Trump risks war by ordering assassination to maintain US hegemony in the Middle East
Bob Sheak, January 13, 2020
Overview: This post analyzes the long-standing US militaristic policy in the Middle East, Trump’s reckless and unlawful order to assassinate Qassim Soleimani and others, how the administration has attempted to justify the action, what the justification leaves out, and the negative consequences for the US in Iran and other parts of the Middle East.
The US assassination of top Iranian military leaders is rooted in the imperialistic view that the US is right to have troops and to intervene as it wants in the Middle East and elsewhere unless confronted with a militarily strong nation and/or one that has nuclear weapons. Ali Abunimah captures the gist of this view as follows, namely, US leaders “never question the premise that the United States has the right to send troops, aircraft carriers and drones to impose its will on every corner of the world, to bomb and kill and install handpicked puppet leaders in any country that fails to toe Washington’s line” (https://electronicintifada.net/content/why-trump-escalating-us-israeli-war-iraq/29231).
Indeed, the US military as ubiquitous in the Middle East and around Iran. Along with battle ships, submarines, aircraft, all equipped with missile-launching capabilities, with 50-90 nuclear weapons housed at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, and, as reported by O’Connor, with 53,906 American soldiers stationed in the region as of January 4, 2020, including 800 in Syria, 3000 in Jordan, 3000 in Saudi Arabia, 6000 in Iraq, 13000 in Kuwait, 7000 in Bahrain, 13000 in Qatar, 5000 in UAE, 606 in Oman, and 2500 in Turkey, you can’t turn a corner without being in bomb or drone sight of the US military (https://newsweek.com/where-us-troops-near-iran-1480617). Why?
Historian Andrew Bacevich reminds us that President Jimmy Carter announced what became the “Carter Doctrine” in the 1980 State of the Union address in which he said: “An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.” There is another point. Trump and previous US Presidents want to protect the governments and oil facilities of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Emirates, along with friendly governments in Kuwait, Bahrain, etc., to ensure some degree of stability in the global oil markets, maintain markets for US military weapon producers, and ensure the bases for US military forces are allowed to continue in operation.
Middle East Oil and other US interests in the region
Trump now says that the US no longer needs Middle East oil, though US European and Japanese allies do. All the while, the US domestic appetite for oil has been ramping up under Trump, with the opening of more and more public spaces, onshore and offshore, for oil extraction and now in the competition with Russia and other countries for oil and other minerals in the Arctic region. The US appetite for maximizing the production and use of fossil fuels is also reflected in the unhinged fracking boom, the termination of Obama’s fuel efficiency standards, Trump’s enthusiastic efforts to salvage coal, the gutting of EPA regulations, the growing export of liquified natural gas, and the unwillingness to support renewable alternatives. By the way, the US still imports 25% of the oil it uses. If oil sources in the Middle East were disrupted, the effects on the US and world economies would, in time, be catastrophic.
In an in-depth, historically-nuanced article, historical economist Michael Hudson argues that oil continues to be a basic reason for US involvement in the Middle East, requiring the willingness of Saudi Arabia and oil exporters in the region to trade in dollars, use the dollars to buy US weapons, and help to ensure that countries continue use the US currency (https://www.counterpunch.org/2020/01/06/america-escalates-its-democratic-oil-war-in-the-near-east).
Since 9/11, the militaristic aspect of the US Middle East policy it vital to US interests, as it provided the rationale for the launching of the “war against terrorism,” an ill-defined, unbounded, and virtually endless war. So, it can be surmised that US Middle East policy rests on geopolitical interests (it’s US turf!), oil (“who put our oil under their sand”), and this war on terrorism. Insofar as Trump (and past presidents) is concerned, there are good players (e.g., Israel, Saudi Arabia), who are aligned with US interests, and bad players (e.g., Iran, Syria) who are not. In this context, the bad players must be penalized (e.g., sanctions) and attacked by US-supporter terrorist groups until they are either driven into oblivion, destabilized and made dysfunctional, or come to comply with what the US demands of them. Bush reinforced US antagonism toward Iran in the 2002 State of the Union Address (January 29, 2002), when he included Iran in the “axis of evil,” as one example among many. Obama took an extraordinary – though very focused and limited – step in the opposite direction when he supported the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. Though, as we know, Trump cancelled that modestly positive agreement.
