Daniel Larison

Trump’s Dangerous Iran Delusions

Trump speaks at Washington rally against the Iran deal back in September 2015. Credit: Olivier Douliery/Sipa USA/Newscom

The president repeated another one of his Iran delusions today:

Trump has said some version of this several times, but I think this is the most explicit claim he has made that an Iranian “takeover” of the entire region was going to happen. It’s obvious nonsense, and I assume Trump believes it mainly because it flatters his sense of self-importance, but because he readily accepts this lie it is bound to distort his view of how powerful Iran is and how much of a threat their government poses. During Obama’s second term, Iran hawks were constantly exaggerating Iranian influence and power to justify more aggressive policies and to bash Obama for his supposed “appeasement” of the Iranian “empire.” Trump appears to have internalized some of that propaganda, and the absurdity of the propaganda actually makes it easier for Trump to take “credit” for preventing something that was never going to happen.

There was never any possibility that Iran could or would “take over” Saudi Arabia or any of its neighbors, and so Trump can declare victory in thwarting a non-existent threat. The problem is that Trump and his officials very much want the public to believe that Iran is capable of doing something like this so they can sell their cruel and destructive economic war policy. They have to blow Iran’s power out of proportion to provide a pretext for inflicting severe economic pain. Obsessing over a medium-sized regional power is ridiculous, so they have to make Iran appear more powerful than it is to make their obsession seem less risible. The delusions are easy to laugh at, but they have serious consequences for U.S. policy.

Trump also claimed that a war with Iran would be short:

“I’m not talking boots on the ground,” Trump said. “I’m just saying if something would happen, it wouldn’t last very long.”

Hawks always predict that the wars they want to start will be short, cheap, and easy, and the wars are always longer, more expensive, and more difficult than they claim. The reason that most hawks minimize the risks is to lower the barrier to getting the war started, but in Trump’s case he may be gullible enough to think this is true. Yesterday Trump said that he wouldn’t need an “exit strategy” in the event of a war with Iran, which suggests that he may really think that the war would be limited to a brief air campaign and then it would be over.

This shows how little thought he and those around him have given the likely consequences of starting a war with Iran, and it shows how reckless and irresponsible he is being about the possibility of a war. If the president thinks that a war with Iran “wouldn’t last very long,” he is probably going to be more willing to start it. Iran hawks are already predictably emphasizing that attacking Iran wouldn’t be like Iraq or Afghanistan, and they are saying that in part to overcome Trump’s apparent reservations about getting bogged down in a protracted conflict. War with Iran might be different from previous wars in the region, but it wouldn’t obviously be any less costly or disastrous. Of course, no one can guarantee that any war will be quick and easy, and the Iranian government will get a say in how the war is fought and where it takes place. Trump may think that it won’t involve “boots on the ground,” but that proves that he hasn’t even considered how Iran might retaliate if the U.S. attacked.

Ilan Goldenberg has considered what could happen in a war with Iran, and his analysis from last month tells us that the president is being far too blithe about the prospect of war. Goldenberg considers a number of scenarios ranging from regional conflict to an invasion of Iran. He concludes:

Even short of such worst-case scenarios, any war with Iran would tie down the United States in yet another Middle Eastern conflict for years to come. The war and its aftermath would likely cost hundreds of billions of dollars and hobble not just Trump but future U.S. presidents. Such a commitment would mean the end of the United States’ purported shift to great-power competition with Russia and China.

War with Iran won’t be over quickly, and it will have destructive consequences for the U.S., Iran, and the region for a long time. The region is still convulsed and destabilized by the effects of the invasion of Iraq, which was sold as a quick and easy war that would pay for itself. Sixteen years later, the U.S., Iraq, and the surrounding countries are still paying a price for that massive blunder and terrible crime. Unless Trump wants to go down as the president who made an even greater blunder and committed an even worse crime than George W. Bush, he will avoid war with Iran like the plague. The best way to do that in the short term is to abandon the “maximum pressure” economic war and stop making deranged threats about obliterating Iran.

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A Shameful Op-Ed on Yemen

Rubble aftermath of a Saudi airstrike on a Yemeni neighborhood in 2015. Almigdad Mojalli/Voice of America

Republican Congressman Will Hurd offers up an embarrassing defense of Trump administration policy in Yemen:

With tensions escalating in the Middle East, Congress is emboldening Iran by sending the wrong message about Yemen. Last week the Senate voted to halt military sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Earlier this year, President Trump was forced to veto a congressional resolution aimed at ending U.S. assistance to the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. Congress evidently can’t separate its response to the killing of Jamal Khashoggi from the threats posed by the Houthis, Iranians and terrorists in Yemen. This is no time to be sending mixed messages to Tehran.

