Debunking Pompeo’s Lie About Iran and al-Qaeda

Originally appeared on The American Conservative.

Timecalls attention to one of Mike Pompeo’s many lies:

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s claim that Iran and Al Qaeda are collaborating is at best an exaggeration that is not supported by any available information, U.S. intelligence officers and officials with the State and Defense Department tell TIME.

It is important to emphasize here that Pompeo is not simply “exaggerating” things when he claims that Iran and al-Qaeda work together. He is grossly distorting it into the opposite of what the evidence shows. He is lying. Iran hawks have desperately sought to invent ties between Iran and al-Qaeda to further their aggressive policies against Iran, but it isn’t true and no one is falling for their deception this time. Pushing a fraudulent story about a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda before the 2003 invasion was an important part of the Bush administration’s propaganda effort to sell the war to the public. The main reason why someone would choose to repeat a lie about Iran and al-Qaeda is to provide an excuse for attacking Iran and then claim that the attack was authorized by the 2001 AUMF. It is part of top Trump administration officials’ concerted campaign to lay the groundwork for an unjustified attack by falsely claiming a working relationship between the two that does not exist.

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The Reckless Saudis Want To Start Another War

Originally appeared on The American Conservative.

Bruce Riedel reports that the Saudi government is agitating for a U.S. attack on Iran, and the crown prince is the leading supporter of a new war:

Saudi Arabia is eager for the United States to take military action against Iran in the expectation that it will lead to regime change in Tehran. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is the leading hawk, has a disastrous track record in military affairs. The Saudis have called for an Arab summit in Mecca on May 30 to rally support against Iran.

The Saudi government-controlled and -directed press is openly pushing for “surgical strikes” by the United States against targets in Iran.

Mohammed bin Salman has appalling judgment and a terrible track record, so it comes as no surprise that he thinks having the US start a war with Iran is a good idea. Bogged down in a disastrous war of his own making in Yemen, he would have the US set the entire region aflame with more reckless military intervention. The Trump administration should obviously ignore Saudi calls for war, but given the president’s history of doing Riyadh’s bidding there is no guarantee that a concerted push from regional clients won’t have the desired effect. Saudi support for attacking Iran is the latest example of their government’s destructive and destabilizing role in the region, and it is another reminder that the crown prince is reckless and incapable of learning any of the right lessons from his previous failures. With any luck, the anti-Iranian summit later this month will be as much of a flop as the Trump administration’s failed gathering in Warsaw.

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Bolton’s War Drums and the Credulous Media

Originally appeared on The American Conservative.

The Wall Street Journal reports some unsubstantiated speculation coming from a single anonymous administration official about alleged sabotage of oil tankers in the Persian Gulf:

An initial U.S. assessment indicated Iran likely was behind the attack on two Saudi Arabian oil tankers and two other vessels damaged over the weekend near the Strait of Hormuz, a US official said, a finding that, if confirmed, would further inflame military tensions in the Persian Gulf.

The assessment, while not conclusive, was the first suggestion by any nation that Iran was responsible for the attack and comes after a series of US warnings against aggression by Iran or its allies and proxies against military or commercial vessels in the region.

The US official, who declined to be identified, didn’t offer details about what led to the assessment or its implications for a possible US response.

We should be extremely skeptical of anything coming from administration officials about supposed foreign threats, especially when it concerns Iran. The president and top officials have lied so often about Iran in the last two years that nothing they say about this can be trusted. An anonymous official unwilling to offer any details about murky events is just about as unreliable a source as one could have. It is an open secret that National Security Advisor John Bolton is gunning for confrontation between the US and Iran, and he has been exaggerating and distorting intelligence to do it. For all we know, this lone official telling this story is a Bolton ally trying to ratchet up tensions. The American public has been burned often enough with dishonest claims and shoddy justifications for war over the last twenty years, and this feels like another phony pretext for a conflict that many in our government have been trying to start for a long time.

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Trump Suddenly Discovers Regime Change Is Hard

Originally appeared on The American Conservative.