Trump ups the ante and orders the assassination of Soleimani, with support by the usual right-wing forces in the US
The assassinations were carried out at the direction of Trump. In an unprecedented action, the US military launched a drone attack near Baghdad International Airport on Friday, January 3, 2020, that killed senior Iranian general Qassim Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds forces, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, Iraqi deputy commander of Iran-back militias known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), and five others. The action has been lauded by Republicans in the US Congress, by some Democrats, the right-wing media echo chamber. Trump’s base, of course, goes along with anything he decides. Ali Abunimah reports (cited above) that the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the US attack and was happy that Trump had acted “with determination, strongly and swiftly. He also gives examples of other senior Israeli politicians, including opposition leaders to Netanyahu, who lauded the American attack.
Abunimah quotes scholar Greg Shupak who observes, “US and Israeli planners despise Iran principally because it is an independent regional power.” And because “[i]t has a strong military and a foreign policy that includes providing material support for armed Palestinian resistance to Israel and for Hizballah’s defense of Lebanon from US-Israeli aggressions, including the joint invasion in 1982 and the US-backed Israeli assault in 2006.”
At the same time, according to an Aljazeera report and others, there is considerable worldwide opposition to the attack. Leaders in the Middle East condemned the US attack. The Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei “warned that US of ‘harsh revenge for the assassination” (https://aljazeera.com/news/2020/01/qassem/soleimani-assassination-trump-pompeo-defendl-decision-200103141834352.html).
“Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif condemned the killing as an ‘act of state terrorism. ”The Iraqi caretaker Prime Minister called it an “aggression on Iraq that would spark a devastating war,” that “flagrant violation of Iraq’s sovereignty,” and it could lead to “dangerous escalation that triggers a destructive war in Iraq, the region, the world.” Upon the request of the Iraqi Prime Minister, the Iraqi Parliament passed a resolution to ask the US military to leave the country. “Many analysts called the strike an ‘act of war.’” European leaders were taken aback and advised diplomacy as the best way to deescalate the conflict.
Back in the US, “House speaker Nancy Pelosi said the strike ‘risks provoking further dangerous escalation of violence.’” “Eliot Engel, Chairman of the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs point out annoyingly: “This strike went forward with no notification or consultation with Congress” in violation of the War Powers Act. Senator Bernie Sanders warned that Trump’s “dangerous escalation brings us closer to another disastrous war in the Middle East that could cost countless lives and trillions more dollars.” But he stopped short of condemning the killing of Soleimani itself. Historian and Middle East expert Juan Cole emphasizes that the assassinations were unprecedented. In an interview on Democracy Now, he said:
“Well, both the assassination of General Soleimani and the Iranian response are unprecedented in the past 40 years of tension between the United States and Iran. In fact, the assassination of General Soleimani is unprecedented in general. I lived through the Cold War, and never do I remember the United States assassinating a Soviet general. The two countries were involved in very serious proxy wars and great tensions, but it never went to the point where they would just murder each other’s high officials. So, this is, I think, something that would only be done by an extremely erratic person such as Donald Trump. This is not a normal piece of statecraft” (https://www.democracynow.org/2020/1/8/cole_us_iran_escalation).
One poll done after the assassination indicates that a majority of Americans think Trump action was “reckless”
ParsToday reports on a “USA Today/Ipsos poll found that Americans, by 55%-24%, said they believe the assassination has made the United States less safe, rejecting a fundamental argument the Trump administration has made.” Additionally, the poll found “that a majority of those surveyed, by 52%-34%, called Trump’s behavior with Iran ‘reckless.’” Sixty-nine percent agreed that “Soleimani’s assassination made it more likely Iran would attack American interests” in the region, 63% that there would be attacks on US soil, and 62% that the United States and Iran would go to war. Also, by 47%-39%, “those surveyed said Trump ordered the assassination of Soleimani in an attempt to divert the focus from his impeachment (https://parstoday.com/en/news/world-i115292-americans_say_soleimani%27s_assassination_made_us_less_safe_trump_%27reckless%27_on_iran_poll).
