How the EU got a big boost after Trump’s Iran move

Martin Jay
Martin Jay is an award winning British journalist now based in Beirut who works on a freelance basis for a number of respected British newspapers as well as previously Al Jazeera and Deutsche Welle TV. Before Lebanon, he has worked in Africa and Europe for CNN, Euronews, CNBC, BBC, Sunday Times and Reuters. Follow him on Twitter @MartinRJay
How the EU got a big boost after Trump’s Iran move
The EU has always had a pretty lackluster foreign policy, which only really exists on paper. Until now. The Trump blunder on the Iran deal could not only launch the EU as an international player but might even bring in Russia and China as its supporters.

Googling for photographs of Donald Trump and the EU’s top diplomat Federica Mogherini is interesting. Despite nine months in office, there isn’t even a grip-n-grin photo of the two of them posing for the statutory snaps. And yet, in the coming weeks, Trump is going to hear a lot about the EU’s foreign policy chief following his erroneous decision to not certify the so-called Iran deal on October 15th.

While Congress is now mulling the possibility of tweaking the existing text to a few sanctions and curtailing Iran’s ballistic missile program, Trump believes he’s in a win-win-win position over Iran, if not the rest of the world. He thinks that even if he can’t muster a simple majority to scrap it, the deal will flounder and falter all by itself; alternatively, the Iranians will pull out of it on their own accord. Both scenarios work for America’s stupendously ignorant president who will extract political capital from the nation and from neocons if he can create tension with Iran, where there was peace before. He also believes, a third scenario, that in the short term an Iran crisis will fill the media’s airwaves with a new story, conveniently losing sight of the uncompromising threats he made to Kim Jung Un, the North Korean leader who he belittles with a childish nickname but is unable, in reality, to do anything against him in real terms.

Yet all scenarios are at best formed on a skewered rationale, or at worse are merely born of his own obsession: to continually create tension to guarantee his unfettered media coverage, which faithfully leads with his latest idiotic statement or decision. The North Korea threat will only get notched up to the next level as Trump has ensured no international deal with the eccentric leader can be made, thus empowering Kim even further.

A point made recently by Germany’s foreign minister is that if Iran is allowed to become a rogue state (at least in America’s eyes), then the possibility of war in the Middle East is created by Trump’s buffoonery, not to mention Tehran is getting its own nuclear bomb in the coming years, which merely feeds the mythological threat which Saudi Arabia and Israel both live by. And lastly, it reaffirms Trump’s addiction to taking tensions with old foes right to the line and then backing away. A recent and brilliant political cartoon of Trump’s ‘red line’ by Bob Engelhart of Mercury News must annoy Trump very much.

But like all good political cartoons, its profound truth smacks you in the face. We are living in an era of a US president who will speed dial wars with nations - which have the military capability to even beat the US – and then run and hide.

There is something else which Trump is doing with this belligerent disregard for common sense in the Middle East. Trump’s cheap stunt with the Iran deal will more than likely embolden Iran and rally international partners around it, who are now locked into a new narrative that disables Trump’s international gambits. Ultimately, this makes him look stupid at home and may well sap his popularity in time.

The Iran crisis is already looking like, for the first time, that it could drive a wedge between the US and the rest of the world and indeed his Western partners in NATO and the EU. If Iran tears the deal up and goes ahead with a nuclear plan, Washington loses; if it keeps the agreement and improves its relations with the other five partners, Washington loses even more.

What Trump doesn’t get about Brussels

Remarkably, no real analysis or contingency plan seems to have been even looked at in the region. One could almost forgive Trump for not considering the fall out in Europe, such is his disdain for the old continent. Yet it is not old Europe he should be advised to consider, although clearly, relations with Germany have hit a new low. Yet it is the EU itself, which is so distraught about what Trump has done with the Iran deal, that is now most likely to lead the charge against him.

The Iran deal is considered by the EU as almost sacred and Trump’s bombastic attitude toward it almost akin to blasphemy in the EU’s own diplomatic service, the European External Action Service (EEAS). The Brussels EU foreign service, often in the news for really doing very little other than promote an in-house fantasy which EU officials have about the 28 block executive – that it has a tangible foreign policy rather than one merely on paper – is very angry with Trump.

Both Catherine Ashton and in the last few weeks of the deal being signed in 2015, Federica Mogherini both fervently believed they played a decisive role in it. They actually believe it’s the first international treaty of any weight to be masterminded by an embryonic diplomatic service in Brussels. Mogherini had been in office for more than a year when the deal was done and considers it a milestone in her otherwise lackluster diplomatic career.

While Trump may be forgiven for not acknowledging the role of the EU, he can’t be forgiven for not seeing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPA) deal for what it is: multilateral. Trump can’t just simply photoshop the EU, UK, France, Germany, Russia, and China out of the picture, like mocking up a Newsweek cover for himself. The Iran deal is signed by five other UN Security Council members plus Iran and therefore cannot simply be canceled as Trump believes – a point raised by the EU foreign policy diva herself.

America may well not care about Iran. And Iran certainly doesn’t care about America. But for Washington to show such industrial-scale contempt for the other countries who signed the nine-year deal is potentially the most significant mistake so far of the Trump administration. It threatens, in short, to single out Washington as, not only a player who can’t be trusted on any international treaties but also as one who needs to be restrained. After all, if the other signatories stand by the US move, then it also makes them, in turn, not to be trusted on the world stage.

Hell hath no fury like... an EU diva about to lose her job

With Russia and China signatories to the deal, it could well be that the EU – on the sole subject of curtailing Trump’s lunacy – could lead an ad-hoc anti-US bloc, as the EU has the most to lose on a number of levels. If the EU-US trade deal was in the “deep freeze” as press reports in June of this year suggested, one would imagine that it is now lost entirely. Numerous other analyses of the situation have even indicated that the EU will move closer to Russia and China because of it.

France and Germany have an entirely different viewpoint of Iran, which they see as an exciting, developing economy in the region which will provide opportunities for trade. Typically on so many issues Paris and Berlin have not given Mogherini the support to move ahead on diplomatic initiatives. But they may make an exception on the Trump Iran debacle. EU member states often push the EU to do their dirty work, and a head-on confrontation with Washington might well serve their purposes.

The EU is also desperate to seek out new ways of keeping voter turnouts from tumbling and an anti-US Trump stance might well chime with a number of people who wouldn’t normally turn out for an EU election, the next one set for 2019 – and one which eurocrats fear might give even more MEP seats to far right wingers. Senior figures like Mogherini have been waiting in vain for so long for a way to launch themselves into the global sphere of real geopolitics. She may well feel that with only two years left in office, which even the kindest Brussels based journalist struggles to attribute with even one policy success, that she has little to lose by marking out Trump as an object of severe criticism.

When she first took the job, she was ridiculed as being a politically appointed job, who ticked all the boxes which the political groups in the European Parliament wanted – woman, Mediterranean and a socialist – with one noting that “foreign policy had no place in her appointment.”

And she has not disappointed those who more or less cast her off as faintly useless, a slur which her predecessor arguably championed. Yet 'Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned' as Mogherini feels let down by EU member states who won’t give her the policy bandwidth. Perhaps they will now.

And as for Trump. He may well regret not meeting her in Brussels or Washington and posing for those awful hand-out photographs.

Martin Jay is based in Beirut and can be followed at @MartinRJay

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.