Pompeo and Bolton’s obsession with Iran is getting dangerous

PARIS — This week, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, two countries closely allied with the U.S. and Israel against Iran, announced that four commercial tankers had been “sabotaged” in Emirati waters. Frankly, I’ve seen worse damage to a bus in Paris when it sideswiped a Peugeot.

No one died. Nothing sank. No oil was spilled. There were no explosions or fires. There’s no attributable proof of attempted sabotage. But curiously, just last week, during a buildup of American military hardware in the region, the U.S. Maritime Administration issued a head-scratching statement that “Iran or its proxies could respond by targeting commercial vessels, including oil tankers, or U.S. military vessels in the Red Sea, Bab-el-Mandeb Strait or the Persian Gulf,”

It’s all just a bit too convenient.

Let’s not forget who’s leading the anti-Iran clown show. U.S. President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, has given paid speeches at Iranian opposition rallies. Bolton wrote an op-ed for the New York Times in 2015 headlined, “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was asked by an interviewer in Jerusalem earlier this year whether thought that Trump had been “raised … to help save the Jewish people from the Iranian menace.”

“As a Christian, I certainly believe that’s possible,” Pompeo said.

Pompeo is busy making eyes roll in Europe and Russia this week by trying (and failing) to drum up opposition to Iran, while Bolton has ordered up Pentagon plans for war with Iran that could include up to 120,000 American troops.

Only Congress has the constitutional authority to declare war. Why has it failed to explicitly remind the Trump administration of this? And why is Trump, who claims to be anti-interventionist, continuing to indulge the two biggest hawks in the White House?

Last month, Trump designated Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization — an initiative that Pompeo has spearheaded. It was the first time in history that America has labeled another country’s military as terrorists. At the time, it seemed like a way to justify another war on terrorism by toying with semantics and redefining terms. Those concerns now seem entirely justified.

Bolton released a statement earlier this month that lowered the bar for America to send troops into yet another Middle Eastern quagmire, warning that “any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force. The United States is not seeking war with the Iranian regime, but we are fully prepared to respond to any attack, whether by proxy, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or regular Iranian forces.”

Let’s break down how much that statement itself increases the likelihood of war. First, it’s problematic to suggest that “any attack” on the interests of America’s Middle Eastern allies could trigger U.S. military action in the same way that an attack on American interests would. There are U.S. interests and there are foreign interests, which include allied interests. Those two things aren’t the same, and Bolton attempting to equate them doesn’t make it so.

Bolton also tries to redefine Iranian forces by including the word “proxy.” The reason for using proxies in warfare is plausible deniability. Countries have long used them to reduce their footprint in conflicts. By design, there is often a lack of evidence to connect proxies or their actions to a sponsor country. This also makes it far too easy to attribute the actions of non-state actors to a rival nation. Pompeo used this ploy during a trip to Paraguay a couple of weeks before the latest U.S.-backed coup attempt in Venezuela, telling Voice of America (without citing any actual evidence) that Iran was fomenting terrorism in Latin America.

With Bolton and Pompeo redefining so many critical terms and parameters in order to lower the bar for war with Iran, the world is a much more dangerous place.

Here’s one example. There’s an underreported battle currently taking place in Idlib, Syria. The Syrian government is attempting to purge one of the final enclaves of unlawful combatants in that country, some of whom have enjoyed the support of the U.S. and its Middle Eastern allies in their fight to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The Syrian government has relied on Iranian ground support in its defense, yet by the current U.S. definitions, Iranians are the terrorists in Syria. So the battle in Idlib could, theoretically, trigger a war with Iran.

Pompeo and Bolton are leading America into a dangerous house of mirrors. It’s long past time for Congress to close down the attraction.

Rachel Marsden is a Creators Syndicate columnist.

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