Rep. Hurd makes a number of questionable and misleading claims in his op-ed, and some of the things he says are outright false. He wants to create the impression that Congressional opposition to U.S. arms sales to the Saudi coalition and to the war on Yemen are driven solely by outrage over the grisly murder of Jamal Khashoggi on the Saudi crown prince’s orders. That is false, as many of his colleagues have made clear during their efforts to bring U.S. involvement to an end over several years. There was considerable Congressional opposition to U.S. support for the war long before last October’s gruesome slaying of a regime critic by Saudi agents, and there was similarly strong opposition to continued arms sales that provide weapons to the governments committing countless war crimes against innocent Yemenis. Opposition to these arms sales was also motivated in part by a rejection of the president’s abuse of power in declaring an “emergency” that didn’t exist.

Hurd’s decision to frame the debate over Yemen as a matter of sending messages to Iran tells us that he doesn’t know the conflict or the country very well. “I know Yemen,” he asserts, but all that he seems to know are the pro-Saudi talking points that he recites. For instance, he says, “Tehran is turning Yemen into a proxy state and haven for terrorist groups.” The first part of this statement is false, and the second is an attempt to cover for the role that the Saudis and Emiratis have had in strengthening jihadist groups in Yemen since 2015.

The Saudi coalition war has allowed Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to get stronger, and the coalition and its proxies have fought alongside jihadists, recruited them, armed them, and paid them off. If a “haven for terrorist groups” is what “the Saudi-led coalition is fighting to prevent,” they have done a horrible job and should halt their campaign at once so that no more U.S. and U.K.-made weapons end up in the hands of criminals and terrorists. It will not come as a shock that Rep. Hurd has nothing to say about any of that.

Like many other hawks, Rep. Hurd chooses to portray the war as a fight against Iranian influence. That is not just overly simplistic, but actually gets the real nature of the conflict wrong. The conflict has its origins in internal Yemeni rivalries and grievances, and it was the Saudis and Emiratis that exploited that conflict in an attempt to carve out their own spheres of influence. While the war is ostensibly meant to restore the deposed Hadi government to power, the UAE has been pursuing its own agenda and propping up southern separatist forces hostile to Hadi. The Saudi and Emirati governments are out for their own interests and couldn’t care less about the damage that they do to Yemen in the process. The war supposedly being fought on behalf of the “legitimate” government and for the sake of Yemen’s stability will never restore the deposed government and has fractured Yemen even more. Helping the Saudis and Emiratis to destroy Yemen doesn’t hurt Iran in the slightest, and it doesn’t serve any U.S. interests, but it does make the U.S. party to terrible crimes and makes our government one of the authors of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Hurd tries to create the impression that the humanitarian crisis is the result of the overthrow of the Hadi government:

Since 2014, when the Iranian-backed Houthi government attacked Yemen’s internationally recognized government and seized the capital, Sana’a, the country has descended into a humanitarian crisis that is among the world’s worst.

The beginning of Yemen’s descent into deepening famine and the rapid spread of preventable disease was not the takeover in 2014, but the Saudi-led intervention in March 2015. The suffering is most acute in Houthi-controlled areas because that is where most of the population lives and those are the areas that the Saudi coalition has been trying to starve. It has primarily been the coalition that has blockaded Yemen’s ports, impeded delivery of commercial goods and aid, and waged economic war on the country by relocating the central bank and withholding public employees’ salaries. The Saudi coalition has also deliberately targeted the country’s farms and fisheries in an effort to destroy the country’s local food production and distribution. The Houthis have also interfered with aid deliveries and committed their own share of war crimes and abuses, but it was the coalition’s intervention that escalated and intensified the conflict and drove Yemen into the abyss. The fact that Hurd has nothing to say about the Saudi coalition’s role in devastating Yemen’s infrastructure, including attacks on sewage treatment plants and water systems that the population needs for clean drinking water, speaks volumes about his supposed concern for the people of Yemen. The best way to “alleviate the needless suffering of millions of innocent Yemenis” is to understand who is responsible for causing it, bringing sufficient pressure to bear on the governments responsible, and doing everything possible to get those governments to halt their senseless military campaign and economic war. Rep. Hurd’s proposal does none of that.

