Gurtov column: Iran — Who and where is the threat?
The official U.S. narrative on Iran is that it is an escalating threat to “peace and security” in the Middle East and must be stopped. Step by step, with Mike Pompeo and John Bolton — two war maniacs — taking the lead, the Trump administration has sought to destabilize Iran with sanctions, if possible bring about regime change, and if necessary provoke actions by Iran that will provide a pretext for war. If this sounds similar to the nonexistent Gulf of Tonkin “incident” in 1964 and the false pretenses behind the post-9/11 invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, it should. Only this time around is even more dangerous and more preposterous.
Journalists and Congress members have been pestering Trump and his aides with questions about their determination to go to war with Iran. Trump, typically, tells reporters to wait and see, stymieing them. They should be asking different questions, such as: What threat does Iran pose to U.S. interests? Why shouldn’t Iran’s actions be considered responses to the U.S. policy of “maximum pressure”? The answers to these two questions are clear: Iran is doing nothing that constitutes a new threat to U.S. or any other country’s interests, and Iran’s latest actions — even if Tehran is responsible for the attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf and the downing of a U.S. drone — are best understood as responses to U.S. provocations.
What I believe we are now witnessing is the result of the ascendance of the hardliners on both sides. U.S. policy since the appointments of Pompeo and Bolton and withdrawal from the nuclear deal has energized their counterparts in Iran — the Revolutionary Guards, certain military leaders, and others long opposed to the nuclear deal and now able to show that the Americans are completely untrustworthy.
The fact is that the Trump administration has been on a mission from Day One, with open support from Israel and Saudi Arabia, to eliminate — not merely deter or contain — the ayatollah’s government. That mission has engaged U.S. administrations since the early 1950s, but unlike those previous efforts, Trump seems prepared to commit U.S. forces to accomplish regime change. Yes, he has said he wants to avoid war, especially with a re-election campaign underway. That is why his preference is not to deploy yet another war-fighting force to the Middle East, which would undermine his longstanding criticism of “endless wars” there. But preference is not policy, and the policy, being relentlessly pushed by Bolton and Pompeo, is to push Iran’s regime to the brink and get rid of it.
If Trump takes the U.S. to war with Iran, which could happen without consultation or authorization from Congress (another impeachable offense), the responsibility will be squarely on his head.* Thanks to the Obama administration, Iran has been in compliance with the nuclear deal, an achievement that is very much in the security interests of the U.S. and its Middle East allies. Obama showed that moving from confrontation to engagement pays off, and that mutual respect can move mountains even when trust is absent. Now, however, the enemies of “peace and security” are in Washington, Tel Aviv and Riyadh. And among the most outrageous aspects of Trump’s Middle East policy is rewarding those enemies — Israel, with a full tilt to Benjamin Netanyahu’s assault on the Palestinians, complete with a dead-on-arrival “peace plan”; and Saudi Arabia, with billions of dollars in military aid so that the murderous crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman, can continue his aggression in Yemen.
I will say again: Donald Trump and his minions are the chief threats to America’s — and for that matter, the world’s — real security.
*The New York Times reports the evening of June 20 that Trump had decided to strike Iran over the drone incident but, for undisclosed reasons, withdrew the order. If the report is accurate, it means that once again he, like previous presidents, is prepared to use “retaliation” as an excuse for using force without proof of a threat or Congressional consent.
Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University.
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