Friday, May 31, 2019

The War Hawks Surrounding President Trump and the Chances of War With Iran

By Robert Wenzel

In an essay for Foreign Affairs, the Council on Foreign Relations publication, Jon Finer, Adjunct Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy at the CFR who served as Chief of Staff and Director of Policy Planning at the U.S. Department of State during the Obama administration, writes  (my highlight):

Last spring, Trump appointed as his national security adviser John Bolton, a man who remains perhaps the Iraq war’s most fervent and least repentant champion. (As recently as 2015, Bolton said that toppling Saddam was the right thing to do.) Tillerson, a relative moderate, was replaced as secretary of state by the far more hawkish Mike Pompeo. Elliott Abrams, George W. Bush’s top Middle East adviser, is now Trump’s special envoy for Venezuela. And Joel Rayburn, one of the editors of the U.S. Army’s study of the Iraq war, left that role to take two senior positions in the Trump administration, first in the White House and then in the State Department.
Take special notice of the name least likely familiar to you, Joel Rayburn.

The U.S. Army’s study of the Iraq war that Finer is referring to, where Rayburn was a co-editor, is the two-volume The U.S. Army in the Iraq War and based on 30,000 pages of newly declassified documents.

Here's the thing, according to Finer (my highlight):
[T]he Iraq study does seem to take a side, intentionally or otherwise...The first claim, which runs through the study like a subplot, is that the war’s “only victor” was “an emboldened and expansionist Iran,” which gained vast influence over its main regional adversary when Iraq’s dictator was toppled and replaced by leaders with close ties to Iran. Washington “never formulated an effective strategy” for addressing this challenge, the study concludes, in part because it imposed “artificial geographic boundaries on the conflict” that “limited the war in a way that made it difficult to reach its desired end states.” Put more succinctly: the United States erred not by waging a war far more expansive than its national interests warranted but by failing to take the fight far enough, including into neighboring Iran.
So one has to wonder if Rayburn, now part of the Trump administration, thinks the war that started with Iraq still needs to be completed by attacking Iran!

Here is Finer's thoughts on this madness (my highlights):
[D]espite his noninterventionist instincts, Trump has escalated the U.S. military’s involvement in every theater of conflict he inherited: Afghanistan, Libya, Niger, Syria, Yemen—and even Iraq itself...

One of the clearest and most immediate consequences of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, however, was a reversal of U.S. policy toward Iran, including the decision to withdraw the United States from the nuclear deal and resume sanctions against Iran and its business partners. The Trump administration is now pursuing a strategy it calls “maximum pressure.” In April, Trump designated Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization, the first government entity to earn that distinction. In May, the administration announced that any nation importing Iranian oil—the lifeblood of Iran’s economy—would be sanctioned, with the aim of eliminating Iranian exports.

Trump and his officials have indulged in rhetoric that gives the distinct impression that the administration’s goal is regime change, by force if necessary. Last July, after Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned the United States not to “play with the lion’s tail” by increasing pressure on Iran, Trump tweeted, “Iranian President Rouhani: NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE. WE ARE NO LONGER A COUNTRY THAT WILL STAND FOR YOUR DEMENTED WORDS OF VIOLENCE & DEATH. BE CAUTIOUS!”...

In February, Pompeo, who had advocated regime change in Iran as a member of Congress, told a group of Iranian Americans that the administration is “careful not to use the language of regime change,” but he has also pointed to supposed signs that U.S. pressure “will lead the Iranian people to rise up and change the behavior of the regime.” In May, he admitted on a podcast that better behavior on the part of the regime was unlikely and upped the ante, arguing, “I think what can change is the people can change the government.” And last year, he named 12 issues that Iran would need to agree to discuss in any future negotiation, which included steps unthinkable under Iran’s current leadership, such as abandoning all uranium enrichment and support for militant proxies.

Iran draws on its own historical lessons when it comes to dealing with the United States, starting with the U.S.-backed coup against its elected prime minister in 1953. To the surprise of many, after Trump pulled the United States out of the nuclear deal, Iran first adopted a form of strategic patience. It seized the moral high ground by working with the same Asian and European partners that had once sat on Washington’s side of the table during the negotiations on the nuclear deal and that still strongly support the agreement.