If Hurd wants to pass a resolution condemning Houthi abuses and crimes along with the abuses and crimes of the Saudi coalition, he will find plenty of support from opponents of the war, but his resolution and his op-ed are pretty clearly efforts to change the subject from Saudi coalition war crimes and continued U.S. support for the coalition. Trying to make the vote about Yemen into a litmus test about Iran is a disservice to people in Yemen and to his own constituents. The war on Yemen is not about Iran despite the best efforts of pro-Saudi lobbyists to pretend otherwise. Carrying water for the Saudis and Emiratis has nothing to do with demonstrating support for the people of Yemen. On the contrary, continuing to support and enable Saudi coalition crimes is an insult and an affront to the people of Yemen, and that is what Hurd wants Congress to do.

Our government’s Yemen policy is as despicable and indefensible as it is because both the Obama and Trump administrations believed that indulging Saudi Arabia and the UAE was more important than pursuing a policy that served U.S. interests and values. Part of that indulgence is regurgitating the propaganda that destroying Yemen has something to do with opposing Iran. It is wrong, and it blinds Americans to the real causes of Yemen’s misery and our government’s role in helping to cause that misery. If Congress passes a resolution condemning crimes and abuses in Yemen, it should apply to all parties in the conflict, and that should include condemnation of our government’s ongoing assistance to governments that commit war crimes using the weapons and support provided to them by the U.S.

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Bolton’s Iran Lies and the Credulous Media

National Security Advisor John Bolton attends meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Oct. 23, 2018. (Office of the Russian President/public domain)

Another day passes, and John Bolton tells another huge lie:

“All that Iran needs to do is walk through that door,” Bolton said at a conference in Jerusalem. He added that any deal would need to “eliminate Iran’s nuclear weapons program, its pursuit of ballistic missile delivery systems, its support for international terrorism and other malign behavior worldwide.”

Iran has no nuclear weapons program. There is nothing for a future deal to “eliminate” because it does not exist and hasn’t existed for more than a decade and a half. According to U.S. intelligence analysis, Iran shut down any and all work related to nuclear weapons 16 years ago. The 2007 National Intelligence Estimate confirmed that Iran no longer had a nuclear weapons program, and there was nothing to contradict that finding four years later. Iran has complied with the nuclear deal for more than three years starting in 2015. During all that time, Iran has consistently disavowed the pursuit of nuclear weapons. Yet Bolton is still jabbering about a nuclear weapons program that doesn’t exist in 2019. There is no evidence that supports Bolton’s assertions about Iran and nuclear weapons, and against Bolton’s accusation there are years of IAEA reports that verify that Iran’s nuclear program remains peaceful. The Post story at least acknowledges this last part:

The International Atomic Energy Agency has said on repeated occasions that Iran remains in compliance with the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal it negotiated with world powers aimed at preventing it from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Dina Esfandiary marvels that any of this still has to be said:

It is crazy that such an important, basic fact has to be repeated ad nauseam because of the constant distortions and lies of Iran hawks, but it is a reminder that opponents of the nuclear deal have never been able to win an honest debate on the merits. They have to lie about the nuclear deal and its provisions because if they didn’t they wouldn’t stand a chance.

Iran hawks try to erase the difference between the continuation of a peaceful nuclear program, which Iran is entitled to have as a member of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and a weapons program that violates the NPT. This reflects their boundless bad faith and their unwillingness to accept a successful nonproliferation agreement. They have nothing to back up their accusation about a continued pursuit of nuclear weapons, but they keep making the accusations on the assumption that if they tell enough lies that the false claims will define the debate.

Unfortunately, a lot of media coverage helps them along when news reports refer to Iran “restarting its nuclear program” when that program never stopped, and some outlets go further and echo administration talking points by framing negotiations in terms of preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. The effect of all of this is to mislead the public into thinking that the administration is motivated by genuine, legitimate nonproliferation concerns instead of hard-line, unreasonable demands for Iran’s complete surrender. It is important that the public correctly understand that the current nuclear deal has done exactly what it was designed to do, it has been fully successful in limiting Iran’s nuclear program, and that it will never permit Iran to develop and build nuclear weapons. It is also very important for the public to understand that U.S. officials that claim otherwise are lying to them for ulterior motives. Right now far too many media outlets are simply transmitting false statements from Bolton and other administration officials without putting them in context or correcting them, and that is allowing them to get away with selling the public on a policy founded on lies.

