In the last post I predicted that the US would find a way to scupper the peace deal between North and South Korea. Peace discussions were recently stalled after North Korea withdrew in protest over joint military operations between the US and South Korea. North Korea considered to be an aggressive breach of faith. I am inclined to agree.
The new Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, who I described in the last post as a fundamentalist Christian with horrific views about the world, made some comments this week at the Heritage Foundation. Giddy with excitement, he said the following:
“We will apply unprecedented financial pressure on the Iranian regime. The leaders in Tehran will have no doubt about our seriousness. Thanks to our colleagues at the Department of Treasury, sanctions are going back in full effect, and new ones are coming. Last week, we imposed sanctions on the head of Iran’s central bank and other entities that were funneling money to the IRGC Quds Force. They were also providing money to Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations.”
This speech comes two weeks after the US withdrew from the international nuclear deal with Iran, a deal that all accounts state that Iran has been faithfully upholding. The IAEA has issued 11 reports verifying this, and it would be an understatement to claim that the nature of the inspections has been intrusive.
There is no other way to interpet it, the US has canceled a deal that all other parties have been living up to in good faith. What’s more, the US is likely to impose even stricter sanctions upon a country that has been meeting its obligations at great cost to itself.
Following the pattern
The US has a long history of breaking deals that it has made with others in good faith. To name a few examples:
During the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, the Soviet leader Gorbachev was assured by US Secretary of State James Baker that “not an inch of NATO’s present military jurisdiction will spread in an eastern direction.” This agreement was violated in 1994 by the Clinton administration and NATO is now amassing troops on the Russian border, which it has been doing for several years.
The US invasion of Vietnam was a violation of Chapter VII of the United Nations charter, which the US has violated dozens of times since. The incident that provided the US with its excuse to escalate its invasion was a false flag operation, probably engineered by the US.
It should not escape the reader’s attention that the withdrawal of the US from its obligations to Iran is after Iran has spent almost three years deconstructing its ability to build nuclear weapons. Likewise, Trump pulled out of the North Korean summit just hours after North Korea declared that it had destroyed one of its nuclear weapons test sites. It is a similar story with the invasion of Iraq; the US did not invade until after a decade of crippling sanctions and a no-fly zone, such that it could be certain that the countrty had disarmed its weapons of mass destruction.
The tactic should be fairly obvious. Demilitarise the country with promises and treaties until you are certain that they are no threat to you, and then invade. It is not smart and it is not subtle, but we are not dealing with a US president who is known for his intellectual capabilities or an administration known for its subtle diplomacy.
Ghosts from the distant past
I can’t help but be reminded of an incident from the history of another empire, long ago. While I generally avoid comparing the US empire with the Roman empire it cannot be denied that while there are differences between the two there are also similarities, and some striking similarities. The vast majority of these are also similar with other empires through the ages of course, but Rome seems to be the standard to which empires are held, at least by the west (probably because much of western civilisation can be traced back to them).
The incident involves an ancient North African city called Carthage, which was in today’s Tunisia (there is a suburb of Tunis called Carthage on the site where the city once stood). Carthage was primarily a Phoenican maritime society and a competitor to Rome during its earlly expansion phase. With only the Mediterranian Sea and 600 km between them, a clash between these two powers was practically inevitable. The wars between Rome and Carthage are called the Punic Wars and there were three of them. The first (264 – 241 BC) was fought primarily on the island of Sicily and resulted in a Roman victory and their expansion onto the Island. The Second Punic War (218 – 201 BC) began with the invasion of Italy and near destruction of Rome by Hannibal Barca but over time he was driven off and the war concluded with the Roman invasion of North Africa.
It is the Third Punic War, which lasted only three years (149 – 146 BC), to which my attention was drawn while considering the recent actions by the US.
The Third Punic war ended with the destruction of Carthage. So complete was the destruction that today we know very little about the Carthaginians that has not been passed down to us by the Romans or their collaborators. The Carthage that stands in Tunisia today is a later settlement that was founded by Julius Caesar between 49 and 47 BC.
Carthage was destroyed because Rome disgracefully broke its deal with them. At the end of the Second Punic War Rome, as the victor, imposed a heavy price on Carthage. All the Roman prisoners and deserters were to be returned, the Carthaginian navy was to be dismantled, Carthage was not to make war outside of Africa and had to ask permission to make war in Africa, and Carthaginian territory was to be reduced to a small area in the immediate vicinity of the city. Further, a huge indemnity was to be paid to Rome annually over 50 years.
Carthage faithfully lived up to all of these terms and, no longer burdened with the heavy price of maintaining a military, invested in its economy and infrastructure. Before too long it had become an economic powerhouse. In 191 BC (just ten years after the end of the Second Punic War) it offered to pay its entire debt to Rome in a single sum rather than keep up the annual payments. This terrified the Romans and they refused, but it also inticed them; the endless greed of its wealthy minority always looking for riches to plunder. Senator Cato (the elder) would end every speech with “Carthago delenda est” (Carthage must be destroyed) regardless of what the speech was about. This phrase is now often used as a metaphor to highlight an individual who remains attached to a single topic no matter what is being discussed.
In 151 BC Carthage fulfilled its agreement and completed its payments. Soon afterwards Rome began looking for reasons to invade the city. It encouraged its ally the Numidians, who were next door to Carthage, to continuously invade Carthaginian territory, provoking them into declaring war out of self defence. Carthage finally did this in 151 BC and Rome immediately demanded further reparations to avoid another war with them.
The Romans demanded that Carthage give up 300 well-born (noble) children to Rome as hostages; the Carthaginians obliged.
The Romans then demanded that Carthage surrender all its weapons and armour; the Carthaginians obliged.
The Romans then demanded that the entire population of Carthage move at least 16 km inland while their city was burned. This was refused, and the Romans, having disarmed Carthage and captured the children of its ruling classes as hostages, beseiged the city in 149 BC.
Carthage held out for three years but eventally fell in 146 BC.
This cowardly and dishonourable act by the Romans ended in the complete destruction of the city and what amounted to the genocide of the Carthaginian people.
The Carthaginian experience should remind us that the word of an empire should not be trusted and that if the empire demands your people be disarmed it should be regarded as a prelude to an invasion. Had the Carthaginians not disarmed they probably would not have defeated the Romans in the long run, but they may have fought hard enough to give them pause for a generation or two. Keep in mind that Rome never conquered the Germans or the Parthians because of the military might upheld by those peoples.
Iran and North Korea would do well to listen to the ghosts of Carthage. How could they not conclude that the only way to ensure that the US adheres to its agreements is to acquire nuclear weapons as quickly as possible.