Even before the impact of the assassination, Trump received negative ratings from most countries around the globe
Trump is overall not trusted around the world. A Pew survey of 32 nations reported on January 8 found that “Trump ratings remain low around the globe” (https://pewresearch.org/globe/2020/01/08/trump-ratings-remain-low-around-the-globe….) Pew researchers report that, “[a]s has been the case throughout his presidency, U.S. President Donald Trump receives largely negative reviews from publics around the world. Across 32 countries surveyed by Pew Research Center, a median of 64% say they do not have confidence in Trump to do the right thing in world affairs, while just 29% express confidence in the American leader. Anti-Trump sentiments are especially common in Western Europe: Roughly three-in-four or more lack confidence in Trump in Germany, Sweden, France, Spain and the Netherlands. He also gets especially poor reviews in Mexico, where 89% do not have confidence in him.” Iraq, Iraq, Syria, Turkey and other Middle East countries were not included in the survey; however, Lebanon gave Trump a low score of 23%, while Israel gave him a score of 71% (the second highest, behind the Philippines, with 77%). The Pew survey did include one question pertinent to Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran Nuclear agreement. On this issue, 52% disapproved, while 29% approved.
The assassinations were unlawful.
Marjorie Cohn, professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, author, and public intellectual, identifies the domestic and international laws violated by the assassinations (https://truthout.org/articles/trump-threatens-war-crimes-against-iran-congress-must-stop-him). According to Cohn’s analysis, the assassinations constitute “the crime of aggression and violated both the United Nations Charter and the US War Powers Resolution.” Cohn points out that there was “no evidence to support Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s claim that Iranian-sponsored attacks on US military bases were ‘imminent’” The UN Charter, Article 2.3, “requires that all member states ‘settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered.” And: “Article 2.4 requires all member states to refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.” There are two exceptions to the UN Charter, namely, “when a country acts in self-defense or with permission of the Security Council.” She continues: “The drone assassinations were not carried out in self-defense and the Security Council did not sanction them.”
Cohn also contends that the “drone killings violated the US War Powers Resolution.” This resolution “permits the president to introduce US armed forces into hostilities or imminent hostilities only after Congress has declared war, or in ‘a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces,” or when there is “specific statutory authorization.” The assassinations violate these conditions. “Iran has not attacked the US or its armed forces and Congress had not declared war on Iran or authorized the use of force against Iranian targets.” However, there are defects in this resolution that allow a president to commence military actions against another country for a short period of time without consulting with Congress.
Harry Blain underline the deficiency of the War Powers Resolution, writing “the War Powers Resolution…contains some clearly defective features. Once we read beyond the high-minded preamble, we find less potent words like ‘consultation’ and ‘reporting.’ Here, we can also see the resolution’s fundamental flaw: It lets the president move first” (https://fpfi.org/the-useless-war-powers-act). Blain continues as follows.
“Yes, he must explain his actions to congressional leaders within 48 hours (a requirement that even Trump could meet), and he is supposed to withdraw any commitments of American troops after 60 days without affirmative congressional approval. (Although, in an Orwellian caveat, the president is allowed 30 more days if he or she ‘determines and certifies to the Congress in writing that unavoidable military necessity respecting the safety of United States Armed Forces requires the continued use of such armed forces in the course of bringing about a prompt removal of such forces.’)
“But, by then, we’re already at war. And war usually means an emboldened president, supine media, and hesitant judiciary. Once it starts, it’s hard to stop — even if popular support is lukewarm. Witness Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq, among other protracted catastrophes.”