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Don’t Fall for Pompeo’s Propaganda

Then-Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-KS, speaking at a rally in 2013. He faces a senate grilling for his secretary of state nomination today.Mark Taylor/Creative Commons

Michael Hirsh reports on the bogus Iran-Al Qaeda connection that the Trump administration has been trying to use to provide a pretext for an attack. He quotes Seth Jones, a counter-terrorism specialist from the Center for Strategic and International Studies:

“There are some periods over the last decade and a half where one could have been concerned about Iran and al Qaeda,” Jones said. “But I don’t understand why this is an issue now. And I cannot believe any responsible intelligence analyst wouldn’t come to that same conclusion.”

The Trump administration is bringing up the bogus link between Iran and Al Qaeda now because they are trying to drum up support for the failing Iran policy, and they are doing it so they can abuse the 2001 AUMF when they build their case for war. Responsible intelligence analysts will want nothing to do with that, but the administration is filled with people that have made a point of distorting intelligence and fitting intelligence around the policy decisions that have already been made. The Iran hawks in the administration start from the assumption that the Iranian government is the font of all terrible things, and so they blame them for things they haven’t done and they imagine connections with other groups where none exists. Trying to link Iran and Al Qaeda has been a pastime of pro-war ideologues in the GOP for years, and with Pompeo and Bolton the ideologues have finally found top officials dishonest and hard-line enough to promote these falsehoods.

Just as the Bush administration tried to associate the Iraqi government with Al Qaeda before the 2003 invasion, the Trump administration wants to associate the Iranian government with the group, but both claims are equally baseless and untrue. They hope to stretch the 2001 AUMF beyond all recognition and apply it to a country that had nothing to do with 9/11 and still has nothing to do with Al Qaeda’s activities. That is one more reason why it is urgent for Congress to repeal the 2001 AUMF and to reject any new authorization for war with Iran. The president may still try to claim that he doesn’t need Congressional authorization to attack Iran, as he did earlier this week, but Congress needs to make clear that they won’t stand for it.

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How Sanctions Kill Diplomacy

President Trump and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. Christopher Halloran / Shutterstock.com, European External Action Service/Flickr

Golnar Motevalli reports on the official Iranian government reaction to yesterday’s announcement of new sanctions on top regime officials, including the Supreme Leader:

Iran said the path to a diplomatic solution with the U.S. had closed after the Trump administration imposed sanctions against its supreme leader and other top officials, raising tensions days after the downing of an American drone brought the Middle East to the brink of war.

President Donald Trump on Monday unveiled sanctions on Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and eight senior military commanders that deny him and his office access to financial resources. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said financial restrictions would also be introduced against Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif later this week.

“The futile sanctions against the Iranian leader and the country’s chief diplomat mean the permanent closure of the diplomatic path with the government of the United States,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi was quoted as saying by semi-official Iranian Students News Agency.

The Iranian reaction is an understandable and entirely predictable one. If the administration were serious about holding real negotiations, they would not have imposed these sanctions on Khamenei and they wouldn’t be threatening to sanction Zarif. Then again, if they had ever been interested in diplomacy with Iran they wouldn’t have done any of the things they have done over the last thirteen months. When unrepentant warmongers and hard-liners claim to want negotiations, it is safe to assume that they are pretending for effect. The Trump administration has said that it wants to talk while doing everything possible to make it impossible for negotiations to proceed. That deception may fool some people, but it isn’t fooling anyone in the other government.

Iranian President Rouhani called out the administration for lying about their interest in negotiations:

“You say let’s talk and then you sanction the foreign minister. This clearly shows that you’re lying,” he said in a speech carried live on Iranian state TV.

Iran already had many reasons not to talk to Trump, and with these latest moves the president guaranteed that there will be no negotiations while he is still president. That is exactly what Bolton and other Iran hawks have been seeking, and once again the president gave them exactly what they wanted when they wanted it. Trump claims not to want war with Iran, but in practice he keeps doing everything he can to make it more likely.

