Only three weeks have passed since Trump’s inauguration, and the U.S. is already closer than ever to a full-scale military conflict with Iran.
WASHINGTON — In the United States, war is business and business is war. As the U.S. dominates global weapons exports, accounting for 33% of the entire market, the profits of war for both the private and public sector have guided U.S. foreign policy and military action for much of the past century. Though modern history is rife with examples of the United States using its military to further business interests and vice versa, nowhere has this been more clear than in Iran.
Iran was among the first nations to be subjected to covert CIA coups when its democratically-elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh was overthrown for his attempts to nationalize Iranian oil in the 1950s.
In a story that’s repeated itself in numerous other countries, Iran’s democracy was replaced with a brutal dictatorial regime that was pro-United States and pro-United Kingdom. Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s brutality, largely made possible by the CIA and Israeli Mossad-trained SAVAK military police, targeted the nation’s Muslim population, leading to the rise of religiopolitical movements. Not surprisingly, it was the growth of this movement that led to the 1979 Islamic Revolution, which established an Islamic Republic, and the modern age of antagonistic U.S.-Iran relations.
Since 1979, the United States has followed a policy of “containment” regarding Iran. From arming Iraq to enabling the devastating Iran-Iraq war to attempting to sabotage Iran’s nuclear power program, the United States has sought to covertly subvert, weaken, and isolate the nation – frequently through the use of economic sanctions- as opposed to directly engaging it militarily. Yet, as the latest election cycle got started in earnest, it became clear that the winner would be taking a much more direct approach regarding Iran.
While Hillary Clinton was widely considered to be the most hawkish of the two contenders, Donald Trump shared a similarly aggressive, albeit more muted, stance. As far back as 2013, Trump made plain his discontent with the Obama administration’s negotiations with Iran and the controversial nuclear accord, the fate of which remains uncertain with Trump as president.
Expressing his disdain for the Obama administration’s handling of the situation, Trump forecast, “We will end up going to war with Iran because we have people who don’t know what the hell they are doing.”
Since Trump’s inauguration on Jan. 20, his tone has changed rapidly. He’s become as hawkish as his rival in last year’s election, and the groundwork for a full-scale military conflict with Iran is being set. A mere three weeks under the leadership of President Trump, and the United States is closer than ever to a full-scale war with Iran. The timing, of course, is no coincidence.
‘On Notice’: The Trump administration’s hawkish stance on Iran
Trump’s stance on Iran quickly became apparent following his “surprise” victory. Among the first signs that Trump was to take a decidedly aggressive position regarding Iran was his nomination of Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis as secretary of Defense. Though Mattis has been praised as a gifted combat commander and clever military strategist, his animosity for Iran is well-documented. In fact, Mattis’ antagonism with the Middle Eastern power alienated him from former President Barack Obama, who ultimately replaced him as Centcom commander as a result.
Another indicator of Trump’s aggressive stance on Iran came in the nomination of Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn as national security advisor. Flynn, like Trump and Mattis, was fiercely critical of the Iran nuclear accord. Despite reports from the CIA and Mossad that Iran has no nuclear weapons program nor has it ever been interested in one, Flynn insisted that “Iran has every intention to build a nuclear weapon.”
Yet it was not until Trump’s inauguration that the possibility of a full-scale military conflict with Iran moved closer to becoming reality. Just hours after the inauguration, the White House website announced a “state of the art” missile defense system aimed at “protecting” the United States against an attack from Iran — a country that has not threatened to attack the United States.
The situation escalated further on Jan. 30, when Iran conducted a ballistic missile test, a military program entirely separate from its controversial nuclear program. Though the missile test did not violate the 2015 nuclear accord, Flynn vowed a forceful response to Iran’s “destabilizing behavior across the Middle East” and said the test proved that Iran “continues to threaten U.S. friends and allies and in the region.”
Trump echoed Flynn, announcing via Twitter that, “Iran has been formally PUT ON NOTICE for firing a ballistic missile.” Neither Flynn nor Trump clarified the practical implications of putting Iran “on notice.” Following these remarks, Iran struck a defiant tone, refusing to yield to the Trump administration’s “useless” threats and vowing to conduct more ballistic missile tests.
Iran has been formally PUT ON NOTICE for firing a ballistic missile.Should have been thankful for the terrible deal the U.S. made with them!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 2, 2017
From there, the situation has continued to devolve. During Thursday’s press briefing, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer argued that Iran had previously attacked a U.S. naval vessel — a contention he used to justify the administration’s bellicose “on notice” remarks. However, this attack was carried out by Iranian-supported Yemeni Houthi rebels against a Saudi vessel, a fact Spicer later admitted.
