I'll tell you when the nightmare that TomDispatch regular Bob Dreyfuss raises so eloquently first hit me hard. I'm talking about the possibility that the next U.S. military disaster of the twenty-first century might be Iran. That country has, of course, had a significant spot on Washington's war-making to-do list since the days of George W. Bush's presidency. After all, the Washington catch-phrase of that moment when neocons like... well, John Bolton... helped take us so disastrously into Iraq was "Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran." The "real men" didn't make it then. The question is: Will they now?
You remember, of course, that, on entering the Oval Office, Donald Trump turned to America's generals for a hand. For secretary of defense, he proudly tapped retired Marine Corps General James Mattis, reveling in his nickname, which was "Mad Dog." As it happened, Mattis already had a rep for obsessiveness on Iran that seemed to fit that moniker perfectly. As the head of U.S. Central Command in 2011, he reportedly responded to a query from President Obama about the top three threats across the Greater Middle East by saying, "Number one: Iran. Number two: Iran. Number three: Iran." In the end, he was evidently removed from that command early because he hatched a scheme to take out an Iranian oil refinery or power plant in a "dead-of-night U.S. strike" to pay Iran back for supporting Iraqi Shia militias then fighting American troops.
I truly started worrying about Iran in the Trump era, however, only when the media began reporting that the same James Mattis was acting as a crucial restraint -- yes, restraint -- on the president, National Security Advisor John Bolton (famous for a 2015 New York Times op-ed entitled "To Stop Iran's Bomb, Bomb Iran"), and that other notorious Iranophobe, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. (Bolton, a man who never saw a regime he didn't want to change, has had similar urges when it comes to North Korea and may recently have been responsible for torpedoing the president's summit with Kim Jong-un.) Now, of course, Mattis is gone and I leave Dreyfuss to fill you in on the rest. Tom
Is a War With Iran on the Horizon?
The Trump Administration Is Reckless Enough to Turn the Cold War With Iran Into a Hot One
By Bob Dreyfuss
Here's the foreign policy question of questions in 2019: Are President Donald Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, all severely weakened at home and with few allies abroad, reckless enough to set off a war with Iran? Could military actions designed to be limited -- say, a heightening of the Israeli bombing of Iranian forces inside Syria, or possible U.S. cross-border attacks from Iraq, or a clash between American and Iranian naval ships in the Persian Gulf -- trigger a wider war?
Worryingly, the answers are: yes and yes. Even though Western Europe has lined up in opposition to any future conflict with Iran, even though Russia and China would rail against it, even though most Washington foreign policy experts would be horrified by the outbreak of such a war, it could happen.
Despite growing Trump administration tensions with Venezuela and even with North Korea, Iran is the likeliest spot for Washington's next shooting war. Years of politically charged anti-Iranian vituperation might blow up in the faces of President Trump and his two most hawkish aides, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton, setting off a conflict with potentially catastrophic implications.
Such a war could quickly spread across much of the Middle East, not just to Saudi Arabia and Israel, the region's two major anti-Iranian powers, but Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and the various Persian Gulf states. It might indeed be, as Iranian President Hassan Rouhani suggested last year (unconsciously echoing Iran's former enemy, Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein) the "mother of all wars."
With Bolton and Pompeo, both well-known Iranophobes, in the driver's seat, few restraints remain on President Trump when it comes to that country. White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, President Trump's former favorite generals who had urged caution, are no longer around. And though the Democratic National Committee passed a resolution last month calling for the United States to return to the nuclear agreement that President Obama signed, there are still a significant number of congressional Democrats who believe that Iran is a major threat to U.S. interests in the region.
During the Obama years, it was de rigueur for Democrats to support the president's conclusion that Iran was a prime state sponsor of terrorism and should be treated accordingly. And the congressional Democrats now leading the party on foreign policy -- Eliot Engel, who currently chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Bob Menendez and Ben Cardin, the two ranking Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee -- were opponents of the 2015 nuclear accord (though all three now claim to have changed their minds).
Deadly Flashpoints for a Future War
On the roller coaster ride that is Donald Trump's foreign policy, it's hard to discern what's real and what isn't, what's rhetoric and what's not. When it comes to Iran, it's reasonable to assume that Trump, Bolton, and Pompeo aren't planning an updated version of the unilateral invasion of Iraq that President George W. Bush launched in the spring of 2003.
Yet by openly calling for the toppling of the government in Tehran, by withdrawing from the Iran nuclear agreement and reimposing onerous sanctions to cripple that country's economy, by encouraging Iranians to rise up in revolt, by overtly supporting various exile groups (and perhaps covertly even terrorists), and by joining with Israel and Saudi Arabia in an informal anti-Iranian alliance, the three of them are clearly attempting to force the collapse of the Iranian regime, which just celebrated the 40th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic revolution.
There are three potential flashpoints where limited skirmishes, were they to break out, could quickly escalate into a major shooting war.
The first is in Syria and Lebanon. Iran is deeply involved in defending Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (who only recently returned from a visit to Tehran) and closely allied with Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite political party with a potent paramilitary arm. Weeks ago, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu openly boasted that his country's air force had successfully taken out Iranian targets in Syria. In fact, little noticed here, dozens of such strikes have taken place for more than a year, with mounting Iranian casualties.