National Security Advisor John Bolton still thinks that the Iraq war was a good idea. He has never met a war he didn’t like or a treaty that he did. Now, as Donald Trump’s National Security Advisor, he has a great deal of power to make war against Iran. Bolton has given speeches for the MEK, a cultish organization that wants regime change in Iran.
Trump pulled the United States out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA, Iran deal) a year ago, under the fiction that his great deal-making skills and “maximum pressure” would force Iran into a deal where they would change their government, stop supporting Hamas, end all nuclear work, and, probably, build a Trump Tower Tehran. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has listed twelve points that Iran must meet to become a good world citizen in his eyes. Presumably, as in the case of North Korea, Iran must meet all those points before sanctions will be removed.
The JCPOA covers the possibility of Iran’s making nuclear weapons in full detail. Iran is complying with the agreement. But that’s not enough for a faction in the United States and Israel who opposed the JCPOA from the beginning and have continued to agitate for withdrawal from it.
Trump’s strategy for getting attention is to break something, worsen the situation, and then go back to something like before he broke it, to his own self-congratulations and often those of the media. Unfortunately, that earlier state is available only in a degraded form.
Trump broke the JCPOA a year ago. Pompeo regularly refers to regime change in Iran. Bolton publicized a routine movement of ships to the Persian Gulf like a move toward war. Although Iran ended its nuclear weapons program in 2007, the devotees of war will not accept less than inspection of every inch of every military base in Iran. Their lies are moving into mainstream media and administration discourse.
The other parties to the JCPOA – the UK, France, Germany, China, Russia, the EU, and Iran – are trying to hold things together. But the US has imposed heavy economic sanctions on Iran and secondary sanctions on countries doing business there, in contravention of the JCPOA’s promises. Iran has responded with a threat to increase its uranium enrichment and heavy water accumulation, actions that can easily be reversed.
It’s possible that maximum economic pressure works on contractors in the New York real estate scene. Nations respond differently. External pressure brings people together and increases their determination. That seems to be happening in Iran. The idea of a comprehensive agreement turning Iran into the country that Donald Trump wants it to be is a fantasy.
Trump has no idea how much work goes into an enforceable treaty. He seems to believe that handshakes between leaders and nice words for the media are sufficient. The JCPOA required the work of hundreds of experts over two years.
Over the weekend, Trump plaintively asked Iran to call him. His patience is short; probably he thought that the sanctions, along with his bluster and that of others would bring Iran around. There are many ways that the US could reach out to Iran. But Trump’s idea of dominance doesn’t allow for that. Iran must call him. His bluster has opened the way for Bolton to move toward war. Can he call it back?
Vague rumors of planned actions by Iran surfaced a few days ago, given to the media by one or a very few anonymous sources, which the media did not bother to confirm. Now come attacks on Saudi oil tankers in the UAE and on a Saudi Arabian pipeline. Iran can easily be blamed for these, and that blaming is already starting. However,
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The military have plans for Iran. It is the military’s job to plan for many things. John Bolton’s publicizing those plans adds to the tension. It is possible that handing this plan to Trump and his people is the military’s way of warning against war, as may be anonymous sources’ speaking to the media. And now Trump seems to be walking this back.
Meanwhile, Iran can play the peacemaker. Trump never fails to hand the high ground to his adversary.
Lyndon Johnson lied about a supposed attack in the Gulf of Tonkin to justify expanding the Vietnam war. George W. Bush lied about yellowcake and aluminum tubes to justify the war against Iraq. Robin Wright collects other examples of presidents lying the US into war. The same tactics are being used now to justify a war against Iran, which would be far worse than the Iraq war.
Today, a new idea: The rulers of Iran and Saudi Arabia should talk to each other. It is this rivalry that drives much of the hostility toward Iran. A responsible American government would work to bring the two together.
This is going to continue for a while. It’s not clear at this point whether it will fade out as have recent concerns about North Korea and Venezuela or if Bolton will get his war. And news keeps rolling in as Trump continues his word salad.
Cross-posted to Balloon Juice.