“Career U.S. officials have told me there’s no policy coherence, no strategy. They’re throwing Jello at the wall to see what will stick,” said Reza Marashi, Research Director at the National Iranian American Council, discussing the Trump administration’s Iran policy. Marashi spoke on a panel hosted on Capitol Hill last week by NIAC regarding the future of the Iran nuclear deal – also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). He was joined in dialogue by Kelsey Davenport, Director of Non Proliferation at the Arms Control Association, and John Glaser, Director of Foreign Policy at the CATO Institute.
Jamal Abdi––the panel moderator as well as NIAC’s current Vice President of Policy––kicked off the discussion, asking “There seems to be the open question of: Is America’s policy towards Iran regime change?”
“They want capitulation, they want regime change––plain and simple,” answered Marashi. Throughout the panel, speakers agreed that if the United States is actively seeking regime collapse, its motivations aren’t fueled by an urge to “spread democracy” as they claim. If that was the case, destabilization efforts would not be fueled by Saudi Arabia, who are even less democratic than their Iranian counterpart. Instead, Marashi speculated, “The metric for [invasion and sanctions] is: Do you accept American hegemony?” Since the fall of the Shah, Iran has been one of the only regional power that doesn’t, and as such, tensions have only grown.
Glaser noted on the decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal, “I think [Trump] has an intense hate for the (JCPOA) because it was a success of his predecessor. I’m sure, to this day, he has never read it.” The snapback of sanctions––which according to Glaser will “hurt the Iranian people far more than the government”––can be used as political leverage towards a set objective. As Marashi put it, “What people don’t tell you in this town is you’re either on the path to war or diplomacy––everything else is leverage.” Given that the administration walked away from the diplomatic path, it stands to reason that they’re on the path to war.
While American sanctions are bad enough, panelists were skeptical that the Trump administration could create a sanctions coalition as broad as that which existed under the Obama administration. Davenport expressed that without global support for sanctions, it seems unlikely that Iran will come back to the bargaining table for a better deal. And as such, “The Europeans are going to be more creative––as well as the Russians and the Chinese––to find more secure banking channels, so that transactions can be facilitated without touching American financial systems.”
No matter the amount of economic cushioning Europeans can provide, however, Iran has lost substantial benefits envisioned under the deal. As such, hardliner officials––who were largely skeptical of the deal in the first place––are going to push for retaliation. According to Davenport, if the deal falls apart, Iran will likely build more centrifuge facilities, ramp up research, and even potentially enrich uranium up to 20%––but still short of the threshold where it could be used for a weapon.
Even if he wanted, there is very little Trump can do to remedy the situation. He has effectively scared off investment in the country through both threats and his at-times erratic behavior. “If the Trump administration said tomorrow that they would be back in compliance with the Iran deal, who would believe them?” asked Davenport. “Given his long history of broken promises in the foreign policy space, I just don’t think you would have business entities that would be willing to trust that the Trump administration would stay the course.”
When asked for best and worst case scenarios, the panelists had very similar answers. At best, Iran will have just enough incentive to let the agreement “limp through” in the months ahead. At worst, our nations could go to war, spurring another decades-long conflict where we have nothing to gain but everything to lose.
Madness. Madness is the word that comes to mind at the mention of John Bolton. The late under secretary that helped mastermind the disastrous war in Iraq is once again in the news for releasing a plan on how to kill the Iran deal and instigate a civil war in Iran. It is important we not gloss over the gravity of what he is suggesting.
Given his supposed lack of access to the President, Bolton decided to take his advice to the media, in hopes of catching Trump’s eye. His advice? Secretly conspire with “allied” nations to fund terrorist organizations in an ethnic civil war inside Iran. Then, control all of Iran’s territories through terrorist proxies and failed states, deny all Iranians visas, and ultimately make the Iranian government “pay for 9/11.”
The memo encourages U.S. backed ethno-sectarian bloodshed, similar to that of Syria today. Specifically, it proposes the backing of Balochi and Kurdish insurgents. Baloch terrorist and criminal networks have already claimed the lives of approximately 3,000 Iranian border guards and soldiers.
But there’s more. Bolton even suggests ending “all visas for Iranians, including so called ’scholarly,’student, sports, or other exchanges.” That means that his plan is to start a sectarian civil war in Iran and then trapping every single civilian in the war zone. So much for Bolton’s self-proclaimed love for the Iranian people.
Moreover, he demands compensation for Iranian acts of terror, “including 9/11”. The notion that Iran orchestrated 9/11 is completely unfounded, only adding to the insult of Saudi Arabia being on the list of nations he intends to “conspire with against Iran”. After all, 15 out of 19 hijackers in the September 11th attacks were Saudi nationals.
It’s hard to understand the rationale behind Bolton’s thirst for war. After all, Iran is being compliant with the nuclear deal, despite many hardline conservatives predicting that they wouldn’t be.
