When things are as crazy as they are right now, it’s hard to see just how much progress has been made. 2019 had in it a number of watershed moments in geopolitics which signal just how close to radical change in the game board we are. The neoconservatives within the Trump administration went for broke in 2019 and came a cropper every time. There’s no war with Iran. Nordstream 2 will be completed. Russia and Ukraine are on the path to solving their conflict. Iran is still selling oil. Turkey is still run by a madman. Israeli politics is more fractious than Spain’s. And Bashar al-Assad is still in charge in a slowly-rebuilding Syria. The problem with these folks is they are relentless and still placed everywhere within the
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When things are as crazy as they are right now, it’s hard to see just how much progress has been made. 2019 had in it a number of watershed moments in geopolitics which signal just how close to radical change in the game board we are.
The neoconservatives within the Trump administration went for broke in 2019 and came a cropper every time. There’s no war with Iran. Nordstream 2 will be completed. Russia and Ukraine are on the path to solving their conflict. Iran is still selling oil. Turkey is still run by a madman. Israeli politics is more fractious than Spain’s. And Bashar al-Assad is still in charge in a slowly-rebuilding Syria.
The problem with these folks is they are relentless and still placed everywhere within the permanent bureaucracy of the U.S. government and Congress itself.
And President Trump has only been partially successful in fending them off from pulling off policy mistakes from which there is no turning back.
We are downstream from the neocon/Israeli push to withdraw the U.S. from the JCPOA, or Iran Nuclear Deal. That one event has dominated the geopolitical landscape for going on two years now. Trump thought he was gaining leverage over both Europe and Iran by withdrawing from the deal, when he actually unleashed a political and diplomatic quagmire.
The pull of the AIPAC crowd surrounding him, specifically Sheldon Adelson, Jared Kushner and Rudy Guiliani, put Trump on a path to confrontation with Iran which could only end in war, their desired outcome.
Trump, to his credit, has resisted this but only just barely. His refusal to go to war after Iran shot down a Global Hawk drone in June led to the firing of arch-neocon John Bolton as National Security Adviser and the subsequent impeachment fiasco we’re seeing today.
Trump, for his part, is reforming the NSC – National Security Council—by stripping it of more than two-thirds of its staff, to limit is ability to set policy outside of his purview. This will be reported by the MSM as him arrogating dictatorial powers and becoming insulated from reality.
It seems Trump is finally realizing that in Washington personnel is policy. Robert C. O’Brien is not John Bolton. It’s a good start. And if Trump wins a second term in November there may be hope that we’ll see foreign policy that is less schizophrenic and, frankly, dangerous.
Make no mistake, Trump not going to war overtly with Iran in June was a win. A small win, but a win, nonetheless.
But since that day it has been one non-stop neocon assault on his presidency and any kind of peace in the Middle East. I’m still of the opinion, tenuously so, that Trump wants to do the right thing in, at least, minimizing U.S. meddling in the region.
But the neocons are still dominant. They infest the NSC, the CIA, the State Dept. as well as major European governments and intelligence agencies. And it’s clear that Trump is fighting a rear-guard battle against them. They dominate the information flow to him.
I’m not absolving Trump of his mistakes by saying this. It’s clear he needs to be better at seeing through the misleading, if not outright false, data put in front of him about what’s happening on the ground in places like Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.
But what’s also clear is that the neocons will not stop until they get a war with Iran. Theirs is an ideology of subjugation and permanent revolution. These people are the descendants of Trotsky and all that implies.
Israel has stepped up its aggression against Syria and Iraq while simultaneously backing down to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Airstrikes to the west get bolder and more aggressive, sometimes with the U.S.’s help while the mere threat of retaliation by Hezbollah sees IDF forces disappear from the earth for a week.
Israeli Prime Minister (for now) Benjamin Netanyahu will do anything to keep the U.S. engaged in Syria and Iraq. He and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are on the same page and it seems every time Pompeo shows up to talk with Bibi some escalation happens a week later.
The latest is this attack on the K1 base near Kirkuk which killed ‘an American contractor.’ That’s code for non-strategic personnel, most likely someone working the Iraqi oil fields there. The base was under the control of Iraqi PMU forces and likely attacked by either the local Kurds or ISIS.
The U.S. response was to bomb five PMU bases in Syria and Iraq nowhere near Kirkuk, all supporting the Iraqi government’s order to open up the Al Qaim/Al-Bukamai border crossing with Syria, which both the U.S. and Israel are vehemently opposed to.
It looks to me that Pompeo and Netanyahu cooked up yet another ‘incident’ to force President Trump into a confrontation with Iran by escalating tensions now in Iraq.
The result of the U.S. response was assaults on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad which brought in 100 marines and Apache helicopters to disperse the crowd.
And then Trump talks literally out of both sides of his mouth on Twitter.
Iran killed an American contractor, wounding many. We strongly responded, and always will. Now Iran is orchestrating an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Iraq. They will be held fully responsible. In addition, we expect Iraq to use its forces to protect the Embassy, and so notified!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 31, 2019
To those many millions of people in Iraq who want freedom and who don’t want to be dominated and controlled by Iran, this is your time!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 31, 2019
Everything that happens in the Middle East that the U.S. and Israel doesn’t like is Iran’s fault. There can be no nuance for Iraqi people rising up organically against U.S. airstrikes taking out dozens of Iraqi patriots who liberated most of Iraq from ISIS and Al-Qaeda on the thinnest of pretexts.
Iraq is not going to rise up against Iran over this. If Trump has been advised that this is possible that is coming straight from a national security infrastructure intent on convincing him of staying it the Middle East forever. But Trump has shown no inclination to take this farther.
He’ll threaten fire and brimstone but that’s about it. And for this reason, the neocons are losing ground in the long run. What’s clear to me is that Trump lacks the political will to hold the line completely. He goes along with economic sanctions and tariffs in lieu of putting troops on the ground.
But at some point, he’s going to have to take a decisive stand and stop playing a game of attrition. Speaker Nancy Pelosi is slow-walking the impeachment articles to gain more leverage over him and force him from office with Republican support. For now, there is no appetite for this. But into this vacuum of power where Trump’s future rests on the votes of 17 Republican Senators, all rampant neocons, the worst legislation imaginable will come forth. This is how the NDAA got passed with additional sanctions on European allies working on Russian energy projects.
This is how Lindsey Graham (R-SC) will push the even worse DASKA through Congress now that he’s secured the vote of the Foreign Relations Committee. If Trump doesn’t toe the neocon line while the impeachment threat hangs over his neck, then, all of a sudden, conviction in the Senate will be the talk of the town.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that Trump keeps bringing in record money to fund his re-election. As long as Iran can keep a hold over its more militant factions and not escalate the situation in Iraq then all of these neocon provocations will peter out along with impeachment.
These moves by the neocons are desperation plays to retain control over U.S. foreign policy which the electorate is growing more tired of by the day. 2019 was the year they failed to secure victory. Most of 2020 will be dominated with them putting up one, last desperate offensive.
The views of individual contributors do not necessarily represent those of the Strategic Culture Foundation.