Friday, February 8, 2019

"War With Iran Is a Growing Danger"

Iranian troops
David McKean, director of policy planning at the Department of State and as ambassador to Luxembourg during the Obama administration, and Patrick Granfield, speechwriter to Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Ash Carter during the Obama administration, write in The Washington Post:
Throughout his tenure, President Trump has directed rhetorical barbs at Iran’s regime, including in Tuesday’s State of the Union address, during which he said: “My administration has acted decisively to confront the world’s leading state sponsor of terror, the radical regime in Iran. . . . To ensure this corrupt dictatorship never acquires nuclear weapons, I withdrew the United States from the disastrous Iran nuclear deal.”...

Taken on their own, his words aren’t a total departure from those of other politicians: In his 2002 State of the Union speech, President George W. Bush marked Iran as part of an “axis of evil.” In 2007, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) quipped, “Bomb Iran? Bomb, bomb, bomb. . .” to the tune of the Beach Boys’ “Barbara Ann.”

But as president, Trump has been more consistent with his aggressive posture toward Iran than he has on many other issues. In his first two years in office, the changes he has made to his Cabinet, the disregard he has shown for diplomacy and his choices in the Middle East all conspire to make war with Iran a growing danger.

First, there are now fewer voices of restraint on Iran inside the White House. Former national security adviser H.R. McMaster, no dove on Iran, tried to persuade Trump to remain a party to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), known as the Iran nuclear deal. Trump pulled out of the 2015 deal shortly after McMaster left the Trump White House. McMaster’s replacement is John Bolton, a figure who has advocated military action in Iran, including in a 2015 New York Times op-ed titled, “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran,” in which he argued: “Time is terribly short, but a strike can still succeed.”

With the recent departure of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Patrick Shanahan is now acting secretary at the Pentagon. His background is in industry, not in working the levers of national security policy or bureaucracy. Where Mattis was, in some instances, able to rein in the president’s instincts, Shanahan has said that the Pentagon is “not the Department of No” for the White House...

What happens, though, if violence in Syria further escalates and Iran strikes back in response to Israeli action against its proxies in Syria or in Lebanon? How will Trump respond if Netanyahu asks for U.S. military support?

There are other scenarios that could lead to a dangerous escalation: What if Iran follows the United States, exits the JCPOA, then brazenly races to build nuclear weapons? What if American troops leaving Syria, or remaining U.S. forces in Iraq, are provoked by Iranian or Iranian-backed forces? What happens if Trump simply decides he is fed up with Iran’s malign conduct in the region? The slightest provocation could provide an excuse....

Trump would not be the first president acting precipitously to lead the country into conflict. American history is replete with examples of presidents making ill-advised or inflated cases for war. It happened after an explosion aboard the USS Maine in 1898, after an incident in the Gulf of Tonkin in 1964 and in the run-up to the 2003 Iraq invasion. It can happen again.

Before Trump involves our armed forces in response to any reported provocation, Congress, the press and the public should demand that the intelligence surrounding that action is unassailable; the enemy accused of the violation clearly identifiable; the timing for a military response justifiable. There must not only be a political rationale for intervention, but a legal one as well. And there needs to be a long-term strategy, not merely an impulse pushed out in 280 characters.
RW note: I am not a big fan of the idea that congressional approval somehow blesses an overseas military operation. However, I am in favour of putting as many approvals (obstacles) in front of war on the idea that a necessary approval to go to war is denied in the process, if only in a rare case. One less war is almost always to the good.


  1. Quick: someone remind me why we hate the Iranians? I know we are supposed to because ... well because they tell us to. But I forgot why and I do want to be a good team player. Go USA! Boo Iran!

  2. What would you expect from THE leading terrorist organization on the planet? It would be nice if we just left the middle east to its own devices and see who prevails. But that would be stupidly logical wouldnt it.