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Trump Presidency

Bernnie Federko

TRIBE Member
The Trump administration has been glaring threateningly at Iran since President Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal a year ago, pursuing harsh sanctions and declaring that the pressure will only increase until Iran’s regime changes course, or collapses.

  • The situation has escalated rapidlyover the past 10 days, with National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spreading the alarm about potential attacks from Iran and warning that the U.S. will respond to any provocations with immense force.
  • Trump is generally more wary of military action in the Middle East than his advisors, particularly Bolton. But he did warn that Iran will "suffer greatly" if “they do anything” provocative.

  • May 5: Bolton issues a statement referring to impending Iranian attacks and announces a U.S. aircraft carrier is en route to the region.
  • May 7: Pompeo makes an unscheduled trip to Iraq and issues warnings about Iran.
  • May 9: Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan presents plans for 120,000 U.S. troops to be deployed to the Middle East in the event of an Iranian attack, per NYT.
  • May 10: The U.S. sends additional military hardware, including a battleship, to the Middle East.
  • May 12: Two Saudi oil tankers are attacked near the Strait of Hormuz. An anonymous U.S. official later says an initial investigation points to Iran.
  • May 13: Pompeo diverts to Brussels to brief European leaders on the Iranian threat.
  • May 14: Armed drones strike two Saudi pumping stations. Houthi rebels operating in Yemen claim responsibility.
  • May 15: The U.S. orders a partial evacuation of its embassy in Baghdad, Iraq.
U.S. allies have generally appeared skeptical of the American warnings.

  • The British deputy commander of the anti-ISIS coalition in Iraq and Syria denied yesterday that there was an “increased threat” from Iran — a remark that drew a rebuke from U.S. Central Command.
  • The EU’s top foreign policy official, Federica Mogherini, urged “maximum restraint,” rather than Pompeo’s preferred “maximum pressure.”
  • Even Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to steer clear of any confrontation, Axios contributor Barak Ravid reports.
The bottom line: The message from the Pentagon has been that the U.S. doesn’t want a war, but is ready to fight if necessary. Administration officials say privately that rhetoric doesn’t work with Iran, so a credible threat of force is needed. That hasn't tempered fears of a march to war.


TRIBE Member
The Iran Obsession Has Made War Much More Likely
Posted on May 15, 2019, 5:45 PM Daniel Larison

The International Crisis Group warns that Iran and the U.S. are on a collision course:

All this ratcheting-up of tension was entirely predictable, and most of it is entirely provoked by the U.S.​

A collision is still avoidable, but there has to be some effort on the administration’s part to try to avoid it. Trump, Bolton, and Pompeo have steered U.S. Iran policy so that a completely unnecessary war has become much more likely, and for the last year the president has signed off on almost everything Bolton and other Iran hawks have wanted. There is a popular assumption that Trump doesn’t want war with Iran, but judging from every decision he has made over the last year it is becoming harder and harder to believe that is the case.

A president who didn’t want war with Iran wouldn’t already be waging a punitive economic war against the entire country. As far as the Iranian people are concerned, the war has already begun, the U.S. started it, and they are the ones being targeted by it. Elham Pourtaher describes the effects of the economic war:

Those who feel relieved by thinking that Trump will not engage in an actual war and is merely interested in making threats should realize that the war has already begun. U.S. sanctions are producing a level of suffering comparable to that of wartime. Sanctions in fact are a war waged by the United States against the Iranian working- and middle-classes. These groups struggle to make ends meet as unemployment dramatically increases even as the inflation rate skyrockets. The same people that the Trump administration is pretending to want to set free are the ones that are hit hardest by current U.S. policies in the Middle East.​

If Trump didn’t want to make war with Iran more likely, why did he sign off on designating the IRGC as terrorists? If he doesn’t want war, why does he permit Bolton to continue running the administration’s foreign policy as if it were his own? Even if Trump doesn’t want a war, he shows no awareness of how close to the brink his destructive Iran policy has brought our two countries. Headlines keep referring to the “drift” or “slide” towards war as if it were something that just happened, but it didn’t just happen. The president made a series of terrible decisions on the advice of his warmongering subordinates that steadily brought the U.S. and Iran to the present situation. He didn’t have to make any of those decisions, but he did, and so far he has squandered every opportunity to de-escalate.

I certainly hope that the president doesn’t want war, but I see no reason to believe that when our government is busily exaggerating threats, building up military forces in the vicinity, and drawing up plans for attack. The obsessive and relentless hostility towards Iran and its people that our government has displayed over the last two years was always leading to a confrontation, and if we are to avoid a costly collision the administration will need to start backing off from its extreme demands and relax its punitive measures. The U.S. and Iran are in a similar position to the one that the U.S. and North Korea were in during 2017 and early 2018, but this time there is no allied government in a position to provide us with the much-needed diplomatic off-ramp.

