Donald Trump may be taking us to war on Iran and those who should be trying to stop him—from Congress to the grassroots—are too obsessed with Russia to even pay attention.
Trump is well aware that a war with Iran could be a good diversion from his domestic and Russia travails, and could even help Republicans in the November elections. In 2012, when President Obama was down in the polls, Trump tweeted: “Looks like he’ll have to start a war or major conflict to win. Don’t put it past him!” So we certainly shouldn’t put it past Donald Trump.
On July 22, just after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had wrapped up a speech in which he compared Iran’s leaders to the Mafia, Trump sent out this threatening tweet, in all caps, to Iran’s President Hassan 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!"
Trump’s Twitter tirade was in response to comments by Rouhani warning that a U.S. war with Iran would be the “mother of all wars” and that Trump should not “play with the lion’s tail.” Also a factor were Rouhani’s earlier comments implying that if U.S. sanctions stopped Iran from exporting oil, Iran could close down the Strait of Hormuz, a slender waterway at the mouth of the Gulf through which twenty percent of the world’s oil is shipped.
Trump’s explosive tweet was reminiscent of the “fire and fury” comments he directed toward Kim Jong-un before he started negotiating with the North Korean leader, but it’s unlikely that this twitterstorm will be the prelude to talks with Iran.
The Korean talks took place with the support of South Korea, and in the absence of any significant U.S. opposition lobby. With Iran, both Saudi Arabia and Israel have been trying to suck the United States into their decades-old feud with Iran. Both opposed the Iran nuclear deal, and Israel has been advocating for the U.S. military to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities (even though Israel has several hundred nuclear weapons of its own and Iran has none.)
Saudi Arabia insists that Iran is spreading terrorism throughout the region, even though the Saudis have spent billions spreading their intolerant version of Islam, Wahhabism. And let us not forget the terror of the Saudi bombing of Yemen that has caused the world’s greatest humanitarian catastrophe.
United States lobby groups from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) to the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies have also been stoking the conflict with Iran. So has the dissident group Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK). The MEK, a cult-like group that has killed Iranians and Americans alike and was on the U.S. terrorist list until 2012, is hated inside Iran for having sided with Saddam Hussein when he invaded Iran in 1980.
In recent years, the MEK has spent lavishly (with what is rumored to be Saudi money) to acquire political support from liberals like Howard Dean to conservatives like Newt Gingrich and Rudy Giuliani, both of whom were key speakers at the group’s May gathering in Paris. But the MEK’s most influential cheerleader is John Bolton, who has spoken at their meetings eight times, for which he was well compensated. Bolton considers the MEK a legitimate opposition movement even though they have absolutely no base of support inside Iran.
Trump delighted this dangerous melange of Iran opponents by withdrawing from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal on May 8, despite Iran’s compliance with its side of the bargain, as continuously certified by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
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In defiance of the deal’s five co-sponsors—Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia—the Trump Administration unilaterally restored sanctions, which will go into effect in two waves during August and November. The devastating sanctions not only prohibit U.S. companies from doing business in Iran, but will also punish foreign companies and banks.
Despite efforts by European governments to shield their companies, the companies themselves—from oil giant Total to airplane manufacturer Airbus—do not want to take the risk and are already pulling the plug on trade deals they had negotiated with Iran. The value of the Iranian rial has plummeted this year by forty percent. With the economy reeling from sanctions and the threat of war, along with mismanagement and corruption, Iranians have taken to the streets in protest.
The administration’s goal now is to cut off the Islamic Republic’s ability to export oil, its prime source of revenue and foreign exchange. These particularly crippling sanctions will go into effect on November 4.
What it comes down to is that the Trump Administration believes its policy of choking Tehran economically and supporting internal dissent can topple the government.
“We are now very realistic in being able to see an end of the regime in Iran,” Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani shouted triumphantly to cheers at the June 2018 gathering in Paris of the MEK’s political arm, the National Council of Resistance of Iran. “The collapse of the Islamic Republic of Iran is around the corner.”
But an overthrow of the regime, with no entity ready to take over, would not only lead to chaos internally but could quickly spread throughout the region. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its allies, like Hezbollah in Lebanon, are ready to attack both Israel and U.S. troops stationed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and on the myriad of military bases surrounding Iran. The Iranian government has already threatened to block oil shipments, a move that could rock the entire global economy.
Many Iranians desperately want to change their government, but not with U.S. intervention. They look around the region in horror, seeing how U.S. militarism has contributed to massive chaos, misery, and death in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Palestine. They believe their best option is internal reform.
A group of prominent Iranian-Americans urged Secretary Pompeo in an open letter to lift the administration’s Muslim travel ban, stick to the Iran nuclear deal and provide economic relief to the Iranian people. “Those measures, more than anything,” they wrote, “will provide the Iranian people with the breathing space to do what only they can do—push Iran towards democracy through a gradual process that achieves the benefits of freedom and liberty without turning Iran into another Iraq or Syria.”
Before all hell breaks loose with the Trump wrecking crew taking us into a cataclysmic conflict with Iran, Congress and the American public better get their heads out of the Russiagate sand and rush to stop them.