Most of us remember Trump the presidential candidate as promising not to get us involved in a bunch of wars. However, since he’s been in office he’s surrounded himself with hawks and neocon architects of the very wars he criticized on the campaign trail. As president, he’s also used threats of war against North Korea, Venezuela, and Iran.
In recent weeks, in between threats by Bolton and Pompeo to install an unpopular puppet in Venezuela with “all options on the table” as to methods, Trump has allowed his Secretary of State and National Security Advisor to also stir up a potential armed conflict with Iran. Publicly, Trump himself alternates between blustering against Iran and acting like he’s not necessarily interested in a war.
Is this a prelude to an Iraq-style invasion or is Trump thinking that if he allows his mad-dog hawks like Bolton and Pompeo to snarl and even snap their jaws a few times that Iran will come begging for negotiations, willing to offer him whatever terms he wants to stop the pain and the possibility of a war?
Some political and legal analysts believe that members of the Trump administration are carefully setting up the use of the 2001 AUMF as legal cover for an attack on Iran, leaving Congress with little recourse to stop such an action. In a recent NBC News article, a legal expert discussed this possibility.
The key elements involve drawing links between al Qaeda and Iran and casting Iran as a terrorist threat to the U.S. — which is exactly what administration officials have been doing in recent weeks.
That could give Trump the justification he needs to fight Iran under the still-in-effect 2001 use-of-force resolution without congressional approval….
….That law gave the president the power to use force against “nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.”….
….But former government lawyers familiar with the 2001 law and its applications say it’s obvious from those moves what the Trump administration is trying to do.
“The whole thing is building up to the notion that they don’t have to go to Congress for approval,” Yale University law professor Harold Koh, who served as the State Department’s top lawyer under Secretary Hillary Clinton, said in a telephone interview with NBC News.
Yet Koh said an attempt to shoehorn Iran into the 2001 AUMF is absurd and shouldn’t pass legal muster.
“The theory of war powers has to be that Congress doesn’t just sign off once,” he said. “The suggestion now that Iran attacked us on 9/11 is ridiculous.”
The original law essentially creates a two-part test for the president to make a determination that force is warranted: a country, group or person has aided al Qaeda and force is necessary to prevent a terrorist attack against the U.S. from that entity.
Koh says that testimony given by Pompeo to the U.S. Senate recently involved providing justification to satisfy the first part of the test:
“The factual question with respect to Iran’s connections to Al-Qaeda is very real. They have hosted al Qaeda, they have permitted al Qaeda to transit their country,” [Pompeo} said at a Foreign Relations Committee hearing. “There is no doubt there is a connection between the Islamic Republic of Iran and al Qaeda. Period, full stop.”
Of course, such a connection is dubious as Iran is a Shia theocracy and Al Qaeda is a Sunni extremist cult and the two do not share the same interests. The article goes on to explain how recent events by Washington could be seen as trying to justify the second test:
But the deployment of more forces to the region to counter the threat of attacks on American personnel and assets, as well as the partial evacuation of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, could be seen as satisfying the second part of the use-of-force test. That is, the idea that force is appropriate to prevent a terrorist threat from a country that has given assistance to al Qaeda.
In what would seem to be suspiciously perfect timing, four oil tankers, including two Saudi, one Emirati and one Norwegian, were sabotaged on May 12th. A Norwegian insurance company tasked with investigating the incident has theorized that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards was responsible for the attack using underwater drones, but admittedly this has not been satisfactorily substantiated, relying on similarity with drones used by the Houthi in Yemen.
Gareth Porter, one of the best reporters out there on the subject of Iran, stated on a recent episode of Cross-Talk that there was a reasonable chance that this represented a false flag action by Israel, which has been trying to get Washington to do its dirty work by attacking Iran, a perceived rival in the Middle East, for years. He says that there is a working group between Israel and Washington that has been meeting since December of 2017, with the “intelligence” in early May about Iran planning to attack U.S. interests either directly or via proxies, likely originating from Israel as a result of this working group’s April meeting.