Trump is grousing that regime change in Venezuela is harder than his ideological advisers promised him:

President Trump is questioning his administration’s aggressive strategy in Venezuela following the failure of a U.S.-backed effort to oust President Nicolás Maduro, complaining he was misled about how easy it would be to replace the socialist strongman with a young opposition figure, according to administration officials and White House advisers.

The president’s dissatisfaction has crystallized around national security adviser John Bolton and what Trump has groused is an interventionist stance at odds with his view that the United States should stay out of foreign quagmires.

The president’s frustration would be a lot easier to take seriously if he hadn’t essentially outsourced his Venezuela policy to a group of hard-liners from the very beginning. When you put Bolton, Pence, and Rubio in charge of something, you deserve the blame for trusting them. When you go along with everything they want, you don’t get to play the victim later. It is a measure of how gullible the president is that he could be so easily “misled” into thinking something as ambitious as ousting an entrenched regime would be easy. Of course the hawks told him it would be easy. They always claim that their cockamamie schemes will be easy! The problem here is that Trump keeps falling for their ridiculous sales pitches and endorsing the policies they want him to endorse.

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Bolton Keeps Trying to Provoke a War

Originally appeared on The American Conservative.

Paul Pillar puts John Bolton’s latest fear-mongering on Iran in context:

National Security Advisor John Bolton, aided by his comrade-in-arms Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, is doing everything possible to instigate a war with Iran. Naked aggression as a means of starting such a war may be too much for even Bolton to pull off, so the strategy has been to try to pressure and goad Iran into doing something – anything – that could be construed as a casus belli. So far, no doubt to Bolton’s frustration, Iran has exercised remarkable restraint in the face of unrelenting and escalating hostility from the Trump administration. Iran even continues to comply with its obligations under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the agreement that restricted Iran’s nuclear program, despite the U.S. reneging on the agreement and the resulting absence of economic improvement for Iran that was part of the deal. But Bolton keeps searching for still more ways to goad and to pressure.

Bolton has had a longstanding interest in starting war with Iran, and before he joined the government he left no doubt that the related goal he had foremost in mind was toppling the Iranian government. He also has a reputation for manipulating and distorting intelligence to suit his purpose, so when Bolton is the one pushing the interpretation of the evidence we should be even warier than usual. Coming on the heels of the administration’s embarrassing failure in Venezuela last week, it would not be surprising if Bolton hoped to change the subject. As we mark one year since Trump’s irrational and destructive decision to renege on the JCPOA, we should also expect the administration to be trying to provoke an incident that it can try to use as vindication for its policy of relentless hostility and collective punishment. The administration probably shouldn’t be calling too much attention to their Iran policy at the moment, since that would remind the public that it is the US that has been behaving like the rogue state for the last year.

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Pompeo’s Risible Yemen Lies

Originally appeared on The American Conservative.

Pompeo once again defended the indefensible war on Yemen and U.S. support for it in typical dishonest fashion:

Airplanes flying through King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh are at risk, and the United States has an obligation to protect our citizens,” Pompeo said at The Hill’s Newsmaker Series event, referencing rebel missile attacks that have hit the airport.

“So the support we’re providing to the Saudis as they attempt to engage these dangerous missiles systems is in America’s best interest.”

The earlier administration line was that the US was helping the Saudis to defend themselves, and now they are expanding on that misleading claim by saying that it has something to do with defending Americans that happen to be traveling in Saudi Arabia. The US is obviously not obliged to assist governments that start a war against their neighbor just because retaliatory strikes could potentially put Americans at risk. If the danger is so great, the responsible thing would be to advise US citizens to avoid those countries if at all possible. The more important point is that Pompeo’s argument is circular: he insists that we should keep backing a war that actually creates the threat that he claims to be guarding against. If not for the Saudi coalition bombing campaign against Yemen’s cities and villages, there would be no missile attacks on Riyadh or anywhere else. It is disingenuous at best to suggest that US support for Saudi and Emirati aggression in Yemen is intended to protect American citizens when there would no threat to them or Saudi Arabia if the bombing campaign halted. There is no legitimate reason to be supporting the Saudi coalition war, and so administration officials have to scramble to come up with weak excuses that fall apart under the slightest scrutiny.

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