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Michael Jansen: Cavalier accusations
August 04, 2017
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Taking a dirty trick out of George W. Bush’s playbook, Donald Trump has let the world know he intends to accuse Tehran of violating the 2015 deal to dismantle Iran’s nuclear programme in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. According to US-based Iran expert Trita Parsi, writing on Lobelog, “Trump will refuse to accept that Iran is in compliance and thereby set the stage for a military confrontation. His advisers have been kind enough to explain how they will go about this.” 

Parsi reveals that Trump threw a fit when US intelligence agencies and the International Atomic Energy Agency had reported Iranian compliance with the terms of the deal. The grown-ups present — Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defence Secretary James Mattis, and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster — were told to search for a pretext to “blow up the deal by October.” 

Parsi makes the point that so far Trump has certified Iranian compliance and waived sanctions, but his tough talk indicates that he could be serious about engineering a confrontation that could erupt into hostilities. His minions advised him to demand access to Iranian military bases on the supposition Tehran is developing nuclear arms secretly at these sites although there is no evidence this is happening. Under the deal, inspectors would have the right to visit such sites if there are any indications that Iran is violating the deal. If Tehran refuses, Trump could charge Iran of non-compliance. Parsi quotes a Trump interview with the Wall Street Journal: “If it was up to me, I would have had them non-compliant 180 days ago.”

This is precisely what the Bush administration did in 2003 when claiming Iraq had proscribed weapons of mass destruction (WMD) even though UN inspectors had found no devices or means of manufacturing them. In fact, Iraq had destroyed its stock of WMD and production lines between 1991 and 1996. This process, undertaken unilaterally and under UN auspices, had finished off Iraq’s WMDs. None were found when US teams searched the country after the 2003 war on Iraq.

Unfortunately, the men whom Trump tasked with drawing up the plan to provoke Tehran into confrontation could go along with this subterfuge. Last month, Tillerson called for regime change in Iran. Speaking to a Congressional committee, he clumsily asserted, “Our policy towards Iran is to push back on [its regional] hegemony, contain their ability to develop, obviously, nuclear weapons and to work towards support of those elements inside of Iran that would lead to a peaceful transition of that government.”

He castigated Iran for its support of the Syrian government, backing for Shia militias in Iraq and Yemen, and arming groups like Hezbollah, “which threaten our ally Israel.” He did not admit without Iranian-supported militiamen there would be no campaign in Iraq and Syria against Daesh and the extremists would not only continue to reign over territory they captured in 2014 but also expand to adjacent lands. According to a report in Newsweek, a National Security Council spokesman responded to Tillerson by saying the Trump administration is not seeking regime change in Iraq.

Nevertheless, Tillerson may stick to his statement because he knows he has an ally in Mattis, a former Marine corps general. He, apparently, hates Iran which he holds responsible for the October 1983 suicide truck bombing of the US Marine barracks in south Beirut that killed 241 US servicemen and women, 220 of them Marines. That same day, 58 French soldiers were slain in a second suicide attack. The US troops deployed in Israeli-occupied Lebanon that August to supervise the withdrawal of Palestinian fighters. US forces were evacuated on September 10th but returned on the 29th after Israel’s allies massacred hundreds of Palestinian civilians, left unprotected in the refugee suburbs of Sabra and Chatila.

Lieutenant General McMaster is an active duty army officer who served in the 1991 and 2003 US wars on Iraq and in the Afghan conflict. In a 1997 book, Dereliction of Duty, he accused then President Lyndon Johnson, Defence Secretary Robert McNamara, and the armed forces staff of losing the Vietnam war. While McMaster has been seen as somewhat of a maverick since the publication of the book, his determination to win in any conflict where the US is engaged could cause him to go along with Trump, Tillerson and Mattis. McMaster has, reportedly, lost the confidence of some senior military men for going along with Trump’s hairbrained schemes.  

Although not among the “adults in the room” when Trump spouted about Iran, Trump’s new White House chief of staff is another aggressive retired Marine general, John Kelly, who moved to his post from his job as head of homeland security. He served in Iraq as well as Latin America. His Marine son was killed in Afghanistan. Kelly has supported Trump’s plan to build a wall along the US-Mexican border, deport immigrants, reject the entry of travellers from six Muslim countries, and limiting the admission of refugees.

As commander-in-chief of the US armed forces, Trump has handed over responsibility for ongoing operations in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan to the Pentagon and battlefield officers but insists the generals appointed to his administration follow his orders. Therefore, if Trump does go ahead with the proposed plan to court conflict with Iran, he is likely to have the backing of senior figures in his administration. Furthermore, he can count on Congressional Republicans and Democrats who are subservient to the Israeli lobby. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has long demanded military action against Tehran which he sees as his country’s most potent opponent in this region.

It must be hoped that the governments of the five other signatories of the nuclear deal with Iran will firmly reject Trump’s lies and provocations. Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia, the other powers involved, are certain to resist Trump’s attempts to scupper the landmark agreement, particularly since he has done his best to alienate several of the other signatories.

Russia has been angered by Trump’s readiness to sign onto fresh economic sanctions imposed by Congress in retaliation for Moscow’s alleged intervention in the presidential election which put Trump in the White House. France is upset by Trump’s threats to pull out of the Paris agreement to tackle climate change. Europe fears sanctions could impair the Russian flow of natural gas and opposes new sanctions on Iran, due to its ballistic missile programme, since Tehran could pull out of the nuclear deal. China is upset by Trump’s cavalier accusations that Beijing is not doing enough to curb its ally North Korea’s missile programme although this may be as impossible as the US reining in Israel which has had nuclear weapons and missiles to deliver them for decades.
 
___________________________________________
The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East
affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict

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