Narges Mortazavi, Independent, May 08 2019:… Similarly, in 2017, at the gathering of Iranian opposition group Mujahedeen-e Khalq or MEK, Bolton said the policy of the United States should be “the overthrow of the mullahs’ regime in Tehran.” John Bolton was one of the main architects of the 2003 invasion of Iraq by George W Bush. And today he seems to be playing a similar tune about Iran. Trump doesn’t want a war with Iran but he might get one anyway
Trump doesn’t want a war with Iran — but he might get one anyway
Today’s political climate in the United States is different from the pre-Iraq war era — but the ambitions of some of the people in government are the same
Negar Mortazavi Washington DC
The chances of war between Iran and the United States have just increased again. A small mistake from either side could now lead to dangerous results — and easily escalate into a disaster for both sides, as well as the entire Middle East.
US National Security Advisor John Bolton announced that the US is deploying the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group and a bomber task force to the Middle East in response to “troubling and escalatory indications and warnings” from Iran yesterday.
It is no secret that Bolton wants a war with Iran aimed at changing the country’s government. In March 2015, at the height of nuclear negotiations between Iran and the Obama administration, Bolton wrote an op-ed titled “To stop Iran’s bomb, bomb Iran” in the New York Times, where he suggested the United States or Israel should attack Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. He also added that military attacks should be combined with “vigorous American support for Iran’s opposition, aimed at regime change in Tehran.”
Similarly, in 2017, at the gathering of Iranian opposition group Mujahedeen-e Khalq or MEK, Bolton said the policy of the United States should be “the overthrow of the mullahs’ regime in Tehran.”
John Bolton was one of the main architects of the 2003 invasion of Iraq by George W Bush. And today he seems to be playing a similar tune about Iran.
However, President Trump does not want another war in the Middle East. He constantly criticized his Republican and Democratic predecessors for waging costly conflicts in the region, and ran an election campaign on the promise of ending those wars and avoiding new ones.
Trump does not seem to have an obsession with regime change in Iran, either. What he really wanted was to tear up the Obama-era nuclear deal and negotiate a “better” deal (or perhaps just a new deal with his name on it, as some critics have suggested). But the current foreign policy team that surrounds the president may well push the president toward war anyway.
It is important to note that today’s political climate in the United States is different from the pre-Iraq war era. The Iraq war happened in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks, when the American public was outraged and ready to take out all enemies. It was not hard to sell a war, even one partially built on misinformation about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction.
That has all changed over the past decade. Today, Americans are tired of years of wars in the region, with thousands of casualties and billions of their tax dollars spent. Although hawks still hold some positions of power in the US administration and in Congress, their long-time war agendas do not hold much support. Media organizations and journalists have also learned a lesson from the Iraq war: that not all information and intelligence from the administration can be taken at face value, and should be treated with caution.
Another difference today is that Europe would be unlikely to follow the US Into a war. An important reason for that is the existence of the Iran nuclear deal. Although the United States has unilaterally exited the deal, Iran and America’s European allies have stuck to the deal until today and the agreement has survived. The deal provides a mechanism for systemic diplomacy and regular contacts between Iran and European powers, and makes it difficult for the United States to get Europe on board with a military attack on Iran. This is, of course, unless something extraordinary happens in the region or in Europe that changes attitudes. German MP Stefan Liebich told me today that he isn’t supportive of American “threats” towards Iran and that “we have asked our government to reject any possible requirement of the German Armed Forces as a part of this adventure.”
It is clear that even John Bolton knows that it is not easy to sell a full-on war with Iran to the American public today. But it’s also clear that he would be quick to strike in the case of any “accident” which occurs, thus plunging the US into conflict with its Middle Eastern counterpart — a conflict that would be much worse than the Iraq war and a disaster for both the Iranian and the American people.
The people of Iran are extremely dissatisfied with the leadership of their country. The economy is on a constant downfall, Iran’s regional adventures in the Middle East have isolated the country from the West, and now saber-rattling with Washington has increased the threat of war. But despite all their grievances with their government, the Iranian people are also afraid of conflict and don’t want their country to end up like their war-torn neighbors Iraq and Afghanistan, much less to see civil wars like the ones in Syria or Libya. American hawks should bear the interests of everyday Iranians in mind as they attempt to further their agendas.
