Bolton’s war

Published: May 21, 2019
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John Bolton. PHOTO: REUTERS

John Bolton. PHOTO: REUTERS

John Bolton. PHOTO: REUTERS The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore and also teaches at the Lahore University of Management Sciences. He holds an LL M from New York University where he was a Hauser Global Scholar. He tweets at @HNiaziii

The United States of America is no stranger to regime change in Iran.

In 1953, Operation Ajax saw the fall of the democratically-elected Mohammad Mosaddegh. He was replaced by the authoritarian Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, setting off a chain of events that would lead to the Iranian revolution in 1979 — not the greatest chapter in US foreign policy by any means.

In contrast, the ‘Iran Nuclear Deal’ was a triumph of diplomacy that occurred during the Obama presidency. The deal was simple: in return for Iran curbing its nuclear ambitions, the US and its European allies would lift economic sanctions that were hindering the Iranian economy from growing. By all accounts that are considered fair and objective, Iran kept its word in the deal.

Then came Trump.

One year ago, Donald Trump withdrew the US from the Iran nuclear deal. A move that was by itself quite problematic. But things got worse when he appointed John Bolton as his national security adviser.

When it comes to Iran, Bolton makes Trump look sane.

Not a fan of subtlety, John Bolton has made it his mission to bring about regime change in Iran and he is not hesitant in finding a reason that will allow him to do so. In the words of John Bolton, Iran is the world’s biggest state sponsor of terrorism; it is the biggest threat to America’s glorious ally, Israel; and, it the biggest catalyst of unrest in the Middle East. All hyperbole that is probably a prerequisite for joining the Trump administration. But Bolton’s belief in these claims puts the US on a very dangerous path with regard to Iran. Despite Iran’s commitment to the nuclear deal, Bolton has started tightening the screws on the Iranian economy by reinstating sanctions on Iran. He has also spearheaded the pressure campaign on Germany, Britain and France to do the same. More recently, the Trump administration has forbidden a score of countries from buying oil from Iran.

All of this is being done to cripple the Iranian economy. Some analysts have suggested that Bolton is doing so to trigger an uprising in Iran and realise his dream of regime change. My opinion is that it is a way to force Iran to also withdraw from the nuclear deal that it is now still a part of with three European nations. By breaking away from the deal, Iran would be able to rekindle its nuclear ambitions. Giving the US moral authority — the kind we have seen it use in the past to disastrous results — for some sort of retaliation. It is entrapment 101.

For a year, Iran refused to bite the bullet. But now, it has decided to send a signal to the Europeans. It has stated that it may withdraw from the deal unless the Europeans keep up their end of the bargain. This is not an unreasonable request; all Iran wants to know is if there is hope left in the deal any more.

History has a strange way of repeating itself. Perhaps that is why people should be more careful about learning from it. Not so long ago, we had another inept president of the United States and a warmonger pulling his strings from behind the scenes. The Bush-Cheney team that tore down Iraq over fictional weapons of mass destruction. Cheney, like Bolton, thought the only way forward for Iraq was through regime change. He, too, didn’t mind bending the rules (or firebombing them) to achieve his goals.

The inability to learn from history is the lot of fools and megalomaniacs. John Bolton appears to be both. Despite the Iraq war’s failure, despite its cost, despite its existence as a glaring example of the futility of succeeding in a war to bring about regime change in the Middle East — Bolton persists with his mission.

The events of last week must have given him much to smile about. Four commercial tankers were reportedly sabotaged off the coast of the UAE. A strategic shipping lane for about 40% of the world’s oil. Bolton has been quick to point fingers at Iran for this. So eager is the Trump administration for some sort of war that it has leaked plans that outline sending 120,000 troops to the Middle East.

The world cannot depend on the current US administration to make sensible choices. With men like Trump and Bolton calling the shots, the lunatics run the asylum. But the world can do its best to avert a war by playing its part. A part it failed to play in the lead-up to the Iraq war.

First, European security officials have already begun casting doubt on American intelligence regarding threats from Iran. These reports need to be aired more openly and transparently. The world must know the truth from the lies that John Bolton, like Dick Cheney, before him seek to use to justify a war. The US may not have learned from history, but the world should. It should use those lessons to second-guess every piece of intelligence the US shares with regard to the threat from Iran. It needs to second-guess John Bolton.

European nations must now play their part. Those that are part of the nuclear deal can prevent Iran from withdrawing. They can do so by showing Iran that they are willing to keep their promises just like Iran has kept its. Iran wants assurances that it is going to get what it rightly deserves out of the deal that it is a part of. Giving this to them would hardly be an action that would trigger a trade war between the US and Europe.

It would be a complete failure of the international order that has been built if one megalomaniac named John Bolton could manipulate a war so easily.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 21st, 2019.

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