The Trump administration’s “double speak” justifications for the assassinations
Aljazeera reports (cited above) that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended Trump’s decision on Friday, January 3 without evidence, “saying…the administration had intelligence-based evidence that ‘Iran was planning imminent action that threatened American citizens’ and that it was going to be a big action that would have put dozens if not hundreds of American lives at risk.’” Pompeo said on Fox News that the actions (assassinations) will “see American resolve and that their decision will be to de-escalate, to take actions consistent with what normal nations do” (i.e., conform to the dictates of the US). He continued: “And in the event they do not, in the event they go the other direction, I know that President Trump and the entire United States is prepared to respond appropriately.”
As it turns out over the next days, the administration did not come forth with persuasive evidence and, furthermore, had misled the American public about why Qassim Soleimani was visiting Iraq. Here’s Juan Coles take on the latter point.
“Abdul-Mahdi [Iraq’s prime minister] made it very clear that he had invited General Soleimani to Iraq to be involved in negotiations between Iran and Saudi Arabia to reduce tensions. Soleimani came on a commercial flight, where the manifest is clear. He checked through Baghdad airport with a diplomatic passport. And then Trump just blew him away, along with several other people, including a high-ranking Iraqi military official” (https://www.democracynow.org/2020/1/8/juan_cole_us_iran_escalation).
Max Blumenthal also confirms what Abdul-Mahdi said, namely, that “he had planned to meet Soleimani on the morning the general was killed to discuss diplomatic rapprochement that Iraq was brokering between Iran and Saudi Arabia, adding that “Trump had personally thanked him for the efforts, even as he was planning the hit on Soleimani – thus creating the impression that the Iranian general was safe to travel to Baghdad” (https://thegrayzone.com/2020/01/06/soleimani-peace-mission-assassinated-trump-lie-imminent-attack).
A vacuous classified briefing for Congress to justify the assassinations
On January 8, representatives of the administration briefed members of relevant House and Senate committees supposedly to provide evidence that would establish that the assassinations were provoked by evidence of an imminent attack by Soleimani on US forces. It did not turn out well for the administration. The reactions of the elected officials, some Republicans as well as Democrats, were that the briefers were confused at times and provided no meaningful evidence to support the administration’s claim that Soleimani was planning an “imminent” attack.
Reporting for Common Dreams, Jon Queally writes, “Congressional Democrats emerged from a classified briefing presented by Trump administration officials on Wednesday afternoon and decried the ‘sophomoric and utterly unconvincing’ body of evidence that was put forth to justify last week’s assassination of Iranian military commander Qassim Soleimani” (https://www.commondreams.org/news/2020/01/08/strike-choice-us-lawmakers-decry-utterly-unconvincing-trump-briefing-soleimani). Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn) “reacted to the briefing by saying that rather than showing Soleimani posed an ‘imminent’ threat as President Donald Trump and his top officials have repeatedly claimed, the military operation—based on the evidence presented—appears to be nothing more than a ‘strike of choice’ by the administration.” Republicans who attended the briefing expressed similar views. Queally writes: “Disgust with the presented case did not only come from Democrats. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), standing beside an equally unconvinced Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), told reporters after the closed-door session that it was ‘the worst briefing I’ve had on a military issue in my nine years’ serving in the Senate.” Lee added: “I find this insulting and demeaning”… telling reporters that he now plans to vote in favor of a War Powers Resolution put forth by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.).”
But the administration says that Soleimani is a “bad” person and deserved to be assassinated
To buttress the legitimacy of illegal action, Trump and other officials identified Soleimani as a “bad” or “horrific” person who is said, for example, to be responsible for supporting Sunni rebels in Iraq that killed over 600 US soldiers and maimed many more during the years between 2003 and 2011. Trump emphasized this point, according to the Aljazeera report (cited earlier), that “Soleimani has killed or badly wounded thousands of Americans over an extended period of time and was plotting to kill more… but got caught!” The evidence is flimsy for Trump’s claim, but there is no doubt that the Sunnis, including many former officers and soldiers of Saddam Hussain’s army, who were pushed out of the government and out of employment in the early days of the US occupation, were responsible for these lethal attacks. But Trump is wrong about Soleimani’s involvement. The Iraqi opposition had the expertise to construct such weapons on their own and had access in Iraq to the materials to build such weapons. The following section recaps a few relevant historical details.
