Don't attack or...

Cartoon by Ed Wexler

Susan Rice: Trump Should Try Talking With Iran, Not Bombing It

Huffington Post: Susan Rice, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and U.S. national security adviser, issued a stark warning aimed at the White House on Sunday, saying the risk of war with Iran was still very real, but could be averted if President Donald Trump takes immediate control of his national security policy.

Rice, who served under President Barack Obama, wrote an op-ed published in The New York Times on Sunday, days after Trump said he abruptly called off military strikes against Iran minutes before they were set to take place. According to the president, he ordered strikes in retaliation for the downing of an American spy drone, but scuttled the attack after learning officials estimated 150 Iranians would be killed.

Rice says that she was troubled by the accounts, but that there was a “potential silver lining, if Mr. Trump truly doesn’t want war with Iran.”

“The risk of war remains real,” Rice writes. “How on earth did we find ourselves 10 minutes from an idiotic war without the president having weighed the consequences? As a former national security adviser who has participated in many decisions about whether and when to use force, I am more certain than ever that our national security decision-making process is dangerously dysfunctional.”

Rice urges changes in strategy, including sidelining both the current national security advisor, John Bolton, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Bolton has reportedly been instrumental in the president’s hawkish attitude toward Iran and recently issued renewed warnings to Tehran, saying Trump could still go forward with the strikes in the future.

After Trump revamps his advisory team, he should hire career experts specializing in negotiations with Iran, set firm red lines and reassure Congress that he will keep them involved in his plans, Rice writes. Tehran has been testing the boundaries of its power in recent weeks as conflict with the U.S. has intensified, saying it would soon blow past stockpile limits on low-enriched uranium set out in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal (which Trump has trashed).

“The president needs to narrow and clarify his redlines for military action against Iran,” Rice notes. “He should make plain that three things would force consideration of a United States military response — attacks on American personnel, Iran rushing to acquire the fissile material for a bomb and any direct Iranian attack on Israel.”

Rice criticizes Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the nuclear deal, calling it “foolish” and saying it predictably backfired. But, Rice notes, “we are where we are,” and the onus was on the president to avert a catastrophe.

“Finding a way to leverage his massive mistakes while demonstrating the will and capacity to climb down is our least bad option,” Rice concludes.


Cartoon by Mike Luckovich

Pompeo, a Steadfast Hawk, Coaxes a Hesitant Trump on Iran

By Edward Wong and Michael Crowley

The New York Times: In the days leading up to President Trump’s decision on whether to launch a missile strike against Iran, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo commanded the stage.

After warning that Mr. Trump was prepared to use force because of Iran’s suspected role in oil tanker attacks, Mr. Pompeo flew to Florida on Monday to strategize with generals at Central Command. Back in Washington, he briefed the foreign minister of the European Union on intelligence. By Thursday, he was pressing the case in the White House Situation Room for a strike.

Mr. Pompeo was steering Mr. Trump toward one of the most consequential actions of the administration. Only at the last minute did the president reverse course and cancel the strike.

The confrontation with Iran has put a spotlight on the extent of Mr. Pompeo’s influence with Mr. Trump. In an administration that churns through cabinet members at a dizzying pace, few have survived as long as Mr. Pompeo — and none have as much stature, a feat he has achieved through an uncanny ability to read the president’s desires and translate them into policy and public messaging. He has also taken advantage of a leadership void at the Defense Department, which has gone nearly six months without a confirmed secretary.

“Trump has created a giant vacuum at the Department of Defense on the civilian side,” said Eric Edelman, a former senior Pentagon official under George W. Bush. “Nature abhors a vacuum — and so does politics.”

But as the debate over the strike showed, the uncompromisingly hawkish views Mr. Pompeo holds on Iran are starting to clash with the perspective of a president deeply skeptical of military entanglements, especially in the Middle East.

Mr. Pompeo is unlikely to publicly signal frustration with the president. Some officials say he would work through the bureaucracy to push his policy goals while on the surface sticking to the role of loyal soldier, if only because he harbors political ambitions for which Mr. Trump’s support would be invaluable. Despite Mr. Pompeo’s insistence that he has “ruled out” a Senate run next year in Kansas, many Trump administration officials expect him to enter the race.