However, Spicer never addressed his false claim that Iran was responsible for the attack even though the alliance between Iran and the Houthis is tenuous at best. The Intercept and other media outlets quickly noted the similarities between Spicer’s statement and incidents that precipitated past military conflicts such as the Gulf of Tonkin and Iraq’s alleged possession of “weapons of mass destruction.”
The eventful week in U.S.-Iran relations would not be complete, of course, without the announcement of fresh sanctions against Iran. On Friday, new sanctions were officially imposed on 13 individuals and 12 entities for reasons ranging from contributing to the ballistic missile program to having alleged ties to terrorism-related activities. Bloomberg reported that Trump said the sanctions were directly related to the recent missile test and that the Islamic Republic is “playing with fire.” While Reuters claimed that these latest sanctions would avoid violating the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, it will likely serve to further “provoke” Iran as the deal’s partial lifting of long-standing sanctions was a major factor in Iran’s approval of the accord. The re-establishment of sanctions could be viewed as provocation, as Iran’s defense minister warned in December, with the potential to trigger an armed conflict.
Israel’s influence & the overall probability of a US war with Iran
The Trump administration’s antagonistic approach to Iran is undoubtedly influenced by Trump’s pivot toward Israel. Trump, along with his staunchly pro-Israel vice president, Mike Pence, and “passionate Zionist” chief strategist, Steve Bannon, have made clear their commitment to combining Israel’s geopolitical goals with their own. This commitment, however, was tempered by Trump’s recent about-face on new Israeli settlements in occupied territory.
During a phone call between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Trump late last month, Iran was said to have been the major topic as Netanyahu had previously announced that “stopping the Iranian threat” was the state of Israel’s “supreme goal.” The Gulf monarchies also expressed optimism that Trump would take a hard stance against Iran, with some even praising him as the “second coming” of Ronald Reagan in terms of ties between Washington and Tehran.
However, Israel has made it clear that they plan to do more than just contain Iran. Leaked emails revealed that while Israel has more than 200 nuclear warheads pointed at Tehran, Iran has none. This has drawn little international criticism despite the fact Israel has never signed a nuclear non-proliferation treaty and refuses to admit the existence of its nuclear program.
Further, the pro-Israel lobby has been busy exerting its influence in Congress. In early January, Rep. Alcee Hastings, a Florida Democrat, introduced the Authorization of Use of Force Against Iran Resolution. The bill that would authorize the president to launch a “preemptive” war with Iran without congressional approval and without the precondition that Iran would have committed any action that would otherwise warrant a full-scale invasion.
Specifically, the text of the bill states, “The President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as the President determines necessary and appropriate in order to achieve the goal of preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.” Hastings, it should be noted, has received $332,000 from the pro-Israel lobby over the course of his career, including more than $72,000 in the 2016 election cycle. If passed, the bill would offer the Trump administration a carte blanche for starting a war with Iran.
Despite the aggressive posturing of the Trump administration and U.S. allies in the Middle East, experts and analysts are divided as to whether Trump and his advisors will actually follow through.
Sharmine Narwani, commentator and analyst focused on Middle East geopolitics, told MintPress News that Trump and his advisors’ aggressive stance toward Iran is likely to conflict with his stated goal of eradicating Daesh (an Arabic acronym for the terrorist group commonly known as ISIS or ISIL in the West).
“Trump has no national security expertise whatsoever. He currently entrusts that vision with his advisors who probably share his views on a few critical subjects. I don’t see Iran as being one of his personal areas of interest. Let him take the advice of his ‘generals.’ He will hit a brick wall and realize that his vision of a defeated ISIS, al-Qaida, and terrorism can never be a reality by crippling the key ground player that can rout them all.
In the end, Trump is a businessman and he will go where there is more ‘bang for his buck.’ He will not find any particular efficiency in a protracted confrontation with Iran. On the contrary, Iran can be the key to delivering him a domestically-popular ‘ISIS defeat.’ He has to choose one and can’t have both.”
