There’s been an annoying narrative throughout the Trump presidency of the “adults in the room”
constraining his behavior. Mostly, this is simply a reflection of the biases of the media. They viscerally
despise Donald Trump as a person and politician, and in contrast the Exxon CEO who only cares about
profiting off of destroying the planet is seen as the mature and reasonable one.
Conversely, it would be wrong to say this phenomenon didn’t exist at all, at least compared to our
current reality. Every president has their choices constrained by their staff. This isn’t because John Kelly
was some brave hero who put his foot down to curb the president’s worse impulses, but simply the
result of the list of options presented in any given decision-making arena. Donald Trump doesn’t sit
around and think up executive orders to sign, someone comes to him to present him options. If those
options are modest, behavior is constrained. If they are Muslim bans construction of detention facilities,
The “Grown Ups” are Gone and the Fascists run the White House
Every competent operator is now gone from the White House. Again, these people were horrible in their
own right, but at least understood the complexities of global politics. John Kelly advised Donald Trump
not to pull out of the Paris Climate Accords, for example, and Jim Mattis refused to enforce the ban on
transgender troops. What we’re left with is sycophants and ideological extremists. The president
consults with Stephen Miller, Mike Pompeo, and John Bolton multiple times per week. That should
We already have good reporting that Stephen Miller is behind the administration’s fascist immigration
policies. These policies include child separation, extended detention, and a massive expansion of
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Now, in addition, we’re learning that Mike Pompeo and
John Bolton are gearing up for war.
Mike Pompeo might be the most underrated member of the administration in terms of his depravity. He
hasn’t been resisted in the same vein as Jeff Sessions or Steve Bannon. He is every bit as awful. He
promotes torture, agreed with radio host Frank Gaffney when he said President Obama has an affinity
for “violent beheadings and crucifixions and slaying of Christians,” and claims there are Islamic terrorist
cells in his home state of Kansas. In addition to being a racist, he’s a neoconservative who thinks what
the world needs is even more American interventionism. He’s also a neoliberal psychopath, who argued
yesterday that melting sea ice in the Arctic is a good thing because it opens up opportunities for trade.
John Bolton is even more interventionist. While basically every member of the American political
establishment thinks the United States should be able to influence the politics of every country in the
world, most believe in economic coercion first. Not Bolton. He skips all the namby-pamby diplomacy and
goes straight for the war option in every circumstance. This is a man who wrote an op-ed in the Wall
Street Journal advocating a preemptive strike on North Korea. Further, in 2015, Bolton wrote a piece for
the New York Times titled “To Stop Iran, Bomb Iran” which advocated a full-scale attack that would end
in regime change.
White House Hawks Have Been Looking For War With Iran For Decades
Which brings us to our current predicament. The two individuals, Pompeo and Bolton, who the
President of the United States listens to on foreign policy are in all-out war mode. They want to provoke
Iran to make the wrong move as a pretext to invasion. This whole situation was brought about when
Donald Trump pulled out of the Iran Deal in May of 2018. The Iran Deal was the most successful diplomatic achievement of the 21 st century. Iran is a critical hub of Middle Eastern politics. Not only is
the assurance that it doesn’t obtain nuclear weapons pivotal in and of itself, but the deal also allowed
Iran to integrate into the global economy and provide for the basic needs of its population. Countries
were then able to exert pressure on Iran to halt or rollback its strategic funding of militant groups in Iraq
and Syria. The deal was, to my mind, the most important achievement of the entire Barack Obama
After the United States pulled out, Iran remained compliant. They limited uranium enrichment and
allowed inspectors representing Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China, and the European Union to
review nuclear facilities. There has not been a single suggestion in four years that Iran ever reneged on
its part of the deal and tried to enrich uranium above the limitations laid out in the deal from
international inspectors. And yet, the United States over the course of the last year decided not just to
pull out of the Iran Deal, but to put economic sanctions on entities doing business with Iran.
Which led to the announcement on May 7 th (a year to the date of the Trump administration’s
withdrawal) from President Rouhani that Iran would be partially pulling out of the deal. Rouhani
proposed a 60-day negotiation period after which, if a new deal could not be struck, Iran would no
longer limit their uranium production. Any objective person has to look at Rouhani’s decision and
empathize. The good thing about the deal, from the Iranian perspective, is all but gone. The United
States isn’t helping Iran economically anymore, and others are pulling out their financial investments to
appease the Trump administration. Still, Iran has been complying with the bad part of the deal for a
year, to virtually no benefit. Of course Rouhani is ready to pull out, he would be insane not to.
Mike Pompeo and John Bolton have mustered up crocodile tears and feigned outrage at the Iranians for
their “provocations.” Administration officials announced Wednesday that they would be putting in place
even more sanctions on Iran, apparently the most severe yet. Bolton was not shy in asserting the goal of
the strict sanctions is to force regime change in Iran.
But this goes beyond sanctions. The Trump administration is desperately looking for a justification to go
to war, eerily reminiscent to Bush administration officials in Iraq. The administration is sending an
aircraft-carrier strike group and bombers to the region to send “a clear and unmistakable message to
the Iranian regime.” This comes on the heels of another provocation, in which the administration
labeled the IRGC, Iran’s main military force, a terrorist organization. This is prima facie absurd, until you
realize it is part of a plan to say that we are fighting terrorism if and when we go to war with Iran. By the
way, if the IRGC is a terrorist organization, what does that make the American military?
Simultaneously, the United States has impeded the last remaining benefit of the Iran deal for Rouhani’s
regime. The Trump administration announced it would not allow Iran to transfer enriched uranium out
of the country, which they exchanged for natural uranium. This is explicitly allowed in the deal, and
America is meddling despite no longer being a signatory.
In perhaps the most ominous move of all, the White House has publicly granted assurances to Saudi
Arabia and the UAE that they would replace all of the oil supplied by imports from the Iranian regime.
What’s left is a scary combination. There’s an economic component of a war with Iran, which would
mean huge new business opportunities for American oil producers, who are intent on becoming
dominant on the world stage. The military justification is also evident, as Bolton and Pompeo position the United States as the good guys through propaganda reminiscent of Weapons of Mass Destruction. If
recent American history is any example, that’s a recipe for war.
Readers must understand just how devastating a war with Iran would be. Iran is the hub of Middle East
politics. Iran has an antagonist relationship with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and, of course,
Israel. They have played a major role in the Syrian Civil War. They have built a cooperative relationship
with Iraq, putting aside past hostilities for shared interest. They have a complex, multifaceted
relationship with Russia, but Russia would almost certainly come to their defense in a conflict with the
United States. Iranian funding, or lack thereof, for rebel groups and terrorist organizations allows them
to influence behavior in half a dozen countries. Iran has also built up a relatively strong relationship with China in recent years which includes military aid.
In other words, this conflict would not be contained. There are few conflicts that could provoke the next
world war; Iran is one of them. Imagine a conflict that begins with the United States, Saudi Arabia, and
Israel on one side with Iran, Russia, and China on the other.
We may not have to imagine. John Bolton and Mike Pompeo are pushing for that very outcome as we
speak. The results would be devastating.