Mr. Pompeo, 55, is as much a diplomat in cultivating Mr. Trump’s inner circle as he is abroad. On Thursday, he appeared alongside Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter, at the unveiling of a report on human trafficking. And he speaks regularly with her husband and Mr. Trump’s Middle East adviser, Jared Kushner — on some days more often than with foreign officials, according to a former Trump administration official familiar with his activities.

An evangelical Christian originally from California and former Tea Party congressman supported by the Koch family, Mr. Pompeo has operated for 14 months as Mr. Trump’s right-hand man around the globe, be it in Pyongyang, Riyadh or Brussels — and this week, he will once again be at Mr. Trump’s side at the G-20 summit meeting in Japan, after a stop in India.

Less apparent is how he has recently expanded his shadow role in matters of the military and intelligence, an extension of his experiences as a young Army tank unit captain in Germany and his first administration job as C.I.A. director.

With command of the Pentagon in flux since Jim Mattis resigned in December, Mr. Pompeo has asserted his views much more forcefully in national security debates, current and former officials say.

He is also widening his network in the cabinet. Gina Haspel, the C.I.A. director, was Mr. Pompeo’s deputy at the agency and is keen to maintain strong relations with him, knowing that that helps keep her in Mr. Trump’s good graces, the officials say. And the incoming acting defense secretary, Mark T. Esper, was a classmate of Mr. Pompeo at West Point. His presence could help bolster Mr. Pompeo’s influence — especially in counterpoint to Mr. Pompeo’s main power rival but frequent policy ally, John R. Bolton, the aggressive national security adviser.

On Iran, Mr. Pompeo has been the public face of the administration’s hawks, and internally he has even argued for policies that generals have deemed too provocative.

“What Pompeo and Bolton have done is drive the president into a corner,” said Wendy R. Sherman, a former top State Department official who helped lead negotiations with Iran in the Obama administration. “The maximum pressure campaign through the sanctions has only strengthened the hard hard-liners in Iran, just like Pompeo and Bolton are the hard hard-liners in our country.”

Prone to bluster and flashes of anger, Mr. Pompeo regularly uses military jargon when speaking of diplomacy — “mission set,” “commander’s intent,” diplomats as “warriors.” He has even described his wife, Susan Pompeo, a frequent traveling companion, as a “force multiplier.”

But Mr. Pompeo’s military leanings and embrace of hard-line policies, especially on Iran, could lead to conflict with Mr. Trump, who insists on keeping to his campaign promise of withdrawing troops from war zones. That contradiction came to the fore on Thursday night, when Mr. Trump rejected the recommendation by Mr. Pompeo and Mr. Bolton to strike Iran for the downing of an American drone earlier that day.

Still, Mr. Trump voices support for the “maximum pressure” campaign of economic sanctions on Iran that Mr. Pompeo and Mr. Bolton have pushed. On Friday, Mr. Trump said on Twitter: “Sanctions are biting & more added last night. Iran can NEVER have Nuclear Weapons, not against the USA, and not against the WORLD!”

No officials could point to any new sanctions. And Mr. Trump has never addressed the common argument that the reimposition of crippling sanctions last year is what has pushed Iran to lash out. Iran had spent a year working with European nations to try to contain the damage from Mr. Trump’s withdrawal from a 2015 nuclear containment deal that major world powers support.

In the Situation Room on Thursday, Mr. Pompeo argued that in addition to launching a strike, the administration should continue the sanctions campaign and let the recent cut in oil revenues sink in, according to an official familiar with the debate.

“Of all the top administration officials, I think Pompeo is the most secure and also the best at channeling Trump,” said Mark Dubowitz, chief executive of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, who advises Trump administration officials and advocates sanctions on Iran.

But Mr. Pompeo’s militant stand on Iran has led some prominent Trump supporters to push for his ouster because of what they see as a betrayal of Mr. Trump’s “America First” isolationism. On Thursday night, after Mr. Trump called off the strike, Douglas Macgregor, a retired army colonel, told Fox News that Mr. Trump “needs to get rid of the warmongers. He needs to throw these geniuses that want limited strikes out of the Oval Office.”  >>>

Making war inevitable

Cartoon by Bart van Leeuwen

The Trump administration is trying to make war with Iran inevitable

The Guardian: Last night, in response to Iran shooting down an American drone earlier this week, the United States came within one whim of an erratic and unstable president from launching a military strike on Iran.

Like the recent oil tanker attacks in the Gulf of Oman, the Trump administration has framed the drone incident as if it occurred in a vacuum – implying that the Iranians are launching these (alleged) attacks without provocation, and providing an aura of legitimacy to a possible American military response.

