Winning Iran

Please, Mr. President, We Don’t Want To Win Anymore

Donald Trump at the UN (lev radin via Shutterstock)

by Derek Davison

We’re going to win. We’re going to win so much. We’re going to win at trade, we’re going to win at the border. We’re going to win so much, you’re going to be so sick and tired of winning, you’re going to come to me and go “Please, please, we can’t win anymore.” You’ve heard this one. You’ll say “Please, Mr. President, we beg you sir, we don’t want to win anymore. It’s too much. It’s not fair to everybody else.” And I’m going to say “I’m sorry, but we’re going to keep winning, winning, winning, We’re going to make America great again.”

That was reality TV star-turned-presidential candidate Donald Trump, speaking at a campaign rally in Billings, Montana, in May 2016. Having now survived over two years of Trump’s presidency—which still seems at times more like another TV series than real life—we have a pretty good sense of what “winning” looks like with him at the helm, and there’s really only one thing to say:

Please, Mr. President, we beg you sir, we don’t want to win anymore. It’s too much. You’re going to get us all killed.

Perhaps that’s hyperbolic. After all, for as much as he’s blustered about U.S. military might and as much as he’s bungled U.S. foreign policy since taking office, Trump seems to have assessed (correctly) that he will pay a heavy political price in the event of a full-blown military conflict and has tried to avoid one.

Of the multiple overseas crises Trump has manufactured or helped manufacture in a bit over half a term in office, the only one that really risked the loss of a great number of U.S. lives was his 2017 dust-up with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. That multi-episode arc saw our protagonist threaten with “fire and fury” a state that would in short order test both a thermonuclear bomb and an intercontinental ballistic missile, but the danger was averted after Kim sent Trump the first in a series of “beautiful letters” and the two leaders held the first-ever (and first of three so far) summit between a North Korean leader and a U.S. president.

Winning So Much

But the thing about being president of the United States, a nation with pretensions to global hegemony that spends as much on its military as the next seven countries combined, is that your actions don’t just affect the people of the United States, and your wars—if you start any—don’t just harm the United States. And in the Middle East, a region that wasn’t especially stable before he came to office, Trump has driven all concerned to the brink of war. It’s a war nobody seems to want—least of all Trump himself—but one that edges ever closer as the president and this season’s antagonist, Iran, continue raising the stakes.

Let’s be clear about one thing. Although it is the September 14 attack against Saudi oil facilities at Abqaiq and Khurais—claimed by Yemen’s Houthi rebels but widely presumed, whether directly or via proxies, to have been an Iranian operation—that has the Middle East on edge at the moment. No matter what’s happened since or what comes next, the Trump administration fired the first shots in this conflict. Trump’s decision last year to violate the 2015 Iran nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA) and impose crippling economic sanctions against Iran got this ball rolling. Because the United States has the power—through its effective control of international financial networks—to levy penalties against foreign, as well as U.S., individuals and companies for trading with Iran, the administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign amounts to an economic blockade. And an economic blockade is, under international law, an act of war.

The effect of the campaign is also akin to war. Missiles may not be striking Iranian cities, and U.S. soldiers may not be landing on Iranian beaches—yet—the Iranian people are suffering nevertheless, for lack of basic human needs like medicine and food. The Trump administration continues to insist that its sanctions are not meant to apply to such humanitarian goods, but their practical effect has been to block the sort of financing that Iranian importers would need in order to pay for the importation of critical items. And despite repeated warnings about the impact of its sanctions on the Iranian people, the administration continues—seemingly with malicious intent—to make it harder for them to survive.

Sick and Tired of Winning

What have the Trump administration’s punitive measures wrought? In a recent Foreign Policy article, Ilan Goldenberg and Kaleigh Thomas from the Center for a New American Security declared Trump’s Iran policy to be a “failure.” But the more salient question is: what Iran policy? Going all the way back to the days of candidate Trump, what has he ever said or done with respect to Iran that’s constituted a definable goal, let alone a coherent plan for achieving it?

The one thing candidate Trump seemed to know about Iran was that Barack Obama had negotiated the JCPOA and that the JCPOA was bad. Why was it bad? As far as it was possible to tell, Trump’s main objection was that it had been negotiated by Obama. He never displayed any grasp of the deal’s substance, and, on those occasions when he tried to explain the deal, he invariably got the details seriously wrong. But it was the “worst deal ever negotiated,” he was sure of that, and “dismantling” it would be his “number-one priority.” Trump would “revise” the agreement, his advisers said, after “negotiating” either with Iran directly or with the multilateral group that had negotiated the original deal.

Then Trump took office, and…did nothing. His path toward renegotiating it was closed off because the other five parties to the accord—Iran above all—had no interest in reopening what had been a grueling negotiations process simply to appease the new U.S. president. There’s no indication that it ever even crossed Trump’s mind that he might be the only one interested in talking, and so, for the first 16 months of his administration, Trump chafed against the deal but left it grudgingly in place.

Then, in early May 2018, after appointing ultra-Iran hawk, John Bolton as his national security adviser, Trump took the step that, more than anything else, has led us to the present moment: he pulled the U.S. out of the JCPOA and reimposed sanctions against Iran. Indeed, the Trump administration has gone further than the Obama administration ever dared in terms of the degree to which it has closed off virtually all Iranian economic activity, driving its oil exports nearly to zero and, crucially, designating the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization. Since the IRGC is a government institution and plays a considerable role in the Iranian economy—an artifact of the Obama-era sanctions regime—that designation has given the administration the latitude to essentially criminalize the Iranian government and vast swathes of the Iranian economy.

The administration has taken these steps in violation of U.S. obligations under the JCPOA and against the positions of virtually the entire international community—Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain excepted. It’s little wonder that virtually nobody in Iran still sees much value in remaining in the JCPOA, nor do they have much faith that the U.S. can be trusted to keep its word under any similar agreement moving forward.

It’s been over 16 months since Trump announced that he was running the JCPOA through the White House shredder, and still his aim in doing so remains unclear.

Was it to force Iran to capitulate? That certainly seemed to be the intent behind Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s list of 12—later 13—“demands” to which the Iranians were supposed to capitulate simply to open the door to new talks with the U.S. More recently, however, the administration has been practically tripping over itself to insist that it wants to talk with Iranian leaders with “no preconditions.”

Was the aim, then, simply to bring the Iranians back to the table to negotiate a new deal—either an augmented nuclear accord or something broader? Because the Iranians have been offering the possibility of new talks, provided the United States returns to the JCPOA and resumes upholding its obligations under the deal. They’ve even suggested that they’d be willing to negotiate a deal that goes beyond the scope of the JCPOA, provided the U.S. “pays more” for it. But the Trump administration clearly isn’t happy with those offers.

