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Hullabaloo


Wednesday, June 19, 2019

 

Adrift at the switch

by Tom Sullivan

Acting president Trump's rudderless ship of state continues to drift. Only now it is drifting toward war with Iran without a secretary of defense. Another 1,000 U.S. troops are headed to the Middle East somewhere, says National Security Adviser John Bolton, “to send a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force.”

With Trump's latest acting secretary of defense, Patrick Shanahan, stepping aside "for family reasons" that involve domestic abuse, and the president basking in the glow of his Proud Boy supporters Tuesday night in Orlando, it is not clear who is minding the (prospective) war.


The Washington Post reports Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has warned Iran privately "that any attack by Tehran or its proxies resulting in the death of even one American service member will generate a military counterattack."

That is a step down from inflammatory rhetoric over attacks on commercial shipping in the Gulf of Oman. But "or its proxies" is a hole big enough to drive an oil tanker through, given Pompeo has already blamed an attack by the Taliban on U.S. troops in Afghanistan on the Iranian state.

The administration wants to cripple the Iranian economy with its “maximum pressure campaign,” the Post continues:
While State Department officials sought to achieve a “sweet spot” that would weaken Iran through sanctions but not push so hard that Iran would withdraw from the nuclear deal, others have argued that Trump’s goal is to destroy the accord at any cost and pursue a more expansive policy that seeks to cripple Iran’s proxy forces throughout the region.

Pentagon and State Department officials have complained, however, about the difficulty of getting an adequate hearing for these debates under Bolton. As a result, arguments about policy frequently are not aired and do not reach the president. The process is “very exclusionary, and Bolton has very sharp elbows,” the senior administration official said.

U.S. allies in Europe have voiced concern about Iran’s activities but also urged both sides to avoid increasing tensions. A German official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Berlin wants the situation to de-escalate and believes the U.S. pressure campaign sparked the Iranian response. The Americans “created this mess, and now they have to find a way to get out.”
The concern is Trump, or more likely his proxies, will decide the only way out is through. Rhetoric from the Trump administration is triggering PTSD episodes among those remember George W. Bush's fabrications leading to war with Iraq.

This little tidbit from Task & Purpose on the tanker attacks should sound familiar:
While the U.S. government has publicly blamed Iran for recent attacks on merchant vessels in the Gulf of Oman, not a single U.S. official has provided a shred of proof linking Iran to the explosive devices found on the merchant ships.

At an off-camera briefing on Monday, Navy officials acknowledged that nothing in imagery released by the Pentagon shows Iranian Revolutionary Guards planting limpet mines on ships in the Gulf of Oman.

U.S. Central Command has identified a boat from which men detached one of those mines as belonging to Iran, but they were unable to say how that was determined. The boat has no distinctive markings and is flying no flag in pictures released by the Pentagon.
U.S. intelligence expert and and Navy veteran Malcolm Nance is skeptical.
"Nothing says confidence in your position like that simple phrase 'off camera briefing'," tweets another veteran.