After Donald Trump finished sloughing his way through a piteously thin explanation for withdrawing the US from the Iran nuclear deal on Tuesday afternoon, he slumped his way to the door, looking for all the world like an old hound badly in need of a nap … where he was greeted by newly minted national security adviser John Bolton, who was smiling under his mustache like some feral Cheshire cat.
If you are wondering why the US just bailed on a deal that made the world a safer place, Bolton the avowed regime changer and the promise of war to come explain much of it. He has been craving a war with Iran for six presidential administrations and counting, and is now in a better position to exert his will over foreign policy than ever before. Back in the George W. Bush days, his lies had to filter up through several superiors before reaching the president’s ears. Now, he’s in the big round room with the man himself, footloose and filter-free.
Among other very bad things, dumping this deal drives a huge wedge between the US and its European allies. Europe could choose to continue working with Iran within the mechanisms of the deal, except Trump made it clear that secondary sanctions would be levied against any country that did so. Vladimir Putin, who has wanted to see the end of NATO since time out of mind is very pleased right now.
Kim Jong Un likely watched the proceedings on Tuesday with a gimlet eye. On the eve of his alleged meeting with Trump over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, this sudden shredding of a functional deal with Iran must be giving him pause. Why on Earth would he, or anyone else for that matter, enter into an agreement with the United States if this is how such deals wind up?
Fear not, however. Disgraced Lt. Col. and soon-to-be National Rifle Association President Oliver North is fully behind Mr. Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran deal. There is a gruesome symmetry to North’s support and sudden media prominence: The man who was caught red-handed illegally selling war weapons to the Iranian regime is now joining the NRA’s efforts to sell war weapons to the American people. This time, however, the loot from those sales won’t be used to fund an illegal war in Central America, but will instead fund Republican congressional campaigns from sea to shining sea. Ain’t progress grand?
History is grinding together right now like ball bearings in a blender, so we should pause a moment to recall how we got here. Remember all that Bush-era blather about “bringing democracy to the Mideast” by way of invasion, war and plunder? As it happens, Iran had a vibrant democracy cooking not so long ago, and a forward-thinking one at that, until the West destroyed it for oil.
Before 1951, the West had complete control of Iran’s oil riches by way of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (now known as British Petroleum). The leadership of Iran deferred to the West in all things, until a genuinely democratic revolution saw the election of Mohammad Mosaddegh to the office of prime minister in 1951.
Mosaddegh sought and implemented a number of progressive reforms, including a form of Social Security, rent control and broader rights for citizens. Ultimately, he authored his own political doom when he nationalized Iran’s oil resources. This did not sit well with Britain and the United States.
Swiftly, British Intelligence and the CIA deployed what became known as Operation Ajax, a plot to overthrow Mosaddegh and regain control of Iran’s oil supply. In 1953, Mosaddegh was overthrown and eventually replaced with a West-friendly leader named Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, also known as the Shah. Any semblance of Mosaddegh’s democratic reforms were swept away almost overnight. The Iranian people fell back into a state of oppression under the Shah. Mohammad Mosaddegh died in 1967.
The cork finally popped in 1979 when Pahlavi was overthrown during the Iranian Revolution, US embassy staff were taken hostage for 444 days and — perhaps worst of all from a US perspective — the government of Iran under the Ayatollah Khomeini aligned itself with the Soviet Union in the Cold War game of thrones playing out throughout the Middle East.
This is where Oliver North enters the conversation. During the Reagan administration, Iran and Iraq were engaged in a brutal war, with the Soviets backing the Ayatollah while the United States armed and funded Saddam Hussein. Simultaneously, the Reagan administration wanted to wage a secret war in Central America on the side of the right-wing Contras in Nicaragua and Honduras, but Congress had forbidden the administration from doing so via the Boland Amendment.
The US had been Iran’s largest arms supplier during the Shah’s reign, but President Jimmy Carter had instituted an arms embargo after the Revolution, one that President Ronald Reagan reaffirmed upon taking office. In 1981, National Security Council member Oliver North and a cohort of government officials that included CIA Director William Casey undertook a scheme to get around the congressional ban on Contra funding by selling missiles to Iran through various cutouts and using the cash to help the Contras.
A number of missile sales took place until the whole thing nearly exploded the Reagan administration in 1986. Congressional hearings were called and famously played for days on live television. Former Sen. John Tower of Texas, former Secretary of State Edmund Muskie and former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft released what was called the Tower Commission Report detailing what took place during the scandal. Ultimately, however, nothing significant came of what can easily be described as one of the darkest scandals in US political history.
Oliver North was indicted on 16 felonies, among which were obstruction of justice and destruction of evidence, and was ultimately convicted of three, but those convictions were later vacated and dismissed because other witnesses may have been unduly affected by his immunized testimony before Congress. The ACLU assisted North in this endeavor.
To sum up: Iran’s organic democracy was crushed in 1953 when Britain and the US launched a plot to regain control of their oil stores. A pro-Western regime was installed to keep that oil flowing until the 1979 Revolution turned everything sideways. Two years later, Oliver North started selling missiles to Iran and used the revenues to help kill nuns in Central America until he got busted. Flash forward 30 years, and soon-to-be NRA president North is once again in the arms trade, cheerleading a feckless president who is edging us closer to war with the country North once sold weapons to in defiance of the law.
The demise of the Iran nuclear deal has given John Bolton what he wanted, provided Trump with fodder for his base, pleased Russia, confused North Korea, exacerbated tensions with Iran and throughout the Middle East, re-introduced Oliver North as a person whose opinion carries weight and made an already chaotic world less safe. Just another day at the office.