The Trump administration and the war danger

Small “d” democracy

By Mark Lurinsky

On May 9, President Trump’s national security advisor John R. Bolton ordered a military contingency plan to send up to 120,000 U.S. troops to the Middle East, although Trump, a few days later, insisted he doesn’t want a war with IranHow great is the war danger?  Where is it coming from?  What can be done to prevent war?

As of this writing, several incidents of apparent sabotage of oil tankers in the Persian Gulf for which the administration has sought to blame Iran have further inflamed the already tense situation, which has this spring seen the introduction the U.S. aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln—manned by 3,000 sailors—and its 5 escort ships as well as long-range B-52 bombers to the vicinity and the successive additions of 1,500 and 1,000 new U.S. troops in announced administration shows of force.   Most recently, Trump Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is attempting to portray the oil tanker incidents as a smoking gun for what he claimed to be a series of “unprovoked attacks” by the Tehran government, and which require a tough response[1].  From week to week, the military and political situation in this region remains fluid, and, in my view, quite dangerous.

U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln

The president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, William J. Burns, who held senior State Department positions in both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations commented that, while allowing that Iran may or may not have had a role in the recent attacks on oil shipments, which would be “reckless and dangerous…That is also at least partly a predictable consequence of an American coercive diplomacy that so far is all coercion and no diplomacy…The risk is that hard-liners in both Tehran and Washington become mutual enablers, going up a very unsteady escalatory ladder [in the direction of war].”  Burns was referring to the administration’s policy of “maximum pressure” against Iran, to which both Bolton and Pompeo subscribe—that is, steadily increasing the military threats and the extreme economic sanctions against that country (blocking most of its oil export revenues) in the hope that the ensuing misery of the population will produce a mass uprising that results in the overthrow of the clerical regime.

The key background to these events is that last year, against the advice of both then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and then Defense Secretary James Mattis, Trump unilaterally removed the United States from the historic 2015 anti-nuclear pact the Obama administration signed with Iran, which is to say, he moved away from the peace alternative.  For its part, Tehran has until recently continued to live up to its end of anti-nuclear pact, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which eliminated its stockpile of medium-enriched uranium and drastically cut its other uranium supplies and enrichment facilities. However, in light of the increasingly hostile actions against it by the U.S. administration, it is now threatening to breach the pact’s limits.  Remarkably, this type of agreement, now renounced by Trump, is just the type of pact that the president has repeatedly tried and failed to get from North Korea’s Kim Jong-un.

War hawks are leading Trump’s team 

As George W. Bush’s Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs, national security advisor John Bolton was widely understood to be the war hawk vice president Dick Cheney’s man in the State Department, and there are a variety of credible reports that Bolton focused on using that position to wreck any potential non-military alternatives for resolving the U.S. conflict with dictator Saddam Hussein’s regime while playing a role in manipulating intelligence to promote  the Iraq war.[2]

Trump’s appointment of Bolton as national security advisor last year and his removal of Rex Tillerson from the state department, in favor of Pompeo, were both seen by analysts as a movement toward a more openly hostile stance toward Iran in favor of its regional rivals, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, both of whom aggressively lobbied the administration to replace Tillerson.[3] 

What would a war with Iran look like?

It should be fairly obvious that an all-out war between the United States and Iran (which has a population of 83 million and is three times the land mass of Iraq) would be an unmitigated human and economic disaster for both countries and for the region. Military historian and Washington Post columnist Max Boot, one of a number of former conservative and neo-conservative hawks at the time of the Iraq war who are now urging caution, states that in his view such a war would be “the mother of all quagmires,” since it would require not just an air war, in which the U.S. has a clear advantage, but also an extended ground war and occupation to completely defeat opposition and control Iran. [4]

Jeff Seabaugh, a squad leader with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) (15th MEU (SOC)),moves his Marines to their objective during a mission in the Iraq War

Many analysts have commented on how quickly, in this tense atmosphere, a series of unintended military hostilities could break out accidentally in the Persian Gulf or in the wider Middle East area.[5] The danger of accidental war is especially evident under the murky circumstances in which an untrustworthy president and his frequently servile advisors exercise heavy control over the public’s access to intelligence.

Effective action needed to prevent war

If war is to be prevented, it will take effective action by Congress and an aroused public.

In April, the “Prevention of Unconstitutional War with Iran Act of 2019,” which invokes the 1973 War Powers Act, was introduced in both the Senate (by Tom Udall, D-NM) and the House (by Anna Eschoo, D-GA) and is gathering sponsors. All our legislators need to step up to support these bills. (Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman and Senator Cory Booker are so far alone among New Jersey’s large Democratic delegation to become co-sponsors.)

The threat of war should also remind us of the importance of closely examining the foreign policy positions of all our contenders for the Democratic nomination for president as we begin the debate and primary seasons.

With the Mueller report now available for public view and impeachment demands growing, Trump is quite liable to strike out in every direction, including getting us into a war with no obvious endpoint.


Mark Lurinsky has been an activist on matters of public policy since 1968. He is currently a member of BlueWaveNJ’s Electoral Reform Working Group and is co-chair of the Healthcare Committee.

Under the blog title Small “d” democracy, Mark will continue to weigh in on the current issues that define how our country can become a more just, equal, and democratic society.

[1] Some of the weakness of Pompeo’s public blame of Iran for a long list of recent violent incidents can be inferred from the fact that he chose to include a May 31 car bombing against Americans in Afghanistan for which the Taliban claimed credit.

[2] While pressing the dubious and subsequently disproven claim that Iraq was advancing an active program to build “weapons of mass destruction,” Bolton in 2002 used the United States’ leverage over the international Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to demand and obtain the sudden removal of the Brazilian diplomat Jose Bustani as head of that body. This came just at the point that the Brazilian had succeeded in persuading the Iraqi government to accept the global Chemical Weapons Convention and to allow immediate inspections on Iraqi soil, which could have confirmed that Saddam’s former chemical weapons program had already been abandoned.

[3] A key figure who acted as an intermediary from the Emiratis and Saudis against Tillerson, was the Lebanese-American George Nader, a convicted and recently re-arrested sex offender who is also cited in the Muller Report for having arranged a secret meeting in the Seychelles Island during the Trump transition between a high level finance associate of Vladimir Putin and Erik Prince, the former Blackwater private security firm.  In pressing the case for the Saudis and Emiratis, Nader partnered with Eliot Broidy, the deputy finance chair of the Republican national committee, who, like Nader, has a variety of financial interests in these Arab Gulf states.  An as yet not well explored component of this Middle East connection is possible personal financial interests of Jared Kushner and others within the Trump family circle with the Emiratis and the Saudis.

[4] Boot grimly calculates that using “counterinsurgency math—premised on 20 troops per 1,000 inhabitants … you would need more than 1.6 million troops. That’s more than double the active-duty end-strength … of the U.S. Army and Marine Corps combined, and few if any U.S. allies would help.”

[5] An especially relevant concern was mentioned by Massachusetts Representative Seth Moulton, an Iraq veteran and now a presidential candidate, who suggested that the inveterate Iraq war hawks in the administration may succeed to play on the vulnerabilities of Trump, “a weak commander in chief – who doesn’t have the credibility to say no to war because he dodged serving in war himself – to lure us into conflict again.”