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.

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

Trump Convinced by Dead Ducks (Fake Dead Ducks)

You may not be able to convince the President of the United States that you are right, but dead ducks can!

CIA Chief Used Duck Photos to Trick Trump Into Anti-Russia Move

Haspel tricked Trump into thinking Russia poisoned British ducks

Trump makes plenty of hostile moves toward Russia of his own accord. This is compounded, however, when members of his cabinet, like CIA Director Gina Haspel start conniving to mislead Trump into taking even more hostile moves.

When the alleged Novichok poisoning happened in Salisbury in March of 2018, President Trump was not inclined to go along with recommendations within his cabinet to take a “strong option” to move against Russia.

Haspel was somehow “tasked” with convincing Trump to accept this move, and in doing so she showed Trump fake photographs of dead ducks, claiming that the ducks were poisoned in the “sloppy” Russian action.

This narrative centered on the fact that the poisoned Sergei Skripal was feeding ducks ahead of showing symptoms. He also interacted with some children at the time, and Haspel even had photos of “sick children.” There is no record that any children were sickened in the Novichok incident, and likewise there was never a single report of even one duck dying.

But fake photos work better than facts, ultimately, and Trump was quickly sold on taking the “strong option,” expelling a large number of Russian diplomats and closing a Russian consulate. This made 2018 a continuation of worsening US-Russia ties, which apparently was the goal of Haspel and others, but which they were only able to sell Trump on by lying about what actually happened.

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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