by Ben Armbruster
National Security Advisor John Bolton is bringing reinforcements into the White House to bolster his push for war with Iran, just weeks after Donald Trump announced U.S. troops will be leaving Syria.
Iran hawks were furious with Trump’s announcement to pull out of Syria, largely because it throws a wrench in their plans for the U.S. military to attack Iranian targets inside the war-ravaged country and beyond.
One such hawk is Bolton, who spent the better part of this week walking back Trump’s announcement on Syria. He has also kept his plan for war with Iran on track by hiring allies like Foundation for Defense of Democracies staffer Richard Goldberg with the sole purpose of, according to Jewish Insider, “countering Iranian weapons of mass destruction.” (Remember: Bolton said last year that the U.S. goal in Iran should be regime change.)
It’s no secret that FDD has been gunning for regime change and war with Iran, and some of its higher-profile staffers like CEO Mark Dubowitz and senior fellow Reuel Marc Gerecht have been out front on this issue. Although Goldberg has taken a relatively lower profile, he’s arguably been pushing the hardest of hard lines on Iran from the outside. For example, he urged Trump to wage war on Iran in Syria and to sanction U.S. allies complying with the Iran nuclear deal. He also worked behind the scenes to sabotage Trump administration officials who didn’t want the president to kill the Iran deal.
Goldberg spent much of his career on Capitol Hill as a foreign policy staffer for then-Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL). There he played a key role in trying to stymie President Obama’s efforts at reaching an agreement to roll back and contain Iran’s nuclear program (including leading an effort to try to block Chuck Hagel’s confirmation as Obama’s secretary of defense).
However, Goldberg’s anti-Iran activism has only intensified after joining FDD and with Trump in the White House. At one point this summer, for instance, he badgered a member of Congress during a House hearing for asking questions about the push for regime change.
Back in February, Goldberg wrote, in a piece titled “It’s time for Trump to attack Iran’s Revolutionary Guard,” that Trump should “re-establish a robust military deterrent toward Iranian expansionism in close collaboration with regional allies.” He downplayed any potential military response from Iran or its proxies, however, saying that “the benefits far outweigh the costs.”
In May, Goldberg partnered with Dubowitz to call for sanctioning any European country that facilitates payments allowed under the nuclear deal to the Central Bank of Iran. In other words, they were essentially arguing for upending the entire global financial system just to stick it to Iran.
Goldberg’s obsession with confronting Iran has no moral limits. After Saudis linked to Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman murdered Washington Post columnist and American resident Jamal Khashoggi, he defended the Trump administration for going easy on the Saudi regime in response. “US sanctions on Iran return Nov 5,” he tweeted in October (his twitter feed is now locked), adding that Saudi Arabia “is a critical part of Iran strategy: using its market leverage for sanctions compliance AND oil production to offset lost Iranian crude.”
“This sums up the necon/FDD stance on the murder/disappearance of #Jamalkhashoggi,” tweeted BBC Persian reporter Bahman Kalbasi, “We want war with #Iran, we need #Saudis for that. Can’t be inconvenienced by a journalist being kidnapped/cut into pieces.”
Trump’s announcement that U.S. troops would be leaving Syria again demonstrates how erratic and unpredictable he is and that no one really knows who’s calling the shots in the White House. At the same time, it also shows that although some within his orbit have tried to prevent some of the worst of his impulses from becoming reality, others like Bolton are doing just the opposite. And Bolton hiring the likes of FDD’s Richard Goldberg shows that he and his allies who want war and regime change in Iran are going all in while they still can.
Ben Armbruster is the communications director for Win Without War and previously served as national security editor at ThinkProgress.