With the assassination of Gen. Qasem Soleimani, Donald Trump has arguably done more to undermine U.S. interests in the Middle East and sow the seeds of a region-wide war than either George H.W. Bush in 1991 or George W. Bush in 2001.
His secretary of state says that all the United States wants is to “get the Islamic Republic of Iran to simply behave like a normal nation.” By any definition of normalcy, the United States has long been out of whack.
Now, abnormality has reached dangerous proportions, with the president making wild war threats, deploying thousands of troops to the region, and again displaying all the hallmarks of a leader out of control: reckless tweets, impulsive decision making, vengeful motives, obliviousness to consequences. Trump says he wants to avoid war, but he is doing everything possible to bring it on.
This is a good time to set the record straight on what lies behind Trump’s Iran policy.
First, Trump has a history of hostility to Iran, and frequently criticized Obama for failing to confront Iran.
Second, U.S. policy relies on threats: In response to Iran’s nuclear weapon potential, Trump believed using force to “blow them away to the Stone Age” was a threat that would work. Now he boasts that if conflict occurs with Iran, “it would go very quickly,” with 52 targets identified for attack, including (a war crime) “cultural sites.”
Third, U.S. policy on Iran serves Israeli and Saudi interests. Before the 2016 election, U.S. allies in the Middle East, notably Israel, used money and lobbying to persuade Trump to join in a hardline policy on Iran, starting with withdrawal from the nuclear deal.
Fourth, regime change is the goal of U.S. policy toward Iran, as stated many times by Pompeo and John Bolton, and “maximum pressure” is the means to achieve it — preferably by promoting the destabilization of Iran’s economy through sanctions and reducing Iran’s oil exports to zero.
Fifth, presidential abuse of power. The president has all the authority he needs to engage in targeted assassinations or large-scale attacks on Iran, say White House officials. He can choose to consult with Congress or not consult. Trump did not consult; he notified Congress after the fact in a classified document that seeks to justify U.S. actions. He also did not consult intelligence officials or European allies, thus further discounting their importance in policy making.
Sixth, false pretenses. The administration has provided no evidence that killing Soleimani will save lives, or that it will save more lives than it endangers, or that it will promote U.S. influence in Iraq (where the parliament has invited U.S. troops to leave) or Syria (where the U.S. has already betrayed the Kurds), or that it will help to defeat ISIS, or that it will keep Iran from going nuclear (which Iran has answered by saying it will no longer abide by restrictions in the 2015 nuclear deal). In short: a cacophony of lies and miscalculations.
Seventh, wag the dog. Trump in 2011: “the only way [Obama] figures that he’s going to get reelected — as sure as you’re sitting there — is to start a war with Iran.” And: “Just as I predicted, @BarackObama is preparing a possible attack on Iran right before November.”
Is this the behavior pattern of a normal nation? Deterring war by making war? Boasting of a quick victory as though Iran is Iraq? Pretending that democratic decision making is a thing of the past?
Now as for Wag the Dog? Makes sense — at least for an impeached president.
Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University.