Russia, China, and Iran are on course to hold joint military exercises in the Persian Gulf later this year or early 2022. In an interview with Sputnik, Russia’s ambassador to Tehran, Levan Dzhagaryan, asserted that the “main aim is to practice actions on ensuring international shipping safety, and combating sea pirates.” Yet, especially in the wake of the botched US withdrawal from Afghanistan, such cooperation is often portrayed as adversarial and contrary to US foreign policy goals. All three nations have a vested interest in ensuring their new Islamic Emirate neighbor does not collapse. Renewed internecine conflict in the region and its effects could spill over into Iran and/or China whose Xinjiang province shares a 50-mile border with the gestating junta regime.
Opinion seems to be divided over the purpose of this planned cooperation. Some sections of the media like Newsweek and the New York Post have advocated the traditional impulse of placing adversarial labels upon the three countries. Yet, a Chinese military expert at the Global Times has argued that the military exercises are the solidifying of a relationship between a triad of nations whose benefits satisfy each party. Combatting piracy in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes while maintaining some kind of cooperation in the event that Afghanistan falls further into disarray is pragmatic foreign policy, according to the Global Times author. Those that wish to drum up such an exercise as ‘increased tensions’ or ‘an aggressive display’ ought to understand that NATO, too, conducts military exercises all over the world. It is not unusual for nations with militaries to cooperate and consult with other regional forces.
The joint military exercise comes in the wake of accusations by Israel, the US, and the UK that Iran was responsible for an airstrike on an Israeli-managed oil tanker near Oman on July 29th. Iranian state media has offered a defensive tone, citing Israeli airstrikes in Syria and continued harassment, and sinking of Iranian vessels in the Persian Gulf in what Al-Jazeera has dubbed a “shadow war” following the disintegration of the 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal.
The collapse of one of President Obama’s rare achievements and re-imposition of sanctions upon the Iranian Islamic State has, unsurprisingly, altered the geographic gravitational pull such that Iran is finding allies to its north in the form of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and Vladimir Putin. Ultimately, this will result in “increased tensions” between Iran and the US which seem perennial at this stage. Yet, what is to be expected? After all, China continued to purchase oil from Iran when the US imposed crippling sanctions that mostly affected working-class Iranians. Indeed, according to the Statistical Centre of Iran, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) 12-month rate of inflation for households stood at 42% in October 2019.
There appears to be an automatic reflex among much of Western corporate media that aches to malign Russia, China, and Iran as threats to US hegemony and the ever-more malleable definition of ‘democracy’ espoused by the US. To be sure, Russia has a concerningly large nuclear missile collection leftover from the Soviet Empire and China’s Belt and Road initiative is certainly on track to spread Chinese influence and capital across the globe. Then, of course, there is Iran; the proverbial punching bag at any campaign stop fish fry. During the Trump presidency, the US withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), colloquially (and pejoratively) referred to as the Iran Nuclear Deal. It placed limitations on Iran’s uranium enrichment program and established monitoring and transparency-promoting inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The US exit from the deal, which included endorsements and participation from China, the UK, Germany and more, resulted in the Iranians ignoring set limitations of uranium enrichment according to a watchdog agency.
The US should rejoin the JCPOA and lift sanctions on Iran. However, that is not the sole focus of this article. Rather, these military exercises, now commonplace (Iran and Russia having conducted joint exercises in February this year and China and Russia having cooperated in early August), are changing the geo-strategic dynamics of the world. The US has enjoyed a post-Cold War hegemonic status and has, unfortunately, abdicated its position as a trustworthy and moral world power. Its 20-year wars in Afghanistan and Iraq plus military intervention in Syria which resulted in the indirect funding of ISIS affiliates, its role in the overthrow of Ghaddafi in Libya, its airstrikes in Somalia, unapologetic feeding of the Saudi war machine in Yemen, and continued expansion of military prestige over the aid of its own citizens has exposed the bureaucratic behemoth’s corrupt soul. Thus, such Euro-Asian collaboration is intimidating much like how an insecure man might scowl from the bedroom window while watching his wife chat to the young mailman.
President Xi and Vladimir Putin recently concurred in a meeting that the relationship between their two countries is now unbreakable. Certainly, the rapid withdrawal of US and NATO troops from Afghanistan has acted as a catalyst for the continued regularity of their militaristic collaboration. Both Russia and China opposed the US exit by September 1st, citing concerns that a newly installed Taliban government may offer refuge to terrorist cells like Al-Qaeda. That being said, one should not jump to geopolitical conclusions, nor should one extrapolate indefinitely to conjure a narrative of antagonism. Ultimately, China and Russia have some overlapping geo-strategic concerns.
The oligarchic state of Russia is desperately trying to maintain relevance on the world-stage and has been fed such relevance by members of the mainstream media like MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow who continuously spread misinformation surrounding “Russiagate.” The US media’s obsession with the idea that Trump and Putin were in cahoots and engaged in mutual pigtail braiding at summits, led to an artificial inflation of Russia’s power. The Russian Federation actually has a similar GDP to Texas despite its population being 5 times greater. The war-machine is foaming at the mouth for a provocative encounter with what the ghost of Stalin or, frankly, the ghost of Jane Austen might do. As President Trump said in a rare moment of candidness for a sitting American President, leaders at the Pentagon “want to do nothing but fight wars so that all of those wonderful companies that make the bombs and make the planes and make everything else stay happy.”
Regarding China, the US, especially factions of the Republican Party, has taken a harsh stand against the capitalist-communist cocktail exporting its wealth and goods around the world. To be sure, China has imperialist goals. It appears, for now, they are satisfied more with building ports in Greece and freeways in Eritrea than, say, lighting up a Syrian wedding with fire from the sky. Ultimately, China’s growing influence is concerning – this is a nation with 1,000,000 people in concentration camps that recently flew nuclear-capable-bombers into Taiwanese airspace and temporarily disappeared billionaire Jack Ma after criticizing the Chinese banking establishment. That being said, as I have listed above, the US is hardly a paragon of virtue. In fact, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Group, China spent $252 billion on its military last year – a threatening statistic, some might say. However, that means that the US could cut its annual defense spending in half and still almost spend twice as much as its ‘closest’ competitor. To keep things in perspective, the Department of Housing and Urban development estimates that it would cost $20 billion to end homelessness in the United States. Meaning, if we were living within the confines of a video game and could regenerate our world continuously, the U.S. could end homelessness 46 times with the money it spends on defense each year.
In conclusion, the US, Iran, Russia, and China are not inherently ‘bad’ or ‘good’ nations. The simplistic imposition of feel-good dichotomies is not a worthwhile strategy for assessing geo-political configurations. Each of these nations has done both good and bad over the course of history; we must not let the vestiges of the Red Scare nor flirtations with Islamophobia conduct our foreign policy. The US must have a pragmatic approach to international affairs and must realize that perpetual warfare is not the recipe for domestic security. Furthermore, the US must attempt to dismantle the military-industrial-complex. I mean, how ridiculous is it that the current Secretary of Defense sat on the Board of Directors at Raytheon Technologies Co. and his predecessor under Trump was lobbying for the same company? As long as consecutive administrations and politicians continue to receive money from large defense contractors and arms manufacturers, the American people will never be free. We will be destined to be eternally beholden to a class of social-justice-pandering neo-liberal nomenklatura whose main focus is ensuring that there will always be someone in a turban or ushanka that can be construed as a national threat while they themselves constitute the greatest threat. Let me end with a very simple quote from libertarian and isolationist politician and commentator, Ron Paul: “Setting a good example is a far better way to spread ideals than through force of arms.”