The US occupation authority in the aftermath of the US unlawful invasion of Iraq created the conditions for the insurgency, not Soleimani or Iranian interference
The rise of the opposition to the US-led occupation grew out of foolish decisions made by US occupation authorities in the early stages of that occupation. From 2002 to June 2004, L. Paul Bremer, headed the Coalition Provisional Authority which had he responsibility for managing non-military aspects of the occupation. Bremer issued two directives which went a long way toward creating the conditions for the subsequent civil war and violent opposition to the US-led and -dominated occupation. Historian Andrew Bacevich writes in his book, America’s War for the Greater Middle East: “The first disbanded Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party and prohibited members from laying any further role in Iraqi public life. The second dissolved the entire Iraqi national security apparatus, which included the army” p. 257). The directive affected Sunnis alone. By the end of 2004, a broad Sunni insurgency fighting against the US occupation had “kicked into high gear” (p. 266). Among other weapons, the insurgency used improvised explosive devices. Wikipedia provides a useful account of the effects of these devices and other “insurgency tactics” in the fight against the occupiers. The account suggests that these and other weapons were devised with materials available in Iraq and constructed by the Iraqi insurgents themselves. The information suggests that the Iraqi insurgents did not need Iranian support in this instance. Here’s what Wikipedia says.
“Many Iraqi insurgent attacks have made use of improvised explosive devices, or IEDs.
“In the chaos  after the war, mass looting of infrastructure, including munitions, occurred. According to the Pentagon, 250,000 tons (of 650,000 tons total) of ordnance were looted, providing an almost endless source of ammunition for the insurgents.
“Methods of detonation include simple pull-wires and mechanical detonators, cell-phones, garage-door openers, cable, radio control (RC), and infrared lasers among others.
“55-millimetre artillery shells rigged with blasting caps and improvised shrapnel material (concrete, ball bearings, etc.) have been the most commonly used, but the makeshift devices have also gradually become larger as coalition forces added more armor to their vehicles, with evidence from insurgent propaganda videos of aviation bombs of 500 lb being used as IEDs, as well as the introduction of explosively formed penetrator (EFP) warheads.
“These explosive devices are often concealed or camouflaged hidden behind roadside rails, on telephone poles, buried underground or in piles of garbage, disguised as rocks or bricks, and even placed inside dead animals. The number of these attacks have steadily increased, emerging as the insurgents’ most lethal and favored method to attack coalition forces, with continually improving tactics.”
What is left out in the Trumpian narrative about Iran
Iran’s contribution in the subduing of ISIS in Iraq and Syria
ISIS grew out of the Sunni opposition to the US-led occupation. Iraqi militias trained by Iranians and Iranian militias played major roles in the fight against ISIS.
The official narrative dismisses or ignores the fact that Iranian militias provided a major part of the ground forces in Iran and Syria in driving ISIS out of many of the cities and areas they controlled and in the destruction of the Caliphate. The US contribution came through the aerial bombing, training by special forces, and technical and logistical support. Note the US troops were not a significant factor in the ground war against ISIS. There is an in-depth analysis of the various militias that kept ISIS from controlling major Iraqi cities and other areas and the important role played by Iranian supported militias in this process. Garrett Nada and Matthew Rowan provide the following background (https://wilsoncenter.org/article/part-2-pro-iran-militias-iraq).
“In 2014, Iraq’s army crumbled as ISIS captured wide swaths of territory in the north, including Mosul, the country’s second largest city. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, issued a call to arms in a fatwa, a religious decree. Tens of thousands of men responded by joining new and old militias. More than 60 armed groups eventually merged under the umbrella of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF).