Negar Mortazavi is a consultant editor at The Independent. She is an Iranian-American journalist and commentator based in Washington. She tweets at @NegarMortazavi
Trump’s Strange, Tense Campaign Against Iran (MEK, Rajavi cult)
Robin Wright, The New Yorker, April 25 2019:… Bolton was also a longtime supporter of the Mujahideen-e-Khalq (M.E.K.), or People’s Warriors, an exiled group that advocates overthrowing the Iranian government. The M.E.K. (aka MKO, NCRI, Rajavi cult) was on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations until 2012 and was long allied with Saddam Hussein. Bolton was a keynote speaker at its annual conference, in Paris, for eight years. At its 2017 annual conference, he vowed that their rally on the fortieth anniversary of the revolution, this past February, would be held in Tehran.
Trump’s Strange, Tense Campaign Against Iran
t the 2017 U.N. General Assembly, President Trump asked French President Emmanuel Macron to relay a private message to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Trump wanted to meet, in secret, with the Iranian leader, according to Western and Iranian officials. Macron called Rouhani and asked if he was interested. The Iranian leader and members of his delegation were astonished. Trump had just given a blistering speech in front of more than a hundred world leaders declaring that Iran was a corrupt dictatorship whose leaders had turned a wealthy country “into an economically depleted rogue state whose chief exports are violence, bloodshed, and chaos.” He had called on “the entire world to join us in demanding that Iran’s government end its pursuit of death and destruction.” From the U.N. pulpit, Trump warned Tehran’s revolutionary leaders, “Oppressive regimes cannot endure forever.” Rouhani rebuffed the overture. He told Macron that he had had enough problems at home after taking a telephone call from President Obama, in 2013—and Obama hadn’t publicly insulted him. “We said, ‘Are you joking?’” the foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, told me.
A year later, the three leaders were again at the United Nations. At the end of his meeting with Trump, Macron said that he was scheduled to see Rouhani later that day. Did Trump want him to relay another message? “No,” Trump reportedly replied. “They have to suffer more first.”
In the past month, the Trump Administration has been “dramatically accelerating”—in the words of the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo—its efforts to inflict more pain on Iran. On April 8th, in an unprecedented step, Trump designated Iran’s Revolutionary Guards a terrorist organization. No leader of any nation has ever designated another country’s standing Army as a terrorist organization—not even George W. Bush before the invasion of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, in 2003. The move was all the more striking because the United States and Iran are not at war—yet.
Iran’s parliament responded in kind, passing legislation that designated the U.S. Central Command—or centcom, the military branch that runs operations in the Middle East and South Asia—as a terrorist organization. In a show of support, Iranian legislators also wore uniforms of the Revolutionary Guard into parliament.
This week, the Administration extended its “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran. The White House announced that it would sanction any country or company—even longtime allies—that buys Iranian oil. The five largest importers of Iranian oil are China, India, Japan, South Korea, and Turkey. In the past, Washington has granted waivers as long as imports from Iran at least decreased. No longer. The U.S. goal is to eliminate all Iranian oil sales, a move designed to cripple the country economically. Since Trump announced that he would re-impose sanctions, last May, Iran has lost at least ten billion dollars—around thirty million dollars a day—in oil revenues, the State Department claimed this week. No past punitive U.S. or international sanctions—applied during the 1979-1982 hostage crisis, the eight-year Iran-Iraq War, or by the U.N. between 2006 and 2016—totally cut off Iran’s exports.
“We will continue to apply maximum pressure on the Iranian regime until its leaders change their destructive behavior, respect the rights of the Iranian people, and return to the negotiating table,” Pompeo said, on Monday. Trump, who last year abandoned the 2015 nuclear deal brokered by six major powers, has demanded that Tehran negotiate a new and bigger pact that also covers Iran’s missiles, support for extremist movements, intervention in the Middle East, and human-rights abuses.
On Wednesday, Iran dismissed the U.S. threat but expressed concern that escalating tensions could trigger a military confrontation. “President Trump believes that by pushing us, by imposing economic pressure on us, we will sell our dignity. Not gonna happen,” Zarif said, at the Asia Society, in New York, on Wednesday. “We don’t look at history in terms of two-, four-, and six-year terms as usually people do over there—the members of Congress or in the Administration or in the Senate. We look at history in millennia. And our dignity is not up for sale.”
The matching terrorist designations by both countries have fuelled speculation in Washington’s foreign-policy community, and among elected officials of both parties, about intentional or accidental military conflict. Last month, Senator Richard Durbin, of Illinois, and Senator Tom Udall, of New Mexico, warned in a Washington Post op-ed of the similarities between the U.S. language against Iran today and the rhetoric about Iraq under Saddam Hussein.
