America, attempting to increase pressure on Iran, has ended a set of sanctions waivers that exempted some countries with long-standing arrangements for Iranian oil. China, Japan, Turkey, South Korea, and India will all be subject to penalties beginning next month, should they continue to import oil from Iran.
The effort is designed to increase economic pressure on Iran, which is attempting to expand its influence across the Middle East and into Northern Africa.
This is a good way for us to achieve that goal. It is important, however, to recall what gets us to this point… and that prior bad policy can cause an ever-diminishing range of options.
Our policy toward Iran has been shaped, in recent decades, by recognizing its aggressive stance after 9/11; by disbanding Iraq’s existing army following the fall of Saddam Hussein; by pulling out the majority of our advisory troops shortly after Bush’s departure from the White House; by secretly negotiating them in the apparent hope of turning them into a long-term ally; and then by whipsawing to abandon the negotiated agreement.
During this time, Iran has been consistent: it views itself as our enemy and a growing world power. Their actions toward us have been those of a stated adversary.
Our dramatically shifting policy toward Iran has greatly strengthened its grip on the region and allowed it to make inroads into places where internal strife exists, like Syria and Yemen. Now, however, it is moving into an area where we are harming our existing trade talks with China as well as making life more difficult for key allies Japan, South Korea and India.
Japan and South Korea have been further alienated by our policy toward North Korea. While we have been generally consistent at recognizing the Kim regimes as enemies, that has changed during the Trump administration. In our efforts toward reconciliation with North Korea, we have demoted Japan to a minor player in regional talks in an apparent effort to curry favor from China, who is Japan’s historic adversary.
Meanwhile, we have been cold to the internal frictions of Japan, as we attempt to construct a new military base that is deeply unpopular with the local residents.
Beyond that, after the U.S. stepped out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the deal was completed without us. The result has been a diminished Japanese marketplace for goods, as they are now able to get some resources cheaply – like foods – from their CPTPP (Comprehensive and Progressive Alliance for a Trans-Pacific Partnershi) allies without dealing with US tariffs.
The result of this has been an increased trade imbalance with Japan… exactly the opposite of what was repeatedly and aggressively pledged by President Trump during his election campaign – and a Japanese Prime Minister who has gone from being America’s firmest international supporter only two years ago to one whose recent actions have been demonstrably cool to us. His views seem to be mirrored by much of the Japanese populace, as Abe’s popularity has increased as he has pivoted toward being presented as strongly independent of Trump.
Now we are entering into trade talks with Japan. These are important, as Japan’s economic growth has been anemic for years and they will want to maintain as much of their current arrangements with America as they can. Japan is seeing the CPTPP as their chance to let free trade work some economic magic for their citizenry. They will be deeply upset if the United States, which balked at joining, now attempts to siphon off some of the benefits Japan expects… while offering Japan nothing but humiliation in return.