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Playing poker in the Middle East

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Message Jean-Luc Basle

It is said that former real estate mogul, Donald Trump, would always negotiate with a strong hand to force the opposite party to accept his terms. In a poker game, you may win with a weak hand if you manage to convince the other players that you have a strong hand. In the Middle East, John Bolton and Mike Pompeo, the Laurel and Hardy of American diplomacy, are playing poker with a weak hand. They will lose. The other players know they are bluffing.

Removing the waivers granted to eight countries to the Iranian economic sanctions, after declaring the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization is an act of war. The Iranians know that, so do the Chinese, the Turks, the Indians, and the whole world for that matter. What will the United States do if China continues to get its oil from Iran? Can it block the Strait of Hormuz with the Fifth Fleet to prevent it? While this would be a breach of international laws and a denial of the freedom of navigation the United States is so intent to preserve in the South China Sea, it would also be a major disruption in the world oil market since 25% of the oil transits through the Strait. As a result, the price of a barrel of oil would skyrocket, bringing a flimsy world economy to a halt. Donald Trump cannot take this risk, if he wants to be reelected next year. The Chinese know that.

Can the United States pressure the Chinese in the on-going trade negotiations, offering better terms in exchange for the Chinese renouncing to buy Iranian oil? The Chinese are in a tight spot. They need the American market.

But the Americans are as dependent on the Chinese market as they are on the American market. And, China has an ace up its sleeve. It could sell some of the $1,131 billion US Treasuries it holds. The mere news of China dumping US Treasuries would make the gnomes of Wall Street run for cover. It would push US interest rates up, increase the budget deficit and the public debt. It would also bring the dollar down and make imported goods more expansive, impacting negatively American households' net income. Not a very good omen for someone who wants to be reelected a year and a half from now. The real estate mogul's hand is not as strong as he thought it was. By the way, China made clear it will not be shoved around by the United States with its unequivocal decision to side with Venezuela's President Nicola Maduro. *

Will the Iranians re-start their nuclear program? The ruling class is divided. Re-starting it would be a colossal mistake since it would give the United States and its allies the perfect excuse to "move in". The Iranians should also resist the temptation of blocking the Strait of Ormuz. Not only would this send the world economy in a tailspin, it would also make the Iranians look back in the eyes of the world community. For its part, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps must refrain from any foolish action in retribution for being declared a terrorist organization. Assuming neither of these things happen, the United States will have no alternative but lay down its hand.

Theodore Roosevelt had a much less settle but more effective if amoral strategy with his "speak softly and carry a big stick." The United States does have a big stick. It is called Armageddon. Neither Trump, nor Bolton or Pompeo are willing to use it. That's why they play poker while being on the wrong side of History!... Of course, the above assumes there is modicum of rationality left in Washington D.C. and that no one is silly enough to launch a false flag operation in the Middle East. Former CIA officer and Vietnam veteran Philip Giraldi is not so sure: "Rumors of war: Washington is looking for a fight ."

*Note: Russia sent an even stronger message by sending troops to Venezuela.

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Former Vice President Citigroup New York (retired) Columbia University -- Business School Princeton University -- Woodrow Wilson School

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