As the US walks away from the Iran deal is Washington headed down the road to war? That’s the assumption of the deal’s supporters, the main talking point – but is it necessarily true?
President Trump’s decision, made despite pleas from our European allies and even some of his own base, supposedly unmasks him as a dangerous warmonger whose anti-interventionist rhetoric was all a con job. #TheResistance is deeply invested in the idea of Trump as an orange-tinted version of Attila the Hun, whose bombastic personal style reflects a tendency to bomb first and talk later – and now, at last, Trump is showing his true colors. That’s the party line.
Amateur psychoanalysis, done at a distance, is a dubious foundation on which to build an argument. On the contrary, there are universal rules that govern the behavior of the political class in every country on earth, whether they be despots or democrats. First and foremost is the self-evident axiom that the rulers act to maintain and extend their rule. Every regime, no matter its ideological character, is dependent on at least the passive support of the populace. In the US, we have elections – although don’t tell our “intelligence community” that! – and every President is the leader of a broad coalition, often containing elements diametrically opposed (e.g. FDR’s progressive wing of the 1930s Democracy and Southern Democrats).
Trump ran on a foreign policy platform that his worst enemies denounced as “isolationist” and that his supporters define as nationalist-noninterventionist, and in large part he has delivered on this front. We’re on our way out of Iraq (how many times does that make?), we’re supposedly leaving Syria (at least that’s what they want us to believe), and now we have this diplomatic breakthrough on the Korean peninsula. Not bad for someone who has no idea what they’re doing.
However, all is not sweetmeats and roses! The abrogation of the Iran deal is a disaster: it reopens the question of war with Iran, a danger we thought we’d avoided when the deal was signed. Trump’s own Secretary of Defense says the JCPOA regime is “robust,” and Gen. Mattis is not alone in his opinion. The idea that the pact is “flawed” and must therefore be abolished in its entirety is a conclusion that simply does not follow. A “new Iran deal,” which Trump thinks he can negotiate, covering ballistic missiles and “regional aggression” (whose?), is unlikely if the US can’t be trusted to keep the one previously negotiated.
Perhaps more importantly, the end of the JCPOA and the inspection process means we are blinded when it comes to what is really going on in Iran. Which means we are dependent on the one nation that has the best intelligence on events in the region: Israel.
What a coincidence!
Let’s drop the pretenses and tell it like it really is: this is being done for the benefit of Bibi Netanyahu and his amen corner in the United States. For all the brouhaha about foreign influence in American politics, the pundits are eerily silent as the Israel lobby succeeds in an all out effort to drag us into their conflict with Iran. The “special relationship” has gotten much more special in recent months, according to reports. Trump recently sent Ivanka and Jared to Israel to inaugurate the opening of the Jerusalem embassy, with casino billionaire and pro-Israel fanatic Sheldon Adelson in tow. Adelson gave millions to the Trump campaign and the GOP. While Trump rose to power as a critic of the Iraq war, and, by implication, George W. Bush’s Israel-centric foreign policy, he has now positioned himself to replicate Dubya’s mistakes – times ten.
Iran is not Iraq: it is bigger, more populous, richer, stronger, and far less isolated despite the sanctions regime. Trump is here playing with fire: so why is he taking the risk of being entangled in another disastrous Middle Eastern war and destroying his presidency?
All is explained by the central axiom described above: Trump wants to maintain his rule by winning reelection, and in order to do that he must extend his base. The President’s great problem has always been the lack of support for him and his policies in the GOP leadership and the mid-ranks. He’s hated by the Eastern seaboard internationalists, despised by the neocons, and distrusted by the lobbyists of the military-industrial complex: his populist supporters came from none of the traditional sources of Republican party strength. Faced with this kind of isolation, the President is looking for allies wherever he can find them – and you can be sure the Israel lobby is right there, ready, willing, and able to support him.
For a price.
That support may ultimately cost him his presidency. He wants to go down in history as a peacemaker, as the Korean initiative shows, and yet he may wind up quite the opposite if he continues on his present course. Trump inveighs against the “appeasement” of Iran by the Obama administration, but what about the appeasement of Israel by his administration? Instead of “America First,” what we are seeing is a policy of putting Israel first, and to heck with authentic American interests in the region.
While on the surface all is hunky-dory between Washington and Tel Aviv, the truth is that the Israelis are fundamentally hostile to Trump’s foreign policy agenda, particularly as it impinges on relations with Russia. The Israelis, who have long plotted the demise of Syrian despot Bashar al-Assad, want us to stay in Syria and morph our presence into an Iraq-style occupation. Trump, on the other hand, wants out, as he’s said on several occasions. And there have been other strains, as this McClatchy piece put it:
“Israelis grew tired of waiting for Trump to act on his promises. They were angered after Trump allegedly disclosed highly classified intelligence gathered by Israeli officials to Russian officials. And they were offended when U.S. officials reportedly told Netanyahu he should not join Trump at one of Judaism’s holiest sites, the Western Wall.”
One wonders how long Trump will put up with such demanding allies. Yet he can’t afford the political cost of taking on the Israel lobby. The major conundrum of this administration is that Trump is such an outlier, such a total outsider, that his base of support is necessarily narrow: add to this the determined opposition of the political class, and the open subversion engaged in by the permanent government bureaucracy, and Donald Trump finds himself in an extraordinarily precarious position. Thus the scrambling for allies – any allies – in what is a fight to the death.
Yet the great danger is that, in taking the pragmatic route of ensuring his own survival, this President may wind up tarnishing his legacy beyond repair with a war that will make the Iraq conflict look like a tea party.
You don’t have to be Nostradamus to know that from this point on we’ll see a concerted effort by the War Party – led by the Israel lobby – to provoke a conflict with Iran. This represents a dire threat to Trump, to his reelection, and to his place in history. And so the question now is: Will the Israel lobby succeed in effectively capturing the Trump administration and dictating the course of US foreign policy?
With Trump’s popularity on the rise and the economic state of the union relatively good for the time being, will the President be willing to risk that in order to keep Bibi happy? Somehow I doubt it. Which is why the assumption that exiting the Iran deal has to mean war is entirely unwarranted. The usual hysterics are jumping to that conclusion, but they proffer no real evidence that this is the case – such as a military buildup in the region – and are instead projecting their own confirmation bias onto an ambiguous situation.
Which is not to say war is out of the question: never underestimate the power of the War Party. However, there is no cause to panic and run screaming out into the streets. The future is very much up for grabs. In short, the cause of peace is not lost: indeed, there are many grounds for optimism. Despite setbacks along the way, the anti-interventionist perspective is making progress on every front: the people are with us. Now our task is to mobilize them and bring the War Party to its knees.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).
You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.