Iran the Destabilizer
The real Donald Trump has been exposed. The man who promised a sensible and non-interventionist Middle Eastern policy and a reset with Moscow has now reneged on both pledges. His nitwit United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley has directly linked Russia and Syria for punishment by the omnipotent Leader of the Free World lest anyone be confused.
The unconscionable attack on Syria based on the usual unsubstantiated allegations has shifted the playing field dramatically, with the “new sheriff in town” apparently intent on proving he is a real man who can play hardball with the rest of them. Last week Syria was blamed by all and sundry in the Establishment for an alleged chemical weapons attack just two days after the White House backed away from the Obama Administration demand that President Bashar al-Assad be removed. Was Syria dumb enough to use chemical weapons in a war that it is winning at a point when the overt hostility from Washington had been ratcheted down? Or was it staged by the so-called rebels?
And who benefits from weakening al-Assad of Syria? ISIS and al-Qaeda. Now that Trump has the bit between his teeth on how abysmal approval ratings can skyrocket if one starts a war, look forward to more of the same with my sources telling me that establishment of a no-fly zone is currently being discussed in the Pentagon. A no-fly zone would be toe-to-toe with the Russkies to see who would blink first.
Meanwhile an aircraft carrier battle group is making its way to confront North Korea, which is being warned with the good old “all options are on the table” rhetoric which will almost certainly produce a schizophrenic result of some kind. If I were a resident of Seoul I would be moving out of the city tout suite as it is within range of Pyongyang’s massed heavy artillery batteries along the DMZ.
Trump, regarded by many including myself as the sensible “peace candidate,” appears to be preparing to engage militarily on multiple fronts worldwide. And things are particularly heating up in the Middle East and South Asia. More US troops are being deployed to Iraq and also to Syria, in that latter case without any invitation from Damascus or legal justification or even a phony United Nations mandate, and thousands more soldiers will be returning to Afghanistan to “stabilize” the situation. Meanwhile Yemen continues to suffer as the US supports Saudi aggression.
And it doesn’t help to look for enlightenment from the cheerleading Fourth Estate, which has been completely coopted by the Establishment point of view. In the eyes of the mainstream media the Syria narrative is all about the evils of its government which Washington is now pledging to remove. Russia meanwhile is indicted without evidence for trying to overthrow our democratic system and the recent terrorist attack in St. Petersburg would have been reported more extensively but for the fact that those Soviet holdovers probably deserved it. No one is asking why the United States should believe itself to be empowered to intervene anywhere unless it is actually being directly and seriously threatened by some other nation.
So it is all a mess, largely of our own creation due to our tendency to get involved in places regarding which we know nothing and could really care less about. And by supplementing all of that with our inclination to believe in the myth of our national Exceptionalism as a genuine force for good, you wind up with a witch’s brew that has fueled anti-Americanism worldwide, led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands and emptied our treasury. Ambassador Chas Freeman has aptly perceived the US government as the “foreign relations equivalent of a sociopath – a country indifferent to the rules, the consequences for others of its ignoring them, and the reliability of its word.”
As bad as that all seems, if I had to pick one place where our inability to discern right from wrong is likely to lead to the next major armed conflict, i.e. a real war, in fairly short order it would have to be Iran. The recent increase in tension between Washington and Tehran combined with the lack of any diplomatic dialogue mean that an actual shooting war might now be a “false flag,” fake intelligence report, or accidental naval encounter away. And once things start to sour, no one would stand up and say “Stop!” as the Trump Administration, Democrats, Republicans, and the media all hate Iran.
I have long viewed this visceral hatred of Iran on the part of many Americans as a byproduct of the Iranian revolution and the occupation of the US Embassy. Revolutionary Iran became overnight the dangerous “other,” a source of nightmares for the Washington Establishment. During my time in government, when the hostage taking at the embassy was still fresh, hating Iranians was almost a requirement in the national security community. More recently, Israel and its supporters have used Iran as a punching bag to maintain the myth that the Jewish State is existentially menaced by Tehran and its minions in the region. Being threatened in a serious way insures that the money tap from the US Treasury will continue to be open and it also justifies many of Israel’s other transgressions as it chooses to portray itself as a nation under siege, ever the victim. More recently Saudi Arabia has jumped onto pretty much the same Iran band wagon, blaming Iran for all regional problems and providing justification for the ongoing slaughter in Yemen.
All of that is understandable enough, so far as it goes, but the generation of government officials who were around during the Iran hostage crisis is now retired, while the pleas of Israel and Saudi Arabia are generally best received while holding one’s nose if one has even a basic understanding of what is going on in the Middle East. But that would require some ability to establish a reasonable perspective on what is taking place and what is particularly disturbing is that some people in the government hierarchy who should know better apparently are just as delusional as some junior straight-out-of-college scribbler for The Washington Post.
