Once again, the United States is lunging toward war in the Middle East. A military attack against Iran appears imminent, despite the fact that the alleged “threat” is based on shoddy intelligence and is not supported by allies. Included in the mix is an easily manipulated president whose foreign policy ignorance is made more dangerous by his deliberate ignorance of his own ignorance, rank political expediency, and the bloodlust of war hawks who have been pining for this conflict for decades.
If this all sounds like a very familiar recipe for disaster, that’s because it is, and John Bolton is once again in the kitchen wearing the apron and wielding the butcher’s knife.
Bolton, a genuinely frightening man who helped orchestrate George W. Bush’s Iraq war debacle and has wanted war with Iran since the moon was young, became Donald Trump’s national security adviser on April 9, 2018. A month less a day later, Trump pulled the U.S. out of the nuclear deal brokered by Barack Obama with no explanation, and despite the fact that Iran was holding up its end of the bargain.
The Trump administration followed up on this unwarranted hostile action by piling further economic sanctions on Iran, and on any nation that purchases oil from them. Two Sundays ago, the administration announced that the U.S.S Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group is being deployed to the Persian Gulf, which is essentially Iran’s wet backyard. You may recall the U.S.S Abraham Lincoln as being the aircraft carrier Bush used as a prop for his “Mission Accomplished” stunt 16 years ago.
Earlier this week, the White House presented a revised military plan for the Gulf region that would involve sending as many as 120,000 troops to the Middle East, ostensibly to counteract Iranian aggression that nobody else can see. “The revisions,” reported The New York Times, “were ordered by hard-liners led by John R. Bolton, Mr. Trump’s national security adviser.”
On Wednesday, Trump’s State Department ordered all “non-emergency U.S. government employees” to leave neighboring Iraq immediately. Such orders are usually issued when the shooting is about to start.
The characteristics of the situation are nauseatingly familiar. Aggression against an enemy that has taken no hostile action against us. Accusations of bad intent with no basis in fact. Deeply dubious claims pushed hard by far-right think tanks (and the “news” networks that serve them) of connections between al-Qaeda and the target of hostility. A president with little to no actual foreign policy experience surrounded by advisers peddling agendas crusted with very old blood. Familiar, indeed.
The progression toward war with Iran since Bolton’s arrival in the White House has been, as with most everything in Trumpworld, slightly less subtle than an earthquake during a tornado. The intent is plain: Marginalize Iran by withdrawing from a deal it was complying with, throttle its economy with sanctions, menace it militarily with a massive troop commitment and a carrier strike group, and then wait for Iran to twitch in self-defense. Once that happens, well, see, it had a gun.
This time, however, an actual shooting war could be far worse than even the calamity of Iraq. Iran is three times the size of Iraq, with three times the population. Iran has a larger army, and enough lethally accurate missiles to rain destruction down on any U.S. vessels in the Gulf. Any conflict in Iran is liable to spill over the borders into as many as a half dozen other countries, one of which is Iraq.
Thanks to the last big Middle East war, Iraq is now a political vassal of Iran with a majority Shi’ite population, which has no love for the United States and will be right across the border waiting to help Iran in a fight. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, a separate force loyal to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, is well trained in asymmetrical warfare tactics, which the U.S. has proven to be singularly incapable of successfully combating since Vietnam. Finally, if Iran can block worldwide oil shipments by closing the Strait of Hormuz by sinking some ships, laying mines or threatening the gap with missiles, the global economy will crash.
Despite being essentially toothless in the current constitutional conflagration, congressional Democrats are sounding the alarm over Trump’s staggered lurch toward another ruinous war. “It looks like they’re steering our ship of state into very troubled waters without any idea what to do when they get there,” said House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff (D-California) of the Trump administration. “Armed conflict with Iran would be an unmitigated disaster.”
Rep. Schiff is correct, but has no power whatsoever to do anything about it now that the White House has made any and all congressional oversight a matter for the courts. Unless and until judges decide to rule in favor of House members who have issued legal subpoenas for this administration, Democrats hold no sway over reckless executive decisions.
The only people on Capitol Hill who can throw up major political roadblocks against this unwarranted and incredibly dangerous aggression all have an (R) after their names, and they have shown no sign to date of having any interest in even moderately adjusting the destructive course of this rogue president and his Machiavellian ministers.
Perhaps this is happening because John Bolton is a war ghoul who has wanted this conflict with Iran for the term of his natural adult life. Perhaps it is happening because Donald Trump is easily led into fiasco after fiasco by his advisers, as he was when Stephen Miller convinced him that putting thousands of migrant children in cages was a bully idea.
Perhaps Trump’s advisers think war, or the threat of war, will serve to distract from the growing economic disaster he has unleashed with his tariff blitzkrieg against China. It is already an election year, and the old, gore-covered axiom that war makes good politics for incumbent presidents during election season is definitely in play. Perhaps it is all of these combined.
On Thursday, carefully placed stories in the mainstream press described Trump as frustrated with his advisers over the Iran situation, and not ready to forego diplomacy over war. This is about as plausible as the Piltdown Man. One would think the commander in chief of all U.S. armed forces would have piped up after the Middle East order of battle was revised to add 120,000 troops, before a carrier strike group was ordered into the Gulf, and before all nonessentials were ordered out of Iraq. If he missed all this even while dwelling within the hawkish Fox News bubble, we are all in bigger trouble than I thought.
If this is what passes for brinksmanship by the White House, it is a deadly dangerous ploy that could easily spiral out of control, especially if Iran reacts to the gross provocations put forth by the Trump administration. We, the people, can, and must, take to the streets if Trump or his advisers unleash another war in the Middle East. Enough innocents have already died at the hands of shabby Republican presidents during this young century, the national economy cannot absorb the hit, and the very last thing the global climate needs is the filth of war released into an already damaged atmosphere.
Since averting this war largely depends upon the positive actions of powerful Republicans, however, my guess is those 120,000 troops and the U.S.S Abraham Lincoln may find themselves under fire before much longer.