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The Cruelty and Arrogance of Sanctions

Barbara Slavin remarks on the cruelty and destructive effects of U.S. Iran sanctions:

With Donald Trump’s first term more than halfway over, the cruelty and futility of his sanctions predilections are evident. Trump backtracked on a military response to the shoot-down of the drone, using as an excuse that 150 Iranians might die and that this would not be “proportionate” to the U.S. loss. But one could argue that many more Iranians have already died prematurely because of shortages of medications that they have not been able to obtain—or that have become prohibitively expensive—because of banks’ over-compliance with U.S. sanctions.

Even now, the Trump administration has refused to provide practical guidelines to European companies seeking to sell non-sanctioned goods to Iran. U.S. officials are also threatening to sanction the Iranian counterpart to INSTEX, a barter vehicle set up by the European Union for trade with Iran that has yet to become operational.

Trump has not been overly zealous about preventing unnecessary loss of life in the past, and I doubt that this was his real reason for calling off the illegal strike last week. The president’s escalation of the war on ISIS involved much heavier, less discriminate bombing in Mosul and Raqqa that killed thousands of civilians and left those cities in ruins. He has presided over a dramatic increase in drone strikes without regard for the civilian casualties that these often cause. The ongoing slaughter of Yemeni civilians in a Saudi coalition war that he insists on supporting does not appear to have bothered him. The widespread near-famine conditions in Yemen have not moved him at all. Whatever convinced him not to follow through on the attack he had no authority to order, it was not concern for proportionality or loss of life. A president who routinely inflicts collective punishment on tens of millions of people in one country after another is not terribly worried about the lives of others.

Broad sanctions that cripple a nation’s entire economy are intended to cause as much pain and suffering as possible. Their intended purpose is to hurt the entire population on the assumption that this will put political pressure on the government to surrender to U.S. demands or to force a change in government. That doesn’t happen because the government usually refuses to cave under pressure, the pressure campaign tends to make the regime relatively stronger at home, and impoverishing the population forces them to focus on survival rather than opposition to the regime. Hawks like to use sanctions to bludgeon countries whose governments they dislike, and they definitely want to bring about regime change, but instead of forcing an uprising the sanctions usually bring ruin to the people while allowing the regime to hang on to power. When the regime is an authoritarian one, sanctions consistently weaken the people to the regime’s benefit. Francisco Rodriguez commented on this in a recent Financial Times article that addressed the effects of sanctions in Venezuela:

“People thought that if you create an economic crisis you would bring down the government,” said Francisco Rodriguez, a Venezuelan economist at Torino Capital. “In democracies, that does happen but it’s not what happens in a dictatorship. The poorer the country is, the fewer resources there are, the more powerful the government becomes versus the rest of society.”

Collective punishment of entire nations is immoral and wrong. It is also a guaranteed way to provoke resistance, and it often drives the population and regime together. Iranians have many legitimate grievances against their government and they are frustrated with corruption, mismanagement, and abuse, but when their country is placed under siege and they are made to suffer because a foreign power wants to dictate terms to their government there is a natural tendency to put aside internal disagreements in the face of the greater external threat. Collective punishment can cause the people targeted by it to become more nationalistic, and in countries with a strong nationalist tradition this is even more likely. When the people suffering under these sanctions liken their experience to being at war, it makes sense that they are going to respond in the same way as they would if they were under military attack instead of economic siege. When the U.S. government is seeking to make them miserable and poor, Iranians are unlikely to take enormous risks to do Washington’s bidding by toppling their own government.

The overuse of sanctions is itself an abuse of power. The U.S. has tremendous financial clout, and it has increasingly chosen to use it as a flail to scourge every government that doesn’t capitulate and abandon its own interests. The impulse to sanction one country after another is the same impulse behind wanting to “do something” militarily against this or that regime: we do it because we can and because we think we have the right to do whatever we want to others. The same arrogance and the same contempt for the sovereignty of other nations are on display. We should be opposed to the interventionists that want to use American military power to cause unnecessary death and destruction in other parts of the world, and in the same way we should reject the capricious and cruel use of economic sanctions to inflict misery and suffering on tens of millions of innocent people.

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Iranians Laugh at Trump’s New Sanctions

President Trump and Supreme Leader Ali Khameinei. CreativeCommons, Shutterstock.