And that’s exactly what the Trump administration’s Iran hawks – led by the national security adviser, John Bolton, and the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo — have seemingly planned all along: to cultivate conditions that make military conflict with Iran the only option.

The current Iran predicament is the result of a years-long campaign by the same people who pushed for invasion of Iraq. Instead of learning from the Iraq debacle, they’ve decided that any means, including a potentially catastrophic war with Iran, are justified in order to achieve regime change in Tehran. Their public arguments for escalation with Iran have generally been cloaked as criticism of Barack Obama’s Iran nuclear agreement, by disingenuously calling for what they know is an unachievable “better deal”.

The facts are indisputable. When Trump assumed office, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – as the nuclear deal is formally known – was working as advertised, blocking Iran from building a nuclear weapon. The United Nations’ atomic energy watchdog has even confirmed more than a dozen times that Iran is, thus far, complying with the deal.

But instead of capitalizing on these gains, the Trump administration threw it all away to take a different path. Slowly, over time, Trump officials ramped up their bellicose rhetoric toward Iran; falsely accused Tehran of coordinating with al-Qaida (presumably to invoke the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force as legal justification for a possible attack); pulled out of the JCPOA; and imposed sanctions so devastating that the Iranians were almost certain to lash out, whether in the form of the minor skirmishes we’ve seen in recent weeks or rejection of the terms of the 2015 nuclear accord.

In early May, Bolton – an unrepentant Iraq war cheerleader who has been calling for war with Iran for nearly two decades – announced a military build-up in the region to counter purported threats from Iran. But we later found out that Team Trump was not only blowing that intel way out of proportion, but also that US intelligence agencies had assessed that Iran’s new and threatening activity was actually in response to the Trump administration’s aggression.

We should view Iran’s recent posturing for what it is: retaliation to the Trump administration’s unnecessary and deliberate provocation.

Although Trump backed down this time, the possibility of war with Iran is very real. Even a “limited strike” scenario could quickly spiral out of control.

Thankfully it appears that, for now, Trump is holding to his campaign promises of wanting to extricate the US from its Middle East forever wars and refrain from starting any new ones. But we’re dealing with Donald Trump and the primary factor in determining whether we go to war with Iran is whether he believes it will benefit him politically at home. Everything Trump says or does must be viewed through that lens.

To fight the Trump administration’s efforts to escalate conflict with Iran, we must call on Congress to speak out more forcefully against war with Iran, and get Congress to pass recently introduced legislation that would bar funding for any unauthorized war. It might also mean, however distasteful it may feel, promoting voices calling for restraint from the only television news outlet Trump cares about, like Tucker Carlson at Fox.

But of course there are no guarantees. There still remains a well-funded, influential, and eager pro-Iran war lobby pushing Trump towards conflict. The only question that remains is whether it will box him in far enough to the point of no return, or whether a public campaign against war can provide the off ramp that will be required.

Ben Armbruster is the communications director for Win Without War and previously served as National Security Editor at ThinkProgress

What do you want?

Cartoon by R.J. Matson

How Donald Trump created one hell of a mess with Iran

Peter Bergen, national security analyst

CNN: The shooting down of a US military drone by Iran on Thursday emphasizes that the conflict between the United States and Iran is deepening.

It's a crisis that President Donald Trump predictably provoked by pulling out of the Iranian nuclear deal just over a year ago -- with no real Plan B beyond imposing ever-tougher sanctions on the Iranian regime.

But the story gets more complicated, because in the last few weeks, Trump has sent mixed messages regarding his true intentions.

On Friday, he said he wanted to talk to the Iranians (which they have rejected). Yet, in contrast, in May, Trump tweeted that a war with Iran would be "the official end of Iran." And after the US drone was shot down on Thursday, he tweeted, "Iran made a very big mistake!"

This begs the question: Does anyone have a clue what Trump's endgame is in Iran -- including the President himself?

The Iranian regime, which is now concerned about its own survival, is responding by resuming its nuclear enrichment program and taking actions across the Middle East, designed to put pressure on the Trump administration.

The enemy always gets a vote in any conflict and the Iranian deep state -- the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its elite Quds Force -- as well as Iranian proxies around the Middle East are fighting back in multiple ways that are below the threshold where the United States must respond, but enough to signal their anger with the Trump-imposed sanctions.

