13.06.2023 Author: Viktor Mikhin

The Persian Gulf: A failure of US policy

The Persian Gulf: A failure of US policy

Washington, true to its fanatical mania for acting as the world’s policeman, has announced that it is sending more troops to the Persian Gulf in response to Iran’s lawful seizure of tankers that were passing through the strategic Strait of Hormuz. As the White House Press secretary John Kirby put it in a peremptory briefing: “The Department of Defense will be making a series of moves to bolster our defensive posture in the Persian Gulf.” To read this one cannot help but wonder at the geographical awareness of the current generation of US politicians, if they really think, given the distance between the Persian Gulf and the US, that the latter feels threatened by some other country in that region. In all the various places where the Pentagon has “defensive positions” – in Europe, in the Persian Gulf, in the Pacific Basin, in Ukraine – those restless Yankees are sowing death and destruction in order to “protect” someone. The question is, who? The world has seen how the US protects itself and other countries when the heroic US Army rushed to get out of Afghanistan without a twinge of remorse.

As a representative of the United States Fifth Fleet based in Bahrein announced, the Fleet is “working” with regional allies and partners to increase the rotation of ships and aircraft patrolling in the Strait of Hormuz. In a statement to Reuters, Vice Admiral Brad Cooper, commander of the Fifth Fleet, insisted, dogmatically, and with little attention to political reality, that “Iran’s unwarranted, irresponsible and unlawful seizure and harassment of merchant vessels must stop.” And a representative of the United States Central Command, which controls US forces in the Middle East from its headquarters in Florida, confirmed that the US is discussing various options for “pacifying” the situation in the Strait with regional partners. In practice, all these discussions end up having the same result – sending more American GIs to US bases, which are spreading like cockroaches in a number of different Gulf nations.

As this author has reported earlier, Iran briefly seized two tankers in this region, and also claimed that it had forced a US submarine to surface as it passed through the Strait of Hormuz and entered the Persian Gulf – the area in question being part of Iran’s territorial waters. Naturally, although this claim was true the incident was a shameful one for the world hegemon, and Americans denied everything. Despite their denials, the incident was recorded by a number of satellites, and the satellite record is far from reassuring for the powerful US Navy. That, then, is the truth about the powerful US Navy, and it is far from clear how it will defend US borders in the Strait of Hormuz.

Iran argues, quite correctly, that the seizure of the tankers was justified, and insists that the measures taken by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps against the tankers were lawful. Earlier in May IRNA, Iran’s official news agency, quoted the state prosecutor’s statement that the oil tanker was seized by Revolutionary Guard naval forces at the request of a claimant in court proceedings. Washington is a great fan of legal proceedings and court appeals, and here we have a claimant and a court decision, so everything is clearly above board. According to a spokesperson for the United States Fifth Fleet, the Niovi, a Greek-owned tanker, was travelling from Dubai to Fujairah, a port and oil terminal in the UAE, when it was stopped and searched by Revolutionary Guard naval forces who were acting in accordance with a court decision.

Six days before that incident the Iranian navy had seized a Marshall Islands-flagged oil tanker in the Sea of Oman. The Iranians claimed that the oil tanker, the Advantage Sweet, had collided at sea with an Iranian fishing vessel, some of whose crew were injured, while others were recorded as missing. Tehran claims that after the collision the oil tanker tried to leave the scene of the incident, thus committing a serious violation of international law and shipping rules, which require vessels to provide first aid and any necessary medicines to sick or injured sailors. So everything was clearly done according to the book, but nevertheless the law-abiding Americans are accusing Iran of wrongdoing.

Last month Rear Admiral Shahram Irani, Commander of the Iranian Navy announced on national television that the Navy had forced a US submarine to surface as it entered the Persian Gulf, but a spokesperson for the United States Fifth Fleet categorically denied that any such incident had taken place. Speaking to Reuters, Commander Timothy Hawkins said: “No US submarine has transited the Strait of Hormuz today or recently.” But once the cat is out of the bag there is no putting it back, and this incident was recorded by many satellites. Another slap in the face for Joe Biden and his team, one might say.

As reported by Israeli media, many of those in the region, especially the Israelis, are less than impressed by the US response to Iran’s actions. Although the announced build-up of forces could be seen as having two goals, to oppose Iran and to support US allies in the Persian Gulf region, it has not had the desired effect. In reality, most experts believe, it is now too late for the US to challenge public perceptions of its role in the region. Washington’s prestige in this highly significant and troubled region is declining steadily and irreparably and no show of force on the part of that ailing monster can prevent the states in the region, for so long under America’s thumb, from adjusting the balance of power and reappraising US policy.

The Saudi commentator Abdul Aziz Al-Khamis, in a recent interview with the Egyptian weekly journal Al-Ahram, described the situation accurately: “That won’t change the mood in the Gulf. People are asking where the Americans were when they were needed. And this military build-up in the Gulf looks like an attempt to sabotage the Saudi-Iranian détente.” And what can America, that faltering world power, do but shake its rusty truncheon and threaten the rest of the world? This view is shared by many observers, who accuse the US of drawing out the political process to end the war in Yemen and resolve many other conflicts in the region – conflicts which were originally begun by those out-of-touch eggheads in Washington. Others see the current events as a delayed reaction by Joe Biden, who is having trouble keeping up with events, to the strengthening of Chinese influence and the renewal of nationalism in many states in the region.

The well-known Israeli commentator Amos Harel recently wrote an article in Haaretz lamenting the fact that the US is no longer able to win the trust of the Israeli leadership concerning its polities in the Persian Gulf Region and specifically in relation to Iran. He justly points out that the events of recent years have led the Gulf states to look for alternative paths. “If America won’t attack Iran, it will be wise to mitigate the tension with Tehran. And if all recent US administrations – from Barack Obama to Trump and Biden – are seeking to reduce their military presence in the Middle East and focus their interests on the competition with China and with Russia, a more cautious line needs to be taken between the great powers and ties need to be strengthened with China.”

The anticipated decline in America’s interest in the Persian Gulf region has triggered changes in the region which are probably irreversible, at least for now. Merely sending more warships or other arms to the region or taking part in joint patrols with Gulf partners is unlikely to make much difference. The Arab states in the region did not have an exclusive partnership with the United States, and later on they turned towards powers like China and Russia, strengthening their ties with these countries and reconciling with Iran. Even their normalization of relations with Israel is motivated by the same perception of American disengagement with the region, as American commentator Max Boot wrote recently in The Washington Post: “It was actually the signing of the Abraham Accords in the summer of 2020… that signaled the emergence of a post-American order in the Middle East.” There can be little doubt that all the countries in the region have reached the conclusion that they need to find a new way forwards and join Russia, China and other peacefully-inclined countries in the quest to create a new multipolar order. And that will naturally mean moving away from their tiresome dependence on that decrepit guardian, the United States.


Viktor Mikhin, corresponding member of RANS, exclusively for the online journal “New Eastern Outlook.

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