“By spring 2015, the PMF had some 60,000 fighters. In November 2016, Iraq’s parliament legalized the PMF, a move supported by Shiites but opposed by Sunnis, many of whom boycotted the vote. The law passed with 170 out of 328 possible votes. The PMF “would constitute something that looks like Iran’s Revolutionary Guard,” Raad al Dahlaki, a Sunni lawmaker, warned. By early 2018, estimates of its strength ranged from under 100,000 to up to 150,000. Not all fighters were registered with the PMF.
“Shiite militias have formed the majority of the PMF brigades, which also include Sunnis, Christians, and Turkmen. The Shiite groups fell into roughly three categories. The first includes militias that have received arms, training and financing from Tehran. Some have pledged allegiance to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The second category includes militias loyal to Grand Ayatollah Sistani. A third category is represented by Saraya al Salam, or the Peace Brigades. It is loyal to Muqatada al Sadr, another Iraqi cleric who has connections to Tehran. The Peace Brigades are the latest incarnation of the Mahdi Army, a militia that received weapons from the IRGC and training from Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah agents in the mid-2000s. Many militias are offshoots of the Mahdi Army.”
The US role in destabilizing the Middle East
The US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and involvement in Syria have done more far more to destabilize the Middle East than anything Iran has ever done. The US wars were unnecessary and based on lies. Remember the “weapons of mass destruction,” the chief justification of the invasion of Iraq, that were never found. Remember that the Taliban in Afghanistan agreed to send Osama bin Laden to a “neutral” country for a trial.
The Iraq war of choice and based n lies generated massive destruction and upheaval in Iraq, destroying vital infrastructure, killing up to a million Iraqis and maiming many thousands of others. Millions of Iraqis were forced to flee the violence by migrating out of the country or became internally displaced. The US war intensified religious and social divisions in the country. Indeed, the US created the conditions out of which ISIS emerged and expanded. And don’t forget the US war and occupation cost American taxpayers trillions of dollars, thousands of US soldiers were killed while hundreds of thousands suffered severe physical and/or psychological wounds requiring ongoing government support. Along with a slew of books and articles documenting these facts, the “cost of war” project at Brown University provides ample documentation (https://watson.brown.edu/costs-of-war).
Trump, his family, and the well-off don’t do most of the fighting
There is another point on the US costs of the wars in the Middle East that Trump and politicians generally ignore. That is, the US instigated wars are fought by “the poorer parts of America ‘bearing a greater share of the human costs of war.” This quote if from historian Andrew Bacevich’s just published book, The Age of Illusions: How America Squandered Its Cold War Victory.” The quote is from an article by scholars Douglas Kriner and Fancies Shen that appeared in the University of Memhis Law Review, 46 (2016: 545-635). Given the relative lack of opportunities to obtain jobs with a living wage and benefits, more and more high school graduates are enlisting, because “the Pentagon is one of the dwindling number of employers offering youngsters fresh out of high school jobs that come with decent pay, comprehensive medical benefits, and the prospect of a guaranteed pension, if they live long enough to claim it” (p. 142). Bacevich points out the all-volunteer arms services don’t attract for the most part the upper class or those with the prospect of good opportunities. He gives this example.
“…Donald Trump and his offspring qualify as exemplary of upper-class Americans. During the Vietnam War, Trump avoided military service, this at a time when dodging the draft qualified as somewhere between righteous and commonsensical. His children and their spouses have followed in the family tradition. With military service officially optional, they have seen fit to opt out, as have most other well-to-do Americans” (p. 140).
Iran’s right to be an independent nation is ignored
Far from perfect, as attested by the many thousands of Iranians who have protested against their government in recent weeks over their lack of political democracy and government corruption. (See the interview with Ali Kadiva, assistant professor of sociology and international studies at Boston College, at https://www.democracynow.org/2020/1/13/iran_protests_airlines_flights_752).