A week ago, according to US Central Command, Iranian forces attacked two oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz between Oman and Iran (Iran denies responsibility). This is significant given that a third of the world's seaborne oil transits the strait.

Also this month, Houthi rebels in Yemen -- armed with Iranian missiles -- launched attacks at an airport in Saudi Arabia, wounding 26 and sending a clear message that Iran can turn the heat up on the Trump administration's close ally, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The Iranian regime also understands that Trump is quite sensitive to the price of oil, which tends to spike whenever tensions rise in the Middle East.

And oil prices jumped on Thursday to over $64 a barrel after the Iranians shot down the US drone.

Killing the Iran deal

After Trump pulled out of the Iran deal in 2018, the US imposed new sanctions that have crippled the Iranian economy, which now exports less than half of the oil it did before the new round of sanctions.

On the campaign trail, Trump had repeatedly denounced the Iranian nuclear agreement as "the worst deal ever."

Critics of the deal -- Trump included -- pointed out that the 2015 agreement hadn't constrained the Iranians from intervening around the Middle East from Syria to Yemen, nor had it stopped their aggressive ballistic missile program. Also "sunset" provisions in the deal meant that Iran could theoretically resume certain aspects of their nuclear weapons program a decade after signing the agreement.

Meanwhile, the Iranian regime had benefited when the United States and the other parties to the nuclear deal -- Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia -- had lifted their crippling sanctions.

Certainly, these critiques were all true, but supporters of the deal pointed to the fact that the International Atomic Energy Agency repeatedly certified that Iran was sticking to the agreement -- and it wasn't developing nuclear weapons.

The agreement further prevented the Iranians from enriching weapons-grade uranium until 2030. And the United States' European allies that were also signatories to the Iran deal supported keeping the deal in place.

Indeed, supporters of the deal pointed out that if Trump were ever to strike a deal with North Korea about its nuclear weapons program, he would be lucky to get something that looked like the Iran deal. And, bottom line, a regionally aggressive Iran without nuclear weapons was a much better outcome than a regionally aggressive Iran armed with nuclear weapons.

On October 3, 2017, then-Secretary of Defense James Mattis testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that Iran was adhering to the agreement. When independent Sen, Angus King of Maine asked Mattis whether he believed the deal was in US national security interests he replied, "Yes, senator, I do."

Assuming that Hillary Clinton would likely win the 2016 presidential election, the then-Republican-controlled Congress had passed a measure that the President needed to certify to Congress every 90 days that the Iranians were in compliance with the agreement.

This measure meant that every three months Trump had to sign off on a deal that he hated and that would invariably lead to tensions between the President and key members of his national security team, such as Mattis, who thought that exiting the deal didn't make much sense since the Iranians were in compliance with the terms of the agreement.

Enter John Bolton

John Bolton, an advocate for regime change in Iran, took over as national security adviser in early April 2018. Since personnel is often policy, it was hardly surprising that with Bolton now in place Trump announced on May 8, 2018 that he was pulling out of the Iran nuclear agreement.

As Bolton stood off to the side behind him, Trump gave a press conference at the White House saying, "The fact is that this was a horrible one-sided deal that should never, ever been made."

Trump seemed to take particular pleasure in killing deals negotiated by President Barack Obama's administration -- whether it was the Iran nuclear agreement, the Paris climate accord or the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal that was designed to contain China -- even if he didn't propose viable alternatives in their place.

After pulling out of the Iran deal, the Trump administration imposed tough new sanctions on Iran, while the Europeans stuck to the deal.

Trump's Iran strategy didn't seem like much of an alternative plan -- beyond trying to destroy the Iranian economy in order to foment protests against the regime, potentially leading to regime change, long a goal of Bolton's.

As a result of the rising tensions in the Middle East since May, the Trump administration has dispatched an aircraft carrier group to the region and deployed a total of 2,500 more troops to the Middle East.

The US doesn't have much leverage over the Europeans when it comes to Iran, since they continue to support the Iran deal. And Trump himself is also quite unpopular in these countries, so if the conflict with Iran deepens, don't expect much help from them.

Playing with fire

Cartoon by Michael Ramirez

Bolton Keeps Trying to Goad Iran Into War

The Atlantic: The conventions of mainstream journalism make it difficult to challenge America’s self-conception as a peace-loving nation. But the unlovely truth is this: Throughout its history, America has attacked countries that did not threaten it. To carry out such wars, American leaders have contrived pretexts to justify American aggression. That’s what the Trump administration—and especially its national security adviser, John Bolton—is doing now with Iran.

