With the assassination of Gen. Qasem Soleimani, Donald Trump has arguably done more to undermine US interests in the Middle East and sow the seeds of a region-wide war than either George H.W. Bush in 1991 or George W. Bush in 2001. His secretary of state says that all the United States wants is to “get the Islamic Republic of Iran to simply behave like a normal nation.” By any definition of normalcy, the United States has long been out of whack. Now, abnormality has reached dangerous proportions, with the president making wild war threats, deploying thousands of troops to the region, and again displaying all the hallmarks of a leader out of control: reckless tweets, impulsive decision making, vengeful motives, obliviousness to consequences. Trump says he wants to avoid war, but he is doing everything possible to bring it on.
This is a good time to set the record straight on what lies behind Trump’s Iran policy.
First, Trump has a history of hostility to Iran, and frequently criticized Obama for failing to confront Iran (www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/01/03/what-trump-has-said-about-iran-what-it-means-now/).
Second, US policy relies on threats: In response to Iran’s nuclear weapon potential, Trump believed using force to “blow them away to the Stone Age” was a threat that would work. Now he boasts that if conflict occurs with Iran, “it would go very quickly,” with fifty-two targets identified for attack, including (a war crime) “cultural sites.”
Third, US policy on Iran serves Israeli and Saudi interests. Before the 2016 election, US allies in the Middle East, notably Israel, used money and lobbying to persuade Trump to join in a hardline policy on Iran, starting with withdrawal from the nuclear deal (Adam Entous, The New Yorker, June 18, 2018, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/06/18/donald-trumps-new-world-order).
Fourth, regime change is the goal of US policy toward Iran, as stated many times by Pompeo and John Bolton, and “maximum pressure” is the means to achieve it—preferably by promoting the destabilization of Iran’s economy through sanctions (for example, http://www.state.gov/secretary/remarks/2018/05/282301.htm) and reducing Iran’s oil exports to zero.
Fifth, presidential abuse of power. The president has all the authority he needs to engage in targeted assassinations or large-scale attacks on Iran, say White House officials. He can choose to consult with Congress or not consult. Trump did not consult; he notified Congress after the fact in a classified document that seeks to justify US actions. He also did not consult intelligence officials or European allies, thus further discounting their importance in policy making.
Sixth, false pretenses. The administration has provided no evidence that killing Soleimani will save lives, or that it will save more lives than it endangers, or that it will promote US influence in Iraq (where the parliament has invited US troops to leave) or Syria (where the US has already betrayed the Kurds), or that it will help to defeat ISIS, or that it will keep Iran from going nuclear (which Iran has answered by saying it will no longer abide by restrictions in the 2015 nuclear deal). In short: a cacophony of lies and miscalculations.
Seventh, wag the dog. Trump in 2011: “the only way [Obama] figures that he’s going to get reelected — as sure as you’re sitting there — is to start a war with Iran.” And: “Just as I predicted, @BarackObama is preparing a possible attack on Iran right before November.”
Is this the behavior pattern of a normal nation? Deterring war by making war? Boasting of a quick victory as though Iran is Iraq? Pretending that democratic decision making is a thing of the past? Insanity. Now as for Wag the Dog? Makes sense…at least for an impeached president.
Great Blog Mel!!!
Excellent overview of what lies behind Trumpâs Iran policy.
âInsanityâ? Seems to me to be a policy gamble. Iran is now united as
it was not just a few months ago (when there were widespread protests against raising oil prices),
and threatens retaliation (hard to ignore when âDeath to Americaâ is chanted even in
Iranâs parliament, I believe.)
If there is visible and strong retaliation that kills Americans and get us into a war that DT says
he doesnât want, then Trump loses. This seems likely, but we canât openly cheer it on.
But if Iran is bluffing, which I doubt, and there is little or no retaliation, or retaliation is
delayed, then Trump wins by arguing that strong US threats to 52 targets works. He believes this,
of course. And he likes gambling.
I think that this is the key question, not the headline whether or not the US is normal, which it is obviously
Isnât under Trump, and, arguably in other ways too.
In any event, Happy New Year, if Trump loses bigly.
Thanks for the good observation. Trump has already lost his “gamble,” even if Iran does not retaliate with some kind of major military action (which I tend to doubt). First, Iran has a new relationship with Iraq; they are now “brothers” in opposition to a US military presence. Islamic nationalism has trumped America First. Second, Iran is in position either to go ahead on nuclear weapon development or use that “righteous” option now to persuade angry Europeans to go around Trump’s sanctions. Third, Iran has numerous choices, some nonmilitary, in response to the assassination. Trump, of course, will announce a win no matter what, but he has zero credibiity outside his usual ranks. I really think Iran has the upper hand here, in short.
Mel, You bring clarity to the Middle Eastern muddle.
Trump is demoralizing every thoughtful person on the planet. But we need to keep plodding along, searching for ways to keep the faith. For some of us, staying on the job is harder than it is for others. The State Department, for example, is a mess and one doesn’t have to be an insider to know it. A few department officials who testified at the impeachment hearings show the department’s spirit is not dead–just wounded. Yet, to take just this one federal institution as an example, I think US governance is seriously weakened by Trump–and this at a time when the world needs carefully crafted plans in order to survive into the next century! We have seen how Trump thrives by creating instability and by helping that along with his impulsive decisions. Totally contrary to calculated strategy and cautious tactics of modern statecraft isn’t it? This situation is dangerous, for peace-making takes work, and so does urgently needed, environmentally sound policy. But how can professionals work in this environment? And what can ordinary joe’s do about it?
The world grows more anxious as both polar regions melt and an entire continent bursts into flame. Swelling migrations of perhaps a fifth of humanity are already underway; the population surge that will catastrophically inundate the cooler, wetter places is sensed if not yet seen. Add Trump’s craziness to the mix and you get–what? War? Lots of wars? Genocide(s)? This begins to feel like the end.
We need to get moving in a life-saving, civilizing direction. Moving Trump out of office is the urgently-needed first step, and then the US and China must get in lock step on reducing CO2 emissions by whatever means work the best and the fastest. Towards the first step, I plan on returning to the US in October to knock on doors for whomever candidate the Democrats nominate. As for the second step, perhaps portions of my study of the impact of changeable weather on local village agriculture and water management will be included in an upcoming book on modern China’s ecohistory. We’ll see about that.