to Washington remains an uncomfortable place for European nations.
Initially, not even pro-American Britain would go along with the Trump administration, with officials defending a senior British general in the coalition fighting the Islamic State who said that there was no enhanced threat from Iran in Iraq and Syria.
The Pentagon has reportedly drawn up a plan to send as many as 120,000 troops to the Middle East if President Trump decides to take military action against Iran. The New York Times reports the Pentagon presented the proposal on Thursday after National Security Advisor John Bolton requested a revision to an earlier plan. Bolton has long advocated for attacking Iran. According to the Pentagon, far more than 120,000 troops would be needed if a ground invasion was ordered. This comes as tension continues to escalate between the United States and Iran. The United States recently deployed the Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group and a bomber task force to the region claiming there was a “credible threat by Iranian regime forces.” Iran has announced it will stop complying with parts of the landmark 2015 nuclear deal and resume high-level enrichment of uranium in 60 days if other signatories of the deal do not take action to shield Iran’s oil and banking sectors from U.S. sanctions. The U.S. has attempted to cut Iran off from the global economy, even though Iran has remained in compliance with the nuclear deal. We speak with Ambassador Seyed Hossein Mousavian, a Middle East Security and Nuclear Policy Specialist at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. He served as spokesperson for Iran in its nuclear negotiations with the European Union from 2003 to 2005.
But that brought an American rebuttal, and soon the Europeans, reluctant to confront Washington directly, softened the criticism. Britain officially rowed back, saying that it now agreed with the Americans, while Germany and the Netherlands suspended their troop training in Iraq, citing the American warnings. (Germany subsequently said it was planning to resume the training exercises.)
Window dressing aside, however, there was little doubt about where the Europeans stood on the Iran issue.
“Every single European government believes that the increased threat we’re seeing from Iran now is a reaction to the United States leaving the Iran nuclear agreement and trying to force Iranian capitulation on other issues,” said Kori Schake, a former Pentagon official who is now deputy director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
“They believe that the U.S. is the provocateur and they worry that the U.S. is reacting so stridently to predictable Iranian actions in order to provide a pretext for a U.S. attack on Iran,” Ms. Schake said.
For a supporter of the trans-Atlantic relationship, he added, “the last thing you want to do is unify Europe on an anti-American basis, and that’s what Trump” and his national security adviser, John R. Bolton, have done.
The Europeans are trapped between President Trump and Tehran,trying to keep decent relations with Washington while committed to supporting the 2015 Iran nuclear deal that Mr. Trump mocked and then abandoned.
Senior European government officials say they believe that Mr. Trump, as he said on Thursday, does not want a major war in the Middle East. But they also believe that Mr. Bolton does. They often cite a New York Times opinion article by Mr. Bolton in 2015, when he was out of office, entitled “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran.”
And European officials are baffled by Mr. Trump’s insistence that he simply wants to force Iran into new negotiations. Why, they say, would Tehran, whose supreme leader regards Washington as duplicitous in any event, concede or even value any deal done with the president who just abandoned a nuclear deal so painfully negotiated with the last American president?
“Why would they trust us now after Trump pulled the plug on the last thing they negotiated with Washington?” Ms. Schake said.
The public position of European officials has been to urge “maximum restraint,” as the European foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, put it. That was a riposte to Washington’s stated policy of “maximum pressure” on Tehran, including punishing economic sanctions designed to block its international trade, especially in oil, on which the economy depends.