Back from the brink, again

Special to

By John J. Metzler

UNITED NATIONS — An eagerly anticipated UN Security Council meeting came in the nervous aftermath of America’s targeted killing of Iranian terrorist kingpin Qasem Soleimani by an armed U.S. drone.

The rhetorical crescendo was building all week following Soleimani’s funeral cortege which wove its way across Iraq and Iran through the Shia heartland reaching a mesmerizing political frenzy.  Both sides were posturing but neither wanted a war.

Winston Churchill: ‘Jaw, Jaw is better than War, War.’ / CC 2.0

The scripted chants of “Death of America” echoed the Hostage crisis of 1979 and sadly so many encounters since between Iran and the USA.  Teheran was in full Agitation/Propaganda mode. The mob wanted blood.

Yet by the time the meeting was held, there was little suspense in the Council chamber nor was there the foreboding expectation that Iran’s allies such as China or Russia would really take the crisis to the next level.  Neither did the U.S. or its key allies France, Germany or the UK excoriate Iran.  This was a time for talking.

Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned, “War is never inevitable; it is a matter of choice – and often it is the product of easy miscalculations.  Peace too, is never inevitable; it is the    product of hard work and we must never take it for granted.”

Churchill once opined “Jaw, Jaw is better than War, War.”  After forty years of political sparring with many deadly flareups in between, the latest UN face-off was going through the motions but without the mendacity.

After Iran fired a salvo of ballistic missiles at U.S. bases in neighboring Iraq, the world held its breath.  Would there be American causalities?  If so, President Trump would likely respond forcefully.  Happily, and perhaps intentionally, the missiles missed and both sides could say they were even.

Both the Trump Administration and the Iranians wisely stepped back.

The Security Council showdown between Iran and the U.S. happily fizzled; the Council’s fifteen members and many other states did not directly address the recent flareup instead addressing the original agenda item, “Upholding the United Nations Charter.”

British Ambassador Karen Pierce quoted her Foreign Minister Dominic Raab, “We recognize the danger and threat that Iran poses to the Middle East. We recognize the right to self-defense.  At the same time, we want to see tensions de-escalated. We want to find a diplomatic way through.”

While diplomats sighed a breath of relief, everyone knew in a sense, yet another bullet had been dodged and another war averted, at least for now.

U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft stated, “We will act decisively in the exercise of our inherent right of self-defense to protect Americans when necessary, as is recognized under the Charter.”  Yet she added optimistically, quoting President Trump’s recent remarks, “we want a future, and a great future at that, for Iran.  It is a future that people of Iran deserve, one of prosperity at home and harmony with the nations of the world.”

The annals of war and peace have so many close encounters which either end in horrible conflict or regained opportunities.  The recent showdown may happily fall into the second category as both sides in Washington and Teheran stepped back from the brink.  The unfathomable arrogance of the mainstream media predicted a war; Trump preferred a deal.

But just as tempers cooled the situation whipsawed back again.  In yet another stunning development, a commercial Ukrainian 737 mysteriously crashed just hours after the Iranian  misile salvo.  The civilian airliner with 176 passengers and crew became the cruel and unexpected victim.  Among the dead were 57 Canadians, 82 Iranians and 11 Ukrainians.

After the initial coverups, the truth slipped from behind Iran’s usual veil of secrecy and lies.

The Iranian military had mistakenly shot down the civilian jet with a SAM 15 missile!  Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called on the Islamic Republic for accountability and justice.

As this column warned last week, one of the biggest dangers in any crisis is miscalculation. Indeed, the unintended consequence to the crisis showed the strange twist of fate for the Ukrainian jet’s 176 passengers, sacrificed on the altar of stupidity of Teheran’s theocratic regime.

The callous air disaster coverup has caused a new round of anti-government demonstrations inside Iran where citizens are furious over the flagrant incompetence of their Islamic regime.

Now there’s an interesting turn of events.  As the drums of war have calmed, attention has turned to the Teheran authorities and especially the aging Ayatollah in whose name Iran is run.   Will Iranians focus on their own future and not hating the West?

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]