Trump doesn't want a war with Iran — but he might get one anyway

Today’s political climate in the United States is different from the pre-Iraq war era — but the ambitions of some of the people in government are the same

Negar Mortazavi
Washington DC
Wednesday 08 May 2019 15:14
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Hassan Rouhani: Iran stopping parts of nuclear deal

The chances of war between Iran and the United States have just increased again. A small mistake from either side could now lead to dangerous results — and easily escalate into a disaster for both sides, as well as the entire Middle East.

US National Security Advisor John Bolton announced that the US is deploying the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group and a bomber task force to the Middle East in response to "troubling and escalatory indications and warnings" from Iran yesterday.

It is no secret that Bolton wants a war with Iran aimed at changing the country’s government. In March 2015, at the height of nuclear negotiations between Iran and the Obama administration, Bolton wrote an op-ed titled “To stop Iran’s bomb, bomb Iran” in the New York Times, where he suggested the United States or Israel should attack Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. He also added that military attacks should be combined with “vigorous American support for Iran’s opposition, aimed at regime change in Tehran.”

Similarly, in 2017, at the gathering of Iranian opposition group Mujahedeen-e Khalq or MEK, Bolton said the policy of the United States should be “the overthrow of the mullahs’ regime in Tehran.”

John Bolton was one of the main architects of the 2003 invasion of Iraq by George W Bush. And today he seems to be playing a similar tune about Iran.

However, President Trump does not want another war in the Middle East. He constantly criticized his Republican and Democratic predecessors for waging costly conflicts in the region, and ran an election campaign on the promise of ending those wars and avoiding new ones.

Trump does not seem to have an obsession with regime change in Iran, either. What he really wanted was to tear up the Obama-era nuclear deal and negotiate a “better” deal (or perhaps just a new deal with his name on it, as some critics have suggested). But the current foreign policy team that surrounds the president may well push the president toward war anyway.

White House national security adviser John Bolton: 'Iran is a rogue regime. It has been a threat throughout the Middle East.'

It is important to note that today’s political climate in the United States is different from the pre-Iraq war era. The Iraq war happened in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks, when the American public was outraged and ready to take out all enemies. It was not hard to sell a war, even one partially built on misinformation about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction.

That has all changed over the past decade. Today, Americans are tired of years of wars in the region, with thousands of casualties and billions of their tax dollars spent. Although hawks still hold some positions of power in the US administration and in Congress, their long-time war agendas do not hold much support. Media organizations and journalists have also learned a lesson from the Iraq war: that not all information and intelligence from the administration can be taken at face value, and should be treated with caution.

Another difference today is that Europe would be unlikely to follow the US Into a war. An important reason for that is the existence of the Iran nuclear deal. Although the United States has unilaterally exited the deal, Iran and America’s European allies have stuck to the deal until today and the agreement has survived. The deal provides a mechanism for systemic diplomacy and regular contacts between Iran and European powers, and makes it difficult for the United States to get Europe on board with a military attack on Iran. This is, of course, unless something extraordinary happens in the region or in Europe that changes attitudes. German MP Stefan Liebich told me today that he isn’t supportive of American “threats” towards Iran and that “we have asked our government to reject any possible requirement of the German Armed Forces as a part of this adventure.”

It is clear that even John Bolton knows that it is not easy to sell a full-on war with Iran to the American public today. But it’s also clear that he would be quick to strike in the case of any “accident” which occurs, thus plunging the US into conflict with its Middle Eastern counterpart — a conflict that would be much worse than the Iraq war and a disaster for both the Iranian and the American people.

The people of Iran are extremely dissatisfied with the leadership of their country. The economy is on a constant downfall, Iran’s regional adventures in the Middle East have isolated the country from the West, and now saber-rattling with Washington has increased the threat of war. But despite all their grievances with their government, the Iranian people are also afraid of conflict and don’t want their country to end up like their war-torn neighbors Iraq and Afghanistan, much less to see civil wars like the ones in Syria or Libya. American hawks should bear the interests of everyday Iranians in mind as they attempt to further their agendas.

Negar Mortazavi is a consultant editor at The Independent. She is an Iranian-American journalist and commentator based in Washington. She tweets at @NegarMortazavi

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