The historical examples abound. William McKinley’s administration sought a pretext for war in 1898, when—driven by the desire to evict Spain from its colonies in the Caribbean—it ignored evidence that an internal explosion, not a Spanish attack, had blown up the U.S.S. Maine in Havana’s harbor. In 1964, Lyndon Johnson exaggerated a North Vietnamese attack on U.S. destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin to win congressional approval to escalate the Vietnam War. In 1986, the Reagan administration sent warplanes toward Libya’s coast to provoke the missile fire that would justify an American bombing campaign. In 1997, according to the memoir of General Hugh Shelton, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a top Clinton administration official suggested that he lure Saddam Hussein into shooting down a U-2 spy plane over Iraq so the U.S. would have the “precipitous event” it needed “to go in and take out Saddam.” (Shelton refused). In their book, Hubris, David Corn and Michael Isikoff recount a 2002 CIA plan to help Iraqi exiles take over an Iraqi air base and thus, in the words of one of plan’s authors, “create an incident in which Saddam lashes out” so “you’d have a premise for war.”

Bolton is doing something similar today. For more than a decade, he’s consistently promoted war with Iran. All that has changed are the pretexts he offers to justify one.

In January 2007, President George W. Bush accused Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps of “providing material support for attacks on American troops” in Iraq and launched a series of raids in which American soldiers detained Iranian officials there. U.S. and British intelligence analysts cast doubt on the claims of top Bush officials that Iran was a major driver of the Iraqi insurgency. Nonetheless, in internal administration discussions that summer, Vice President Dick Cheney reportedly urged airstrikes against alleged insurgent training camps in Iran. And Bolton, who had left the Bush administration the previous year, publicly endorsed the idea. He argued on Fox News that the U.S. “is fully entitled to take defensive measures, which could include going after the Revolutionary Guards inside Iran.”

But Bolton was just getting started. In 2008 he offered another rationale for striking Iran: That in addition to supporting anti-American forces in Iraq, “they’re doing much the same by aiding the Taliban in Afghanistan.” Over the next few years, as American soldiers left Iraq, Bolton’s initial rationale faded. But his desire for war did not. Between 2012 and 2015 he repeatedly called for bombing Iran to stop its nuclear program.

Since becoming Trump’s national security adviser, Bolton has continued this pattern. Along with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, he’s offered justification after justification for attacking Iran. When one hasn’t worked, he’s found another.

Last September, a militia linked to Iran allegedly launched three mortars into an open lot near the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, hurting no one. According to The New York Times, then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis dismissed the attack as “insignificant.” But Bolton demanded that the military draw up plans for retaliation. “People were shocked,” one former administration official told The Wall Street Journal. “It was mind-boggling how cavalier they were about hitting Iran.”

Mattis averted an American strike. But he couldn’t stop Bolton from giving a speech that same month that all but advertised his desire for war. Addressing Iran’s leaders, Bolton announced, “If you cross us, our allies or our partners, if you harm our citizens, if you continue to lie, cheat and deceive, yes, there will indeed be hell to pay…We are watching and we will come after you.”

In November, according to the New Yorker, Bolton found another pretext for military action. Iran was preparing to test-fire a medium-range ballistic missile, and Bolton suggested shooting it down. Again, he was overruled.

Then this January, Iran launched a satellite into space. “This is in defiance of UNSCR 2231,” Pompeo tweeted. “We won’t stand by while the regime threatens international security.” The New York Times noted that, “the Pentagon and intelligence agencies disagreed with Mr. Pompeo’s interpretation of the threat posed by the satellite launches,” which Iran had been conducting since 2005. Yet again, security officials reined Pompeo and Bolton in. But inside the military, alarm was spreading. “Senior Pentagon officials are voicing deepening fears,” reported another Times piece that month, “that President Trump’s hawkish national security adviser, John R. Bolton, could precipitate a conflict with Iran.”

The fears were well placed. In April, Pompeo told Congress that “there is no doubt there is a connection” between Al Qaeda and Iran--which raised the prospect that the Trump administration would not request new congressional authorization for war with Tehran. It would simply invoke the authorization against Al Qaeda that Congress passed three days after 9/11.

That same month, Bolton and Pompeo pushed through a decision to designate Iran’s Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist group, overriding the objection of General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and other military officials, who warned, according to the Times, that the move “could incite retaliation by Tehran against American troops and intelligence officers.”