Was the goal to weaken Iran? To make Tehran retreat from its involvement in regional affairs and ultimately contain its foreign policy? In that case then, the policy has been a clear and total failure, and that’s without including the recent strikes in Saudi Arabia—assuming Iran really was responsible for those.

Was the intent to so badly immiserate the Iranian people that they would rise up as one and overthrow their government? Because the pressure campaign is striking out there as well.

Winning, Winning, Winning

The truth is that the Trump administration’s Iran policy has achieved none of these possible goals, and yet there’s no sign it’s considering a course correction. Which means one of two things: either it has another goal in mind, or it has no goal in mind.

The obvious assumption is that the maximum pressure campaign is meant to provoke a war with Iran. But, despite surrounding himself with long-standing advocates for such a war (Pompeo, his now-former National Security Advisor Bolton, and hanger-on Rudy Giuliani to name but three); outsourcing much of his Middle East policy to Iran foes Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates; and accepting considerable financial support from Iran war advocate Sheldon Adelson, Trump himself continues to insist that he doesn’t want a military conflict.

So, then, what does he want, and how does he imagine that staying the course on a dismally failed policy will achieve it? Whether intentional or not, what now seems clear is that the maximum pressure campaign is both means and end. Cruelty has become the goal. And this isn’t just true with respect to Iran. In case after case—from North Korea to the Palestinian people to Venezuela to the southern U.S. border and inside the U.S. itself—the Trump administration has adopted policies marked by what can at best be described as callous indifference to the tremendous suffering it has caused.

Is that ultimately Trump’s objective? Simply to inflict as much misery on as many people as possible while he’s in office? Or is that the unintentional effect of electing a president who has no goals, or at least no idea how to accomplish them?

Amid this wanton cruelty, Trump seems not to have realized that the pain he inflicts brings consequences, and one of those consequences can be retaliation. As a wounded animal may lash out in self-defense, so too may a country straining under international isolation, to make its adversaries feel some of its pain and raise the costs for those who continue to maintain that isolation. Iran is lashing out now. Every time it does, and every time the United States responds by tightening its sanctions regime just a little more, the Persian Gulf moves closer to war. A war that, to reiterate, nobody wants–least of all Trump himself.

The one positive thing that can be said about Donald Trump’s foreign policy is that for all of its cruelty, all of its inconsistency, all of the chaos it’s created, he hasn’t started a full-scale war yet. But the haphazard mess that is Trump’s Iran policy now threatens to breach even that low bar. The president may not want a war, but unless he changes course quickly, war may be what he gets.

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DEREK DAVISON

Derek Davison is the editor of LobeLog and an analyst covering U.S. foreign policy and international affairs. His writing has appeared at LobeLog, Jacobin, and Foreign Policy in Focus. He has Master’s degrees in Middle East Studies and Near Eastern Civilizations from the University of Chicago and in Public Policy from Carnegie Mellon University.

On American Aggression

We’re Not the Good Guys

Originally posted at TomDispatch.

Headlined “U.S. Seeks Other Ways to Stop Iran Shy of War,” the article was tucked away on page A9 of a recent New York Times. Still, it caught my attention. Here’s the first paragraph:

“American intelligence and military officers are working on additional clandestine plans to counter Iranian aggression in the Persian Gulf, pushed by the White House to develop new options that could help deter Tehran without escalating tensions into a full-out conventional war, according to current and former officials.”

Note that “Iranian aggression.” The rest of the piece, fairly typical of the tone of American media coverage of the ongoing Iran crisis, included sentences like this: “The C.I.A. has longstanding secret plans for responding to Iranian provocations.” I’m sure I’ve read such things hundreds of times without ever really stopping to think much about them, but this time I did. And what struck me was this: rare is the moment in such mainstream news reports when Americans are the “provocative” ones (though the Iranians immediately accused the U.S. military of just that, a provocation, when it came to the U.S. drone its Revolutionary Guard recently shot down either over Iranian air space or the Strait of Hormuz). When it comes to Washington’s never-ending war on terror, I think I can say with reasonable confidence that, in the past, the present, and the future, the one phrase you’re not likely to find in such media coverage will be “American aggression.”

I mean, forget the history of the second half of the last century and all of this one so far. Forget that back in the Neolithic age of the 1980s, before Iraqi autocrat Saddam Hussein turned out to be the new Adolf Hitler and needed to be taken down by us (no aggression there), the administration of President Ronald Reagan actively backed his unprovoked invasion of, and war against, Iran. (That included his use of chemical weapons against Iranian troop concentrations that American military intelligence helped him target.) Forget that, in 2003, the administration of George W. Bush launched an unprovoked war of aggression against Iraq, based on false intelligence about Saddam’s supposed weapons of mass destruction and his supposed links to al-Qaeda. Forget that the Trump administration tore up a nuclear agreement with Iran to which that country was adhering and which would indeed have effectively prevented it from producing nuclear weapons for the foreseeable future. Forget that its supreme leader (in fatwas he issued) prohibited the creation or stockpiling of such weaponry in any case.

Forget that the Trump administration, in a completely unprovoked manner, imposed crippling sanctions on that country and its oil trade, causing genuine suffering, in hopes of toppling that regime economically as Saddam Hussein’s had been toppled militarily in neighboring Iraq in 2003, all in the name of preventing the atomic weapons that the Obama-negotiated pact had taken care of. Forget the fact that an American president, who, at the last moment, halted air strikes against Iranian missile bases (after one of their missiles shot down that American drone) is now promising that an attack on “anything American will be met with great and overwhelming force… In some areas, overwhelming will mean obliteration.”

Provocations? Aggression? Perish the thought!

And yet, just ask yourself what Washington and the Pentagon might do if an Iranian drone were spotted off the East Coast of the United States (no less in actual U.S. air space).  No more need be said, right?

So here’s the strange thing, on a planet on which, in 2017, U.S. Special Operations forces deployed to 149 countries, or approximately 75% of all nations; on which the U.S. has perhaps 800 military garrisons outside its own territory; on which the U.S. Navy patrols most of its oceans and seas; on which U.S. unmanned aerial drones conduct assassination strikes across a surprising range of countries; and on which the U.S. has been fighting wars, as well as more minor conflicts, for years on end from Afghanistan to Libya, Syria to Yemen, Iraq to Niger in a century in which it chose to launch full-scale invasions of two countries (Afghanistan and Iraq), is it truly reasonable never to identify the U.S. as an “aggressor” anywhere?