Farnaz Fassihi and David Kilpatrick report that the Iranian reaction to Trump’s newest sanctions has been mockery and derision:

In contrast to the threats and bluster of Tehran’s previous responses to the Trump administration’s maximum pressure campaign, Iranians across the political spectrum dismissed the latest embargoes on Monday as little more than insults. Both hard-liners and reformers argued that the new sanctions would have little practical impact, aside from undermining Mr. Trump’s repeated assertions that he is seeking to renew talks with Tehran, if only to restrict its nuclear weapons program.

“Sanctions announced today officially closed all the windows and doors for U.S. and Iran talks,” Hassan Soleimani, the editor in chief of the Revolutionary Guards’ Mashregh News Agency, said in a telephone interview from Tehran. “If Trump was hoping for negotiations with Iran, he can now only dream about it.”

It is understandable that Trump’s Iran policy invites ridicule. The people that suffer from its destructive effects have to laugh at the absurdity of a policy that can’t possibly work on its own terms. Mocking the policy helps people in Iran to cope with the dreary consequences that have been forced on them. When facing an irrational bully, sometimes the best thing to do is laugh at him and deny him the satisfaction of instilling fear. Trump makes it easy for them, especially when he can’t even get the name of the current Supreme Leader right.

Like the IRGC designation earlier this year, putting sanctions on top regime officials has little effect on regime finances. As an expression of hostility and disrespect, though, the latest sanctions have done a fine job of destroying any hope of talks between the U.S. and Iran before the next administration takes over. One of the main problems with the Trump administration’s policy towards Iran is that it is purely punitive and refuses to show them any respect. Trump and his hawkish allies assume that if they just squeeze another country hard enough they can force them to give up everything, but that fails to acknowledge that they have legitimate interests of their own.

Targeting the foreign minister for sanctions was even more foolish:

Most startling to Iranians was Mr. Trump’s order to add sanctions that target Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif. Mr. Zarif was educated in the United States and within the Iranian political system he is considered a moderate — the kind of figure hard-liners might seek to cast out and previous American administrations had sought to cultivate. As foreign minister, he would also be the main conduit for any negotiations with Tehran.

Both reformers and hard-liners said on Monday that the order to sanction Mr. Zarif severely undermined Mr. Trump’s repeated assertions he is seeking to reopen talks with Iran about a revised deal to limit its nuclear weapons program.

“The important point about sanctioning Zarif is the reality that the U.S. is not really after negotiations,” tweeted Ali Gholizadeh, a reform advocate who was jailed in the crackdown after a wave of pro-democracy protests in 2008.

Trump’s latest actions show that his supposed interest in negotiations is hollow. That was already fairly obvious from previous aggressive actions, but now there is no denying it. When administration officials claim to be interested in a diplomatic resolution with Iran, we can be certain that they are not telling us the truth. They feign interest in talks in order to appear more reasonable and open to compromise than they really are. The reality is that the administration has been doing everything it can to wreck an important international agreement with Iran and to undermine Iranian advocates of engagement. The administration has nothing but disdain for diplomacy and contempt for Iran, and they really hate the idea of diplomacy with Iran.

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‘You Get Sanctions! And You Get Sanctions!’

Trump announced more Iran sanctions today, and this time the administration is specifically targeting Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the Secretary of the Treasury said that they would be doing the same to Foreign Minister Zarif later this week. The White House released this video of Trump’s announcement earlier:

The new sanctions on Khamenei will have no practical effect on his finances, but they do send a political message that kills off whatever minuscule chance of negotiating might have still existed. Obviously, designating Zarif for sanctions will be just as harmful to the prospect of talks. These moves prove that the administration is not and never has been serious about negotiating with Iran. Imposing more and more sanctions simply increases tensions and deepens mistrust, and we have to assume that this is what the administration wants.

There are a few things worth noting about Trump’s announcement. First, he gets Khamenei’s name wrong and refers to him as the Ayatollah Khomeini, who has been dead for three decades. This is the sort of amateurish screw-up that shows how unserious and poorly-informed Trump is when it comes to engaging with Iran. Second, he rattles off a list of Iranian activities, some real and some imagined, that he wants Iran to stop. That confirms that Trump is on board with the full list of Pompeo’s preposterous demands, and he is not concerned only with the nuclear issue. Trump said:

We will continue to increase pressure on Tehran until the regime abandons its dangerous activities and aspirations including the pursuit of nuclear weapons, increased enrichment of uranium, development of ballistic missiles, engagement in and support for terrorism, fueling of foreign conflicts, and belligerent acts directed against the United States and its allies.