In New York, on Wednesday, Zarif said that he did not believe President Trump wants a war with Iran, but said that others in the Administration—as well as countries with influence at the White House—did. “It is not a crisis yet, but it is a dangerous situation. Accidents, plotted accidents, are possible,” Zarif said. “The plot is to push Iran into taking action. And then use that.” He charged that “the B-Team,” after their initials—the national-security adviser, John Bolton; the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu; the Saudi crownprince, Mohammed bin Salman; and the U.A.E. crown prince, Mohammed bin Zayed—wanted some kind of military showdown between the United States and Iran. “I wouldn’t discount the B-team plotting an accident anywhere in the region, particularly as we get closer to the [2020 U.S.] election,” Zarif said. “The B-Team wants regime change at the very least. They want the disintegration of Iran, as their objective.”
Zarif’s comments underscored a widely held view among diplomats and analysts in Washington that Trump, Bolton, and Pompeo ultimately differ in their goals on Iran—and on how far they are willing to go to achieve them. The President campaigned against another war in the region—citing the trillions of dollars spent in the lengthy wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Senior Western diplomats who are engaged with the White House believe that, despite his inflammatory language, the President still does not want to deploy troops to fight Iran. Shortly after Bolton was appointed last year, a Western envoy recalled hearing Trump say to him, with teasing seriousness, “You’re not going to bring me into a war, are you?“ The President also said publicly that he was willing to meet Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Bolton, however, has long advocated regime change—and the use of military force to achieve it. In 2015, he wrote an op-ed in the Times titled “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran.” “The inconvenient truth is that only military action like Israel’s 1981 attack on Saddam Hussein’s Osirak reactor in Iraq or its 2007 destruction of a Syrian reactor, designed and built by North Korea, can accomplish what is required,” he wrote. “Time is terribly short, but a strike can still succeed.” (Iran was actually then well into negotiations with the six major powers about the nuclear deal that was signed three months later.)
Before going to the White House, Bolton was also a longtime supporter of the Mujahideen-e-Khalq (M.E.K.), or People’s Warriors, an exiled group that advocates overthrowing the Iranian government. The M.E.K. was on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations until 2012 and was long allied with Saddam Hussein. Bolton was a keynote speaker at its annual conference, in Paris, for eight years. At its 2017 annual conference, he vowed that their rally on the fortieth anniversary of the revolution, this past February, would be held in Tehran.
Pompeo also called for regime change when he was in Congress, representing Kansas. Since becoming Secretary of State, he has claimed that the Administration is instead seeking to change the regime’s “behavior.” But, last May, he outlined a list of twelve demands for Iran so sweeping that they were widely perceived as a call for regime change. At a closed-door meeting with a group of Iranian-Americans in Dallas, last week, Pompeo reportedly said, “Our best interest is a non-revolutionary set of leaders leading Iran.” Yet he also said,this week, that the United States does not support the M.E.K.
Iran’s reciprocal threats have escalated the risks of confrontation. After the United States issued its global ban on importing Iranian oil, Tehran threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, through which up to thirty per centof seaborne global oil trade flows. Zarif vowed that Iran would flout the U.S. ban on oil sales. “We will continue to use the Strait of Hormuz as a safe transit passage for the sale of our oil,” Zarif said, on Wednesday. “But if the United States takes the crazy measure of trying to prevent us from doing that, then it should be prepared for the consequences.”
In his speech at the Asia Society, Zarif did hold out one possibility for talks with the United States. For the first time, he offered publicly to arrange a swap of American and Iranian prisoners held in each country’s jails. There are at least six Americans, dual-nationals or U.S. permanent residents, imprisoned in Iran, with another two out on bail. Iran has not said how many of its citizens are being held in U.S. prisons, but a review of publicized cases indicates that there may be more than a dozen Iranians or dual-nationals charged, indicted, or convicted. Iran made the offer privately last year. But the Trump Administration had not shown an interest in pursuing it until recently, and only after pressure from families of detainees, according to U.S. sources familiar with the overture.
“I put this offer on the table publicly now,” Zarif said. “Exchange them. All these people that are in prison inside the United States, on extradition requests from the United States, we believe their charges are phony. The United States believes the charges against these people in Iran are phony. Why? Let’s not discuss that. Let’s have an exchange. I’m ready to do it. And I have authority to do it. We informed the government of the United States six months ago that we are ready. Not a response yet.”
Under the Trump Administration, the prospects of dialogue with the Islamic Republic on detainees, diplomatic détente, or any other subject seems more remote than ever—and the risk of escalating tensions is ever higher.