What you might say about the United States is that, as the self-proclaimed leading proponent of democracy and human rights (even if its president is now having a set of love affairs with autocrats and dictators), Americans consider ourselves at home just about anywhere we care to be on planet Earth.  It matters little how we may be armed and what we might do. Consequently, wherever Americans are bothered, harassed, threatened, attacked, we are always the ones being provoked and aggressed upon, never provoking and aggressing. I mean, how can you be the aggressor in your own house, even if that house happens to be temporarily located in Afghanistan, Iraq, or perhaps soon enough in Iran?

A Planet of Aggressors and Provocateurs

To mine the same New York Times piece a little more, here’s another paragraph:

“Some officials believe the United States needs [to] be willing to master the kind of deniable, shadowy techniques Tehran has perfected in order to halt Iran’s aggressions. Others think that, while helpful, such clandestine attacks will not be enough to reassure American allies or deter Iran.”

Of course, such clandestine American attacks would, by definition, not be “aggression,” not given that they were directed against Iran. Forget the grim historical humor lurking in the above passage, since the present Iranian religious hard-liners probably wouldn’t be there if, back in 1953, the CIA hadn’t used just such techniques to overthrow a democratically elected Iranian government and install its own autocrat, the young Shah, in power.

As that Times piece also emphasizes, Iran now uses “proxy forces” throughout the region (indeed it does!) against U.S. (and Israeli) power, a tactic Americans evidently just hadn’t thought about employing themselves in this century – until now. Americans naturally have no proxy forces in the Greater Middle East. That’s a well-known fact. Just out of curiosity, however, what would you call the local forces our special ops guys are training and advising in so many of those 149 countries around the planet, since obviously they could never be proxy forces? And how about the Afghan and Iraqi militaries that the U.S. trained, supplied with weaponry, and advised in these years? (You know, the Iraqi army that collapsed in the face of ISIS in 2014 or the Afghan security forces that have been unable to staunch either the growthof the Taliban or of the Afghan branch of ISIS.)

Now, don’t get me wrong. Yes, the Iranians can (and sometimes do) provoke and aggress. It’s an ugly planet filled with aggression and provocation. (Take Vladimir Putin’s Russia in Crimea and Ukraine, for instance.) The Chinese are now aggressing in the South China Sea where the U.S. Navy regularly conducts “freedom of navigation” operations – though no provocation there, as the Pacific’s an American lake, isn’t it?

In short, when it comes to provocation and aggression, the world is our oyster. There are so many bad guys out there and then, of course, there’s us. We can make mistakes and missteps, we can kill staggering numbers of civilians, destroy cities, uproot populations, create hordes of refugees with our never-ending wars across the Greater Middle East and Africa, but aggression? What are you thinking?

One thing is obvious if you follow the mainstream media: in our world, no matter what we do, we’re still the good guys on a planet filled with provocateurs and aggressors of every sort.

War to the Horizon

Now let’s think for a moment about that remarkable American comfort level, that unprecedented sense of being at home practically anywhere on Earth we choose to send armed Americans – and while we’re at it, let’s consider a related subject: America’s wars.

If, in the early 1970s, you had told me or any other American that, in the nearly half-century to come, the U.S. would fight wars and other lesser conflicts of almost every imaginable sort in startling numbers of places thousands of miles from home, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen, countries most Americans couldn’t then (or now) find on a map, I guarantee you one thing: we would have thought you were nuts. (Of course, if you had described Donald Trump’s White House to me then as our future reality, I would have considered you beyond delusional.)

And yet here we are. Think about Afghanistan for a moment. In those distant days of the last century, that country would undoubtedly have been known here only to small numbers of young adventurers eager to hike what was then called “the hippy trail.” There, in a still remarkably peaceful place, a young American might have been greeted with remarkable friendliness and then spaced out on drugs.

That, of course, was before Washington’s first (covert) Afghan War, the one the CIA oversaw, with the help of Saudi money (yes, even then!) and a major hand from the Pakistani intelligence services. Do you remember that conflict, which began in 1979 and ended a decade later with the Red Army limping out of Kabul in defeat, heading for a land, the Soviet Union, which would implode within two years? What a “victory” that proved to be for America, not to speak of the groups of extremist Islamic militants we helped to fund and support, including a young Saudi named Osama bin Laden.

And keep in mind as well that that was our “short” war in Afghanistan, a mere decade long. In October 2001, soon after the 9/11 attacks, instead of launching a police action against Osama bin Laden and crew, the administration of George W. Bush decided to invade that country. Almost 18 years later, the U.S. military is still fighting there (remarkably unsuccessfully) against a thoroughly rejuvenated Taliban and a new branch of ISIS. It now qualifies as the longest war in our history (without even adding in that first Afghan War of ours).

And then, of course, there’s Iraq. By my count, the U.S. has been involved in four conflicts involving that country, starting with Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Iran in 1980 and the ensuing war, which the administration of President Ronald Reagan supported militarily (as the present one does the Saudi war in Yemen). Then there was President George H.W. Bush’s war against Saddam Hussein after his military invaded Kuwait in 1990, which resulted in a resounding (but by no means conclusive) victory and the kind of victory parade in Washington that Donald Trump can only dream of. Next, of course, was President George W. Bush’s 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq (mission accomplished!), a grim and unsatisfying eight-year conflict from which President Barack Obama withdrew U.S. troops in 2011. The fourth war followed in 2014 when the U.S.-trained Iraqi military collapsed in the face of relatively small numbers of ISIS militants, a group that was an offshoot of al-Qaeda in Iraq, which didn’t exist until the U.S. invaded that country. That September, President Obama loosed the U.S. air force on Iraq and Syria (so you can add a fifth war in a neighboring country to the mix) and sent U.S. troops back into Iraq and into Syria where they still remain.

Oh, yes, and don’t forget Somalia. U.S. troubles there began with the famed Black Hawk Down incident amid the Battle of Mogadishu in 1993 and never, in a sense, really ended. Today, U.S. Special Operations forces are still on the ground there and U.S. air strikes against a Somali militant Islamic group, al-Shabaab, have actually been on the rise in the Trump era.

