Locked and Loaded

Alan Zendell, September 16, 2019

A couple of weeks ago I was with an old friend who is currently well-placed in Defense Department circles. He’s a scientist, not  prone to hyperbole, wild speculation, or making assertions without sound bases. So when he told me that there is a lot of concern within the Pentagon about President Trump’s erratic foreign policy and willfulness, I listened without skepticism.

Most alarming was the specific concern that as next year’s election approached, if he thought he was losing, Trump might spark a military crisis. The President is no student of history, but he understands that if we were engaged in a military conflict on Election Day, most of the country would likely rally around it. The fear that is most prevalent is that Trump would find a way to bait Iran into taking an action that would give him an excuse to respond militarily.

Some of that concern reflected the hawkish view of National Security Advisor John Bolton, who advised the President to bomb Iran’s nuclear and military facilities. When Bolton was fired, many people breathed a sigh of relief, but his legacy still lives, and it’s a frightening one. With the drone attack on the oil fields in Saudi Arabia, it’s rearing its ugly head again.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo directly accused Iran of carrying out the attack on Saudi Arabia, even though the Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed responsibility for them. Almost simultaneously President Trump tweeted that our military was locked and loaded to respond to Iran. Today, Iran vehemently denied carrying out the attack, and Trump suggested that they’re lying and he would consult with Saudi royalty about who they think did it.

Trump accusing another world leader of lying? Who would ever imagine such a thing?

The White House, as we have seen countless times, attempted to spin Trump’s latest outburst as a diplomatic negotiating tactic. The same kind of tactic as threatening North Korea with annihilation? Trump thought it was a victory to get Kim Jung Un to the negotiating table, when all he accomplished was awarding Kim the status of meeting with an American president. We are no closer to resolving the North Korea problem than we were when Trump took office.

Regardless of Trump’s intention, or whether he has any skill at international negotiations, we should be concerned about whether he can be trusted to put what’s best for the country ahead of his personal needs. Trump may rattle sabers at Iran because he thinks it will help him get re-elected, but what would it accomplish except increasing the risk of a war we’re no more likely to win than the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate our interests in the Middle East. We have been embroiled there since the end of World War II for two reasons: our need for oil and the defense of Israel. Would a conflict with Iran advance either cause?

We are no longer dependent on Middle East oil. We produce enough to meet our needs and despite the administration’s refusal to acknowledge the effect of carbon emissions on the environment, we are rapidly reducing our dependence on oil and could survive quite well without importing any from that region. More importantly, it’s not clear how siding with Saudi Arabia against Iran improves our ability to defend Israel. Both countries consistently call for Israel’s destruction. We’re victims of the ancient proverb: “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” We used it to justify supporting Iraq in its war with Iran, and created Saddam Hussein. More recently, we’ve used it to support the Saudi war against Yemen, which was undoubtedly a major factor that contributed to today’s crisis.

The truth is that Saudi Arabia has never been our friend. Most of the nine-eleven attackers came from Saudi Arabia and were funded by that country’s oil wealth. It’s time to ask why we are adamant about defending Saudi Arabia against Iran in what is essentially a religious war between Sunni and Shia Muslims. It’s entirely possible that by taking a more neutral position in that conflict, we could convince Iran to come to the negotiating table for a real deal.

Whoever launched the drones against the Saudi oil fields, temporarily reducing the world’s oil supply by five percent is not a direct threat to American security, and curtailing the income of the Saudi royal family may actually be in our interest. Rising oil prices could threaten Trump’s chances of re-election, but that cannot be allowed to drag us into a war we’re unlikely to win.

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