Foreign policy experts are sounding the alarm that U.S. President Donald Trump could launch an assault on Iran in the final weeks of his administration, potentially provoking a full-blown war just days before President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration.
Fears of a military confrontation are mounting in the wake of the Pentagon's announcement Sunday that the USS Nimitz would remain in the Middle East—a reversal of Friday's decision to signal a de-escalation of hostility toward Tehran by redeploying the aircraft carrier out of the region prior to this past weekend's one-year anniversary of the Trump-ordered assassination of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani.
"There is no reason to believe such a gambit would work, yet the insanity of the idea is not a convincing reason as to why a desperate Trump wouldn't try it."
—Trita Parsi, Quincy Institute
The intensification of tensions between the U.S. and Iran also coincides with Trump's efforts to retain power despite losing his reelection bid in November 2020.
The right-wing coup attempt has grown increasingly desperate ahead of Wednesday's expected certification of Biden's victory by Congress, with many observers calling for Trump to be criminally prosecuted following the emergence of evidence that the president on Saturday tried to intimidate Georgia's top election official into overturning the results.
"Trump may be planning his biggest—and likely most disastrous—stunt yet," Trita Parsi, executive vice president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, wrote late last week. "Whatever his calculation may be, there is clearly a risk that the last three weeks of Trump's presidency may be the most perilous."
Parsi's concerns are shared by Danny Postel, assistant director of the Center for International and Area Studies at Northwestern University. "Trump is a very wounded and very cornered animal in an end-game scenario. He's got a few weeks left, and we know that he is capable of extremely erratic behavior," Postel told Al Jazeera in an interview this past weekend. "It may be the case that his most erratic, most reckless lashing out is yet to come."
Parsi said Sunday night that a former U.S. military official told him that Trump starting a war with Iran is "probable."
According to what the former official told Parsi, "It will relieve the pressure from the Georgia recording leaks." Trump's aggression also comes amid what Parsi called "a showdown in the Senate on Jan. 6 with demonstrations and potential for violence in Washington, D.C."
Frmr US military official tells me Trump starting war w/ Iran is "probable":— Trita Parsi (@tparsi) January 4, 2021
'It will relieve the pressure from the Georgia recording leaks & also lines up the 5-6 Jan internal politics. If nothing else, it leaves a mess for Biden. Hopefully, Iran shows some tactical patient...'
In his attempted justification of the Pentagon's about-face on redeploying the warship Nimitz, Acting Secretary of Defense Chris Miller cited alleged "threats issued by Iranian leaders against President Trump and other U.S. government officials."
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"No one should doubt the resolve of the United States of America," Miller added ominously.
As Parsi explained last week, "Trump has made more threats of war against Iran than any other country during his four years as President."
"As late as last month, he ordered the military to prepare options against Iranian nuclear facilities," Parsi wrote. "Though the New York Times reported that Trump's aides derailed those plans, U.S. troop movements in the past few weeks may suggest otherwise." He continued:
Since October, the Pentagon has deployed 2,000 additional troops as well as an extra squadron of fighter planes to Saudi Arabia. It has also sent B-52 bombers on missions in the Persian Gulf three times, kept the USS Nimitz close to Iran, and announced that it is sending a Tomahawk-firing submarine just outside of Iranian waters. Moreover, Israel—whose officials have confirmed to several U.S. newspapers that it was behind the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh last month—has sent a nuclear-equipped submarine to the Persian Gulf.
Officially, all of these military maneuvers are aimed at "deterring" Iran, even though Israel assassinated an Iranian official in Iran and not the other way around... Not surprisingly, Tehran has interpreted the measures as threats and provocations, similar to how the United States would perceive Iranian warships posturing off Florida's coast.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif claimed Thursday that he is aware of intelligence suggesting the Trump administration is engaged in a "plot to fabricate a pretext for war" during its final days in power, as Common Dreams reported last week.
War with Iran could be Trump’s final punishment on the American people for rejecting him & a massive act of sabotage against Biden for defeating him.https://t.co/BdddruvIhA— Sina Toossi (@SinaToossi) December 30, 2020
In an apparent reflection of the seriousness of the president's threats to democracy in the U.S. as well as to diplomacy with Iran, all 10 living former defense secretaries—including former Trump officials James Mattis and Mark Esper, along with Iraq War architects Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld—on Sunday penned an op-ed rebuking Trump.
The very worrisome question is why all 10 living former Secretaries of Defense, including Trump officials Esper and Mattis, chose to speak out now. What is the scenario they are worried about?— Susan Glasser (@sbg1) January 3, 2021
"Could Trump seek to start a military confrontation with Iran in hopes of creating enough chaos as to prevent Joe Biden from taking office in January?" asked Parsi. "There is no reason to believe such a gambit would work, yet the insanity of the idea is not a convincing reason as to why a desperate Trump wouldn't try it."