Ordinarily I am out of sympathy with the sort of disappointed right-winger who makes excuses for Trump because the complete fascist program hasn’t (yet) been instituted. Poor Liddle Donnie, or so goes their dirge, is an involuntary captive of the Washington Swamp, the Deep State, or whatever their nonce term for “pushback by relatively sane people” is. As Harry Truman said, the buck stops in the Oval Office, and the people thwarting Trump are frequently his own appointees. I used to think there was no crying in right-wing zealotry.
Trump's newfound moderation will likely last as long as it takes for Benjamin Netanyahu, or Sheldon Adelson, or maybe Mohammed bin Salman, to phone the White House.
However, just this once they may be on to something. Apparently, the current war scare with Iran is mainly the work of Trump’s chickenhawk advisers like John Bolton (who avoided Vietnam for the highly principled reason that he had no desire to die), and the president, for once, is the moderating force trying to rein them in (I never thought I would write that last clause). How is this affair likely to develop?
Unfortunately, we have a template for U.S. policy in the Middle East that goes back half a century. Trump’s newfound moderation will likely last as long as it takes for Benjamin Netanyahu, or Sheldon Adelson, or maybe Mohammed bin Salman, to phone the White House. After all, much of the tension was ramped up by an alleged Israeli intercept of alleged Iranian skullduggery helpfully passed on to Washington. (Looking back on my career in national security, I recall that ever since the late 1980s, Israel was estimating Iran was six months away from developing an atomic bomb; they managed to be six months away for a couple of decades.)
It is almost superfluous to say that igniting a war with Iran will be a colossal catastrophe, given that catastrophe has been the invariable outcome of our past misadventures in that region. Demographically, topographically, and militarily, Iraq was a pushover compared to what Iran would be, yet our “victory” in that country was the very definition of Pyrrhic. But any intelligent person knows that.
When we calculate the potential effects here at home it gets even dicier, for there is an extremely volatile mixture of conflicting interests in the electoral coalition to which Trump panders. Not only could this kindle an intra-party feud in the GOP that would make the Democrats’ split over Vietnam look like a polite disagreement, it could threaten to tip the country (many of whose citizens I have argued before are not in the best of mental health) into something approaching civil war.
The GOP sub-groups with the most direct stake in Iran are what I call the Coalition of the Weird.
It may be objected that the following analysis of these groups is harshly derisive, and the possible outcome I project fancifully pessimistic. But over the last several years, keepers of the conventional wisdom consistently have underplayed the political and social meltdown in the United States, and their sugarcoating of the motives and methods of various interest groups has served neither truth nor social utility. As militaries claim to do (although they rarely do it), we might profit from positing worst-case scenarios.
Zionist Jewish groups. While a distinct minority within the American Jewish community, hardline Zionists of the AIPAC type along with ultra-Orthodox Jews are influential in the Republican Party generally and for Trump in particular (see: Adelson, Sheldon, and his fellow billionaires). Trump’s stunt of moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem has increased their loyalty to him, but that loyalty comes with strings attached that are not reconcilable with Trump’s alleged instincts to stay out of foreign military adventures.
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AIPAC worked hand-in-glove with the Likud Party to try to strangle the Iran denuclearization agreement at its inception in the Obama administration. During the Trump administration, the cold logic behind their successful effort to scuttle a deal Iran was complying with has been to provoke that country into a confrontation, while maintaining the cover story that applying maximum pressure on Iran, to include saber rattling, would force it to unconditional capitulation (a theory proven false everywhere it has been applied, from Cuba to North Korea to Venezuela).
Zionist Christians. The heart and soul of American Christian fundamentalism (which itself is the heart and soul of the Republican base) are the Christian Zionists. While many of them could not find the Middle East on a map, it dominates their dream world as a reification of the Bible stories that fundamentalist preachers impart to their flocks while fleecing them. All manner of blessed things, they say, will happen once Armageddon arrives, but that outcome is dependent on modern Israel rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem (too bad it’s slated for real estate claimed by Muslims, but enough of pesky details).
The interesting wrinkle in the Christian Zionists’ Israelotry is that Jews who do not accept Jesus at the blast of Gideon’s trumpet (i.e., renounce their Judaism) will be condemned to everlasting fire. So far, AIPAC and similar groups have overlooked this embarrassing little feature because the Christian Zionists hew to the AIPAC line more than any other religious group—including Jewish Americans.
But things might not progress as planned. Say, an unlucky hit on an aircraft carrier in the congested waters of the Persian Gulf causes a catastrophic explosion of the hundreds of tons of on-board munitions, leading to a breach of the nuclear reactors and contamination that closes the Gulf, potentially for years. In that event, Christian Zionists having to pump $10 a gallon gas into their SUVs in order to drive to their mega-churches would risk losing their sense of childlike wonder about their previous Middle East fantasies and the people they formerly idolized.
Nazis, Klansmen, alt-righters, neo-reactionaries, and whatnot. It is not a state secret that those guys in the polo shirts hoisting Tikki torches are anti-Semitic. It is also no secret that Trump goes out of his way to avoid condemning them, because, just like hardline AIPAC supporters, they are part of his base. The shooters in the Pittsburgh and San Diego synagogue atrocities certainly fit the profile of Trump supporters riled up by his stochastic incitement against minorities.
There is no question what these people think about our involvement in the Middle East, and there is equally no question who they will blame in the event of a disaster. The only question is, how violent could they get?
Joe Lunchbucket. Joe is your average working-class to middle-class Republican male. He may not have a dog in the Middle East fight, but he thinks that unlimited quantities of dirt-cheap gasoline are his God-given right. In the big square states, Joe might be a farmer already reeling from the trade war with China; 10 buck diesel for his tractor might penetrate his otherwise impenetrable noggin that Making America Great Again ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. And any time an American’s personal fortunes sink, he typically seeks a scapegoat. This being America, likely as not he’s also armed.
We can only hope that Trump’s feral sense of self-preservation causes him to realize that attacking Iran would not only be a grade one disaster in the Middle East, it could easily bust up his jerry-built electoral coalition in spectacular (and even violent) fashion. While the dismantlement of the Republican Party is something to be wished for, the accompanying fallout on our society could be horrifying.
For all the casualties we have suffered while inflicting mayhem on foreign shores, the combined death toll of all those wars does not equal the one time both sides happened to be red-blooded Americans. On that occasion, the standard weapons were single-shot percussion-lock rifles, not AR-15s that can discharge 20 to 30 rounds as fast as you can pull the trigger.