As for Yemen, from the first U.S. drone strike there in 2002, the U.S. had been in an on-again, off-again low-level conflict there that included commando raids, cruise missile attacks, air strikes, and drone strikes against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, another offshoot of the original al-Qaeda. Since, in 2015, the Saudis and the United Arab Emirates launched their war against Houthi rebels (backed by Iran) who had come to control significant parts of the country, the U.S. has been supporting them with weaponryintelligence, and targeting, as well as (until late last year) mid-air refueling and other aid. Meanwhile, that brutal war of destruction has led to staggering numbers of Yemeni civilian casualties (and widespread starvation), but as with so many of the other campaigns the U.S. has involved itself in across the Greater Middle East and Africa it shows no sign of ending.

And don’t forget Libya, where the U.S. and NATO intervened in 2011 to help rebels take down Muammar Gaddafi, the local autocrat, and in the process managed to foster a failed state in a land now experiencing its own civil war. In the years since 2011, the U.S. has sometimes had commandos on the ground there, has launched hundreds of drone strikes (and air strikes), often against a branch of ISIS that grew up in that land. Once again, little is settled there, so we can all continue to sing the Marine Hymn (“…to the shores of Tripoli”) with a sense of appropriateness.

And I haven’t even mentioned PakistanNiger, and god knows where else. You should also note that the American forever war on terror has proven a remarkably effective war for terror, clearly helping to foster and spread such groups, aggressors and provocateurs all, around significant parts of the planet, from the Philippines to the Congo.

Addicted to war? Not us. Still, all in all, it’s quite a record and let’s not forget that looming on the horizon is another possible war, this time with Iran, a country that the men overseeing the invasion of Iraq in 2003 (includingpresent National Security Advisor John Bolton) were eager to go after even then. “Everyone wants to go to Baghdad,” so the saying reputedly went in Washington at the time. “Real men want to go to Tehran.” And it’s just possible that, in 2019, Bolton and crew will be able to act on that much delayed urge. Considering the history of American wars in these years, what could possibly go wrong?

To sum up, no one should ever claim that we Americans aren’t “at home” in the world. We’re everywhere, remarkably well funded and well armed and ready to face off against the aggressors and provocateurs of this planet. Just one small suggestion: thank the troops for their service if you want, and then, as most Americans do, go about your business as if nothing were happening in those distant lands. As we head into election season 2020, however, just don’t imagine that we’re the good guys on Planet Earth. As far as I can tell, there aren’t many good guys left.

Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He runs TomDispatch.comand is a fellow of the Type Media Center. His sixth and latest book is A Nation Unmade by War (Dispatch Books).

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, John Feffer’s new dystopian novel (the second in the Splinterlandsseries) Frostlands, Beverly Gologorsky’s novel Every Body Has a Story, and Tom Engelhardt’s A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power and John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II.

Copyright Tom Engelhardt 2019

Dodged a Bullet for Now

The US has not started the latest war against Iran yet. But I have no doubt that it will be underway at some point. I wish like hell that I was wrong about that! Give me strength! I hate to see that shit starting again with the same playbook as in Iraq. I wrote a book about it. But empires must be empires till they finally collapse.

Giving Trump Credit (But Not Too Much) on Iran

The Donald made the right call. Now that’s a rare statement. Calling off – or at least delaying – a military strike on Iran was prudent. Nevertheless, there was something deeply unsettling about the whole thing. The system is broken, perhaps irreparably.

The president never even considered seeking congressional approval before playing emperor and unleashing death and destruction on a sovereign nation. Why would he? Essentially every president, since Truman, has done the same thing one time or another. Unilateral executive action has been the American norm pretty much since World War II wrapped up. Seen in this context, Trump isn’t so anomalous as many would like to believe. Korea kicked off the trend. But the Vietnam advisory mission, Lebanon, Grenada, Panama, Somalia, Bosnia, Libya, and Syria – to name the highlights – were all undertaken without the constitutionally mandated consent of the legislature.

In that sense, a dozen or so more palatable and polite emperors, I mean presidents, paved the way for the coarser and more buffoonish reality TV star currently calling the shots in the White House. Americans’ collective sin of ignoring foreign policy and ceding unilateral power to the executive branch has truly, and definitively, come home to roost. That’s partly why I find the protestations from Democratic lawmakers to be more about partisanship than principles. Genuine legislators – that spent more time following international policy instead of obsessively raising money – would all revolt and restrain the president regardless of their political party. We’re unlikely to see that.

None of this should be seen as a defense or normalization of Trump. The manis scary. His threats, vagueness, and propensity to turn on a policy dime are genuinely disturbing. So is his blatant affinity for autocrats the world over. The point is that I shouldn’t have to give “credit” to Trump when he acts prudently and demonstrates restraint. I, we, should not have to hang on the words and pronouncements of any one man. The populace, the media, the congress should not be relegated to spectators held hostage by the whims of any one man.

It doesn’t necessarily matter whether that person is Donald Trump or Barack Obama, per say. The system, as designed in the Constitution, judiciously places the supreme power of warfare squarely on Capitol Hill, on the collective judgment of the peoples’ elected representatives. Discussion, debate, deliberation – these ought to be the hallmarks of any rather profound decision to kill and maim other humans. Instead, in 21st century America, we “elect” – not necessarily by the popular vote count – an emperor and then watch and see what he does with our military and, heck, our nuclear arsenal for that matter.

Which places this author, and all Americans really, in the awkward, and pathetic, position of having to praise the lunatic-in-chief for not doing the unthinkable. All of us feast on the decisional scraps of one Donald Trump. It’s been normalized to such an extent that hardly anyone notices any longer. All Americans are essentially too trapped in the Matrix of imperial war to recognize the crumbing of national institutions. It easy (and somewhat accurate) to blame congress, or the media, or various presidents themselves, but the rot runs much deeper. Average Americans have forgotten how to be true citizens, forgotten how to mobilize in the streets and demand change. Too busy eking out a living after forty years of working wage stagnation, and no longer required to serve in America’s imperial wars, the people have opted out. We’re all guilty, all complicit, in the hijacking of the Constitution. So it was that I personally endured combat in two ill-advised, immoral wars in the Greater Middle East.

See, there are consequences for executive overreach and popular apathy. We can count the costs to the tune of $5.9 trillion spent, some 7,000 American soldiers killed, and about 480,000 dead foreigners. All of this occurred with either a congressional rubber stamp or, often, no stamp at all. While congressmen and senators were busy dialing-for-dollars, my soldiers were in the field killing and dying in rather real wars. I’m sure thankful that I’m out of the business of death-dealing, but also remain deeply unsettled by the knowledge that any war in Iran will affect, and forever damage, a new generation of officers and soldiers. Americans will then vacuously thank, and hollowly adulate, the troops involved. Almost no one will ask why those servicemen were sent to war in the first place, or question the process by which they were sent. All the while, the last remnants of the American republic will continue to crumble.

