Another dark morning at Istanbul. It is pitch black at 7 a.m. as Turkey refuses to use daylight savings time in winter since 2016. My son checks his mobile for the “breaking news” on Iran and the U.S. as the hectic morning begins. He is anxious as he updates me about the latest tweets by President Donald Trump. One says:
“These Media Posts will serve as notification to the United States Congress that should Iran strike any U.S. person or target, the United States will quickly & fully strike back, & perhaps in a disproportionate manner. Such legal notification is not required, but is given nevertheless!”
So, there goes an extremist interpretation of executive presidency: The Congress was notified that the President can do anything in the name of the people they represent and they will be warranted through a tweet. If Turkey wakes up to darkness every morning due to a presidential decree, why will the U.S. not wake up to an all-out war with Iran, where all international laws of war so meticulously crafted with much agony, pain and effort over decades and two world wars, through a presidential tweet? Why not?
When I was roughly my son’s age, the U.S.-Iran War was a surreal and bizarre plan floated by the most radical of the neocons in the George W. Bush administration. Now it is a reality. My son and all kids today have every right to be anxious.
Insanity has become the new sanity.
Diplomacy is scorned, rationality despised and mocked, data is twisted and manipulated, the crooked has become the new righteous.
Just as the world we have come know crumbles, we try to explain it.
A few months ago, I was discussing the “recent developments” in the Middle East. One of the regional experts from Germany was lamenting how strong Iran was getting in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq; he also lamented that people who share his opinion had difficulty in “waking up” Germany’s Foreign Ministry to the growing soft and hard power of Tehran. Truly, Qassem Soleimani had created a dominion extending all the way from Tehran to the borders of Israel. It was his cunning military strategy that established dozens of Shiite militia factions in Ira and Syria, and galvanized Hezbollah’s strength in Lebanon. Soleimani came to embody military, economic, political and charismatic might much more so than almost any other leading figure in the region. His assassination must have relieved many within the circles of power in the region and beyond, including in even his own country and those seemingly on the same side, like Russia.
Nevertheless, what other types of leaders and political actors dominate the region?
Soleimani and the U.S. may have been adversaries, but they have also worked together against the Taliban in the aftermath of September 11 attacks, as Dexter Filkins’ 2013 New Yorker report notes.
John Hudson, Josh Dawsey, Shane Harris and Dan Lamothe’s joint report in the Washington Post argues that the U.S. Foreign Secretary Mike Pompeo retained a "fixation on Iran that spans 10 years of government service from Congress to the CIA to the State Service." Pompeo declared that he is “proud of the effort President Trump undertook,” and that it was the right decision to kill Soleimani, taking “a bad guy off the battlefield.”
What do European decision makers think of all this? Waking up from the holidays, January 6 turned out to be truly “blue Monday” for European Union institutions. Had it not been for the Iran crisis, it would have been business as usual: the EU agenda was demurely preoccupied with its own events for this week. The whole assembly of EU commissioners and the EU Council President Charles Michel would make their first trip together to Zagreb for passing the presidency to Croatia, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen would visit London for more Brexit talks with Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and the Vice President Margethe Vestager would visit Geneva for the World Economic Forum.
But then, Iran happened.
The clear goal of the EU and the major European states is saving the nuclear deal. As Trump was threatening to bomb 52 sites in Iran in allusion to the same number of diplomats taken the 1979 hostage crisis in Tehran, the EU’s new foreign policy chief Josep Borrell invited Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to Brussels. Borell was also keen not to mix normative views on Soleimani’s death as Britain, France and Germany’s governments made it clear their eyes are completely dry over his departure. While Berlin, London and Paris also emphasized restraint like Borrell, they so far passed the buck to achieve both “restraint” and the target of saving the nuclear deal over to the EU itself. Can there be division of labor between the EU institutions and the EU leaders in which the former deals with Iran and the latter with Trump? At the moment, there seems to be no clear European vision ahead or road map, and the basic instinct seems to bury one's head in the sand. But this crisis may also be an opportunity to define a new European foreign policy approach for the third decade of the 21st century.