James Mattis’ tenure at the Pentagon ends today. Sina Azodi and Barbara Slavin consider what his departure could mean for the future of Iran policy:
The retired Marine general had policy differences with the president about Iran as well. While a supporter of containment, Mattis advocated remaining within the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). His departure tilts the balance in Trump’s national security team in favor of more hawkish individuals who have openly advocated regime change as the ultimate solution to US differences with the Islamic Republic.
When Mattis resigned, I warned that his successor would likely be more of a yes-man and less willing or able to restrain the president’s belligerent tendencies. That might seem like a strange thing to say until we remember that Mattis was responsible for curbing the president’s desire for a much larger military response against the Syrian government in the spring of this year, and according to some accounts he was a major obstacle to an attack on North Korea in 2017. Trump supporters have been quick to credit the president for de-escalation and limited intervention that happened because Mattis restrained him, and they have been equally swift in shifting blame for his escalations of other wars to the people around him. Mattis was unwilling to end our current pointless and illegal wars, but it is also true that he was responsible for keeping Trump from starting new ones.
Mattis shared the administration’s Iran obsession to an alarming degree, but as Azodi and Slavin point out his departure removes one of the only counterweights inside the administration to the much more rabid Persophobes in Bolton and Pompeo. It could also mean one less obstacle inside the administration to an attack on Iran that Bolton and Pompeo have wanted for many years. Azodi and Slavin continue:
Left atop Trump’s national security team is national security adviser, John Bolton, a so-called “offensive realist” who has long pushed for bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities. Bolton also distrusts multilateral agreements and has close ties with the Mujahedin-e Khalq or MEK, an Iranian opposition group with a past history of assassinating American citizens.
The other survivor so far of Trump’s reality show administration is Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. A self-described “counterpuncher,” Pompeo, who replaced the more moderate and less Iran-phobic Rex Tillerson, has also suggested in the past that US should consider attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities.
U.S. forces may be withdrawn from Syria in the coming year (or maybe they won’t be), but that doesn’t mean that war with Iran has become less likely.