So here we are, hostages to one – rather disconcerting – man, Mr. Donald Trump. We’ll collectively wait for his decision on whether to call off, delay, or launch a new Mideast war, this time with Iran. It’s absurd and need not be this way. Citizens, real citizens I mean, could hit the streets, flood their congressmen’s’ offices, and shut down the whole damn country until the president adheres to the Constitution. It’s genuinely possible, but, of course, will not happen.

Instead, we’ll all remain glued to our TVs and phones, wondering what the emperor will do next. And when that supreme leader decides, occasionally, to show restraint, I’ll be in the awkward and insane position of giving Donald Trump “credit” when he doesn’t embark on another illegal war in our name. And more’s the pity.

Danny Sjursen is a retired U.S. Army officer and regular contributor toAntiwar.com. His work has appeared in the LA Times, The Nation, Huff Post, The Hill, Salon, Truthdig, Tom Dispatch, among other publications. He served combat tours with reconnaissance units in Iraq and Afghanistan and later taught history at his alma mater, West Point. He is the author of a memoir and critical analysis of the Iraq War, Ghostriders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge. Follow him on Twitter at @SkepticalVet.

Copyright 2019 Danny Sjursen

Pretexts for an Attack on Iran

Pretexts for an Attack on Iran

An Iraq-War redux is now in full play, with leading roles played by some of the same protagonists – President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, for example, who says he still thinks attacking Iraq was a good idea. Co-starring is Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The New York Times on Tuesday played its accustomed role in stoking the fires, front-paging a report that, at Bolton’s request, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan has come up with an updated plan to send as many as 120,000 troops to the Middle East, should Iran attack American forces or accelerate work on nuclear weapons. The Times headline writer, at least, thought it appropriate to point to echoes from the past: “White House Reviews Military Plans Against Iran, in Echoes of Iraq War.”

By midday, Trump had denied the Times report, branding it “fake news.” Keep them guessing, seems to be the name of the game.

Following the Iraq playbook, Bolton and Pompeo are conjuring up dubious intelligence from Israel to “justify” attacking – this time – Iran. (For belligerent Bolton, this was entirely predictable.) All this is clear.

What is not clear, to Americans and foreigners alike, is why Trump would allow Bolton and Pompeo to use the same specious charges – terrorism and nuclear weapons – to provoke war with a country that poses just as much strategic threat to the U.S. as Iraq did – that is to say, none. The corporate media, with a two-decade memory-loss and a distinct pro-Israel bias, offers little help toward understanding.

Before discussing the main, but unspoken-in-polite-circles, impulse behind the present step-up in threats to Iran, let’s clear some underbrush by addressing the two limping-but-still-preferred, ostensible rationales, neither of which can bear close scrutiny:

No. 1: It isn’t because Iran is the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism. We of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity shot down that canard a year and a half ago. In a Memorandum for President Trump, we said:

“The depiction of Iran as ‘the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism’ is not supported by the facts. While Iran is guilty of having used terrorism as a national policy tool in the past, the Iran of 2017 is not the Iran of 1981. In the early days of the Islamic Republic, Iranian operatives routinely carried out car bombings, kidnappings and assassinations of dissidents and of American citizens. That has not been the case for many years.”

No. 2. It isn’t because Iran is building a nuclear weapon. A November 2007 US National Intelligence Estimate concluded unanimously that Iran had stopped working on a nuclear weapon in 2003 and had not resumed any such work. That judgment has been reaffirmed by the Intelligence Community annually since then.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal, imposed strict, new, verifiable restrictions on Iranian nuclear-related activities and was agreed to in July 2015 by Iran, the US, Russia, China, France, the U.K., Germany and the European Union.

Even the Trump administration has acknowledged that Iran has been abiding by the agreement’s provisions. Nevertheless, President Trump withdrew the US from the Iran nuclear deal on May 8, 2018, four weeks after John Bolton became his national security adviser.

‘We Prefer No Outcome’

Fair WarningWhat follows may come as a shock to those malnourished on the drivel in mainstream media: The “WHY,” quite simply, is Israel. It is impossible to understand US Middle East policy without realizing the overwhelming influence of Israel on it and on opinion makers. (A personal experience drove home how strong the public appetite is for the straight story, after I gave a half-hour video interview to independent videographer Regis Tremblay three years ago. He titled it “The Inside Scoop on the Middle East & Israel,” put it on YouTube and it got an unusually high number of views.)

Syria is an illustrative case in point, since Israel has always sought to secure its position in the Middle East by enlisting US support to curb and dominate its neighbors. An episode I recounted in that interview speaks volumes about Israeli objectives in the region as a whole, not only in Syria. And it includes an uncommonly frank admission/exposition of Israeli objectives straight from the mouths of senior Israeli officials. It is the kind of case-study, empirical approach much to be preferred to indulging in ponderous pronouncements or, worse still, so-called “intelligence assessments.”

It has long been clear that Israeli leaders have powerful incentives to get Washington more deeply engaged in yet another war in the area. This Israeli priority has become crystal clear in many ways. Reporter Jodi Rudoren, writing from Jerusalem, had an important article in The New York Times on Sept. 6, 2013, in which she addressed Israel’s motivation in a particularly candid way. Her article, titled “Israel Backs Limited Strike against Syria,” noted that the Israelis have argued, quietly, that the best outcome for Syria’s civil war, at least for the moment, is no outcome.

Rudoren wrote:

“For Jerusalem, the status quo, horrific as it may be from a humanitarian perspective, seems preferable to either a victory by Mr. Assad’s government and his Iranian backers or a strengthening of rebel groups, increasingly dominated by Sunni jihadis.

“‘This is a playoff situation in which you need both teams to lose, but at least you don’t want one to win – we’ll settle for a tie,’ said Alon Pinkas, a former Israeli consul general in New York. ‘Let them both bleed, hemorrhage to death: that’s the strategic thinking here. As long as this lingers, there’s no real threat from Syria.’”

If this is the way Israel’s current leaders look at the carnage in Syria, they seem to believe that deeper U.S. involvement, including military action, is likely to ensure that there is no early resolution of the conflict especially when Syrian government forces seem to be getting the upper hand. The longer Sunni and Shia are at each other’s throats in Syria and in the wider region, the safer Israel calculates it will be.

The fact that Syria’s main ally is Iran, with whom it has a mutual defense treaty, also plays a role in Israeli calculations. And since Iranian military support has not been enough to destroy those challenging Bashar al-Assad, Israel can highlight that in an attempt to humiliate Iran as an ally.