Still, Bolton and his fellow hawks turned up the pressure even further. In April, the Trump administration announced that the U.S.—having already reimposed sanctions on Iran after withdrawing from the 2015 nuclear deal—was eliminating the waivers that permitted China, India, Japan, South Korea, and Turkey to buy Iranian oil. The goal, in Pompeo’s words, was to drive Tehran’s oil exports—which provide roughly 40 percent of its government revenue—to “zero.” In May, the administration added sanctions on Iranian steel, aluminum, iron, and copper, which comprise 10 percent of the country’s exports >>>

Peter Beinart is a contributing editor at The Atlantic and a professor of journalism and political science at the City University of New York. 


Cartoon by Jim Morin

Donald Trump’s reckless Iran policy casts doubt on the US as global leader 

The Guardian: Irrespective of whether Iran is responsible for the recent attacks on Gulf shipping, the crisis now unfolding is fundamentally one manufactured out of thin air by the Trump administration. The implications go beyond the threat of a major war and consequent worldwide economic crash. Donald Trump’s reckless, incoherent Iran policy also throws into question the viability of the role of the United States as the global leader.

The US achieved its hegemonic status in the world system not simply through raw strength, but also by convincing the second-tier capitalist powers that it could manage that system in their interests as well as its own. Washington could be relied on to confront and put down challenges to the capitalist order, expand and deepen its reach, and handle crises as they arose. It was through responsible management of the system in the interests of western capital and state power more broadly (if not of humanity as a whole) that the US secured consent from its allies to lead this new form of empire.

The 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, brokered by the Obama administration and signed by the permanent five members of the UN Security Council, Germany and the European Union, was an example of this hegemony in action. The deal was only superficially about the always implausible threat that Iran would build a nuclear weapon and then use it in a suicidal attack on a US ally. The deeper strategic purpose was to bring Iran in from the cold, stabilise its relationship with the wider Middle East, and open it up as a market to international (principally European) capital. The promise of greater stability on their doorstep and a significant new global south market to exploit was a major prize for the European powers, delivered to them by a competent and responsible hegemon.

So, naturally, the Europeans have watched in horror as the Trump administration tore up the deal, ratcheted up sanctions on Iran with the apparent aim of collapsing its economy, and boosted Washington’s military posturing in the Gulf on the flimsiest of pretexts. A single purpose to this aggression is difficult to discern. Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton – a hawk so thuggish he makes Donald Rumsfeld look like Bertrand Russell – is openly in favour of regime change and comfortable with starting a war to that end. Trump – counterintuitively, and in strictly relative terms – is the dove in this equation, conscious of his election promise to end foreign wars, and seeking only to force Tehran into striking a better deal than his tormentor Barack Obama was able to make. Neither of them is likely to get what they want.

Trump and Bolton have only succeeded in provoking increased belligerence on Tehran’s behalf. Having seen its 2015 concessions rewarded with further punishment, and waited a year while Europe failed to mitigate the effects of US sanctions, the regime has now run out of patience. Its threats to finally pull out of the nuclear deal, and probable (though not certain) culpability for attacks on shipping in the Gulf, are likely designed to strengthen its hand in the stand-off, and based on the calculation that Trump does not want a war. There is a serious danger of this state of high tension breaking out into open conflict, through miscalculation or overreaction from either side. Trump seems to have no idea how to climb down from the perilous situation he has created.

Washington’s European allies are now faced with the opposite of what they thought they had won in 2015. Their exporters’ and investors’ hopes of an Iranian opening are dashed, and the Middle East is more unstable than at any time since 2003. A war in the Gulf would be a disaster far worse than that triggered in Iraq 16 years ago, with an effect on the oil price that would send a weakening global economy into a nosedive. Even if Trump is replaced with a Democrat in 2021, the Iranian regime will never trust the Americans enough to strike another bargain, which leaves the hardliners in Tehran strengthened, the moderates humiliated, and regional tensions more intractable as a result. European leaders might ask themselves what Washington would do differently if it were actively seeking to betray their trust and undermine their interests.

