Bolton’s Eagerness to Attack Iran

Originally appeared on The American Conservative.

The Wall Street Journal reports on Bolton’s eagerness to attack Iran last year:

President Trump’s National Security Council asked the Pentagon to provide the White House with military options to strike Iran last year, generating concern at the Pentagon and State Department, current and former U.S. officials said.

The request, which hasn’t been previously reported, came after militants fired three mortars into Baghdad’s sprawling diplomatic quarter, home to the US Embassy, on a warm night in early September. The shells – launched by a group aligned with Iran – landed in an open lot and harmed no one.

But they triggered unusual alarm in Washington, where Mr. Trump’s national security team led by John Bolton conducted a series of meetings to discuss a forceful American response, including what many saw as the unusual request for options to strike Iran.

“It definitely rattled people,” a former senior US administration official said of the request. “People were shocked. It was mind-boggling how cavalier they were about hitting Iran.”

Bolton and like-minded Iran hawks have had a cavalier attitude about attacking Iran for years, so it should come as no surprise that Bolton has brought that same aggressive recklessness into government now that he is National Security Advisor. This episode shows how determined Bolton and his allies have been to turn any incident into a pretext for a larger conflict with Iran. It also shows how willing Bolton is to endorse military action regardless of the situation. The New York Times reported on the same story, and described Bolton’s habit of shutting out dissenting voices from the policy debate:

As the president’s national security adviser, he has largely eliminated the internal policy debates that could air high-level disagreements.

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Bolton Won’t Give Up on Illegal War in Syria

Originally appeared on The American Conservative.

Bolton is not giving up on keeping our illegal war in Syria going one way or another:

Some U.S. troops could remain in southern Syria for an undetermined amount of time even as American forces withdraw in coming months from the northern part of the country, a senior administration official said Friday.

Bolton’s comments are another piece of evidence that the Syria withdrawal announced last month won’t be as swift or complete as originally advertised. If there are any US forces staying in Syria for an “undetermined amount of time,” that would be a discouraging sign of how hard it has become for the US to liquidate any position overseas. That would mean that our illegal military presence continues without Congressional authorization, US forces would still be exposed to unnecessary risk in a country where they have no business being, and those troops would be tasked with “countering” Iran with even smaller numbers and fewer resources than they have now. It has all the flaws of the previous policy. Reducing the number of troops in an illegal war doesn’t fix the real problem. None of them should be there, and anything less than a full withdrawal just leaves the door open to a troop “surge” in the months and years that follow.

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An Iran Policy of Regime Change in All But Name

Originally appeared on The American Conservative.

Mike Pompeo removes any doubt about the purpose of the administration’s Iran policy of regime change in all but name:

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said that “the sanctions on Iran have an ultimate goal” of “creating an outcome where the Iranian people could have better lives than they have today under this tyrannical regime”.

In other words, the sanctions are intended to create so much misery and upheaval that they cause the regime to collapse. That means there is nothing that the Iranian government could do short of abolishing its current political system that would satisfy the administration so that they would agree to lift the sanctions that they illegitimately reimposed last year. We know Iran’s government isn’t going to do that. Contrary to what Pompeo claims here, this wouldn’t lead to “an outcome where the Iranian people could have better lives.” It threatens to plunge their country into disorder if it “works,” and it promises economic ruin for tens of millions of people no matter what happens to the government. There is no realistic scenario where the Iranian people aren’t left worse off at the end than they were before the sanctions were reimposed.

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The US Is On the Side of Terrorists and War Criminals in Yemen

Originally appeared on The American Conservative.

The Washington Post reminds us how the Saudi coalition war on Yemen helps Al Qaeda:

Last year, the Trump administration imposed sanctions on a powerful Yemeni Islamist warlord, accusing him of being a “prominent military instructor” and fundraiser for al-Qaeda who had also at one point “served with” the Islamic State and financed its forces.

But Abu al-Abbas is not on the run. He is not even in hiding.

By his own admission, Abbas continues to receive millions of dollars in weapons and financial support for his fighters from one of Washington’s closest Middle East allies, the United Arab Emirates, undermining U.S. counterterrorism goals in Yemen.