Today the geography has shifted from Syria to Iran: What’s playing out in the Persian Gulf area is a function of the politically-dictated obsequiousness of American presidents to the policies and actions of Israel’s leaders. This bipartisan phenomenon was obvious enough under recent presidents like Clinton and Obama; but under Bush II and Trump, it went on steroids, including a born-again, fundamentalist religious aspect.

One need hardly mention the political power of the Israel lobby and the lucrative campaign donations from the likes of Sheldon Adelson. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is riding high, at least for the now, Israeli influence is particularly strong in the lead-up to US elections, and Trump has been acquitted of colluding with Russia.

The stars seem aligned for very strong “retaliatory strikes” for terrorist acts blamed on Iran. But this is not altogether new: For those unfamiliar with former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s hold on George W. Bush, I include in below a few very short, but highly illustrative examples.

Tonkin – er, I Mean Persian Gulf

Over the weekend, four vessels, including two Saudi oil tankers, were sabotaged near the Strait of Hormuz. Last evening The Wall Street Journal was the first to report an “initial US assessment” that Iran likely was behind the attacks, and quoted a “US official” to the effect that if confirmed, this would inflame military tensions in the Persian Gulf. The attacks came as the US deploys an aircraft carrier, bombers and an antimissile battery to the Gulf – supposedly to deter what the Trump administration said is the possibility of Iranian aggression.

On Tuesday, Yemen’s Houthi rebels, with whom Saudi Arabia has been fighting a bloody war for the past four years, launched a drone attack on a Saudi east-west pipeline that carries crude to the Red Sea. This is not the first such attack; a Houthi spokesman said the attack was a response to Saudi “aggression” and “genocide” in Yemen. The Saudis shut down the pipeline for repair.

Thus the dangers in and around the Strait of Hormuz increase apace with U.S.-Iran recriminations. This, too, is not new.

Tension in the Strait was very much on Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen’s mind as he prepared to retire on Sept. 30, 2011. Ten days before, he told the Armed Force Press Service of his deep concern over the fact that the US and Iran have had no formal communications since 1979:

“Even in the darkest days of the Cold War, we had links to the Soviet Union. We are not talking to Iran. So we don’t understand each other. If something happens, it’s virtually assured that we won’t get it right, that there will be miscalculations.”

Now the potential for an incident has increased markedly. Adm. Mullen was primarily concerned about the various sides – Iran, the US, Israel – making hurried decisions with, you guessed it, “unintended consequences.”

With Pompeo and Bolton on the loose, the world may be well advised to worry even more about “intended consequences” from a false flag attack. The Israelis are masters at this. The tactic has been in the US clandestine toolkit for a long time, as well. In recent days, the Pentagon has reported tracking “anomalous naval activity” in the Persian Gulf, including loading small sailing vessels with missiles and other military hardware.

Cheney: Down to the Sea in Boats

In July 2008, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh reported that Bush administration officials had held a meeting in the vice president’s office in the wake of a January 2008 incident between Iranian patrol boats and US warships in the Strait of Hormuz. The reported purpose of the meeting was to discuss ways to provoke war with Iran.

Hersh wrote:

“There were a dozen ideas proffered about how to trigger a war. The one that interested me the most was why don’t we build in our shipyard four or five boats that look like Iranian PT boats. Put Navy seals on them with a lot of arms. And next time one of our boats goes to the Straits of Hormuz, start a shoot-up. Might cost some lives.

“And it was rejected because you can’t have Americans killing Americans. That’s the kind of, that’s the level of stuff we’re talking about. Provocation.

“Silly? Maybe. But potentially very lethal. Because one of the things they learned in the [January 2008] incident was the American public, if you get the right incident, the American public will support bang-bang-kiss-kiss. You know, we’re into it.”

Preparing the (Propaganda) Battlefield

One of Washington’s favorite ways to blacken Iran and its leaders is to blame it for killing US troops in Iraq. Iran was accused, inter alia, of supplying the most lethal improvised explosive devices, but sycophants like Gen. David Petraeus wanted to score points by blaming the Iranians for still more actions.

On April 25, 2008, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen, told reporters that Gen. David Petraeus would be giving a briefing “in the next couple of weeks” that would provide detailed evidence of “just how far Iran is reaching into Iraq to foment instability.”

Petraeus’s staff alerted US media to a major news event in which captured Iranian arms in Karbala, Iraq, would be displayed and then destroyed. But there was a small problem. When American munitions experts went to Karbala to inspect the alleged cache of Iranian weapons, they found nothing that could be credibly linked to Iran.

This embarrassing episode went virtually unreported in Western media – like the proverbial tree falling in the forest with no corporate media to hear it crash. A fiasco is only a fiasco if folks find out about it. The Iraqis did announce that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had formed his own Cabinet committee to investigate US claims and attempt to “find tangible information and not information based on speculation.”

With his windsock full of neoconservative anti-Iran rhetoric, Petreaus, as CIA director, nevertheless persisted – and came up with even more imaginative allegations of Iranian perfidy. Think back, for example, to October 2011 and the outlandish White House spy feature at the time: the Iranian-American-used-car-salesman-Mexican-drug-cartel plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the US And hold your nose.

More recently, the Pentagon announced it has upped its estimate of how many US troops Iran killed in Iraq between 2003 and 2011. The revised death tally would mean that Iran is responsible for 17 percent of all US troops killed in Iraq.

Who Will Restrain the ‘Crazies’?

Pompeo stopped off in Brussels on Monday to discuss Iran with EU leaders, skipping what would have been the first day of a two-day trip to Russia. Pompeo did not speak to the news media in Brussels, but European foreign ministers said that they had urged “restraint.”

British Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt told reporters: “We are very worried about the risk of a conflict happening by accident, with an escalation that is unintended, really on either side.” British Army Major General Christopher Ghika was rebuked by US Central Command for saying Tuesday: “There has been no increased threat from Iranian backed forces in Iraq and Syria.” Central Command spokesperson Captain Bill Urban said Ghika’s remarks “run counter to the identified credible threats available to intelligence from US and allies regarding Iranian backed forces in the region.”

Although there is growing resentment at the many serious problems tied to Trump’s pulling the US out of the Iran deal, and there is the EU’s growing pique at heavyweights like Pompeo crashing their gatherings uninvited, I agree with Pepe Escobar’s bottom line, that “it’s politically naïve to believe the Europeans will suddenly grow a backbone.”