In his memo, Bolton justifies his actions by claiming that Iran is a “grave threat to Israel”, and that “Iran’s refusal to allow inspections of military sites also provide important reasons for the Administration’s decision.” He continues by speculating that Iran is working with North Korea on missiles and promises that the truth can be exposed by “providing new, declassified information on Iran’s unacceptable behavior”. So all in all, Bolton’s grounds for waging war on Iran are “classified” and the nation ought just take his word for it.
Ultimately, Bolton is looking for excuses to wage war against Iran, and deliberately get thousands of civilians killed. When there is no presentable excuse, he formulates his own under the guise of “classified information.”
Instead of creating a legacy of war, death, and betrayal, America ought to honor the Iran nuclear deal and double down on diplomacy in the Middle East, instead of continuing Bolton’s decades long project of destabilizing the region.
When Donald Trump first put into place his Muslim ban, he justified it on security grounds. The targeted nations were allegedly failed states and hotbeds for terrorists. At first, a majority of Americans gave Trump the benefit of the doubt. The media even referred to it as a temporary “travel ban,” as if it only affected people’s short-term vacation plans rather than permanently disrupting their lives and treating them differently solely based on their place of birth. Those who pointed out that the ban lacked a security justification or that it was racist at its core were met with skepticism. But all of that was before Charlottesville and Trump’s speech in Phoenix last night.
In the aftermath of Trump revealing his sympathy with the “decent folks” who chanted racist and anti-Semitic slogans, it is incumbent upon us to review our previous assessments of Trump’s Muslim ban. Indeed, while the inherent Nazi/KKK theme of the protest was frustrating to many, one thing is now clear: The self-described “alt-right” movement has a far larger presence than expected, and Trump stands behind it. If Trump’s aides are angry with him for showing his true, racist colors, how does that affect the way we look at his past decisions such as the Muslim ban?
CNN commentator Jeffrey Toobin, for instance, argued that the courts “engaged in a pretty dubious practice by using Trump’s campaign utterances against him,” when ruling that the Trump’s intent with the ban was to target Muslims and as a result was unconstitutional. “Candidates (and, to a lesser extent, Presidents) talk publicly all the time,” Toobin argued. “They say things off the cuff, improvising in the moment and sometimes making foolish statements or outright mistakes.”
But after Charlottesville, are we still willing to believe that Trump’s bigoted speech against Muslims was just “improvisation” and “outright mistakes” and not a genuine window into Trump’s deep-held beliefs? What does Trump have to do for us to believe that his racist statements and his defense of bigots and Nazis are accurate reflections of who he really is?
We are reaching a point in which denial of Trump’s evident racism begins to directly enable Trump to continue on this divisive path.
Perhaps those who still cling on to an excessively optimistic interpretation of the nature Trump’s Muslim ban remain convinced that measures of this kind – even racist ones – are needed to keep America safe. After months and years of fear-mongering by Trump about Muslims in general and refugees from the Middle East in particular, it is not surprising that many (uninformed) Americans have become so terrified of this exaggerated threat that they will cling onto any measure they’ve been lulled to believe will make them safe.
But the facts never supported the idea that the Muslim ban could make America safer. A leaked Department of Homeland Security report concluded that “citizenship is unlikely to be a reliable indicator of potential terrorist activity.” Since the inception of the Syrian conflict, foreign-born US-based who engaged in terrorism in the United States were citizens of 26 different countries, according to the report. No single country accounted for more than 13.5 percent of terrorists. Perhaps even more importantly, a CATO study revealed that not a single national from the Muslim-majority countries on Trump’s list had engaged in any lethal act of terrorism in the US. Nationals from Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt ― countries Trump has forged close political and economic relations with both during and prior to his presidency ― account for 94.1% of all deaths in the US through terrorism. Yet, these states were not included in the ban.
In his speech Monday explaining the rationale behind his decision to increase troop levels in Afghanistan, he argued that “20 U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organizations are active in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the highest concentration in any region anywhere in the world.” Yet, Trump did not include Afghanistan or Pakistan in the Muslim ban.
This is not to argue that a ban on Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia would have made the ban more effective. On the contrary, it only demonstrates that security concerns cannot justify or explain the ban.
Racism, however, can.
And racism only makes America less secure. Not only does the ban take America’s attention away from effective tools to combat terrorism, such as pressing Saudi Arabia to stop funding Wahhabi terrorists, it also makes America less safe by giving a green light to violent, supremacist groups. The terrorist attack in Charlottesville by an American Nazi is a case in point. (In fact, in the first six months of this year, there have been 451 confirmed hate crimes targeting Muslims, a 91 percent increase compared to the same period in 2016.)
America’s own history makes this abundantly clear. Racist policies adopted decades and centuries ago (such as the Jim Crow laws), continue to breed inequality and violence today, making America less safe. The Muslim ban is no different. It is a policy rooted in racism that if not stopped now, will create a legacy of bigotry that will breed insecurity by turning Americans against each other, long after Trump has left the White House.