You might be scratching your head at the “if” in that headline, so let me clarify: Obviously, we know National Security Advisor John Bolton wants war with Iran. He’s always wanted war with Iran. In early 2015, when Obama and other world powers were negotiating the Iran Nuclear Deal, he wrote an op-ed titled “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran.” Last February, he wrote another op-ed for the WSJ called “The Legal Case for Striking North Korea First.” Bolton’s entire modus operandi is to start wars. I mean, even Tucker Carlson thinks this guy is too hawkish.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also wants war with Iran. Following the attacks in the Gulf of Oman on Thursday, in which two oil tankers were hit with explosions, it wasn’t long before he very publicly blamed Iran:
Nor do you have to be a genius to read between the lines of quotes like these: “Taken as a whole, these unprovoked attacks present a clear threat to international peace and security.” That’s prelude-to-war talk, laying the groundwork for future action.
Now, we don’t quite know what’s actually happening with the oil tankers. The U.S. claims Iran bears responsibility, and there is apparently “growing consensus” among western powers that Iran carried out these attacks as well as a similar attack on four other tankers a month ago. As for the “why?” question, here’s the prevailing view, per the Times:
And they argued that Iran appeared to be seeking to demonstrate it could imperil the world’s oil markets, but without leaving the kind of fingerprints that could trigger American military retaliation.
These are critical petroleum shipping lanes, and while it would seem foolhardy for Iran to engage in this kind of brinkmanship while the White House is occupied by unapologetic war hawks, it’s theoretically possible.
Of course, we should also be deeply skeptical of “growing consensus” among western intelligence organizations, especially after the manufactured consensus that gave the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld conglomerate the justification they needed to invade Iraq. And indeed, Iran has denied responsibility and accused the U.S. and its allies of staging false flags:
Iranian officials on Thursday suggested the new attacks might be the product of an elaborate conspiracy by their enemies, seemingly pointing to American allies like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates or Israel, which have long urged Washington to take a more muscular approach to Iran.
If you’re cynical about the Trump administration’s intentions—and why wouldn’t you be?—it’s very easy to convince yourself that John Bolton, Mike Pompeo, and others want war at all costs, much more than Iran does, and that the “conspiracy theory” Iran has pushed is, in fact, the most believable narrative. At this point, it doesn’t even feel very far-fetched.
However, even if Iran is responsible, there’s a reason this is happening now, and it also goes back to the administration—Trump pulled the U.S. out of the JCPOA (the nuclear deal) last May, and re-instituted harsh sanctions last November that not only hit Iran, but also came with “secondary sanctions” designed to prevent other parties from doing business with them. The E.U. fought back against Trump’s plan, but there’s so only much they can do when businesses are essentially forced to choose between the two. The justification was that it would bring Iran to the negotiation table, but as the BBC noted at the time, many pointed to a very different motivation:
But many analysts feel that such a move from Tehran is highly unlikely and the scope of US demands suggests that the Trump administration’s real goal is somehow to produce regime change in Tehran.
And of course, “regime change” essentially means war. The overarching narrative, then, is that while Obama and the global community took steps toward peace with the nuclear deal, the likes of Bolton and Pompeo are going in the other direction.
That much was always obvious, but now we’re starting to see the effects of that war impulse. Let’s say Iran did attack the tankers: The U.S. knows that if you pressure a country enough, squeeze their funding, and leave them no alternatives, eventually the powder keg will burst, and a justification for war will present itself. (And when it doesn’t, you can invent one.) That’s the unstoppable momentum of a modern American war push—it builds on itself, and when you back someone into a corner for long enough, with obvious intentions and a complete lack of good faith, they’ll be forced to act…sometimes violently, sometimes desperately. Even if Tehran ordered the explosions, it all comes back to the U.S. The power of the White House is so extraordinary that when the driving ideological forces want war, they can get it—by hook or by crook.
Back to the “if”—as Jake Weindling pointed out a month ago, Trump himself might be the only thing standing between the U.S. and war. Congress is impotent, the E.U. clearly can’t impose its will, and it all boils down to whether Trump might shy away from outright war, defying Bolton, Pompeo and others in the process, if he thinks it’ll hurt his legacy or his chances at re-election. Meanwhile, the rest of us have to watch helplessly to see how that dynamic plays out among some of the least responsible people in global politics. What a world.