In all the chasing after squirrels during the tumultuous first days of the Trump administration, Mehdi Hasan writes that one big story that has been largely ignored is how the US almost went to with Iran at the start of February by planning to board an Iranian vessel that was in international waters, a move that was averted at the last minute when news of the impending operation was leaked.
One of the people who was most gung-ho to take this highly inflammatory action was defense secretary James Mattis whom Hasan says that many Democrats and liberals have been duped into thinking is a voice for rationality and moderation in the reckless and bellicose Trump administration.
Yet even normally skeptical voices have bought into the myth of Mattis’s moderation. “I actually do think he is the closest thing we have to a ‘moderate’ in this administration,” Andrew Bacevich, a conservative military historian at Boston University and long-standing critic of U.S. defense policy, tells me. This, to misapply a line from George W. Bush, is “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” The defense secretary may not be a bigot or a crank like so many other top Trump appointees, but he could prove to be far more lethal in the long run.
Remember: It was not Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld but “moderate” Secretary of State Colin Powell — another retired general — who was tasked with selling President Bush’s Mesopotamian misadventure to the United Nations in February 2003. Who do you imagine would make a more convincing public case, on behalf of the Trump administration, for a future shooting war with Iran? The draft-dodging president or his decorated defense secretary? Ex-Breitbart boss Steve Bannon or “Warrior Monk” Mattis, who, lest we forget, 45 out of 46 Senate Democrats voted to confirm?
It is good to recall two things about the Iraq war. One was Colin Powell’s shameful role in fraudulently selling that war. Democrats kept fawning over him as a a voice of reason and integrity even though this was just one of many shameful roles he had played in his life as an ambitious career-climber willing to do anything to please his superiors and then pass the blame onto others when things went wrong. The other is how Iraq was built up into this immense global threat that had to be combated immediately, when the reality was that it was just a minor regional power.
That same scenario is being played out again, this time with Iran in the cross hairs. That country is being elevated to being a major international threat.
The fact is that Mattis, too, is obsessed with Iran. He has hyperbolically called the Islamic Republic “the single most enduring threat to stability and peace in the Middle East” and — in a Trump-esque descent into the world of conspiracy theories — suggested Tehran is working with ISIS. “Iran is not an enemy of ISIS,”
The general, in his capacity as head of U.S. Central Command, even proposed launching “dead of night” airstrikes on Iranian soil in 2011, in retaliation for Tehran’s support for anti-American militias in Iraq — a proposal rejected by White House officials who were worried that it “risked starting yet another war in the Middle East.”
Trump has proposed increasing the defense budget by about 10% or $54 billion, even though the US already spends more on defense than the next eight or ten nations combined. Expensive new aircraft carriers and bombers and fighter planes are not going to help against groups like ISIS but they are meant to intimidate more conventional militaries like Russia, China, and possibly Iran. Trump says that he wants to do this because “We never win. And we don’t fight to win.” That is dangerous talk because he is the kind of person who might actually start a war just to show that the US, and by proxy himself, can win again.
Think that this is an absurd idea? Remember Grenada? That tiny Caribbean island with a population of just 91,000 people was invaded in 1983 by Ronald Reagan on the most spurious grounds: that Cuba was helping to build a military airstrip on the island and that somehow the lives American medical students studying there were threatened or some such nonsense. The real purposes of the invasion seemed to be two-fold. Like Vietnam, Grenada was not sufficiently subservient to US interests and thus represented a bad example to other small nations and so had to be taught a lesson about the need to follow the dictates of its imperial master. The other purpose was to shake off the so-called ‘Vietnam syndrome’, the sense of humiliation that the US felt in losing to that small southeastern nation by showing that yes, the US absolutely could win wars, thus lying the groundwork for public support for future wars. The US proudly awarded more than 5,000 medals to its troops for the Grenada invasion.
There is nothing more dangerous than a bully who thinks he is not respected. Such a person will pick a gratuitous fight with a much weaker target just to demonstrate to everyone his strength. The US as a nation has acted that way in the past and the current president has the same personal trait, a dangerous combination. The current US administration will be looking for any excuse, real or manufactured, to demonize Iran and lay the groundwork for war. As we saw with Grenada, it really does not matter all that much what unlucky nation happens to be picked as a punching bag. If North Korea presents an opportunity, they may seize it too. As neoconservative warmonger Jonah Goldberg approvingly quoted fellow neoconservative warmonger Michael Ledeen as to why the US should invade Iraq:
“So how does all this, or the humble attempt at a history lesson of my last column, justify tearing down the Baghdad regime? Well, I’ve long been an admirer of, if not a full-fledged subscriber to, what I call the “Ledeen Doctrine.” I’m not sure my friend Michael Ledeen will thank me for ascribing authorship to him and he may have only been semi-serious when he crafted it, but here is the bedrock tenet of the Ledeen Doctrine in more or less his own words: “Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business.” That’s at least how I remember Michael phrasing it at a speech at the American Enterprise Institute about a decade ago (Ledeen is one of the most entertaining public speakers I’ve ever heard, by the way).”
Yes, this is really how these people think. The idea of using military force to pulverize a “small crappy little country” and causing massive death and destruction and long-term suffering is so “entertaining”, is it not?
Iran is not that weak a target but it is no match for the massive US military. Remember that the goal of the neoconservatives in the US is to obtain by military force US hegemony over the entire Middle East, and Iran stands in the way. The neoconservatives have been pushing for a war with Iran for well over a decade. US efforts at achieving that hegemony have so far resulted in instability and chaos in the region and the rise of vicious groups like al Qaeda, ISIS, and a whole slew of others who are feeding off the resentment at the massive death and destruction that the US has caused. But ideological warmongers are not deterred by such failures. They think that the solution to problems caused by the use of force is to use more force.
Just as ‘intelligence’ was manufactured to support the case for the invasion of Iraq, should we be surprised if the Trump administration with its penchant for ‘alternative facts’ (or what ordinary people call ‘lies’) also resorts to ‘alternative intelligence’ to make the case for attacking Iran, as some former intelligence officials are warning?