Trump-Bolton Iran Policy Irrational and Dangerous

Interview with Melvin Goodman, senior fellow at the Center for International Policy, former CIA analyst, conducted by Scott Harris

The most recent ratcheting up of tensions between the U.S. and Iran began on May 5 when Trump’s national security advisor John Bolton  announced the U.S. was deploying an aircraft carrier strike group and bomber task force to the Persian Gulf in response to U.S. intelligence agencies warning of threats from Iran or their proxies in both Iraq and Syria.  On May 15, the State Department ordered all nonemergency government employees to leave its embassy in Baghdad, its consulate in Erbil, and advised Americans against traveling to Iraq.  
However, British deputy commander in the global coalition against the Islamic State contradicted the U.S. warning of an Iranian attack. Maj. Gen. Chris Ghika told reporters there’s been no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria. Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told Trump Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a recent meeting  that America’s unilateral strategy of increasing pressure against Iran was ill-advised.

Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Melvin Goodman, senior fellow at the Center for International Policy, adjunct professor of international relations at Johns Hopkins University and a former CIA senior analyst and division chief from 1966 to 1990. Here, Goodman questions the credibility of U.S. intelligence that could be used to draw the nation into a costly war with Iran, and assesses the muddled objectives of the Trump administration’s Iran policy.

MEL GOODMAN: Well, if you look at the entire body of Trump’s actions against Iran from the time he came into the White House in 2017 – it seems so long ago, so much has happened. Every action he’s taken against Iran is consistent with the idea of preparing a case for war, a war that he claims he really does not want. And it happens against the background of wanting to pull troops out of Syria and then backing off when he ran into resistance, wanting to pull more troops out of Afghanistan and then backing off again when the Pentagon resisted. But Iran seems to be a special fixation. And I think part of it is a fixation with the Obama legacy. So he’s targeted the Iran nuclear accord, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. But he’s also joined with Saudi Arabia and Israel, which is essentially an alliance to put greater pressure on Iran.

And there really is no great rationalization for it. But in walking away from the Iran nuclear agreement – which was a very important international agreement – and which Secretary of State John Kerry not only got Iran to negotiate away from its nuclear program, but he got Russia to join in with us, along with China and key European states. This (Trump’s decision) was a clear step, against Iran and particularly against Iran moderates who wanted this agreement. And this was one of the things that bothered me the most about walking away from the agreement. It meant you really compromised the efforts of the moderates and particularly the Iranian government to get this agreement in the first place. It wasn’t popular in all sections of the Iranian political community.And then you look at the (Trump administration’s) branding of the Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization, the first time the United States has ever gone after a state organization, as opposed to a non-state actor. A step that the Pentagon did not want because they argued correctly and prophetically that Iran would just turn around and declare American troops in the Middle East as terrorist organizations, which they’ve done.

If you look at the sanctions he’s placed on their economy, particularly on oil, which is about 40 percent of Iran’s gross national product in terms of an economy that is struggling to begin with. And now without any predicate – at least the Europeans aren’t buying into it and they don’t see any predicate – he’s upped the ante in terms of the carrier task force, which is a fairly significant armada and sending B-52 bombers into the region, which I think makes no sense at all. And the discussion of 120,000 troops, about the same number of troops, actually, that were used to wage the war against Iraq in 2003. The Europeans do not believe that there’s any intelligence that justify these moves.

The administration itself has not produced any intelligence that’s satisfactory in any way. The Pentagon has refused to declassify any of the photographs they claim that they have. And the few photos that I’ve seen reference to don’t prove anything that they had these small Iranian boats that may or may not have missiles on them, with no evidence whatsoever that they’ve been delivered to anybody. And of course the accusation – and the White House is filled with accusations – is that this was a weaponry that was going to go to foreign militias in places that weren’t mentioned, but presumably Yemen would have been the recipient, the Houthi movement in Yemen.

So it has no rationale. It’s not in the context of a policy or a strategy or a plan and it just comes out of thin air. Presumably it’ll fade away in a few days, like everything else associated with Donald Trump. And we’ll have a new crisis to consider.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Mel, Tom Cotton, Republican senator of Arkansas and an Iraq war veteran himself, said recently in an interview, he inferred it would be pretty easy to defeat the nation of Iran in a coming war. And he’s certainly well known as a war hawk. What do you make about folks making statements like this? Talking about how easy a war would be against the nation of Iran?

MEL GOODMAN: Well, it’s very reminiscent of the so-called “cakewalk” iraq was going to be in 2003. That’s what Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy at the Defense Department told us. That’s essentially with Dick Cheney said. Cotton is an extremely dangerous individual because he has this complete loyalty toward Donald Trump and everything Donald Trump stands for. So people like Cotton, Lindsey Graham, who has publicly said on many occasions, “I’d rather fight that war over there than have to fight it over here.” This is the kind of dangerous language that’s alienating the United States throughout the international community. Not just in Europe, but everywhere throughout the international community.

For more information, visit Melvin Goodman’s web site at

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