The good news is that the administration’s reckless drive towards war is already being met with some deep skepticism and opposition from members of Congress. It falls to Congress to oppose military action against Iran and to cut off funding for a war if the president chooses to initiate one without their approval. Congress must refuse to give Trump the authority to order attacks on Iran or its proxies, and it should pass Sen. Udall’s legislation opposing unconstitutional war with Iran to make clear that our representatives disapprove.

Our Allies Are Right Not to Trust the U.S. on Iran
Posted on May 15, 2019, 12:51 PM Daniel Larison

One of the running themes of the Trump administration’s foreign policy has been its increasingly open contempt for many major U.S. allies and their interests. The administration’s Iran policy is a case in point. Under Trump, the U.S. has broken faith with Germany, Britain, and France by reneging on the nuclear deal and reimposing sanctions, and again by threatening European firms with penalties if they engage in legitimate trade with Iran. The administration has taken a series of actions that have increased tensions with Iran, soured relations with our European allies, and brought the Middle East closer to another unnecessary war. Just as some of our European allies recoiled from the proposed invasion of Iraq in 2002, many of our allies are likewise alarmed by and opposed to the administration’s pursuit of conflict with Iran.

Lara Seligman and Robbie Gramer report on the growing friction with allied governments, citing the recent statement from the British deputy commander of the anti-ISIS coalition that I mentioned earlier:

The rare rebuke of an allied officer by the U.S. military, as well as Europe’s chilly reception of Pompeo during a recent visit and Spain’s decision to recall a frigate from the U.S. Navy strike group in the Persian Gulf, reflects growing tension between the United States and its allies over the administration’s hard-line stance against Tehran.

Jim Townsend, a former senior Pentagon official, said European allies, already skeptical of Trump’s foreign policy, see disturbing parallels to President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, especially since Trump’s hawkish national security advisor, John Bolton, appears to be directing the administration’s approach to Iran.

“Allies are getting nervous about just what Bolton might cause to happen by accident,” Townsend said. “They remember that following the Americans blindly can get you engaged in a forever war.”​

European governments can see as well as anyone that the administration has been trying to trigger an incident that it can use to justify escalation. The tightening of oil sanctions, the IRGC designation, and the new sanctions on Iran’s metals trade earlier this year have been leading up to the overhyping of threats and the buildup of U.S. forces in the last two weeks. The U.S. is responsible for bringing things to this point, and our allies have no desire to be caught up in it. The New York Times reports:

Intelligence and military officials in Europe as well as in the United States said that over the past year, most aggressive moves have originated not in Tehran, but in Washington — where John R. Bolton, the national security adviser, has prodded President Trump into backing Iran into a corner.

One American official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential internal planning, said the new intelligence of an increased Iranian threat was “small stuff” and did not merit the military planning being driven by Mr. Bolton [bold mine-DL]. The official also said the ultimate goal of the yearlong economic sanctions campaign by the Trump administration was to draw Iran into an armed conflict with the United States [bold mine-DL].​

Administration officials will claim that they “fundamentally do not seek a war with Iran,” as Pompeo said earlier this week, but then previous administrations that have been intent on starting a war have said much the same thing. It is common for the instigator of a conflict to profess that he has no desire for war, but then everything he does proves otherwise. So when you see the administration paving the way for a new war, don’t be fooled when they claim that they aren’t seeking the thing they have been pursuing for months. Let’s not forget that these are the same officials that claim that regime change is not their policy when it clearly is and that they are on the side of the Iranian people that they are sanctioning to death. If you want to know what the administration’s Iran policy is, it is a good bet to assume that it is the opposite of what they insist the policy isn’t. It is this duplicity at the heart of U.S. Iran policy that makes it impossible for other governments to trust the motives of the administration.
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Bernnie Federko

TRIBE Member
Yesterday Fox News published a new presidential poll. The “Fox News” moniker aside, their poll is a solid, legitimate poll, even if it’s a bit on the favorable end toward the President. Trump’s approval rating was on the relative high side for him in this poll at 46%. (53% opposed.) Best numbers are on the economy; worst on health care; not surprising.

The head to head numbers with Democratic challengers are revealing. Against Joe Biden, Trump is 11 points down, 49%-38%. Against Bernie Sanders, 46%-41%, Harris it’s 41%-41%. Warren, 43%-41%. Buttigieg 40%-41%.

These numbers are undergirded by other details of the poll, which match most other polls. Underneath the 46% approve, 53% disapprove – only 28% strongly approve the President while 44% strongly disapprove. Again, very challenging numbers.

One clear thing to draw from this is that, for now, Biden is far and away the strongest candidate – only Sanders is even close to as strong. But the real takeaway is that against named candidates the incumbent President can’t get above 41% support. That is quite simply a massive warning sign for the incumbent, especially when the economy is red hot by conventional definitions.
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