During his campaign Donald Trump repeatedly denounced the Iran Nuclear Agreement, to my mind one of only two foreign policy accomplishments of the outgoing Obama Administration. Trump said he would tear the agreement up and require Tehran to come up with something better “or else.” He has since backed off the tear-up theme, but has unfortunately appointed to high office a group of former military officers who appear to have swallowed the Iran-as-threat proposition hook-line-and-sinker.
There are some similarities between what is happening with Iran and what has been going on with Russia. Russia, it is being claimed, has been responsible for hundreds military intrusions that required a response from NATO in the Baltic. But Russia borders on the Baltic and it is part of its territorial waters, so what is really being said is that Moscow is operating in and around its own maritime coastal zone and it is NATO that is responded as if it were a threat. Similarly, Iran, which sits on top of the Straits of Hormuz is accused of being aggressive when its small boats patrol in and around its coastal waters. It is the American Sixth Fleet that is the out of region intruder. Both Iran and Russia are being subjected to Washington’s belief that its writ runs worldwide and that it has a right to be the hegemon wherever it seeks to plant the flag.
I first encountered the Iran-as-threat crowd back in December 2015 when I listened in disbelief to a rambling speech by retired General Michael Flynn in Moscow. Ignoring the fact that Iran cannot actually threaten the United States or any genuine vital national interests, Flynn explained his concept of 21st century geo-political-economic strategy. At the time, I knew little about Flynn and his views, but I was particularly taken aback by a random shot he took at the Iranians, stating very clearly that they were responsible for “fueling four proxy wars in the Middle East.” He was presumably referring to Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and Yemen. The audience, which included a number of international journalists and genuine foreign-policy experts, became somewhat restless and began to mutter. Two minutes later, Flynn returned to the theme, mentioning the “terrible nuclear deal with Iran.”
Later, in December, Donald Trump’s then national-security adviser Michael Flynn, “officially” put Iran “on notice” while declaring that “The Trump Administration will no longer tolerate Iran’s provocations that threaten our interests. The days of turning a blind eye to Iran’s hostile and belligerent actions toward the United States and the world community are over.” He did not elaborate on what those “actions” were.
Trumps’ Pentagon Chief General James Mattis and his new National Security Adviser Lt. General H.R. McMaster have also taken shots at Iran, making clear their own assessments that Tehran constitutes a major threat both regionally and against the United States. But the most recent diatribe by an American General against Iran is perhaps one of the oddest indictments of that country. It came in a briefing provided by Army General Joseph Votel, Commander of the US Central Command. Votel was testifying before the House Armed Services Committee regarding security issues relating to the greater Middle East. Votel told the congressmen, who were of course delighted to hear bad things about the Mullahs, that Iran is “one of the greatest threats to the US today” and that it has increased its “destabilizing role” in the entire region.
How Iran, with its miniscule defense budget and complete inability to project power greatly threatens the United States has to remain a mystery, though Votel provided some elaboration. He said that Iran operates in “a gray area…just short of open conflict.” Per the general, Iran engages in “lethal aid facilitation,” uses “surrogate forces” and carries out cyber attacks. He also cited Iranian small boats harassing incidents involving US warships, some of which “could be considered ‘unprofessional’ or ‘unsafe.’” Put it all together and Iran is “the greatest long-term threat to stability” for the entire Middle East. Votel then advocated disrupting Iran “through military means or other means.”
One has to ask if Votel or the congressmen cheering him on are mentally defective. I was a bit thrown by the Pentagonese expression “lethal aid facilitation,” but it must mean supplying weapons to Syria and other Iranian allies. Some congressman who had not had his brain phasered should have asked Votel if his indictment of Iran wasn’t for doing precisely what the United States has been doing only orders of magnitude greater. The United States arms the entire region and also provides lethal weapons to so-called rebels in Syria. And those rebels are US surrogates, are they not? And as for cyber attacks, no one is better at it than the United States and its good buddy Israel. Does Stuxnet ring a bell? And what is the Sixth Fleet doing in the Persian Gulf in any event? Send the ships home and there won’t be any “incidents” involving Iranian speedboats.
Iran’s government admittedly is not to everyone’s liking for good reasons, but the country itself is only the enemy because we have been making it happen after empowering it’s government in the first place by bringing down Saddam Hussein. Iran’s own perspective appears to have evaded American critics. It is a country surrounded by enemies, constantly threatened, which views its relations with its few friends in Syria and Lebanon as defensive measures. I am accustomed to seeing and hearing nasty things about the Mullahs, but they usually come from Israeli and Saudi partisans who persist in falsely describing the Iranians as a global threat. It is in their interest to do so, and many pliable American politicians and media talking heads have picked up the refrain, so much so that a US attack on Iran would likely be endorsed overwhelmingly by Congress and applauded in the media. The danger here is that there is a groupthink about Iran and war could happen in a heartbeat if someone does or says something really dumb to trigger it. Votel sounds stupid enough to do just that.
Reprinted with permission from the Unz Review.