The temptation will be to wait for Trump to lose the 2020 election and for life to return to normal. But what if this is the new normal? The precedent of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and the militaristic dogmatism of which that enterprise was born, suggests an emerging behavioural pattern. Far from being aberrational, Trump’s presidency fits with the Republican party’s long-term trajectory into unreasoning hawkish belligerence. The fact that tens of millions of Americans – mostly middle-class or affluent white people – were prepared to vote for a figure like Trump in 2016 demonstrates that this state of affairs cannot simply be wished away. With one of Washington’s two parties of government firmly in the grip of extremists, US allies will need to ask themselves if American leadership is now a reliable asset or a dangerous liability.

David Wearing is a specialist on UK foreign policy in the Middle East

Persian Gulf of Tonkin

Cartoon by John Darkow

Iran & The Issue of Justifying War

Being Libertarian: There is an adage that we all have likely heard in our lives. It goes something like, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” Well, it never quite says who is to blame the 20th time around. Iran today is no different.

Incidents that spark wars are nothing new. Anyone with an elementary knowledge of recent history knows how World War One began, with an anarchist assassinating an archduke in Sarajevo, starting a domino effect of alliances kicking into place and ending in one of the greatest unnecessary tragedies of the 20th century.

Those with perhaps a slightly more in-depth knowledge of history will know of the Reichstag fire in 1933, which was used as a pretext to give Hitler absolute powers as chancellor in Germany or the Gleiwitz incident which was used to create the appearance of Polish aggression against Germany and justify the invasion of Poland.

Just under twenty years after the end of that second great war, in 1964, an “incident” in the Gulf of Tonkin set the stage for the next generation’s war – this time in Vietnam. What makes this occasion so curious is that, while decried for decades as a conspiracy theory, it is now widely known that the incident was embellished to involve the US in the Vietnam War.

Since then, it seems the pace has picked up regarding the timing of these incidents.

In Lebanon from 1979 to 1983, Israeli secret services carried out a campaign of car bombings that killed hundreds, which columnist Ronen Bergman points out was used to “push the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to use terrorism to provide Israel with the justification for an invasion of Lebanon.” 

Only a few years later, in 1990, the Nayirah testimony (of Iraqi soldiers ripping infants from their incubators and leaving them to die on the floor) outraged the American public enough to drive support for a coalition to side with Kuwait in the war rather than the former American ally, Iraq. Of course, the people later found out that “Nayirah” was the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the United States and that the entire stunt was set up by a PR firm for the exact purpose in which it was so effective – the babies and incubators turned out to be nothing more than a convenient lie, leading the United States and coalition forces to war.

This method of gaining public support for war is so effective that it’s still used today, as recently as the invasion of Iraq in 2003 (on the basis of supposed possession of weapons of mass destruction, which were never found) or attempts to intervene in Syria between 2012 and 2019 (on the basis of alleged chemical attacks before any evidence of such was found).

Now we have John Bolton, The acting national security advisor to President Trump, telling us that Iran is responsible for the attacks on several oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, and that there is once again justification for us to go to war.  Bolton was instrumental in bringing about the invasion of Iraq, calling for war as long ago as 1998, as a signatory on a letter to then-President Bill Clinton, urging the removal of Saddam Hussein from power.  He is described as a war-hawk, with explicitly stated designs for regime change in Iran, Syria, Libya, Venezuela, Cuba, Yemen, and North Korea.

Considering those facts, should we believe him once again?

I’m not saying Iran didn’t do this, I have no evidence to support such a claim (though how convenient is it they hand us this justification just as we are pushing for war with them). But after the revelation of Operation Northwoods, the Gulf of Tonkin, the 1979-83 attacks in Lebanon, the Nayirah testimony, the WMD’s in Iraq story, and the false accusations of chemical weapons use by the Syrian government as a pretext to war, how exactly are we supposed to trust that this information is accurate? Fool me once shame on you. Fool me twice, however, shame on me! 

I wrote previously on the issue of growing mistrust in our institutions. I believe that is just as accurate now as it was then. Until that trust is rebuilt, The United States will lack the ability to fully support its leaders in war. This is a dangerous position to hold in a world with serious and growing challenges to the relative peace and interconnectedness that American hegemony secured over the last half-century.

As China’s geopolitical influence and military capabilities increase, America needs the support of its people and internal unity, it needs a trust that will only come from transparency and putting the nation’s wishes first, not another seemingly pointless war.

Arthur Cleroux is an individualist who balances his idealism with a desire for an honest, logical and objective approach to politics and political issues. 

Hanged by the feet.

Wences 9/36

Upside down.

Wences 9/35

Dad can't drink.

Wences 9/34