By John Feffer
... Donald Trump has not tried to conceal his antipathy toward Tehran. He has done everything short of war to bring down the Iranian government. He withdrew the United States from the Iran nuclear deal. He applied harsh sanctions to squeeze the Iranian economy. Two years ago, he provided the CIA with new authority to intensify a cyberwar against the country. And, to kick off 2020, he orchestrated the assassination of a top Iranian official, Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Bizarrely, Trump continued to maintain throughout that he still held out hope of negotiating a new deal with Iran.
But last week Brian Hook, the instrument of that policy of continued engagement with Iran in the midst of a punishing cold war, stepped down. Hook was something of a moderate in the very skewed politics of the Trump administration. Indeed, compared to his successor, Hook’s a veritable peacenik.
Replacing Hook as special envoy to Iran is Elliott Abrams. Fresh from his failures to promote regime change in Venezuela, Abrams will likely apply his extremist philosophy to his new portfolio. The first opportunity takes place this week as the administration pushes the UN to extend the arms embargo on Iran due to expire as per the terms of the nuclear deal. It’s part of an effort to destroy any chance of a Biden administration returning to the status quo ante with Iran.
Abrams is assuming his new position at a fraught moment. An explosion took place last month at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility. It was but one of several such mysterious “accidents” that are likely the result of covert Israeli operations. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is anxious about the prospect of Joe Biden winning in November and resurrecting some version of the Obama administration’s détente with Iran. So, Netanyahu is getting in his licks while he can, though even he is not interested in a full-scale war with Iran.
For hawks in the United States who were disappointed that the Bush administration didn’t march into Tehran after the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the latest turmoil in the region is encouraging. “Iran has been in a weakened state, its economy hobbled by U.S. sanctions and its regime facing domestic discontent, including a massive protest campaign last fall,” writes Jonah Shepp in New York magazine. “Those protests raised hopes among Iran hawks in the U.S. that their dreams of regime change might soon be realized.
A war with a major Middle Eastern power is probably not on Trump’s agenda. After all, he’s been pushing for a withdrawal of U.S. forces from the region. And in June 2019, after Iran shot down a U.S. drone, Trump decided not to retaliate, even though a number of his advisors were urging him to do so.
But this time, an election beckons, Trump is down in the polls, and desperate times call for desperate measures. It wouldn’t be the first time that Donald Trump rolled the dice in one last bid for the jackpot.
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