If Hillary Clinton had been elected president, a major confrontation with Russia would almost inevitably have taken place, and probably sooner rather than later. Under Donald Trump, the risk of World War III with Russia has been reduced dramatically because the new president appears to be quite fond — some might say too fond — of Vladimir Putin.
So that’s good news. On the down side, with Trump there’s a real possibility of war with Iran, especially as he has already picked three anti-Iranian hardliners for his defense and national security team. The new Pentagon secretary, retired Marine Corps General James Mattis, has received generally favorable press and is seen as a check on Trump’s loopier impulses and appointees.
But Mattis’s views on Iran are extreme, as seen in this excellent Foreign Policy story by Mark Perry. It chronicles Mattis’ “33-Year Grudge Against Iran” and says his “animus is so intense” that it led President Obama to dismiss him as Centcom commander. “Mattis’ Iran antagonism also concerns many of the Pentagon’s most senior officers, who disagree with his assessment and openly worry whether his Iran views are based on a sober analysis or whether he’s simply reflecting a 30-plus-year-old hatred of the Islamic Republic that is unique to his service,” the story says.
The there’s K.T. McFarland, the Fox News analyst who he picked to be his deputy national security adviser. She’s been an outspoken opponent of the nuclear deal with Iran, says Tehran is on the “verge” of obtaining nuclear weapons and that policy choices range from “bombing Iran or letting Iran get the bomb.”
Incoming national security adviser Michael Flynn has particularly lunatic views on Iran. (And a variety of other topics, as seen in his and his son’s tweets about “Pizzagate.”) He got fired from his job as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and no full explanation has been given. Some accounts say he was canned because he was abusive with staff, others blame his explosive temperament.
Flynn himself has claimed in the New York Post that he was fired because of “the stand I took on radical Islamism.” In the same article he wrote, “We’re in a global war, facing an enemy alliance that runs from Pyongyang, North Korea, to Havana, Cuba, and Caracas, Venezuela. Along the way, the alliance picks up radical Muslim countries and organizations such as Iran, al Qaeda, the Taliban and Islamic State.”
What I’ve heard is that Flynn was canned because he holds, as that line above shows, highly conspiratorial world views, was deemed to be erratic and unstable, and tried to force the facts to fit his policy and ideological preferences, in particular Iran. He found Iranian on the attack on the diplomatic compound in Benghazi and was convinced Tehran’s fingerprints were on a variety of global plot and conflicts. When he got back reports shooting down his conclusions, he’d tell DIA analysts they were wrong and demand they go back to work and provide the evidence needed to support his feverish theories.
Just as the Bush administration was obsessed with Iraq and found “facts” to support the 2003 invasion, Flynn has long been obsessed with finding a causus belli to justify an attack on Tehran. Keeping him in check is essential but when it comes to Iran, Mattis and McFarland amplify his hawkishness.
The economy is a disaster and it’s going to get worse. How will Trump distract his supporters from their problem? Twitter won’t be enough. Trump wouldn’t be the first president to Wag the Dog and he’ll have plenty of support from his advisors if he wants to give it a go with Iran