Since US President Donald Trump assumed office, he has made it his mission to be a self-proclaimed dealmaker. In his words, America would have “only the best deals” under his administration. Consequently, Washington has been at odds with new foes and old alike as Trump has forced himself onto the bargaining table. On issues ranging from trade to nuclear arms, he’s managed rope Iran, North Korea, China, Japan, France, and even Canada into renegotiation discussions, even on issues that were settled with the outgoing Obama administration.
Politically speaking, two of those countries stand out from the rest: Iran and North Korea. For decades, both countries have been avowed enemies of the U.S., and Western society to a broader extent. When President Barack Obama left office, his Secretary of State, John Kerry, had just finalized the Iran nuclear deal. Known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, it provided a framework which coerced Tehran to abandon its nuclear ambitions in lieu of the removal of sanctions.
And by all accounts it was working. The International Atomic Energy Agency reported in September 2017 that Iran was in full compliance with the agreement even as Trump insisted that it was not upholding its end of the deal. Facts notwithstanding, Trump pulled the U.S. out of the deal with an executive order.
Trump’s strategy appears to be leading the U.S. to a confrontation with Iran that could rival anything we’ve seen between the two since the 1980s. The decade following the Iran-Iraq War was particularly tumultuous and included a number of smaller attacks initiated by both sides.
This month, the Pentagon an U.S. Central Command made the decision to deploy a carrier strike group to the Middle East. The Pentagon obtained aerial footage depicted missiles loaded onto Iranian boats. That alone would be worrisome for American and her allies, but it also coincided with the destruction of four tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates on May 12, attacks that Tehran has vehemently denied. Thus far, there has been no evidence of its involvement although investigations have yet to begin.
Interestingly, the spy photograph has not been released by American intelligence, leading many to question its authenticity. Despite this, the Trump administration has consistently labeled Iran as a rising threat that could launch attacks against American troops in region, specifically those fighting in Syria and Iraq.
National Security Adviser John Bolton is thought to be the architect behind the recent “rise” of Iran and its alleged aggressive moves in the Persian Gulf. Many might recall that four years ago, Bolton penned a passionate piece for The New York Times entitled, “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran.” At that point in time, Obama was pushing negotiations forward with Tehran, however Bolton still wanted a preemptive war.
As noted in Foreign Policy, Bolton’s strategy appears directly lifted from the one he used to successfully convince President George W. Bush to invade Iraq over a decade ago. Although weapons of mass destruction were never discovered, the war culminated in the loss of thousands of civilians and troops, ultimately setting the stage for the rise of Daesh. Although invasion plans have yet to be drawn up (to our knowledge), there’s no mistaking that the head of Trump’s foreign policy clearly desires an armed conflict of some level.
He’s not alone, either. The U.S. Centcom commander, General Kenneth McKenzie, spoke forcefully about the the dangers of an empowered Iran.
“The long-term, enduring, most significant threat to stability in the Central Command area of operations is Iran,” McKenzie said.
Despite all this, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declared that there will be no war.
“We don’t seek a war, and they don’t either. They know it’s not in their interests,” Khamenei stated.
If a war with Iran doesn’t materialize, Bolton might be satisfied with heightened North Korean hostilities. The U.S. took the unusual step of seizing a cargo ship leaving the Southeast Asian peninsula. It was loaded with coal, a manifest in violation of U.S. sanctions. Unlike his predecessor and opposite from his strategy on Iran, Trump began his tenure with opening dialogue with Kim Jong Un. Instead of tearing up a deal, he reached out to strike one. After leaving empty handed on two occasions, Trump has defaulted back to restoring sanctions.
In retaliation, Kim resumed missile test launches that had been halted for a couple years.
The conflicts between both Iran and North Korea will likely continue to simmer until the 2020 U.S. presidential election, and that is likely by design. Even though Trump privately has said he doesn’t want war, at least on member of his cabinet does. Bolton might be pulling the strings to set up Trump for a successful reelection bid. Wartime presidents have historically been elected every time. A fresh war beginning so soon before the election season begins would give rally more supporters to his cause and also would distract the American voter from the recent Mueller Report.