The very day Donald Trump was to deliver on Jerusalem, Benjamin Netanyahu gave a speech about — the Iranian threat to the “entire world.”
If Iran continues unabated, they will have a nuclear arsenal of 100 bombs and more. . . . This has to be stopped. Not merely because Iran calls for the annihilation of Israel, but because Iran wants to conquer the entire Middle East and go even beyond that. It’s developing ICBMs to reach any point on earth.
Netanyahu seems to hope that after delivering on Jerusalem, Trump will also deliver on Iran — the attack that Netanyahu was unable to convince George Bush or Barack Obama to undertake.
And today Nikki Haley echoed Netanyahu: giving a fire-and-brimstone speech about Iran arming “terrorists” in the region as a pretext to end the Iran deal.
One sure sign of Netanyahu’s influence in Washington is the march of the neoconservatives. Of course, many neoconservatives have been Never Trumpers. But if Trump is a hawk for Israel — who knows how much they’d be willing to forgive! The Weekly Standard, the magazine led by the biggest Never Trumper of em all, Bill Kristol, celebrated the Trump speech on Jerusalem as a “noble statement.” Hmmm.
Neoconservatives are poised to gain more influence in the administration. Two weeks ago the major newspapers were filled with reports about the reported plan to remove Rex Tillerson as secretary of state as part of a shuffle that would promote two unrestrained militarists: CIA director Mike Pompeo in place of Tillerson, and Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton to succeed Pompeo at the CIA. If this shuffle comes to pass, the main purpose will be to grease the run-up to war with Iran, the generational dream of the neocons.
Pompeo’s elevation would make it “a virtual certainty that Trump will withdraw the U.S. from the Iran nuclear deal and put the U.S. at odds with its closest European allies,” Eli Clifton writes. Tom Cotton was mentored by Bill Kristol on foreign policy, and his rise to the Senate was underwritten by Kristol’s Emergency Committee for Israel (with a cool million) as well as by Trump’s pro-Israel coffer-bearers, Sheldon Adelson and Paul Singer. Cotton organized the famous 47 traitors’ letter to the ayatollahs trying to undermine the Iran deal back in 2015, and often touts “regime change” — he believes in the use of force in the Middle East as a solvent for all those countries’ issues.
Trump campaigned against a neoconservative foreign policy, as Eli Clifton notes. But he now seems to be moving increasingly into their camp.
“Every few years, the neocons push very hard for all-out war to overthrow the Iranian regime,” David Bromwich wrote to us. “It is never off their minds for long and they figure eventually they’ll catch a break. Now, with Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, and Somalia under our belt, what’s one war more or less? Trump wants to jack up a crisis –confrontation for his own reasons, before the November 2018 midterm election. The time spent by Pompeo at the CIA will not have been wasted: remember, the agency under John Brennan was militarized in order to direct and conceal Obama’s drone wars; and Pompeo, knowing the machinery from inside, will be be ideally prepared to coordinate secret actions at the CIA with non-diplomacy at the state department.”
Robert Wright at Vox warns the left about the neocons gaining shelter:
[O]ne big reason we can’t afford to put our differences with Kristol on hold until Trump leaves office: That next war could be coming soon. Trump is already undermining Obama’s Iran nuclear deal (which Kristol energetically opposed) and in other ways exacerbating tensions with Iran. If reports of an upcoming administration reshuffling are true, we will soon have passionate and reckless anti-Iran hawks running both the State Department and the CIA. . . .
A cynic might go so far — and some cynics have — as to suggest that a belligerent, militaristic foreign policy is the lodestar for Kristol and some other neoconservatives, and that they’re willing to support whatever constellation of domestic policies it takes to sustain a coalition for this militarism.
In this view, the current moment is, for Kristol, an opportunity to win favor from fervent liberal anti-Trumpers, favor that can be used later to sell another war.
Wright cites Michael Tomasky as a liberal who is willing to put aside foreign policy differences with the neocons to oppose Trump. Tomasky said, “Well, Bill Kristol’s done a lot of things I don’t like. And I’ve probably done a lot of things he didn’t like. . . . But I’m ready even to forget Iraq.”
Be careful what you wish for.
Ehud Barak, the Laborite who was once a defense minister under Netanyahu, said two weeks ago at Brookings that he personally lobbied Presidents Bush and Obama to launch a “unilateral” strike to destroy Iranian facilities. Barak told the presidents it would be “irresponsible” not to take bold action.
It’s not a big secret that we could not convince the presidents at the time. I talked personally one-on-one with two of them, could not convince them that’s a good idea and be enthusiastic about it. We didn’t ask for American enthusiasm.
“Why didn’t you attack Iran when you had the chance?” asked Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic. Well, Obama always argued that attacking Iran would set off a major war, Barak responded. But this is a false idea, because in the last four years the Pentagon “has developed extremely fine scalpels, much finer than what we have or can dream of having.” Barak went on:
There is a way to do it in extremely surgical manner and a very successful — now. But you can do it now. You can do it in four years and you will be able to do it even in eight years from now.
Yes we’ve heard about those scalpels before.
During the Bush administration in 2007, neoconservative policy advisers wanted to station more air craft carriers in the Persian Gulf to provoke Iran. “Some Bush advisers secretly wanted an excuse to attack Iran [Hillary Mann Leverett, former White House security aide, told Newsweek]. ‘They intend to be as provocative as possible and make the Iranians do something [America] would be forced to retaliate for.'”
Then in 2010, Jeffrey Goldberg was Barak’s mouthpiece, pushing for an attack on Iran as the supposed last gasp to keep the Iranians from going nuclear — and the only way to keep the Israelis from launching an attack of their own.
Look for Iran to be the bridge by which the neocon “Never Trumpers” come to Trump’s side. Sadly, the word “neoconservative” never occurs in any of the New York Times stories on the possible executive shuffle, though reporters Mark Landler, Peter Baker, and Julie Hirschfeld Davis are all surely aware of the neoconservative march. And Eliot Cohen gets cited as an impartial authority — Eliot Cohen who pushed for the Iraq war, who defended Israel’s onslaughts on Gaza as the equivalent of Sherman’s march through the south, and who endlessly promoted an attack on Iran too.
At Jeffrey Goldberg’s magazine, Cohen recommends Pompeo for the State Department, as someone who will restore a “sane” but “tough-minded” direction to foreign policy.
Here we go again. Netanyahu wants a war with Iran, for reasons not all that different from Trump’s. We can only hope that the resistance to such a disaster this time will include many Democrats and realist Republicans, too.
Between May and June, 2016, Sheldon Adelson contributed $250,000 to Haley’s 527 political organization, A Great Day, funds that she used [as governor of South Carolina] to target four Republican state senate [critics] in primaries. Adelson was the largest contributor to her group, which raised a total of $915,000.