If national security advisor John Bolton is Ahab, war with Iran has long been his Moby Dick. Now, Bolton’s dream of a new, disastrous conflict feels closer than ever to becoming reality.
It all started when Trump decided to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal last year. Then, earlier this month, the Trump administration announced it would be sending an aircraft carrier to sit in the Persian Gulf in response to Iranian “threats.” The White House has also unveiled stricter penalties on countries who buy oil from Iran, an attempt to suck dry the country’s main revenue source. Meanwhile, Trump’s team is reportedly drawing up war plans to send as many as 120,000 U.S. troops to the region.
Then on Monday, President Trump was asked about the prospect of going to war with Iran. He reportedly responded, “We’ll see what happens.” Comforting!
Amid all this posturing, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been on his own tour to sell a costly, deadly war to our European allies. But so far, it sounds like they haven’t forgotten being hoodwinked into supporting our ill-fated adventure in Iraq, and Bolton’s own involvement in that misadventure.
In an unusual move, a top British general involved in the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State went public with his skepticism of the push to open conflict with Iran, according to The Guardian.
Major General Christopher Ghika, the deputy commander of Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR), the U.S.-led coalition which performs counter-terrorism work in Iraq and Syria, told reporters flat out on Tuesday that threats from Iran have not increased.
“No—there’s been no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria,” Ghika said in a briefing from Baghdad, according to the British paper. “I think you’re referring to carefully and if the threat level seems to go up then we’ll raise our force protection measures accordingly.”
This directly contradicts with Pompeo and Bolton have said about what’s going on in the Persian Gulf. The dynamic duo insists Iran is threatening U.S. “assets,” propping up Shiite militias in Lebanon, Iraq and Syria, arming Houthi rebels in Yemen, and sending ships places where they don’t belong in the Gulf. But all of this has been happening for awhile—it’s nothing new. And yet the Trump administration is trying to act like these threats now call for a higher level of conflict.
In response to Ghika’s comments, U.S. Central Command, which is responsible for running military operations in the Middle East and Afghanistan, issued a statement trying to set the record straight.
“Recent comments from OIR’s deputy commander run counter to the identified credible threats available to intelligence from US and allies regarding Iranian-backed forces in the region,” it said. “US Central Command, in coordination with OIR, has increased the force posture level for all service members assigned to OIR in Iraq and Syria. As a result, OIR is now at a high level of alert as we continue to closely monitor credible and possibly imminent threats to US forces in Iraq.”
This kind of bickering between foreign generals and the U.S. military is very weird. But it also shows our allies’ unwillingness to follow us into another disaster. One U.S. ally, however, is fully ready to support our fantasies of Iranian aggression. That’s right, it’s our good friend Saudi Arabia!
On Tuesday, Saudi Arabia claimed that drone strikes on two Saudi oil pumping stations causing a fire and damage were carried out by Iranian proxies. Iran has denied involvement in the attacks.
“Definitely not,” Iran’s UN ambassador Majid Takht Ravanchi told CNN. “Iran is not in the business of doing such a thing. We need to have a thorough investigation as to what has happened and who is responsible for it.”
Despite all of this, the Trump administration still contends that they don’t actually want war with Iran. In Russia yesterday, Pompeo again claimed war is the last thing on his mind.
“We fundamentally do not seek a war with Iran,” he said, according to AFP. “We have also made clear to the Iranians that if American interests are attacked, we will most certainly respond in an appropriate fashion.”
But by constantly irking Iran with stricter and stricter sanctions, cutting off their resources, and redefining what constitutes an “attack,” the bar feels for aggression—on both sides—feels lower than ever.