The Saudi coalition’s cooperation with and support for members of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has been an open secret for many years. Back in August, the Associated Press published one of the most detailed reports on the coalition’s practice of buying off and recruiting AQAP members as part of their war against the Houthis. Members of the coalition have been working with and supporting known terrorists for years, and they continue to do so even now. Meanwhile, US officials keep justifying US support for the coalition’s war on Yemen by claiming that Saudi and Emirati cooperation on counterterrorism is so very important. The war on Yemen has strengthened jihadist groups both directly and indirectly, and this is just one more example of that. The US continues to support a war that not only benefits jihadists by sowing chaos, but it also backs the governments that directly finance and arm those same terrorists.

As if that weren’t bad enough, the Saudi coalition also includes the war criminals of Sudan. This is also not news, but it is good that it is getting more attention. Mark Perry previously reported on the coalition’s use of Sudanese Janjaweed militia in Yemen in a story for TAC earlier this year. Here is a New York Times report saying much the same thing over the weekend:

Almost all the Sudanese fighters appear to come from the battle-scarred and impoverished region of Darfur, where some 300,000 people were killed and 1.2 million displaced during a dozen years of conflict over diminishing arable land and other scarce resources.

Most belong to the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, a tribal militia previously known as the Janjaweed. They were blamed for the systematic rape of women and girls, indiscriminate killing and other war crimes during Darfur’s conflict, and veterans involved in those horrors are now leading their deployment to Yemen – albeit in a more formal and structured campaign.

The Saudi coalition uses the foot soldiers of Sudanese genocide to aid in the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Yemen, and they have been doing so for years. The US continues to assist a coalition of governments that includes one that has already committed genocide and also includes several more that are in the process of committing the crime of mass starvation against the people of Yemen. There are many ugly chapters in the history of US foreign policy, but our government’s ongoing support for this war is one of the most reprehensible and despicable.

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at The American Conservative, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and is a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Dallas. Follow him on Twitter. This article is reprinted from The American Conservative with permission.

Mattis’ Yemen Legacy

Originally appeared on The American Conservative.

Micah Zenko takes a closer look at Mattis’ tenure as Secretary of Defense and finds lots to criticize:

In October and December, Mattis claimed that the United States was providing in-air refueling to the Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen, “so the pilots didn’t feel they had to make a hasty decision about the drop or not to drop, that sort of thing.” This was an attempt to rewrite history in real time, since protecting civilians was not the purpose of the refueling under former President Barack Obama or under Trump [bold mine-DL]. As the Central Commander James Votel explained to the Senate in March, refueling was necessary because it “gives us placement, it gives us access and it gives us influence … with Saudi Arabia,” adding, “They want this type of support, and they want to improve their capabilities.” It was not, as Mattis claimed, to prevent civilian casualties but to literally fuel an air campaign that ensured them by its systematic, indiscriminate nature.

Mattis said a number of false and misleading things about the U.S. role in the war on Yemen over the last two years. That isn’t surprising, since he was one of the leading advocates for increasing the US role in the war as soon as he took office. His spin about refueling Saudi coalition planes was probably one of the most ridiculous things he said about that role. As anyone could see from the results of the bombing campaign, coalition pilots were and still are regularly attacking civilian targets. Refueling practically guaranteed that there would be more civilian casualties, not fewer.

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The Cruelty of Sanctions

Originally appeared on The American Conservative.

The Los Angeles Times reports on the harm that sanctions on Syria do to civilians there:

The result, said Damascus-based businessman Naji Adeeb, is that legitimate business owners are being punished while close associates of the state, including those named in the sanctions, are still able to conduct deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

“You just need a lot more resources to do a lot less, and if you do a transaction today you don’t know if you can do it again a month from now,” said Adeeb. “It’s an environment where only crooks and mafiosis can work.”

Much like the sanctions reimposed on Iran earlier this year, U.S. and other international sanctions on Syria are supposed to have exemptions for humanitarian goods. In practice, however, private firms don’t want to take the risk of running afoul of sanctions by mistake and choose instead to avoid doing any business related to Syria:

But the problem, explained Salah Ismail, the doctor in charge of Mujtahed’s emergency care section, is that foreign suppliers often don’t dare send anything to Syria for fear of triggering unexpected violations – a real possibility.

Even “targeted” sanctions have proven to be far too indiscriminate. It should not surprise us that it isn’t possible to wage economic war on a government without adversely affecting the civilian population. In the end, it is always the broader population rather than the regime and its cronies that suffers the most hardship.

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