Donald Trump continues to show that he is one of the boldest presidents in modern American history. He may also be the nuttiest. His decision to remove waivers on the purchase of oil from Iran has set America on an unwavering course for war with the Middle Eastern state.
Like Franklin Roosevelt, who tried to starve Japan into submission by halting its imports of oil, Trump seems intent on trying to bludgeon Iran into submission by preventing it from exporting any crude. The problem is that the Iranians aren’t cracking. Instead, they are likely to double-down. Already they are threatening to shut down the Strait of Hormuz. Trump will be in dire straits if Iran does that. A fifth of the world’s crude oil flows through it. The US military has positioned two carrier strike groups near Iran.
The scuttlebutt in Washington is that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was opposed to Trump’s decision to remove the oil waivers on Turkey and China and Japan and South Korea. It’s national security adviser John Bolton, an inveterate hawk, who wields the upper hand. Bolton has had it in for Iran for decades. In 2015, he wrote a piece in the New York Times demanding that America bomb Iran: ‘The inescapable conclusion is that Iran will not negotiate away its nuclear program. Nor will sanctions block its building a broad and deep weapons infrastructure. The inconvenient truth is that only military action like Israel’s 1981 attack on Saddam Hussein’s Osirak reactor in Iraq or its 2007 destruction of a Syrian reactor, designed and built by North Korea, can accomplish what is required. Time is terribly short, but a strike can still succeed.’
Why was the conclusion ‘inescapable’? Only in Bolton’s loopy world. All evidence is that Iran has adhered to the nuclear deal it struck with the Obama administration and Europe. It still does — to the manifest irritation of Trump. There is scant evidence that a strike on Iran would do anything other than arouse further nationalist enmity towards America. The idea that it would cripple Iran’s ability to build a nuclear bomb seems farfetched.
In truth these are bad faith arguments. What Trump, or at least Bolton, seems intent upon is regime change. Trump, who campaigned against further wars in the Middle East, is now catering to Saudi Arabia and Israel, both of whom are intent upon toppling the regime of the mad mullahs in Tehran.
According to Aaron David Miller and Richard Sokolsky, the prospect of war has never been higher:
‘There is a growing risk that US forces and Iranian IRGC units and Iranian-backed militias could stumble their away into an unintended conflict, especially in Iraq or Syria but also in Yemen, where the administration’s unstinting support for the Saudi Arabia’s inhumane and ineffectual military campaign against the Iranian-backed Houthis risks further provoking Houthi missile attacks on the Kingdom, creating a pretext for the Trump administration to come to the Kingdom’s defense.’
Gulp. The price of crude oil would soar. A new anti-war movement would emerge. War with Iran may be a neocon dream, but it’s not what Trump was elected to execute. There could be no faster coup de grace to his presidency than embarking upon a new Middle Eastern campaign.