Today’s Wall Street Journal reports that Trump plans to add 15,000 more troops in the Middle East to counter a purported Iranian threat. That’s in addition to an earlier added deployment of 15,000 troops. This brings total U. S. forces in the region to nearly 80,000.
Though there was almost a GOP insurrection over Trump’s abrupt pullout of our remaining 1,000 troops battling ISIS in northern Syria, our massive ground presence today registers as barely a blip on the radar.
Trump, who clearly has no concept of military geo-strategy, is stretching our readiness level to the limit and beyond. China is a far more serious military threat to us and our Asian allies than Iran. Deploying two of our five available aircraft carriers to the Strait of Hormuz means that Japan, South Korea and the Philippines are left at the mercy of China’s aggressive territorial ambitions. The Chinese, unlike our own leadership, are quite astute and observe our heavy investment in the Middle East. It allows them to make bold forays knowing that we are far less capable of countering them than we otherwise might be.
The increased fighting forces in the region are justified by mind-numbing claims like these:
A senior Pentagon official said…there were indications that Iran could potentially carry out aggressive actions in the future, amid simmering tensions between Tehran and Washington.
“We also continue to see indications, and for obvious reasons I won’t go into the details, that potential Iranian aggression could occur,” John Rood, the Pentagon’s No. 3 official, told reporters.
Rood did not provide details about what information he was basing that on or any timeline.
“Potential Iranian aggression could occur.” And a meteor could incinerate the earth tomorrow. It’s quite telling that even the reporter couldn’t keep a straight face: he had to let the cat out of the bag, noting the Pentagon doomsayer offered no evidence to support his dubious claim.
Even Republican senators are not welcoming Trump’s latest round of chest-thumping. Tomorrow, a senior Pentagon official will come under some grilling from Sen. Hawley (R,, MO):
“I look forward to hearing tomorrow in Senate Armed Services [Committee] why the Pentagon reportedly wants 14,000 MORE troops in the Middle East, after sending 14,000 already this year alone. Is the Pentagon preparing for a land war?”
A fair question. But even if we aren’t, what the hell are all those troops doing there? What is the point? What is the U.S. interest? The fact is that putting so much U.S. firepower into a region that is already a powder keg tempts someone to light a match. This is what happened when Ronald Regan sent U.S. Marines to Beirut to keep the peace in the midst of a civil war. Instead of doing so, they became the targets and came home in body bags.
There is another motivating factor in this military buildup having little to do with our own national interest: Bibi Netanyahu is fighting for his political life in the face of both a possible third election (in the past nine months); and three corruption indictments. Though Trump never likes to bet on a loser and Bibi hasn’t exactly been a winner lately, Israel has a diamond in the hole: Sheldon Adelson. GIving $200-million to the President and his Party will buy a lot of ground troops.
Trump is prepared to rattle our sabers over Iran, impose ever more punitive sanctions, strangle the economy to within an inch of its life–all in the interest of throwing Bibi a few bones he can use in his desperate effort to cling to power as Israel’s longest serving prime minister.
Netanyahu had been hoping that the Europeans would be his meal ticket during the current NATO summit. He’d planned to meet Secretary of State Pompeo, Andrea Merkel and Emmanuel Macron and give them yet another lecture about the “Iranian threat” and how much more the Europeans should be doing to punish Iran.
Bibi: Macron Said ‘Non,’ Merkel Said ‘Nein,’ and the Brits Said ‘Bugger Off’
A funny thing happened on the way to the summit: Macron said Non; Merkel said Nein; and the British security services told Boris Johnson they couldn’t prepare the necessary security measures in time. So Bibi was left high and dry.
Pompeo did meet with Bibi today in Lisbon; and like the happy warriors they both are, poured down fire and brimstone on Iran. Their main pitch seemed to be that the unrest in Iran, which sprang from riots over gasoline tax increses and led to the killing of over 200 protesters and the arrest of 7,000 more, offered a tantalizing opportunity to overthrow the regime.
This, of course, has been a siren-song of the neo-con warriors going back decades: provoke ethnic unrest and civil uprisings and the freedom-loving people of Iran, who want nothing more than to sit back before their 65-inch HD TVs swigging Coca Cola, will do the rest for us.
It didn’t work in 2009 during a tainted election. It didn’t work in 2019 either. External intervention of any sort is a certain recipe for failure. But that doesn’t stop Netanyahu, who cares not a whit for Iranians:
…Netanyahu called for increased action against Iran, indicating that the recent unrest in the Islamic Republic offers an opportunity to topple the regime.
“Iran’s aggression is growing, but its empire is tottering. And I say: let’s make it totter even further. Iran is increasing its aggression as we speak, even today, in the region,” he added. “They’re trying to have staging grounds against us and the region from Iran itself, from Iraq, from Syria, from Lebanon, Gaza, and Yemen. And we are actively engaged in countering that aggression.”
Here’s Pompeo offering the “freedom” pitch I mentioned above:
“These are people seeking freedom [and a] reasonable way to live. And they recognize the threat that is posed by kleptocrats that are running the Islamic Republic of Iran,” he said.
“So we talked to our European partners about that, how we can together ensure that we do everything that we can to create opportunity for these people who simply want freedom and a chance to live a normal life.”
Ah yes, those Iranian kleptocrats…who are pikers by comparison with the thieves and scoundrels in the White House and Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem.
It’s cute how Pompeo’s rhetoric, claiming only to have the best interests of Iranians at heart, clouds the fact that our actual policy is raining down misery, hunger, and illness upon them. As for Pompeo’s attempt at channeling Iranians’ hopes and dreams, he’s left a few things out of consideration: they want to live as a proud nation, making their own way in the world without the intervention of foreign enemies against them. They want to right to pursue their commercial interests without interference. They want the right to travel the world pursuing those hopes and dreams as Iranians, not as slaves.
The very idea that Mike Pompeo knows or even cares what the average Iranians thinks is beyond preposterous.
The goal of these meetings is not so much dealing with Iran, but pursuing domestic political agendas for both the Americans and Israelis. Netanyahu desperately needs to remain relevant both at home and on the world stage. He needs to show the Party apparatus that he remains a powerful world leader. He needs to show voters that he brings prestige and honor to their country. That’s how he will get the votes to retain power.
Pompeo is himself up to his eyeballs in the Trump impeachment. Though he hasn’t been called as a witness, he was deeply implicated in key elements of the Ukraine quid pro quo deliberations. So he needs to be seen a America’s ambassador to the world, active in world capitals, consulted by foreign governments and leaders. Trump, as well, needs to divert attention from all the bad news in Washington. Any time U.S. diplomacy can bump an impeachment headline off the main page is a victory.
This unfortunately turns Iran into a domestic political opportunity for cynical pols like Netanyahu and Pompeo.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.