There remains a fleeting hope that cooler heads in the US military might summon the courage to talk some sense into Trump, in the process making it clear that they will take orders from neither Pompeo nor from National Security Advisor John Bolton. But the generals and admirals of today are far more likely in the end to salute and “follow orders.”

There is a somewhat less forlorn hope that Russia will give Pompeo a strong warning in Sochi – a shot across the bow, so to speak. The last thing Russia, China, Turkey and other countries want is an attack on Iran. Strategic realities have greatly changed since the two wars on Iraq.

In 1992, still in the afterglow of Desert Storm (the first Gulf War), former Gen. Wesley Clark asked then Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Paul Wolfowitz about major lessons to be drawn from the Desert Storm attack on Iraq in 1991. Without hesitation, Wolfowitz answered, “We can do these things and the Russians won’t stop us.” That was still true for the second attack on Iraq in 2003.

But much has changed since then: In 2014, the Russians stopped NATO expansion to include Ukraine, after the Western-sponsored coup in Kiev; and in the years that followed, Moscow thwarted attempts by the US, Israel, and others to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

No doubt Russian President Vladimir Putin would like to “stop us” before the Bolton/Pompeo team finds an “Iranian” casus belli. Initial reporting from Sochi, where Pompeo met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday indicates there was no meeting of the minds on Iran. Both Pompeo and Lavrov described their talks as “frank” – diplomat-speak for acrimonious.

Pompeo was probably treated to much stronger warnings in private during the Sochi talks with Lavrov and Putin. Either or both may even have put into play the potent China card, now that Russia and China have a relationship just short of a military alliance – a momentous alteration of what the Soviets used to call the “correlation of forces.”

In my mind’s eye, I can even see Putin warning, “If you attack Iran, you may wish to be prepared for trouble elsewhere, including in the South China Sea. Besides, the strategic balance is quite different from conditions existing each time you attacked Iraq. We strongly advise you not to start hostilities with Iran – under any pretext. If you do, we are ready this time.”

And, of course, Putin could also pick up the phone and simply call Trump.

There is no guarantee, however, that tough talk from Russia could stick an iron rod into the wheels of the juggernaut now rolling downhill to war on Iran. But, failing that kind of strong intervention and disincentive, an attack on Iran seems all but assured. Were we to be advising President Trump today, we VIPS would not alter a word in the recommendation at the very end of the Memorandum for President George W. Bush we sent him on the afternoon of Feb. 5, 2003, after Colin Powell addressed the UN Security Council earlier that day:

“No one has a corner on the truth; nor do we harbor illusions that our analysis is irrefutable or undeniable [as Powell had claimed his was]. But after watching Secretary Powell today, we are convinced that you would be well served if you widened the discussion … beyond the circle of those advisers clearly bent on a war for which we see no compelling reason and from which we believe the unintended consequences are likely to be catastrophic.”

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. His 27-year career as a CIA analyst includes serving as Chief of the Soviet Foreign Policy Branch and preparer/briefer of the President’s Daily Brief. He is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). This originally appeared at Consortium News.

Author: Ray McGovern

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. In the Sixties he served as an infantry/intelligence officer and then became a CIA analyst for the next 27 years. He is on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

War With Iran

The United States of Aggression: War With Iran Would Spell the End of the Republic

Who do we think we are? Truly. The latest reports that the Trump administration is considering plans for deploying 120,000 troops to the Middle East – presumably to strike Iran – demonstrates how Washington’s foreign policy has finally gone off the rails. Crazier still, the impending war with Iran isn’t even the today’s biggest news story – what with all the nonsense, soap opera hullabaloo about the Mueller Report – on mainstream media outlets. What the proposed plan constitutes is nothing less than the most important, and disturbing, global issue of the day. This is how it should be reported by a truly adversarial media: The United States is preparing for an aggressive, illegal, and unwarranted war against another sovereign power thousands of miles from its shores. Again! All true citizens should be beyond appalled and screaming dissent from the rooftops.

The proposed plan comes on the heels of Iran’s decision – prompted by U.S. hostility – to withdraw from certain, though not all, Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA, better known as the Iran nuclear deal) requirements. This shouldn’t come as any surprise. In fact, it’s incredible that Iran stayed in compliance with the treaty as long as it did. After all, it was the United Statesthat unilaterally scuttled the deal – with which its own intelligence services admitted Iran had complied with – against the advice of its European allies and even Secretary of State Tillerson. By reimposing sanctions on a compliant Iran, the US acted aggressively and actually vindicated any Iranian counteraction. Indeed, President Rouhani had some justification for his claim that Tehran’s move didn’t violate the agreement, per say, but that actually the JCPOA permitted it since reimposition of sanctions was “grounds to cease performing its commitments under this JCPOA in whole or in part.”

This staggering military plan is only the latest escalation in a dangerous tit-for-tat game of chicken between Iran and the US Furthermore, it is Washington which has most often been the aggressor. The US, not Iran, recently deployed an aircraft carrier strike force and B-52 bombers to the Persian Gulf. The US, not Iran, needlessly began a provocative semantic battle when it designated the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terror organization. So aggressive and unnecessary was this move that Iran’s subsequent retort that the real terror outfit in the region is USCENTCOM seemed disconcertingly accurate. Moreover, Washington has long exaggerated the level, and significance, of Iranian support for various regional proxies, such as the Houthis in Yemen, Shia militias in Iraq, and Hamas in Gaza. Bottom line: Iran currently presents no existential, strategic threat to the US

The whole sordid saga bears a striking, and disturbing, similarity to the worst foreign policy decision of the 21st century – America’s last war of choice waged in Iraq. Both were justified by inflated, vague, and alarmingly secretive intelligence reports. How’d that work out in 2003? Now, with the New York Times reporting that the magic number is again 120,000 troops – close to the number that invaded Iraq – we can deduce that even if war were warranted, the US military wouldn’t have the troops necessary to win.

The specter of war with Iran bears both hallmarks of terrible military adventures: Washington is again overestimating Iran’s bellicose intent and underestimating its capacity to defend itself. Make no mistake: war in the Persian Gulf will bloody, indecisive, and nearly impossible to disengage from. It’d be Iraq War 2.0, only worse – since Iran is bigger, more mountainous, and has a more nationalistic population than even Iraq.

The absurdity of even considering a major war with Iran demonstrates how truly Orwellian US foreign policy has become. Mr. Trump (correctly) chooses to reduce tensions with Russia and North Korea, but he still needs an enemy, a useful villain. Since loading up his administration with recycled neocons like John Bolton and Mike Pompeo – both obsessive Iranophones – it should’ve been obvious that Iran would play the scapegoat for, and justification of, America’s massive defense budget and apparent intention to maintain a military vice grip on the Mideast.

