19 June 2019 — Moon of Alabama
Jeff Bezos’ blog, the Washington Post, has some bits on the discussion and infighting in the Trump administration about the march towards war on Iran. The piece opens with news of a new redline the Trump administration set out:
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has privately delivered warnings intended for Iranian leaders that any attack by Tehran or its proxies resulting in the death of even one American service member will generate a military counterattack, U.S. officials said.
While such attacks were common during the Iraq War, Pompeo told Iraqi leaders in a message he knew would be relayed to Tehran that a single American fatality would prompt the United States to hit back.
That warning was sent in May when Pompeo visited Baghdad. The issue may soon become critical. Throughout the last days there were rocket attacks in Iraq against targets where U.S. personnel is present. The AFP correspondent in Baghdad lists six of them:
Maya Gebeily – @GebeilyM – 10:20 UTC –
Timeline of attacks on US interests in #Iraq
Fri: Mortars hit Balad base, where US troops based
Sun: Projectiles hit #Baghdad mil airport
Mon: Rockets on Taji, where coalition forces based
Tues: Mortars on #Mosul ops HQ
Wed: Rockets on housing/ops center used by IOCs near #Basra
#IRAQ: @AFP learns there were at least *two* attacks near US oil interests in #Basra in last 24 hours – ExxonMobil + Baker Hughes, a GE Company Their senior staff are being evacuated.
At least some of these attacks came from areas where Islamic State underground groups are still active. The weapons used were improvised and imprecise.
That shows how stupid the red line is that Pompeo set out. He would attack Iran if an errant ISIS rocket by chance kills some U.S. soldier? That is nuts.
Back to the WaPo piece:
Speaking during a visit to U.S. Central Command headquarters in Tampa on Tuesday, Pompeo said Trump “does not want war” but stressed the United States would act if assaulted. “We are there to deter aggression,” he said.
The U.S. violated the nuclear agreement and is waging an economic war on Iran. That was the aggression that started the conflict. Anything that follows from that was caused by the Trump administration.
Colonel Pat Lang thinks that Pompeo was in Tampa to bring the military in line with his aggressive policies:
Ole First in his Class is down in Tampaland today jawboning the leaders of CENTCOM (Mideast), and SOCOM (badass commandos worldwide). Why is he there?
The Secretary of State has no constitutional or legal role in dealing with the armed forces.
That being the case one can only think that there is push-back from senior commanders over the prospect of war with Iran and that Trump has been persuaded to let him do this unprecedented visit to wheedle or threaten his way into their acquiescence.
The sudden departure Tuesday of Patrick Shanahan, who has served as acting defense secretary since January, could further sideline the Pentagon, which has campaigned to reduce the potential for hostilities. Shanahan’s withdrawal followed revelations of a complicated domestic dispute.
The ‘complicated domestic dispute‘ is not so complicate at all and the case is undisputed. In a several years long process Shanahan’s ex-wife went crazy and physically attacked him and their kids. Finally one of the kids hit back at her with a baseball bat. In court Shanahan argued for a mild punishment for the kid. All the kids, mostly grown up now, are with him and do not want to see their mother. All that was documented by the police and by courts. Shanahan is not guilty of anything in that case. It was not a reason to resign.
Pat Lang believes that the real reason was Pompeo’s trip to Tampa:
Shanahan withdrew his name from confirmation process today. IMO he did it because DJT let Pomp circumvent his authority.
The Pentagon was the last hold out against the aggressive anti-Iran policy says WaPo:
Concerns about an escalation are particularly pointed at the Pentagon, where the absence of a confirmed secretary has fueled worries that hawks in the White House and State Department could push the military beyond its specific mission of destroying the remnants of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, raising the potential for conflict with Iran.
It has been reported several times and by different outlets that Trump is somewhat isolated from anti-war opinions in his administration. All he sees and hears is Fox News, Bibi Netanyahoo and John Bolton. The WaPo piece again confirms that:
Administration officials interviewed by The Washington Post said that national security adviser John Bolton has dominated Iran policy, keeping a tight rein on information that gets to the president and sharply reducing meetings in which top officials gather in the White House’s Situation Room to discuss the policy.
The intensification of [the “maximum pressure”] campaign has triggered internal debates over how best to execute the president’s orders. At the State Department this spring, an argument among officials over how hard to squeeze Iran with sanctions ended with those favoring the toughest possible approach prevailing. In particular, hard-liners at the White House squelched waivers that would have allowed Iran to keep selling oil after a May 1 deadline. White House aides also ended waivers that allowed Iran to swap its enriched uranium for natural uranium, an integral part of the nuclear deal.
While State Department officials sought to achieve a “sweet spot” that would weaken Iran through sanctions but not push so hard that Iran would withdraw from the nuclear deal, others have argued that Trump’s goal is to destroy the accord at any cost and pursue a more expansive policy that seeks to cripple Iran’s proxy forces throughout the region.
Pentagon and State Department officials have complained, however, about the difficulty of getting an adequate hearing for these debates under Bolton. As a result, arguments about policy frequently are not aired and do not reach the president. The process is “very exclusionary, and Bolton has very sharp elbows,” the senior administration official said.
At the Pentagon, officials have quietly voiced concerns for months that the current trajectory might make military conflict a self-fulfilling prophecy.
One person familiar with the recent discussions said that Pentagon officials, including Shanahan, have been “the ones putting the brakes” on the State Department and the White House. “DOD is not beating the drums of war,” the person said.
One can quibble with that. It is the regional military commander who always asks for more troops. More ships and more troops increase the chance for “accidents” and make a war more likely. That is why John Bolton uses each and every small incident to send more troops to the Middle East:
“Does the president want to send more troops? No. Will he be convinced to do it? Yes,” the senior administration official said.
Trump, in contrast to some of his advisers, has seemed to downplay the significance of Iran’s actions. In an interview published Tuesday by Time magazine, he said the recent oil tanker attacks were “very minor.”
Trump is the president. He hired those people and is responsible for what they do. But does he know what they do?
There are two possibilities.
Trump wants a war with Iran and what we see is a good cop, bad cop strategy in which Trump plays the good guy for his voters until some ‘grave incident’ happens that lets him says that he has no choice but to ‘hit back’ at Iran. The other scenario is that Trump is a fool and that the war hawks use him as their tool to implement their preferred policies.
Former MI6 agent Alastair Crooke says that the second scenario is the real one:
The consensus on ‘no conflict’ unfortunately, may turn out to have been overly sanguine. This is not because Trump consciously desires war, but because the hawks surrounding him, particularly Bolton, are painting him into a corner – from which he must either back down, or double down, if Iran does not first capitulate.
And here is the point: the main Trump misconception may be that he does believe that Iran wants, and ultimately, ‘will seek a deal’.
Crooke describes how Bolton, and Netanyahoo behind him, outmaneuver the U.S. intelligence services over Iran. They stovepipe “intelligence” to the president and the media just like the crew of then Vice President Dick Cheney did in the run up to the war on Iraq:
Bolton chairs at the NSC, the regular and frequent strategic dialogue meetings with Israel – intended to develop a joint action plan, versus Iran. What this means is that the Israeli intelligence assessments are being stovepiped directly to Bolton (and therefore to Trump), without passing by the US intelligence services for assessment or comment on the credibility of the intelligence presented (shades of Cheney confronting the analysts down at Langley). And Bolton too, will represent Trump at the ‘security summit’ to be held later this month in Jerusalem with Russia and Israel. Yes, Bolton truly has all the reins in his hands: He is ‘Mr Iran’.
‘Mr Anti-Iran’ is a more precise moniker. Or one may just call him President Bolton.