President Trump is flexing his military muscles just days after lawmakers issued a historic rebuke of his relationship with the Saudi Arabian government and threatened to contain the president’s ability to wage war overseas.
In a move that critics have denounced as a dangerous provocation, Trump announced on Monday that the U.S. would soon designate a major wing of Iran’s military as a foreign terrorist organization. The U.S. is “increasing maximum pressure” on Iran, part of a “broader effort to counter Iran’s broader campaign of terrorism,” according to the White House.
The move against Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps came just ahead of heated national elections in Israel and only days after Congress passed a historic War Powers Resolution to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen’s bloody civil war, which the Trump administration broadly sees as a proxy fight with Iran. Tehran quickly responded by designating the U.S. Central Command a terrorist group.
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“As the [Trump] administration came in to power, we’ve seen them use the Iraq War playbook to justify war with Iran as the only viable option, particularly ramping up after they violated the Iran nuclear deal,” Kate Kizer, policy director at the pro-peace advocacy group Win Without War, told Truthout.
Top officials in intelligence agencies and the Pentagon opposed the terrorism designation for the Revolutionary Guard because it could provoke attacks on U.S. personnel operating in Iraq and Syria, but Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Trump’s hawkish National Security Adviser John Bolton pushed for the terrorism designation anyway, according to The New York Times. Even conservative observers fear Pompeo and Bolton want nothing less than all-out war with Iran.
The designation comes with sweeping sanctions that have reportedly angered allies in Iraq but offered a boost to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the eve of the country’s elections. Netanyahu, a security hardliner and right-wing Trump ally, thanked Trump for moving against Iran as Israeli voters prepared to decide whether he should continue leading the country.
Meanwhile, in Yemen, Saudi airstrikes on the country’s rebel-held capital city killed up to 13 civilians on Sunday, including seven children, and wounded dozens of others, according to reports. The deadly blast was a painful reminder of the situation in Yemen, where violence and mass starvation have escalated since the U.S.-backed coalition led by Saudi Arabia entered the conflict in 2015. The coalition’s deadly airstrikes have killed and injured nearly 1,000 civilians with U.S.-made weapons.
“The Trump administration uses Yemen as one of its venues for its confrontation with Iran — that’s why they are so adamant about continuing their support for the coalition despite the atrocities we just saw, with the killing of these children,” Kizer said.
Kizer said the Trump administration views the Houthi rebels who have been fighting against Yemeni governments for years as proxy forces for Iran, much like Hezbollah, for example. However, international experts warn that Saudi Arabia has exaggerated Iran’s role in the war in order to justify its bloody military interventions.
Experts agree that Tehran does not control the Houthis, and the rebels themselves deny being Iranian proxies, according to the Atlantic Council. While the Houthis align themselves with Iran and have taken advantage of some Iranian military support, Saudi Arabia is spending much more on the war in Yemen, and Tehran appears content to strategically play up its role in a conflict that is draining resources from its regional rival.
Kizer said the Saudi coalition’s intervention is further isolating the Houthis and preventing both sides from negotiating a peace agreement, creating a “self-fulfilling prophecy” that pushes the rebels closer to Iran.
After years of lobbying by Win Without War and other pro-peace groups, war-weary lawmakers in both parties have concluded that the U.S. can help bring an end to the violence in Yemen by ending its support for the Saudi coalition. Last week, the House of Representatives passed a resolution to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen, sending the legislation to Trump’s desk. Trump has promised to veto the bill.
Democrats have highlighted the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, and members of both parties became increasingly uncomfortable with Trump’s cozy relationship with the Saudi crown when the president defended Riyadh after the brutal assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who championed the bipartisan effort to pass the resolution twice in the Senate, marked the occasion with an op-ed arguing that Congress “must not stop with Yemen” and continue to reassert its constitutional wartime authority after years of seemingly endless conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and across North Africa.
Congress abdicated its foreign policy responsibilities to presidents from both parties, they wrote, and taxpayers have spent trillions of dollars on military interventions all over the globe.
“It is time for Congress to ask whether, nearly 18 years after 9/11, we really want to continue to be involved in these wars for another 18 or more,” the lawmakers wrote.
Sanders and Lee suggested that members of Congress should rescind the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force granted to the Bush administration shortly after 9/11, which was broadly interpreted by President Bush and President Obama to justify military actions across the world. Kizer said the Yemen resolution – the first War Powers Resolution Congress has approved since passing the War Powers Act in 1973 – is a good start.
“It became a really good first step for many members to reassert their constitutional ability over war-making, so I do think there is a real appetite to use this as a kind of jumping-off point to question the other wars that are going on,” Kizer said.
House Democrats are also pushing legislation that would prevent Trump from deploying the military in Venezuela, where the administration is supporting a right-wing opposition leader while political crisis plagues the country. Trump and others have repeatedly suggested that sending troops to Venezuela remains an option for ousting President Nicolás Maduro.
Trump has promised to veto the Yemen War Powers Resolution, and it appears that the isolationist coalition in Congress does not have enough votes to override the veto. Still, the resolution is a historic rebuke of a president who is becoming increasingly aggressive toward perceived enemies in Iran and Venezuela as lawmakers work to curb his ability to start wars without their approval.