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Gareth Porter

Biden admin’s coercive Iran policy threatens serious new regional crisis

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A close analysis of recent statements by members of President Joseph Biden’s foreign policy team indicates his administration has already signaled its intention to treat negotiations with Iran as an exercise in diplomatic coercion aimed at forcing major new concessions extending well beyond the 2015 nuclear agreement. The policy could trigger a renewed US-Iran crisis as serious as any provocation engineered by the Trump administration.

Although the Biden team is claiming that it is ready to bring the United States back into the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) if Iran comes into full compliance first, it is actually planning to demand that Iran give up its main source of political leverage. Thus, it will require Iran to cease its uranium enrichment to 20 percent and give up its accumulated stockpile of uranium already enriched to that level before the United States has withdrawn the economic sanctions that are now illegal under the JCPOA deal.

Meanwhile, the Biden team is planning to hold on to what it apparently sees as its “Trump card”— the Trump administration’s sanctions against Iran oil exports that have gutted the Iranian economy.
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How CENTCOM Chief McKenzie manufactured an Iran crisis to increase his power

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During the final two months of the Trump administration, a series of provocative US military moves in the Middle East stirred fears that a war against Iran was being hatched. The atmosphere of crisis was not the result of any threat posed by Tehran, but rather the product of a campaign manufactured by the head of US Central Command (CENTCOM), Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., to advance his interests.

In a bid for prestige and power within the military, and the influence over policymaking that it guarantees, McKenzie has worked to accumulate military assets. The general’s thirst for influence has been a driving factor in the latest episode of US-Iran tensions. To advance his self-serving agenda, McKenzie has deployed a calculated series of political-bureaucratic moves, combined with a PR push in the media.

A four-star general who previously served as director of the Joint Staff at the Pentagon, McKenzie is regarded as the most politically astute commander ever to lead Middle East Command, according to journalist Mark Perry. He has also shown himself to be exceptionally brazen in scheming to defend his interests.
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FBI and DOJ prepared takedown of “Iranian” American Herald Tribune website with years of legal chicanery

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The US Department of Justice announced on November 4 that it had seized the web domain of the American Herald Tribune (AHT), an alternative media outlet that published editorials criticizing US foreign policy. As The Grayzone previously reported, AHT printed articles primarily written by Americans under their own names, often as original content. 128 other internet publications based in Iran were also taken down by US law enforcement.

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) and the FBI engaged in more than two years of legal chicanery to justify its unprecedented seizure of AHT and the other Iran-based websites. Among many intricate maneuvers, they sought to link AHT and the other websites to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), thus portraying them as accessories to terrorism and in violation of US laws regulating foreign influence operations. The FBI also relied on a public relations campaign to frame the Iranian websites it targeted as agents of a foreign power.

These actions and justifications enabled the FBI to obtain far-reaching new powers that could have serious implications for the basic American freedom to write, publish and access news and opinion.
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FBI launches open attack on ‘foreign’ alternative media outlets challenging US foreign policy

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The FBI has publicly justified its suppression of dissenting online views about US foreign policy if a media outlet can be somehow linked to one of its adversaries. The Bureau’s justification followed a series of instances in which Google and other social media platforms banned accounts following consultations with the FBI.

In a particularly notable case in 2018, the FBI encouraged Facebook, Instagram and Google to ban the American Herald Tribune (AHT), an online journal that published critical opinion articles on US policy toward Iran and the Middle East. The bureau has never offered a clear rationale, however, despite its private discussions with Facebook on the ban.

The FBI’s first step toward intervening against dissenting views on social media took place in October 2017 with the creation of a Foreign Influence Task Force (FTIF) in the bureau’s Counterintelligence Division. Next, the FBI defined any effort by states designated by the Department of Defense as major adversaries (Russia, China, Iran and North Korea) to influence American public opinion as a threat to US national security.
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Washington’s tall tale of Iranian-Al Qaeda alliance based on questionably sourced book ‘The Exile’

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The US assassination of Qassem Soleimani in January touched off a new wave of disinformation about the top Iranian major general, with Trump administration allies branding him a global terrorist while painting Iran as the world’s worst state sponsor of terrorism. Much of the propaganda about Soleimani related to his alleged responsibility for the killing of American troops in Iraq, along with Iran’s role in Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen.

But a second theme in the disinformation campaign, which has been picked up by mainstream outlets like the Wall Street Journal and National Public Radio, was the claim that Soleimani deliberately unleashed al-Qaeda terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s campaign to kill Shiites in Iraq. That element of the propaganda offensive was the result of the 2017 publication of “The Exile,” a book by British journalists Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark, which spun a new version of the familiar US propaganda line of a supposed Iranian terror alliance with al-Qaeda.

