By Stump Connolly

          He botched the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, got snookered by Kim Jong Un in Korea, pissed off our European allies, started (and lost) a trade war with China, and cut ties with the World Health Organization in the middle of a pandemic.

          You’d think that would be enough for a one term president, but Donald Trump hasn’t really made his mark on American foreign policy. He hasn’t started a war – yet.

An Assassination

          But he’s trying. A week ago, the head of the Iranian nuclear program Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was assassinated in a carefully orchestrated attack widely attributed to Mossad, Israel’s covert operations unit. Yesterday, the Iranian Parliament responded by expelling international nuclear inspectors and stepping up enrichment of nuclear fuel beyond the limits of the 2015 Iranian nuclear agreement (with the prospect of producing weapon-grade material in six months).

          The inflamed tensions will put Iran on top of President-elect Biden’s agenda when he takes office January 20, because Iran says there will be no turning back if the U.S. doesn’t lift the sanctions now in place on Iranian oil and banking by early February.

          Israel and the United States have been mum on the incident, but Trump’s fingerprints are all over it. Consider the timetable. Two days after Biden was proclaimed the winner of the presidential race, the New York Times reports Trump asked his military advisors about whether he could use military force to stop Iran’s enrichment program. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper opposed it. Inside of a couple hours, Trump fired him on Twitter. Also opposed were the chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mark Milley and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, according to the Times. But Pompeo, one of the strongest Iran hawks in the administration, said he would look for other ways to pressure Iran.

          The next day on November 10 Pompeo announced a surprise visit to France, Turkey, Georgia and four Middle East countries, among them Israel and Saudi Arabia. In Jerusalem on November 19, Pompeo held a joint press conference with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to affirm their “joint efforts to address Iran’s malign activities.”

          Pompeo moved on to Saudi Arabia November 22. The next day Netanyahu and Yossi Cohen, Israel’s Director of Mossad joined him for a secret meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The attack on Fakhrizadeh came three days later.

          The mutual interests of Pompeo, Netanyahu and the Crown Prince in undermining Iran is real, especially after Iran lobbed some 20 stealth missiles at Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities a year ago. The assassination of Fakhrizadeh reportedly involved some 50 operatives, all of whom escaped undetected. No doubt Saudi Arabia had some Arab operatives who were helpful, or maybe Netanyahu just wanted to borrow the Crown Prince’s bone saw.

Why Not Start a War

          In today’s political climate, Trump is busy enough waging war against the election results. Not to mention jamming up Joe Biden’s transition to office and figuring out who to pardon in his own administration. It gives the President too much credit to think he actually has a plan for what he’s doing in Iran. He’s more of a tit-for-tat guy. If Iran didn’t buckle after he took out Gen. Soleimani last January, let’s go after the brains of the operation. Leave ‘em with something to think about, and if that screws up Joe Biden’s plan to revive the Iran nuclear deal, it will serve him right.

          There are so many ways this can go wrong. (See history of World War I, assassination attempts.) How much more harm can Trump do before he leaves office? He has 45 days left. Let me count the ways.

          * He can wait for a “Beautiful Letter” from the Ayatollah Khamenei inviting him to a summit. I don’t think that’s going to happen.

          *  He can retaliate against Iran’s retaliation by mucking with the fine print of the U.S. sanctions so Biden can’t easily lift them; or worse, if Iran responds with an attack on U.S. embassies, bases, or citizens, Trump can hit back harder.

          * He can straight up bomb Iran’s main nuclear facility at Natanz. Use one of those bunker buster bombs, or another cool secret weapon he knows we have, but the generals won’t let him play with.

          * Or he can go to the golf course and think about it. But tell the guy with the nuclear codes to bring along the football.

          It’s hard in the middle of a pandemic, when the President is doing all he can to undermine confidence in our elections, when more people are dying of Covid every day than died on 9/11 and America is definitely not greater than it was when he came into office . . . it’s hard to imagine he has time to figure out how to end the world.

          He doesn’t think that far ahead. He’s just going to wing it. It will make for great Theater.

 

 


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