However, anti-war activist and author David Swanson told MintPress that Trump’s support base and decades of anti-Iran propaganda have primed much of the America public to readily accept war with Iran. Even the “average anti-Trump U.S. liberal believes all sorts of false horrors about Iran,” Swanson said, noting that this is in addition to the “40 percent of the country that supports him.” These “longstanding bipartisan lies about nukes and aggression, and heightened anti-Islam bigotry, […] all make the U.S. public more ready to accept any case for a war on Iran.”
Swanson further noted that Trump is likely to call for a “limited war” if a military approach is ultimately decided upon. However, in practice, a “limited war” is unlikely to remain within its ideal limits for long.
The Petrodollar: The weakest link for the US & Saudi Arabia?
Though the Trump administration, and even the U.S. in general, stands to lose much more than it might gain by entering into a military conflict with Iran, another recent development has left little room for choice in the matter.
During a television interview on Jan. 29, the governor of Iran’s central bank, Valiollah Seif, announced that Iran would no longer use the U.S. dollar as its currency of choice in its financial and foreign exchange reports. Seif explained the logic behind the decision, saying that “Iran’s difficulties [in dealing] with the dollar were in place from the time of primary sanctions and this trend is continuing.”
He then noted that “we face no limitations” when it comes to the use of other currencies. The change, set to go into effect on March 21, is set to impact all official financial and foreign exchange reports.
Forbes noted that the move is likely to “add a degree of currency risk and volatility and is likely to complicate matters for the authorities.” Though it is true that Iran’s currency may suffer in the short term as a result of the measure, the consequences for the U.S. dollar — and thus, U.S. economic hegemony — are far greater.
In the 1970s, after the United States was no longer able to guarantee the value of the dollar with gold, then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger negotiated a deal that would change both the dollar and U.S. foreign policy forever. In order to keep the U.S. dollar valuable, Kissinger convinced the Saudi monarchy to use U.S. dollars exclusively in the country’s oil transactions, thereby generating artificial demand for dollars and, thus, artificial value for a weakening currency. This deal marked the official birth of what is known as the petrodollar system. The other countries that comprise OPEC, which includes Iran, soon followed suit, ensuring the dollar’s dominance for years to come – a crucial piece of U.S. economic hegemony.
However, some countries have since attempted to distance themselves from the dollar and have suffered the consequences. The most notable example is Saddam Hussein’s decision to dump the dollar for the euro in 2000. Following the decision, Hussein managed to generate a handsome profit for Iraq, sending a clear signal to other oil-producing nations that the petrodollar system was not necessarily in their best interest. However, the subsequent invasion of Iraq sent a clear signal that the United States would not passively allow oil-producing countries to exit the petrodollar system.
The next country that attempted to leave the petrodollar system was Libya. Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, also dissatisfied with the petrodollar system, had established the dinar, a gold-backed currency that was set to become Libya’s currency of choice for oil transactions. Gadhafi had also announced plans to make the dinar a pan-African currency to economically empower other African nations. In 2011, the U.S. destroyed the Libyan state and killed Gadhafi, preventing this deal from coming to fruition.
Iran’s decision to dump the dollar could very well force the United States’ hand in the matter. Iran, which holds 13 percent of OPEC’s oil reserves, could drastically affect global demand for dollars once it switches currencies for its oil transactions. The dollar, already on tenuous footing thanks to years of reckless “quantitative easing,” could become significantly devalued rather quickly. Combined with the overall weak health of the U.S. economy, the consequences could be potentially catastrophic.
Trump’s strongmen want war with China, Iran & Russia
But will the Trump administration risk a major war to protect U.S. economic dominance? Considering Iran’s strategic alliances with global powers like Russia and China as well as its mutual defense agreement with Syria, any U.S. military conflict with Iran will quickly develop into a global conflict.
It seems that Trump’s 2013 comment on the “inevitability” of war with Iran may have been prudent, even though it would harm his stated goals of countering Daesh and terrorism in the Middle East.
There are also indications that the Trump administration anticipates a conflict with China as inevitable as well. Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist and National Security Council member, remarked several months ago that the United States would be “going to war in the South China Sea … no doubt.”
Indeed, Trump’s tough stance on China — similar in some ways to his stance on Iran — has become increasingly aggressive in recent weeks. As David Swanson noted, Trump “has surrounded himself with a circle of madmen, some of whom are more excited about China and others Iran.” However, Trump’s characteristic unpredictability makes it near impossible to predict the ultimate outcome.
Regardless of the Trump administration’s course of action, there’s no doubt that the climax in the United States’ fight to maintain its position as a global “superpower” is quickly approaching.