Home/Daniel Larison/Flynn and the Dangerous Iran Obsession

Flynn and the Dangerous Iran Obsession

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

Earlier today, Trump’s National Security Advisor delivered this statement:

Treating the attack on the Saudi vessel as an “Iranian action” is wrong and deliberately misleading. Iran can’t be held responsible for the actions of Yemeni fighters over whom it has no control. Besides, Saudi and other coalition vessels wouldn’t be targeted if they weren’t taking part in the wrecking and starvation of Yemen. They are being targeted because they are waging war on Yemen with U.S. backing (a fact that Flynn chooses to ignore entirely in this statement), not because of some grand Iranian design to attack them. Using Yemeni resistance against the U.S.-backed coalition that is attacking them to blame Iran for threatening “U.S. friends and allies in the region” is about as perverse and dishonest as it gets. But it comes as no surprise that this is how Flynn would frame the conflict.

Based on his previous statements and writings, I assumed that he would misunderstand the conflict in exactly these terms, and unfortunately I was right. Flynn tends to imagine Iranian involvement in everything that happens in the region. While heading the DIA, he was fixated on finding proof that Iran was somehow involved in the 2012 Benghazi attack, and in his book with hard-liner Michael Ledeen he absurdly casts Iran as the “linchpin” of huge “alliance” of states and groups that spans the globe. It’s not surprising that someone so eager to pin blame on Iran would fail to distinguish between the actions of Houthis fighting against the coalition that is attacking their country and those of Iran, which has so far provided the Houthis with negligible support.

All of this suggests that the Trump administration will continue to enable the Saudi-led war on Yemen, and it also suggests that they are looking to blame Iran for anything that happens in the region that they don’t like. The Iran obsession isn’t just causing the U.S. to continue a shameful policy that is destroying Yemen, but it could very easily lead to war with Iran.

Update: The Guardian reports that Flynn’s original draft of the statement was even more aggressive, and Mattis persuaded him to tone it down:

The Pentagon was informed before the announcement and the defense secretary, James Mattis, prevailed upon Flynn to soften his language about Iran from an earlier version.

Mattis gets some credit for reining in Flynn here, but it is alarming to think that Flynn had prepared an even more provocative and reckless statement than the one he delivered.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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