B.J. Bethel

A view of the world from Ohio

The Iran decision, and how long will Mattis stay?

What was made clear during the early days of the Trump administration – which feels decades ago, not just over a year, unless our calendars lie – was the grownup side of the White House was in short supply. There was Jim Mattis, the decorated General as Secretary of Defense, and confidence ran low across the board.

Early responses to foreign policy issues gave some confidence that Mattis could keep the administration from unraveling the international order, and maybe even maintaining it to some degree. This is an ironic statement given Trump’s desire to role the United States off the world stage, and allow China to gain more of a hold as a world leader. But the carefully staged counter attack against Assad armies in Syria and Russian convoys for a deadly attack on civilians was measured, smart and productive in some manner, though the successes of such responses are always hard to determine. After the Assad regimes horrific attack on civilians in Douma with chemical weapons, the U.S. responded with targeted strikes with help from allied countries.

All sense that the U.S. would maintain some semblance of sound foreign policy died the moment Donald Trump announced the U.S. was pulling out of the P5+1 nuclear deal with Iran. The reasons couldn’t have been more specious given the circumstances in which the deal was signed and the timing of Trump pulling out of it.

Trump didn’t dare make this move during the early days of his presidency, when the Obama plan to smash the Islamic State, and push them out of Iraq and past the Euphrates was rolling, eventually beating IS out of its stronghold in Mosul. The effort combined coordination between U.S. trained Iraqi forces, Iraqi militias, Kurdish military and groups with direct ties to Iran. The countries didn’t always cooperate (Iraq’s government began forcing Kurds out of Mosul before the invasion was complete), and it certainly led to to strange alliances, but the operation worked and the immediate and most dangerous threat was pushed out of a country and stripped of its oil rich wealth.

Conveniently, after this was accomplished, Trump brings John Bolton into the White House, a man whose reputation is so sordid, he once brought Republican Senator George Voinovich to tears at the thought he would represent the U.S. at the United Nations. Just a week later, we pull out of the Iran deal in a callous manner, that is followed just an hour after the announcement with attacks by Israel on Assad and Iranian positions in Syria.

What the Iran deal did do was much more important than what it didn’t. The plan was to give incentive to Iran to stop its nuclear weapons program. Much of this was through lifting sanctions and other economic incentives. The hope was these actions would also bring Iran closer in relations with other countries involved in the Joint Agreement.

It wasn’t about limiting money Iran sent to Hezbollah or Assad. The condemnations over this are the most hypocritical of complaints considering the U.S. government has done nothing to limit Saudi money that has fueled Sunni terrorism for decades, and was propping up the Islamic State. While the Iranian government has said it intends to comply with the deal through the remaining participation with allies in Europe, much of U.S. involvement was needed to keep the deal alive. So instead of a steady stream of inspections and protections to keep Iran from going nuclear, it’s now been given all the reason to go further with its nuclear plan given the Trump administration’s open embrace of Kim Jong Un, who despite ignoring international law and running a concentration camp as a country, and developing an ICBM capable of delivering a nuclear payload to most of the United States.

The signs are simple – nuclear weapons means bargaining power. It means security, and it means a seat at the table. The Trump administration is too ignorant to recognize this, just as they were so caught up in their own ‘successes’ on the Korean penninsula, it was blindsided by North Korea’s pullout of a summit with President Trump over lifting economic sanctions and moving to denuclearize the Hermit Kingdom – all in response to regular military exercises by South Korean and the U.S., a response typical of North Korea anytime military exercises are scheduled.

News reports had the White House shocked and dismayed, a situation that’s crushing to those who follow international politics. If there was one thing to understand about North Korea, it was its history of provocative behavior and the predictable timing of it. That the White House was taken aback is the sign of a inept administration that doesn’t understand the larger issues it’s dealing with, or the largest of repercussions, let alone the smallest.

This bring us to General Mattis. The White House rumor mill, which spins alongside its constant flow of leaks, has Trump cutting out nearly the entire advisory staff on these recent decisions and talking only with Bolton. A bad move given his controversial decision making and his shoot first, ask questions later approach.

Mattis is a soldier, perhaps the first time since U.S. Grant that the General in the field was the best soldier there. The Bolton plan of relying on ethnic or separatist uprising to topple the Iranian government is so boldly stupid and reckless it defies rational thought. This canard was floated throughout the neo-con quarters prior to the Iraq War, that the Hussein family’s grip on Iraq was coming unglued. In fact all other concerns thrown out, the U.S. would be in a much better position to stop a coming separatist war or civil war if it were to simply invade and pull Hussein out of leadership.

It wasn’t true by any means that Hussein was on the brink of losing power. I discussed this matter with an officer who served with the Iraq Survey Group, the military group in charge of finding WMDs once the U.S. invaded. He considered such talk ridiculous and said there was no sign from anyone that Iraq was about to have its Arab Spring moment 10 years early.

To believe this is scenario is playing out in Iran, a much more modern society with a more entrenched government, stretches credulity to limits beyond scale. It’s difficult to believe Bolton even believes this scenario will play out, or that it will even end in a favorable manner for the West and the U.S.

So how long does General Mattis stay? The White House was simultaneously suckered by a North Korean strongman the same day its launched a proxy war between Iran and Israel. If there is no uprising in Iraq, and the U.S. has to now deal with a more hostile Iran, the options become worse.

There are no options for taking out a reinstated by air. Most of Iran’s nuclear sites are deep underground, far from the reach of our bunker busters or MOABs. That means the only way of getting regime change or putting an end to their nuke program would be to invade. A scenario that easily surpass the number of dead in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Why would Mattis be a part of this self-made conundrum? He would be responsible for the success and planning of the largest invasion since D-Day, and would certainly be seeing over the largest loss of life in war in 50 years.

There’s almost no incentive for him to stay, especially with Israel and Iran now battling via proxy and with North Korea showing itself to be an arrogant nuclear power.

For our country’s sake, let’s hope he stays as Secretary of Defense. There are few as qualified for their roles at the White House, Mattis is one of those few. He also brings experience and brains to his job, something that can’t be said for most of the cabinet. To this point he has shown he’s a voice of sanity in the asylum.

 

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