But in May, after Washington took a series of provocative steps, Rouhani announced that Iran would begin reducing its adherence to some of its commitments under the deal, particularly with regard to the stockpile of enriched uranium it is allowed to maintain, and would set a two-month deadline for countries to provide Iran with relief from U.S. sanctions. He also said that Iran was not abandoning the deal and remained open to negotiations.

Although Trump has also said that he is open to talks, the prospects of a conflict between the United States and Iran are now as high as they have been since early 2013, before the nuclear negotiations began to progress, when there were frequent reports that both countries (and Israel) were preparing for a military clash. It is easy to imagine any number of incendiary scenarios. U.S. forces are currently deployed in relatively close proximity to Iranian troops or their proxies in at least three countries: Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. A missile strike from Iranian-backed forces in Yemen that killed a large number of Saudis or a fatal rocket attack against Israel launched by Iranian proxies in Lebanon or Syria would lead to heavy pressure on Washington to retaliate, perhaps against Iranian targets.

There are also profound similarities between the current situation and the period that preceded the U.S. invasion of Iraq, starting with an impressionable president, inexperienced in world affairs...

Today, the Trump administration is reportedly pressuring the intelligence community, which has long judged that Iran is in strict compliance with the nuclear deal, for assessments that would bolster the case for a firmer approach. “The Intelligence people seem to be extremely passive and naive when it comes to the dangers of Iran. They are wrong!” Trump tweeted earlier this year...

It is unclear whether this brinkmanship will lead to conflict, stalemate, or renewed dialogue. Regardless, some contemporary realities should drive decision-making. Iran is roughly four times as large as Iraq in terms of territory and has roughly four times the population Iraq had in 2003. Iran’s geography is more complex than that of Iraq, and its governance is at least as challenging. Although Iran menaces its neighbors and funds terrorist proxies, Washington has yet to articulate any threat to the United States severe enough to justify a war and lacks clear legal authority to wage one. For these and other reasons, not even the most bellicose proponents of confronting Iran have suggested a full-scale assault...

But for those who believe that a smarter war plan in Iraq would have produced better results, a limited war with Iran, perhaps designed to restore U.S. deterrence supposedly forfeited during the Iraq war, remains firmly on the table...

Distorting the lessons of the Iraq war may also be the best way to convince a U.S. president with anti-interventionist instincts of the wisdom of confronting Iran. “During the Iraq War, Iran was most aggressive when the U.S. failed to respond with strength to Iranian malfeasance,” claimed one of the editors of the army’s Iraq study in a recent op-ed he co-authored in The Hill. The authors added: “History makes clear there must be consequences for Iran when Tehran attacks Americans. Otherwise, we should expect more of the same.” It isn’t hard to imagine that argument, which hinges on notions of strength and weakness, appealing to Trump.

But such claims ignore something else that U.S. policymakers should have learned from recent conflicts: once under way, wars evolve and escalate in unforeseen ways. To see how even a war with expressly limited objectives can spiral out of control, look no further than the Obama administration’s experience in Libya. In the case of Iran, perhaps the biggest wildcard is how the Iranians might respond to U.S. force. Unlike Iraq in 2003, Iran has the ability to wage asymmetric war against American forces, diplomats, and allies across the Middle East and beyond. That is especially true in Iraq, where, in response to mounting tensions in mid-May, the United States ordered the departure of all “nonemergency” government personnel and Germany reportedly suspended its military training program.
Bottom line: Will the madmen around Trump get their desired war with Iran? There is certainly no profound wisdom emanating from Trump that will stop such a war. It may come down to Trump quirkiness whereby he gets jealous of reports that the neocons are running the place and not him, and he ditches them. On the other hand, the Democrats may move to impeach Trump and he begins to view attacking Iran as a clever distraction.

These are the things that must be considered, along with a possible false flag attack on US military assets in the region, pressure from Israel or pressure from Saudi Arabia.

Robert Wenzel is Editor & Publisher of and Target Liberty. He also writes EPJ Daily Alert and is author of The Fed Flunks: My Speech at the New York Federal Reserve Bank and most recently Foundations of Private Property Society Theory: Anarchism for the Civilized Person Follow him on twitter:@wenzeleconomics and on LinkedIn. His youtube series is here: Robert Wenzel Talks Economics. More about Wenzel here.

1 comment:

  1. Trump calls the intelligence community "naive". Oh, that's rich.