In the revolving door that is President Donald Trump’s Apprentice-style White House, two major shake-ups in 2018 are especially concerning. Mike Pompeo, formerly the Director of the CIA, has replaced Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State and John Bolton, former ambassador to the United Nations under George W. Bush, has replaced General H.R. McMaster as National Security Advisor. Both men are super-hawks, torture defenders, and Islamophobes. Their move into the White House portends disaster, particularly in the Middle East.
Bolton and Pompeo have long had Iran in their crosshairs. Last year, Bolton called for regime change in Iran by 2019, saying, “The declared policy of the United States should be the overthrow of the mullahs’ regime in Tehran.” On Sunday, during Pompeo’s first trip abroad as Secretary of State, he warned about “Iran’s ambition to dominate the Middle East” and reiterated his opposition to the present Iran nuclear deal.
When it was completed in 2015, the Iran nuclear deal was a diplomatic milestone. Its passage required the cooperation of Iran, the United States, China, France, Britain, Germany, and Russia. In essence, the deal lifted certain sanctions on Iran in exchange for Iran significantly curtailing its nuclear program. Except for far-right American Republicans, each of the involved parties wants the deal to remain in place. Trump has until May 12 to re-certify the deal, but current indications are not good.
So far, Trump’s foreign policy has been a mixed bag. He has alienated allies, taunted world leaders on Twitter, and committed war crimes. But unlike his immediate predecessors, he hasn’t started any new military entanglements. Earlier this month, he even called for US troops to withdraw from Syria. For all his chaos and bluster, his foreign policy hasn’t been too radical a departure from the previous 40 years. With Pompeo and Bolton, that relative calm will almost certainly be upset.
Growing tensions with Iran are only part of the story. Days after Trump announced his intention to withdraw from Syria, he responded to an alleged chemical attack there by firing 120 missiles at “a scientific center near Damascus that was used for research, development and production of chemical and biological agents.” One outlet reported the facility actually produced snake antivenom. Either way, the attack thrust America back into the heart of a devastating civil war that pits us, by proxy, against Russia and China, both of which support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Prominent spokespeople for Trump’s alt-right base have been among the most vocal opponents of this foreign policy shift. Many of them questioned whether Assad was truly behind the chemical attack. Some suggested he’d been framed. FOX News host Tomi Lahren called on Trump to withdraw completely from Syria. Radio host Michael Savage tweeted, “Sad warmongers hijacking our nation.” Even leading Trump propagandist Alex Jones accused Trump of “crapping all over us.”
During the campaign, Trump called for the US to ignore the Geneva Conventions, renew its torture program, and intentionally target noncombatants in the War on Terror – a war crime he apparently still believes in. But he also declared, “We will stop racing to topple foreign regimes,” and frequently brought up the Iraq War as one of Hillary Clinton’s, and the nation’s, biggest mistakes. A war with Iran, which Trump’s new cabinet lusts after, would likely be an even greater crime, with greater loss of life and longer-lasting consequences.
Progressives have always been opposed to Trump’s warmongering, but the liberals on cable news have not. The most glowing coverage Trump’s gotten since becoming president came when he dropped the “mother of all bombs” on Afghanistan and launched missiles at Syria last year. As then, the liberal media largely lined up behind Trump’s decision to bomb Syria this time. Worse, some Congressional Democrats have been in bipartisan negotiations to actually preserve some of President Trump’s unilateral war-making powers.
Trump’s strikes in Syria and his hostility toward Iran have generated embarrassingly little opposition from mainstream Democrats and the media. His instinct to stay out of conflicts abroad was one of the few possible rays of light in his scattered vision. Now, cabinet members like Bolton and Pompeo will guide him toward more aggressive interventionism with little resistance from establishment Democrats. Americans should not have to tune into FOX News or the fringes of talk radio for their anti-war perspective.