Weakened trans-Atlantic ties enabled the Soleimani assassination, but where do we go from here?
Fridays news of Soleimani’s assassination came as a shock to everyone, and the knowledge that few had been made aware of the unilateral action, particularly the British with their celebrated “Special Relationship”, was also a shock to people.
While tensions existed between the US and a number of actors across the European Union, particularly regarding defence spending, the ECJ’s labelling laws on Israeli products from occupied Palestinian territories, and the on-again-off-again feuds between Trump and Emmanuel Macron, the current crisis represents a new low for an already frayed transatlantic alliance.
The fact that Trump acted regardless of the concerns displayed by European allies shows that the EU has lost the normative influence it had over its largest ally, and that its diplomatic ability to influence the superpower has been severely weakened.
French president Emmanuel Macron, for example, has been trying to ease tensions and improve relations between the U.S. and Iran to no avail, notably by inviting Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to the August G7 Summit in Biarritz, and has been notably active in his support for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran Nuclear deal.
The problem with many of these initiatives, however, is that Donald Trump has proven himself to be willing to lie outright regarding what is being said and done, leaving his European allies in the cold and putting them in a position where engaging with the US President is beginning to look less and less effective, and consequentially, worth the effort.
This is admittedly more a result of the Trump presidency itself as opposed to US-EU relations crumbling, and with Trump’s re-election being uncertain, there is every chance that transatlantic ties could find themselves strengthened following the election of a democratic candidate. However, should he manage to win, we will see a further erosion of the transatlantic alliance over the course of another presidential term, which will have ramifications for the wider global community.
Likewise, we will possibly even see the EU and it’s Member States decide that after repeatedly being berated, and then having their interests endangered enough is enough, and that their goals of stabilising their neighbourhood and strengthening their ability to act on the global field, that it would make more sense to intensify its rapprochement with the Russian state.
For example, one of Macron’s first calls following news of the assassination of Soleimani was to Russian President Vladimir Putin, with multiple statement being released shortly after calling for calm and an easing of tensions, whereas not too long ago any French president would have immediately called his American counterpart.
The reality is that American interests are harmed by its distance from Europe, as well as it gradually being pushed away; and with the EU and member states such as France looking to build and strengthen its foreign policy abilities in order to increase its power on the global stage, the United States must recognise that it requires alliances, such as the existing one with the EU, in order to be an effective global actor.
Weakened regional ability
One of the key issues that we will see as a result of this action is a weakened ability for both the United States and, by association, the EU to act. Very recently, the Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abd Al-Mahdi recommended that all US troops stationed in Iraq be kicked out of Iraq, and that the relationship between the US and Iraq be recalibrating as a relationship based on Iraqi Sovereignty. This was voted upon in the Parliament, with a majority voting to remove not only US troops, but all foreign troops within the country.
This effectively means that, as a result of the United State’s attack, the anti-Daesh training missions have had to be cancelled, endangering years of work to finish off the so-called Islamic State, and giving the terrorist organisation room to build upon the escape of multiple former-prisoners that were released by Turkish proxy forces during their northern-Syrian offensive.
In the same speech, Al-Mahdi also highlighted how Donald Trump had initially called him and requested that he mediated between the US and Iran, before then ordering the drone strike on Soleimani, which has clearly led to an erosion of trust between the US and Iraq.
Not only are western activities being actively damaged by this action, but Western actors and their Middle Eastern allies are actively being put in danger.
We need to consider the network that Soleimani had built over his decades in power, with Iraqi militia such as Hashd al-Shaabi, Gazan militia’s, Hezbollah and the Yemeni Houthis being allies of the Iranian regime. With the Iranian Supreme leader vowing to enact a “crushing revenge” and the general’s daughter calling for revenge, we have to wonder what possibly collateral damage there will be in the Iranian quest for vengeance, and how NATO, UN and EU missions will be affected by the crusade that could possibly emerge from this scenario.
Needless to say, these are perilous times within the region, and while these may not reach the heights of all out warfare, or as many Twitter users seemed afraid of, World War Three, this scenario could rapidly fall out of control, and unless European influence is re-established through the transatlantic alliance, we may see further military actions that will destabilise the region, and damage constructive efforts in statebuilding, conflict resolution, and capacity building within local governments, and a strong relationship between the USA and Europe is essential.