The Strait of Hormuz. The Bombed Tankers and the World’s Supreme Power Broker.
Now and then power politics needs a crisis. It helps the ‘leaders’ better play to their respective constituencies. And so the tankers that cross the Strait of Hormuz, with the price of oil low and the pressure on Iran high, offer a wonderful opportunity. So why not rattle the world’s nerves and remind them of all their distinguished heads of state do for them?
On June 13th two tankers were bombed, and we were shown videos of people in a boat, likely Iranian, casually taking down limpet mines (so we are told) from the side of a tanker, and then leisurely sailing off. Were the mines the culprits? Japanese sources, who own one of the ships, say their vessel was hit from the air.
American officials were quick to talk about how there would be hell to pay, and troops have been mobilized, with Trump saying he didn’t want war but, well, the US can only take so much.
Iran is denying any involvement. The European Union has warned to go slow, ‘don’t forget the rush to war with Iraq in 2003 and the price paid’.
Meanwhile, ‘exhaustive’ investigations continue with the promise to get to the bottom of it.
Lots of news coverage and people running around. As if we didn’t have better things to do. Like feeding the hungry of the world, educating them, inspiring them to better themselves, so they can learn to think and not let others deceive them.
But power is too seductive to pause for such paltry considerations.
The next day, June 14th, Rouhani, Iran’s president, met with Putin and Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit. Both dictators vowed to continue their support of Iran and the 2015 nuclear deal that the US has pulled out from and to stand by Iran in the tanker dispute.
But who started it?
Iran could well have said, ‘We’re suffering with the American sanctions and the oil prices being low. Let’s get a band of men to hit the tankers, oil prices will go up, then we go to Putin and ask for his help. He saved Assad in Syria from extinction and surely the great man will do us a good turn, too.’
Netanyahu, in Israel, who’s also good friends with Putin (he plays both cards) and in need of help too, could well have said, ‘I need to get reelected in September and Trump is on my side, so why not get some folks to go in and plant some explosives, then blame it on Iran. A lot of threats will get made and surely my numbers will go up. We know Iran is not crazy, not yet anyway, so they won’t escalate.’
Then there’s Trump who, in need of boosting his own numbers, and given that he has accomplished little during his term and is under the constant threat of impeachment and, on top of that, has a phalanx of democratic contenders uniformly decrying his performance, could well have said, ‘why not go along with Netanyahu and bang the war drums? Brinkmanship. Talk tough, push people to the edge, then let up for a while and crank it up again. Why, the press loves my tweets. Anyway, the Iranians wouldn’t dare start a fight with me, unless they want to commit suicide and I don’t think they do, which gives me the advantage.’
And he sits back and reflects. ‘Ah, the perks of power. To be able to manipulate public opinion. All the resources at my disposal… the CIA, the military, Fox News… how can I lose?’
Just days before, Trump had announced, braggingly, that he did not mind getting dirt on his American political opponents from another nation. Having got flak for it, he quickly reversed himself saying he would let the FBI know instead but, would you believe him?
Upon learning of Trump’s statements, I could see Putin smiling and thinking to himself, ‘Ah, I knew he would give me the green light to help in the next elections, not that I needed his approval.’
And so, Donald Trump, the 45th American president, will go down in history as the one who, by his actions and inactions, elevated Russia’s dictator to the position of World Power Broker.
In the face of overwhelming evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 elections, Trump could not bring himself to be honest with all Americans and say to us, ‘There was interference and given my slim margin of victory (he lost the popular vote), it is quite possible that Russia’s actions got me the presidency. But now I am in and I vow to be president to all Americans and defend our interests’. But he could not do it. Sadly, it is not in the man.
Iran’s Rouhani and Khamenei, knowing this, and aware of the dire consequences of an escalation of the tanker incident, would have had planned, all along, to turn to Putin for help, knowing that the world’s greatest power broker would be ready to do his best.
Let us listen in on the possible conversation between Trump and Putin.
Sitting in the Oval Office, feeling pretty smug and relaxed, the 45th president is suddenly interrupted by a staffer. ‘Mr President!’ the person exclaims anxiously as he steps in.
‘Mr Putin is on the line, should I transfer the call?’
‘Sure,’ says Trump.
The staffer exits and a moment later the phone rings on Trump’s desk.
He picks up.
‘Donald!,’ says Putin.
‘Vladi!’ replies Trump.
‘How’s your golf game?’
‘Better by the day,’ replies the 45th president.
‘Good to hear that. Listen, Iran is worried that you’re serious about war.’
‘Well… I am and I’m not… it all depends on the evidence… then there’s the polls… my base…’
‘Of course,’ says Putin. ‘But here’s my point… you don’t have to worry about getting reelected.’
‘Of course not.’
‘I have dirt on the democratic candidates. Real dirt. You’d be surprised.’
‘The leading ones… so don’t worry… I’ve got you covered. All you have to do is keep the contest close… and you’ll get in.’
Our president mulls this over.
‘I think she’s going to get the democratic nomination,’ says Trump.
‘She’s looking good. Donald, you don’t record your calls, do you?’ asks Putin.
‘I don’t record anything. Learned from Nixon. Do you?’
‘Never,’ replies Putin.
Trump is relieved.
‘About the tankers,’ resumes Putin, ‘why not ease up on the war talk, just a little, and I’ll tell the Iranians to back off… what do you think?’
‘I don’t want any more ships being hit,’ says Trump.
‘Of course. I don’t know why they didn’t come to me first,’ says Putin.
‘I know I’m squeezing them but I have an election to win… and then there’s Netanyahu to think about. Iran needs to get over it. Say, did you hear that the Israelis are naming a section on the border with Syria, “Trump Heights?”’
‘I did. Congratulations. Very nice.’
‘Thanks. We’re tight, Bibi and me.”
‘I’m envious,’ says Putin.
‘We’re good too, Vladi, you know that.’
‘Thanks. But listen… it occurred to me, why don’t you let the Iranians sell some of their oil to Kim Jong Un, he’s hurting badly. I’m sure Xi will pick up the tab.’
‘That’s a thought.’
‘For a while at least… and that would give both Iran and Kim a breather.’
‘Think of it this way… we’re all trying to stay in power.”
Putin laughs too. ‘We should all get together more often. Xi too. Need to bond.’
‘Say, what did Xi tell you when you last saw him?’ asks Trump.
‘He knows he has to play ball with the tariffs but doesn’t want to be humiliated. He’s got to save face. And now there are the Hong Kong protests.’
‘I understand. I’ll think of something.’
‘Believe me, he’ll appreciate it.’
‘Sure he will.’
‘You know, Americans are lucky to have you, Donald… they just don’t know it yet.’
‘That’s what I say.’
‘Which is why I’m glad to help. Give them some time. Americans have always done the right thing. Well… I know you’re busy, so I’ll let you go. My best to Melania, Ivanka and Jared.’
They hang up.
In his office in the Kremlin, Putin picks up another phone and says, ‘Did you get all of it?’
‘Yes,’ replies the voice at the other end.
Putin sits back and smiles, ‘He’s no longer the apprentice. Once he gets reelected, he’ll be on his way. But really, who would’ve thought of it… America, the great democracy… on its way to becoming America, the great monarchy.’
Putin laughs loudly.
Oscar valdes. Oscarvaldes.net Author of ‘Helsinki,’ a play on the fallout after Trump and Putin’s meeting in the Finnish capital.