Might a Beleaguered Trump Go to War…Against Iran?

Evan El-Amin via ShutterstockEvan El-Amin via Shutterstock

by Jim Lobe

Let’s assume for a minute—and it’s a perfectly reasonable assumption under the circumstances—that President Trump’s political problems and popularity only get worse over the next months, both before and after the elections. What with anonymous “senior officials,” new revelations from “crazytown” provoked by Bob Woodward’s latest book, new indictments and/or plea bargains flowing out of the Mueller investigation, let alone little to no likelihood of a real breakthrough on North Korea or anywhere else., it’s difficult to see how Trump’s and the GOP’s current downward trajectory will be easily reversed.

So, faced with these prospects, what might a politically beleaguered president do to rally the public behind him or stave off the worst? Of course, it’s a cliché that leaders in trouble, both authoritarian and democratically elected, are often tempted to invent or exploit or manipulate a foreign crisis—including even war—against a convenient “enemy” in order to at least distract attention, if not reverse their fortunes. History is replete with examples.

Would Trump be so tempted?

Judging from all we have learned about him, you bet.

And what “enemy” would likely be the target?

Again, judging from all we know, Iran must rank at the top.

And how can we be so certain?

Because of Trump’s tweets when he thought that President Obama found himself in political trouble or on the defensive.

Trump Attacks Obama

Consider these tweets by Trump between 2011 to 2013:

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, Trump clearly believes that war, or at least military action of some kind against a perceived enemy—specifically, Iran—is a good recipe for reversing the political fortunes of weak or failing presidencies. In fact, it seems to be his first impulse. The association between political problems and taking them out militarily on Iran appears virtually automatic in his mind.

These assessments by Trump took place when he wasn’t even a presidential candidate, let alone president. It was a time when Bibi Netanyahu and Sheldon Adelson and the other billionaire donors from the Republican Jewish Coalition who are backing him financially and have already gotten more than their money’s worth on Israel-Palestinian issues—let alone Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) and his partner and mentor in war crime, UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed (MbZ)—weren’t bending his ear about the evils of the Islamic Republic. Nor was it a time when anti-Iran super-hawks John Bolton and Rudy Giuliani (both recipients of the MEK’s largesse) or Secretary of State Mike Pompeo were among his principal “national security” advisers.

My own guess is that military action against Iran—absent some very clear and dramatic provocation—would prove politically counter-productive because all but the most diehard Trumpists would see the cynical motives that provoked it. But perhaps that perception would not be immediate. In the absence of U.S. casualties—say, a good, “clean” series of air strikes long advocated by Bolton and others against nuclear facilities and command-and-control and training centers—it might indeed rally much of the country behind him, at least temporarily.

Adults in the Room?

But that scenario assumes that Trump would carry out an unprovoked attack, a possible but unlikely development that, for example, Pentagon chief James Mattis, despite his long-held hostility toward Iran, and the Joint Chiefs are almost certain to oppose, and quite vehemently. Even Pompeo, despite his past advocacy of preemptive bombing of Iran’s nuclear sites, would very probably balk at such an action given his position of trying to persuade Washington’s traditional allies that the Trump administration is not out to obliterate the Western-led post-World War II global order. Perhaps the “adults in the room” and the anonymous “senior official(s)” who insist that Trump can be controlled and that his worst most reckless instincts will not prevail will indeed have the authority and the will to prevent such an eventuality. One can presumably take heart from the fact that the three military operations that Trump reportedly urged on his top officials in the last 18 months—against Syria, Venezuela, and North Korea—never happened.

That said, however, what of the possibility that Israel, the Saudis, or the Emiratis—or some permutation of those three—is able to stage a provocation or themselves initiate an attack of some kind that could quickly escalate out of control and involve U.S. forces? This site has not infrequently over the past year and a half published posts that raise this possibility in any number of hotspots throughout the Middle East, from Syria and the Golan Heights to the Bab-el-Mandeb off Yemen to just about anywhere in the Persian Gulf itself.

Consider further that, given the likelihood that Trump’s political position may be in terminal decline and that the Republicans will lose control of at least the House of Representatives, Netanyahu, MbS, and MbZ—either individually or collectively—may believe that the period between now and the installation of a new Congress that might seriously constrain Trump’s (or Pence’s) freedom of action may be the optimal window for initiating a conflict with Iran. This is not a prediction, of course, but it’s a possibility that, given Trump’s past tweets about the political desirability of war with Iran, should be taken seriously.

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Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe served for some 30 years as the Washington DC bureau chief for Inter Press Service and is best known for his coverage of U.S. foreign policy and the influence of the neoconservative movement.

SHOW 11 COMMENTS

11 Comments

  1. Quite honestly Jim, that is what GWB did to Iraq. Iranians have been speculating about DT doing the same for ages.

    It is a shame that the world does not see the Ayatollahs as criminals as inhuman. I am sure you do not like the Ayatollahs. But do you hate Trump more?

    Question is, would you think a regime change in Iran is good? You probably would not. But I will assure you that apart from a few mad mullahs, the whole of Iran, is begging for regime change.

    Ironically any form of external help to have regime change, would help the Ayatollahs to remain in power. We do not have a UN agreement for regime change in Iran, even though we have ample evidence of crimes against humanity.

    Worse atill, even if we had Trump take on the horrible Ayatollahs and defeat them, the new regime would not be accepted by the likes of you.

    What you want, is a grass roots Iranian uprising, without any interference from anywhere recorded on camera to make it look legit.

    So we might have to wait for another 40 years to please you.

    Hmm…

  2. More likely a firebombing campaign in Yemen.
    1. Weaker target like Syria, the bully always beats up the weakest kid on the playground.
    2. Convenient location, can always drum up, ‘access to maritime free trade’ canard.
    3. Non-white (always a plus).

  3. War is what the American government does. Always has been that way, and unfortunately, it will stay that way for a very long time. Its what they do. Lie, kill, steal and destroy.

    It gets its people to focus on troubles abroad rather than bigger troubles at home.
    It enriches the pentagon oligarchs, and the banksters who finance it- the patrons of the permanent government (the deep state), and it drains money from the taxpayer which is a win win for the government. “War is the health of the state.” Permanent and total war.

  4. Thanks Jim Lobes for raising the issue again. Hey This war, if it ever happens, would be the 251 wars in the US 250 year history! So what’s another war?
    The US hasn’t brought any war to a reasonable conclusion in its history! If it wasn’t for the entire world fighting against one country in WWI and WWII the world is in doubt if the US would’ve been successful had it been acting unilaterally! The euphoria of the post WWII and the economic strength and wealth that it brought to the US has even made it worse for the US as evidenced in Korean peninsula, Vietnam, Grenada with with 100M population, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria. In fact all of the latest US wars against the small and poor countries are an indicative of bully-wars! The next war with Iran won’t be any different!

  5. An interesting article with undeniable record of evidence. However, if happened it would be the last war started by the US that we know and if not, it would be the last war which was not fought by the US that we would remember. In fact the real war is already started and losed to China and the rest of old commercial real-allies and a firework only gives the signal to them to increase their distance from the big sinking ship.

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