The American people hardly care about, and are excluded from, US foreign policy. A cabal of neocon Washington insiders, Trumpian buffoons, an all-powerful corporate arms dealing clique, and a compliant media seem to run America’s global affairs. Congress is hardly even consulted, as evidenced on Tuesday morning when Senator Bob Melendez – a highly placed member of the Senate Foreign Relations committee – admitted on CNN that he hadn’t been fully briefed, and didn’t fully understand, the oh-so-secretive intelligence that allegedly justifies this new military escalation in the Persian Gulf. That’s scary!

It is war that the unelected hyper-hawks like Bolton and Pompeo want, and, with an apathetic citizenry, uniformed Congress, and pliable president, it is war they may just get. Such a fight would be bloody, difficult, costly, and hard to end. It would shatter any remnants of regional stability and only serve to empower the two hidden hands behind this bellicosity – Saudi Arabia and Israel. To invade and/or attack Iran would, once and for all, spell the end of any fiction of the US remaining a representative republic governed by the popular will and international norms. Instead it’d be exposed for what it has long been becoming – a rogue, hegemonic empire bent on power and destruction.

If I were still in uniform, and I thank my lucky stars that I am not, I’d likely file as a conscientious objector. Indeed, I can hardly understand why most servicemen will not take such a drastic step. Though, admittedly, I too failed to do so during the horrific Iraq War.

Still, if loyal foot soldiers, a vacuous media, and an indifferent Congress march along to war in Iran, Roman history would repeat itself – as the empire finally swallows the republic whole.

Danny Sjursen is a retired US Army officer and regular contributor to Antiwar.com. His work has appeared in the LA Times, The Nation, Huff Post, The Hill, Salon, Truthdig, Tom Dispatch, among other publications. He served combat tours with reconnaissance units in Iraq and Afghanistan and later taught history at his alma mater, West Point. He is the author of a memoir and critical analysis of the Iraq War, Ghostriders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge. Follow him on Twitter at @SkepticalVet.

Copyright 2019 Danny Sjursen

Buchanan on The US Global Empire: Overstretch

On to Caracas and Tehran!

In the Venezuelan crisis, said President Donald Trump in Florida, “All options are on the table.” And if Venezuela’s generals persist in their refusal to break with Nicolas Maduro, they could “lose everything.”

Another example of Yankee bluster and bluff?

Or is Trump prepared to use military force to bring down Maduro and install Juan Guaido, the president of the national assembly who has declared himself president of Venezuela?

We will get an indication this weekend, as a convoy of food and humanitarian aid tries to force its way into Venezuela from Colombia.

Yet, even given the brutality of the regime and the suffering of the people – 1 in 10 have fled – it is hard to see Trump sending the Marines to fight the Venezuelan army in Venezuela.

Where would Trump get the authority for such a war?

Still, the lead role that Trump has assumed in the crisis raises a question. Does the reflexive interventionism – America is “the indispensable nation!” – that propelled us into the forever war of the Middle East, retain its hold on the American mind?

Next week, Trump meets in Hanoi with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.

While Kim has not tested his missiles or nuclear warheads in a year, few believe he will ever surrender the weapons that secure his survival and brought the U.S. superpower to the negotiating table.

Is Trump prepared to accept a deal that leaves a nuclear North but brings about a peace treaty, diplomatic relations and a withdrawal of U.S. troops from the Korean Peninsula? Or are American forces to be in Korea indefinitely?

Nancy Pelosi’s House just voted to cut off U.S. support for the Saudi war against the Houthi rebels in Yemen. The Senate may follow.

Yet Trump is prepared to use his first veto to kill that War Powers Resolution and retain the right to help the Saudi war effort.

What is our vital interest in Yemen’s civil war? Why would Trump not wish to extricate us from that moral and humanitarian disaster?

Answer: Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his regime would sustain a strategic defeat should the Houthis, supported by Iran, prevail.

Before the Warsaw conference called by the U.S. to discuss the Middle East, Bibi Netanyahu’s office tweeted: “This is an open meeting with representatives of leading Arab countries, that are sitting down together with Israel in order to advance the common interest of war with Iran.”

The “war-with-Iran” tweet was swiftly deleted, replaced with a new tweet that spoke of “the common interest of combating Iran.”

Like many Americans with whom he is close, Bibi has never hidden his belief as to what we Americans must do to Iran.

Early this week came leaks that Trump officials have discovered that Shiite Iran has been secretly collaborating with the Sunni terrorists of al-Qaida. This could, headlined The Washington Times, provide “the legal rationale for U.S. military strikes” on Iran.

At the Munich Security Conference, however, NATO allies Britain, France and Germany recommitted to the Iran nuclear treaty from which Trump withdrew, and to improved economic relations with Tehran.

Trump pledged months ago to bring home the 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria and half of the 14,000 in Afghanistan. But he is meeting resistance in his own party in Congress and even in his own administration.

Reasons: A U.S. pullout from Syria would abandon our Kurdish allies to the Turks, who see them as terrorists, and would force the Kurds to cut a deal with Syria’s Bashar Assad and Russia for their security and survival.

This week, Britain and France informed us that if we leave Syria, then they leave, too.

As for pulling out of Afghanistan, the probable result would be the fall of the Kabul government and return of the Taliban, who hold more territory now than they have since being overthrown 18 years ago. For Afghans who cast their lot with the Americans, it would not go well.

U.S. relations with Russia, which Trump promised to improve, have chilled to Cold War status. The U.S. is pulling out of Ronald Reagan’s INF treaty, which bans land-based nuclear missiles of 300 to 3,000 mile range.

Putin has said that any reintroduction of land-based U.S. missiles to Europe would mean a new class of Russian missiles targeted on Europe – and on the United States.

Today, the U.S. maintains a policy of containment of Russia and China, which are more united than they have been since the first days of the Cold War. We are responsible for defending 28 NATO nations in Europe, twice as many as during the Cold War, plus Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia and New Zealand.

We have troops in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, and appear on the cusp of collisions with Venezuela and Iran. Yet we field armed forces a fraction of the size they were in the 1950s and 1960s and the Reagan era.

And the U.S. national debt is now larger than the U.S. economy.

This is imperial overstretch. It is unsustainable.

Patrick J. Buchanan is the author of Churchill, Hitler, and “The Unnecessary War”: How Britain Lost Its Empire and the West Lost the World. To find out more about Patrick Buchanan and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.

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