Nonetheless, Iran has resisted US domination and managed to maintain its independence, while suffering an 8-year war with Iraq from 1980 to 1988 (encouraged by the US), being internally attacked by US supported terrorist groups like the Mujahedine-e Khaig (MEK) inside of Iran, having nuclear facilities bombed by Israel, while being subjected to brutal and escalating US sanctions (a financial blockade), while confronted by a US hegemon that seems to be unwilling to accept anything but regime change. On the MEK, a Brookings report, cited in an article by Tony Cartalucci for journal NEO (New Eastern Outlook), the MEK has “undeniably…conducted terrorist attacks – often excused by the MeK’s advocates because they are directed against the Iranian government.” In the years between 1998 and 2001, “the group claimed credit for over a dozen mortar attacks, assassinations, and other assaults on Iranian civilian and military targets” (https://journal – neo.org/2018/09/29/us-delisted-mek-terrorists-still-openly-committed-to-violence). John Bolton and other present and former hawks in the Trump administration promote the MEK and view it as a potential alternative to the present Iranian government. It has served the US as a “proxy” in its multiple efforts to achieve regime change.
Under Obama, the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was successful
The 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a multilateral agreement made during the Obama administration region, was based on Iran’s willingness to submit to unprecedented, intrusive inspections by the International Atomic Energy Commission. From all accounts, it was being implemented as planned. By January 16, 2016, Obama could report that “the International Atomic Energy Agency verified that Iran has completed the necessary steps under the Iran deal that will ensure Iran’s nuclear program is and remains exclusively peaceful” (https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/issues/foreign-policy/iran-deal). The deal ensured that Iran would not have “enough highly enriched uranium to produce enough material to construct a uranium bomb and tens of thousands of centrifuges.” Iran was on the path to reducing “its stockpile of uranium by 98%” and keeping “its level of uranium enrichment at 3.37% – significantly below the enrichment level needed to create a bomb.” Iran would need “tens of thousands of centrifuges to create highly enriched uranium for a bomb; it had nearly 20,000 centrifuges; and it agreed to “reduce its centrifuges to 6,104.” By January 2016, Iran had already
• shipped 25,000 pounds of enriched uranium out of the country
• dismantled and removed two-thirds of its centrifuges
• removed the calandria from its heavy water reactor and filled it with concrete
• provided unprecedented access to its nuclear facilities and supply chain
As a result, the US was prepared to lift nuclear-related sanctions (not all sanctions) on Iran and to integrate the country into the world economy.
Trump’s decision to withdraw from the agreement increases hardship in Iran and instability in the Middle East
Juan Cole writes that “Trump began the war with Iran on May 8, 2018, when he breached the international treaty with Iran” (https://www.juancole.com/2020/01/conducted/months-finally.html). Trump instituted “the most severe sanctions on Iran ever applied to any country by another in peacetime” and “strong-armed Japan, South Korea, Europe, and India into not buying Iranian petroleum and threatened companies throughout the world with Treasury Department third-party sanctions if they traded with Iran. No one wants to be excluded from the $22 trillion a year American economy or be forced to pay billions of dollars in finds, so everyone, including Europe, fell into line behind Trump’s ‘maximum pressure.’” Cole says that this amounts to a “financial blockade” and a “war” on Iran, which was never “mandated by an act of Congress” or a resolution from the UN Security Council. All of this, Cole maintains, “violates international laws and norms.”
The result is that Trump’s maximum-pressure policy has “cut Iran’s exports from 2.5 million barrels a day in 2017 to a few hundred thousand barrels a day last fall. Iran’s government gets 70% of its revenues from petroleum exports.
The goal, one obviously desired by Trump and his advisers, is to intensify the economic hardships on Iranian citizens in the hope they will eventually rise and throw out the present government. The administration has accomplished the goal of making life much harder for Iranians. However, the assassination of Soleimani has apparently caused Iranian citizens of all political stripes to unite around the present government and against any US threats. There are reports of up to a million people in the streets of Tehran alone protesting the assassination of Soleimani.