It was also brought out in the episode that the provocative behavior by the U.S. toward Iran is engendering sympathy for Iran in the world community.
The EU is most definitely not interested in a war with Iran, surely realizing that another war in the Middle East would, among other things, seriously worsen the refugee crisis it has been dealing with in the aftermath of Washington’s interventions in Libya and Syria. Germany, Spain and the Netherlands have even reportedly removed their forces from U.S. operations in the area in order to distance themselves from Washington’s provocations after two U.S. naval carriers arrived in the Persian Gulf last week.
Of course, Russia and China are actively opposing any aggression by Washington toward Iran. Russia doesn’t want any more instability in its neighborhood, a point which Putin no doubt would have impressed upon Pompeo during their recent meeting. But, with hard-core ideologues like Pompeo (and Bolton), facts and rationality often do not penetrate. With respect to China, not only is Iranian oil a significant issue (China is still buying it regardless of the sanctions), but Iran also represents a critical point on the Belt and Road Initiative, which Russia also has a stake in.
Trump knew very well who Bolton and Pompeo were and what their agenda was when he brought them on board. So, if he really isn’t looking to get the U.S. into another war, why did he hire these guys? I imagine that Trump likes to see himself as crafty – someone who can play others to further his goals. This would include using Bolton for the type of scheme I mentioned earlier. As much as Trump and what he stands for is appealing to the lowest common denominator, Bolton represents a far darker and more dangerous character – a person who would like to see the world burn and will do whatever it takes to get his way. A NYC real estate grifter is no match for this swamp creature and Trump is very likely to find himself being the one played rather than doing the playing.
At this point, Trump needs to can Bolton before he gets Washington to a stage where de-escalation becomes too difficult as these things tend to take on a life of their own.
Then there’s the media coverage of these events, led by the NYT doing their usual water-carrying for Washington’s warmongers. They played right along with the government’s take that small Iranian vessels armed with missiles represented something new and particularly threatening to the U.S. and its nearby allies. In a May 15th article, the Times stated:
The intelligence that caused the White House to escalate its warnings about a threat from Iran came from photographs of missiles on small boats in the Persian Gulf that were put on board by Iranian paramilitary forces, three American officials said…
….The photographs presented a different kind of threat than previously seen from Iran, said the three officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk about it publicly. Taken with the other intelligence, the photographs could indicate that Iran is preparing to attack United States forces. That is the view of John R. Bolton, President Trump’s hard-line national security adviser, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
This ignores previous reporting from the Washington Post on July 26, 2012 in which it was stated:
Iran is rapidly gaining new capabilities to strike at U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf, amassing an arsenal of sophisticated anti-ship missiles while expanding its fleet of fast-attack boats and submarines. . .These highly maneuverable small boats, some barely as long as a subway car, have become a cornerstone of Iran’s strategy for defending the gulf against a much larger adversary. The vessels can rapidly deploy Iran’s estimated 2,000 anti-ship mines or mass in groups to strike large warships from multiple sides at once, like a cloud of wasps attacking much larger prey.
and a Naval Technology report from January 16, 2013:
Iran’s purchase of the British made world-record setting Bladerunner speedboat stirred up increased chatter on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy’s (IRGCN) development of a new fast attack craft (FAC) fleet. Simon O. Williams looks beyond the hyperbole to examine FACs in the context of wider developments in Iran’s naval arsenal. . . .Iran’s missile capabilities continue to grow. In reference to arming FACs, deputy defence minister and head of Iran’s Aerospace Organisation, General Mehdi Farah, stated that the country’s “missiles have the capability of being launched from vessels with speeds of over 30 knots, and these missiles include Zafar, Nasr, Noor and Qader” These are radar guided anti-ship cruise missiles capable of destroying 1,500-tonne targets and damaging even larger ones.
Threats never seen before…except they were seen and reported on publicly 6 and 7 years ago. (Shout out to Sylvia Demarest for pointing this discrepancy out in her e-newsletter analyses).
As most readers already know, this is par for the course for the NYT. I think I have the perfect new tagline for the newspaper of record: Pimping for U.S. Wars Since 1851.