Column | Is Bolton steering Trump into war with Iran?
Last week, it was Venezuela in America’s gun sights.
“While a peaceful solution is desirable, military action is possible,” thundered Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “If that’s what is required, that’s what the United States will do.”
John Bolton tutored Vladimir Putin on the meaning of the Monroe Doctrine: “This is our hemisphere. It’s not where the Russians ought to be interfering.”
After Venezuela’s army decided not to rise up and overthrow Nicholas Maduro, by Sunday night, it was Iran that was in our gun sights.
Bolton ordered the USS Abraham Lincoln, its carrier battle group and a bomber force to the Mideast “to send a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack on United States interests or those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force.”
What “attack” was Bolton talking about?
According to Axios, Israel had alerted Bolton that an Iranian strike on U.S. interests in Iraq was imminent.
Flying to Finland, Pompeo echoed Bolton’s warning:
“We’ve seen escalatory actions from the Iranians, and ... we will hold the Iranians accountable for attacks on American interests. ... (If) these actions take place, if they do by some third-party proxy, whether that’s a Shia militia group or the Houthis or Hezbollah, we will hold the ... Iranian leadership directly accountable for that.”
Taken together, the Bolton-Pompeo threats add up to an ultimatum that any attack by Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen, or Iran-backed militias -- on Israel, Saudi Arabia, the UAE or U.S. forces in Iraq, Syria or the Gulf states – will bring a U.S. retaliatory response on Iran itself.
Did President Donald Trump approve of this? For he appears to be going along. He has pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal and re-imposed sanctions. Last week, he canceled waivers he had given eight nations to let them continue buying Iranian oil.
Purpose: Reduce Iran’s oil exports, 40% of GDP, to zero, to deepen an economic crisis that is already expected to cut Iran’s GDP this year by 6%.
Trump has also designated Iran a terrorist state and the Republican Guard a terrorist organization, the first time we have done that with the armed forces of a foreign nation. We don’t even do that with North Korea.
Iran responded last Tuesday by naming the U.S. a state sponsor of terror and designating U.S. forces in the Middle East as terrorists.
Iran has also warned that if we choke off its oil exports that exit the Persian Gulf through the Strait of Hormuz, the Strait could be closed to other nations. As 30% of the world’s oil shipments transit the Strait, closing it could cause a global crash.
In 1973, when President Nixon rescued Israel in the Yom Kippur War, the OPEC Arabs imposed an oil embargo. Gas prices spiked so high Nixon considered taking a train to Florida for Christmas vacation.
The gas price surge so damaged Nixon’s standing with the public that it became a contributing factor in the drive for impeachment.
Today, Trump’s approval rating in the Gallup Poll has reached an all-time high, 46%, a level surely related to the astonishing performance of the U.S. economy following Trump’s tax cuts and sweeping deregulation.
While a Gulf war with Iran might be popular at the outset, what would it do for the U.S. economy or our ability to exit the forever war of the Middle East, as Trump has pledged to do?
In late April, in an interview with Fox News, Iran’s foreign minister identified those he believes truly want a U.S.-Iranian war.
Asked if Trump was seeking the confrontation and the “regime change” that Bolton championed before becoming his national security adviser, Mohammad Javad Zarif said no. “I do not believe President Trump wants to do that. I believe President Trump ran on a campaign promise of not bringing the United States into another war.
“President Trump himself has said that the U.S. spent $7 trillion in our region ... and the only outcome of that was that we have more terror, we have more insecurity, and we have more instability.
“People in our region are making the determination that the presence of the United States is inherently destabilizing. I think President Trump agrees with that.”
But if it is not Trump pushing for confrontation and war with Iran, who is?
Said Zarif, “I believe ‘the B-team’ wants to actually push the United States, lure President Trump, into a confrontation that he doesn’t want.”
And who makes up “the B-team”?
Zarif identifies them: Bolton, Benjamin Netanyahu, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed.
Should the B-team succeed in its ambitions – it will be Trump’s war, and Trump’s presidency will pay the price.