Narges Bajoghli, professor of Middle East studies at Johns Hopkins University, told host Amy Goodman on Democracy Now,
“I mean, a week ago, it would have been unthinkable to have crowds like this in Iran. Today was Tehran; yesterday in Ahvaz and Mashhad; tomorrow the body will go on to Kerman. After the violent crackdown that the state orchestrated against protesters in November of 2019 — so just a month and a half ago — there was so much anger in Iran because of the violent crackdown of the state, that there really was another crisis of legitimacy within the Islamic republic in dealing with the fallout of the maximum-pressure campaign and the severe sanctions that the Trump administration has put on them.
“So, to think that these numbers of people are coming out onto the streets really signals two things. One, Qassem Soleimani, within Iran itself, was seen as a national hero, because he was seen as keeping ISIS at bay, and, two, because of Trump’s tweets just two nights ago that he would target Iranian cultural sites, it’s creating a sense of national unity within the country. And this is no longer about support for the regime, but it’s really about standing up to a foreign aggressor. This is something that — the killing of Soleimani, the assassination of Soleimani, and then Trump’s repeated tweets and threats, is doing two things: one, rallying Shia, sort of a transnational Shia community, especially those that are loyal to the Islamic republic in Iran, and then, two, rallying national sentiment within Iran against the United States” (https://www.democracynow.org/2020/1/6/narges_bajoghli_qassem_soleimani_assassination_iran).
On the one hand, we are saddled with US imperialistic efforts and ambitions in the Middle East, intensified by half-baked, reckless, illusionary decisions of Trump and his advisers. With respect to Iran, the tweets and “policies” flowing out of the White House are about changing the present government to one that is favorable to US interests. So, can we gather about Trump’s “ideal” vision for Iran? He wants Iran to submit to US power. If that unlikely event happens, what would follow? The present government would be eliminated and replaced by a right-wing, pro-US government, with plutocratic, authoritarian tendencies. The agenda? The creation of regime that fits into America’s conception of a stable Middle East, based on neoliberal economics (low taxes, privatization, deregulation, encouragement of foreign investment), on opportunities for US corporations, especially in Iran’s oil sector, on a foreign policy sympathetic to Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Israel, and other countries in the US orbit, and perhaps on one or two Trump towers and other benefits for the family.
As argued in the article, Trump’s anti-Iranian policy, including the unlawful assassination, increase the chances of war in the Middle East. In a revealing summing up of the negative effects of the assassinations, Medea Benjamin and Nicholas J.S. Davies list ten ways in which Trump’s actions hurt the US, the region, and the world (https://commondreams.org/views/2020/01/10/10-ways-trump-actions-against-iran-hurt-us-region-and-world).
• may be an increase in US war deaths across the greater Middle East
• injecting even more volatility and instability into an already war-torn and explosive region
• “embolden a common enemy, the Islamic State, which can take advantage of the chaos created in Iraq.
• leading Iran to announce it is withdrawing from all the restrictions on enriching uranium that were part of the 2015 JCPOA nuclear agreement.
• destroying what little influence the U.S. had with the Iraqi government
• strengthening conservative, hard-line factions in Iran.
• losing the support of US friends and allies
• following US violations of international law, setting the stage for a world of ever greater
• enhancing the influence of weapons makers
• further escalation between US and Iran could be catastrophic for the world economy
There is an alternative, if the anti-war movement in the US and around the world grows and coalesces with other movements for radical change, if Bernie or another progressive presidential candidate defeats Trump in 2020 and, once in the White House, moves to cut the military budget, renew the nuclear deal with Iran, reduce sanctions on Iran, if this president is supported by the US Congress, and if such a government moves away from the present militaristic foreign policy to one based on diplomacy and efforts to strengthen the United Nations and/or other international organizations. Right now, the odds don’t seem promising. In the meantime, check out the visionary book of now deceased Jonathon Schell, The Unconquered World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People (2003) for ideas on what people power has accomplished and on what a global commonwealth would look like.