Trump slips in the lie about nuclear weapons as part of the usual laundry list. That tells us that the president and his officials are determined to continue lying about Iran and its nuclear program to justify their destructive policy, and it tells Iran that there is nothing they can do that can possibly satisfy the administration short of total capitulation. The Trump administration has nothing but disdain for diplomacy, and this latest announcement confirms that beyond any doubt.

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‘Maximum Pressure’ Fails in Venezuela, Too

Jackson Diehl reminds us that crippling U.S. sanctions are having their expected effect in worsening Venezuela’s economic and humanitarian crises:

Meanwhile, the claim that the United States is responsible for the humanitarian catastrophe, now confined to the Maduro regime and the fringe left, will have gravitated to the mainstream. That’s because even though the ban on Venezuelan oil purchases that Trump rashly ordered in January failed to accomplish the goal of forcing regime change, it has had a devastating economic effect.

Venezuela had already experienced a historic economic collapse by the end of last year, with severe shortages of food, medicine, power and water. Oil exports, virtually the only source of the dollars Venezuela needs to import 95 percent of its food, had fallen by half. But the plunge since the U.S. oil ban went into effect has been stunning. In the first half of this month, according to Russ Dallen of Miami-based Caracas Capital, loadings of ships for oil exports had dropped below 600,000 barrels a day — compared to average exports in 2018 of 1.2 million barrels a day.

Venezuela was already suffering from severe economic and humanitarian crises before the U.S. sanctions on Venezuela’s oil sector, and those sanctions were guaranteed to inflict much more pain and suffering on the civilian population as essential humanitarian goods became increasingly scarce. Trump’s imposition of these sanctions earlier this year was a disastrous mistake, as many of us said at the time, and the Venezuelan people are the ones that are paying the price. The U.S. should immediately lift these sanctions so that our government is at least not contributing to the disaster, but like all other sanctions the ones on Venezuela are much easier to impose than they are to take back.

Diehl continues:

Trump administration officials profess to be untroubled by the prospect of being blamed for creating Latin America’s first modern famine.

Judging from the administration’s indifference to helping create the world’s worst famine in Yemen, they probably are untroubled by this. Inflicting pain on tens of millions of people in pursuit of reckless and unrealistic goals has become a recurring theme in Trump administration foreign policy. Because most of the misery remains invisible here in the U.S., the administration assumes that they can get away with making things much worse for entire nations. “Maximum pressure” has failed in Venezuela, and that failure is coming at a terrible cost to the civilian population.

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Pompeo’s Appalling Yemen Lies

U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo participates in a press conference with U.S. President Donald J. Trump during the NATO Foreign Ministerial in Brussels on July 12, 2018. (State Department photo/ Public Domain)

Mike Pompeo is on a trip to Saudi Arabia and the UAE this week, and while he was visiting he chose to repeat some of his more egregious lies about Yemen:

Pompeo is being wildly dishonest here. The conflict in Yemen began as a civil war and still is to some extent a fight between different Yemeni factions. The Houthi/Saleh alliance were responsible for sparking the conflict, but there has also been international aggression against Yemen committed by the Saudis and the UAE in support of the desposed Hadi government. It was the Saudi-led intervention beginning in March 2015 that significantly escalated and intensified the conflict, and it has been their blockade and economic war against Yemen over the last four years that have driven the country into the abyss. Iran has very little to do with any of this. Iran certainly didn’t “conceive of” these things, and Iran isn’t the one “perpetuating” them. It is especially perverse to pin the blame for Yemen’s suffering on Iran when it is Iran’s regional enemies that have been destroying and starving the country ostensibly in the name of combating Iranian influence. That influence has been exaggerated from the start to provide an excuse for an indefensible and atrocious war, and the U.S. has shamefully indulged the Saudis and Emiratis by repeating this propaganda.

All parties to the conflict share some responsibility for the deteriorating conditions, but it is Pompeo’s hosts this week that bear the bulk of responsibility for creating the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. If anyone can be blamed for conceiving of and perpetuating the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, it is the Saudi and Emirati governments that the U.S. has supported for years. Pompeo’s habit of trying to pin everything that goes wrong in the region on Iran is tiresome, it is dishonest, and it gives the Saudis and the UAE a free pass to continue committing war crimes and starving the population. Every day that Pompeo represents the U.S. abroad, he brings shame and dishonor on his office and the country.

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