Levy and Scott-Clark introduced the theme of secret collusion between the two open adversaries with an article in the The Sunday Times in early 2018, dramatically entitled “Tehran in devil’s pact to rebuild al‑Qaeda.” Soleimani, they claimed, “first offered sanctuary to bin Laden’s family and al-Qaeda military leaders,” then proceeded to “build them a residential compound at the heart of a military training center in Tehran.”
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Pompeo and Netanyahu paved a path to war with Iran, and they’re pushing Trump again

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The administration of President Donald Trump may escape the most recent conflict with Iran without war, however, a dangerous escalation is just over the horizon. And as before, the key factors driving the belligerence are not outraged Iraqi militia leaders or their allies in Iran, but Trump’s secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has long sought to draw the US into a military confrontation with Iran. 

Throughout the fall of 2019, Netanyahu ordered a series of Israeli strikes against Iranian allies in Iraq and against Lebanese Hezbollah units. He and Pompeo hoped the attacks would provoke a reaction from their targets that could provide a tripwire outright war with Iran. As could have been expected, corporate US media missed the story, perhaps because it failed to reinforce the universally accepted narrative of a hyper-aggressive Iran emboldened by Trump’s failure to “deter” it following Iran’s shoot-down of a US drone in June, and an alleged Iranian attack on Saudi oil facility in September.

Pompeo and John Bolton set the stage for the tripwire strategy in May 2019 with a statement by national security adviser John Bolton citing “troubling and escalatory indications and warnings,” implying an Iranian threat without providing concrete details. That vague language echoed a previous vow by Bolton that “any attack” by Iran or “proxy” forces “on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force.”
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Did John Bolton Light the Fuse of the UK-Iranian Tanker Crisis?

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While Iran’s seizure of a British tanker near the Strait of Hormuz on Friday was a clear response to the British capture of an Iranian tanker in the Strait of Gibraltar on July 4, both the UK and U.S. governments are insisting that Iran’s operation was illegal while the British acted legally.

The facts surrounding the British detention of the Iranian ship, however, suggest that, like the Iranian detention of the British ship, it was an illegal interference with freedom of navigation through an international strait. And even more importantly, evidence indicates that the British move was part of a bigger scheme coordinated by National Security Advisor John Bolton.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt called the Iran seizure of the British-flagged tanker Stena Impero “unacceptable” and insisted that it is “essential that freedom of navigation is maintained and that all ships can move safely and freely in the region.”

But the British denied Iran that same freedom of navigation through the Strait of Gibraltar on July 4.
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Pentagon's Phony Iran 'Evidence': New Rationale for US Intervention?

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Last week a senior Pentagon official accused Iran of having sabotaged four oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman on May 12 and of firing a rocket into Baghdad’s Green Zone on May 19. Iran executed these events, he said, either directly or through regional “proxies.” 

But instead of creating sensational headlines, the briefing by Vice Adm. Michael Gilday, the director of the Joint Staff, was a flop, because it was clear to reporters covering it that he could not cite a single fact to back it up. 

The story got only the most cursory coverage in major news outlets, all of which buried Gilday’s accusation deep in stories about the announced deployment of 1,500 more US troops to the Middle East. Relatively few readers would even have noticed Gilday's inflammatory claims.

Nevertheless, the briefing raises a serious question whether National Security Adviser John Bolton intended to use the new accusation against Iran stoke a war crisis — much as Vice President Dick Cheney, in another era, used the argument that Iraq had purchased aluminum tubes for a covert nuclear weapons program to justify the invasion of Iraq. A careful examination of Gilday's accusations make clear that they do not even claim to be based on any intelligence assessment.
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Do Iranian ‘Threats’ Signal Organized US-Israel Subterfuge?

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President Donald Trump’s national security team has been leaking “intelligence” about Iranian threats for a week now in an attempt to justify escalating tensions, including moving American air attack assets to the Persian Gulf. But a closer look suggests that National Security Advisor John Bolton and other senior officials are trying to pull off an intelligence deception comparable to the fraudulent pretense for war in Iraq.

There’s also credible evidence that Israel could be playing a key role in this subterfuge.

This deception has served to defend not only a US military buildup in the region, but an expansion of the possible contingencies that could be used to justify military confrontation. In Bolton’s White House statement on May 5, he said the deployment of assets to the Gulf would “send a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force.”
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