The Forces Advocating for War With Iran

When Trump pulled the United States out of the Iran nuclear agreement, he didn’t just reimpose sanctions on that country. The administration also set up arrangements to sanction our allies who continued to do business with Iran. Last month Britain, France, and Germany—three countries who were also signatories to the Iran deal—found a way to get around those.

Furious after President Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal and reimposed punitive banking sanctions last year, European leaders vowed to find a way to enable Tehran to keep doing business with the rest of the world.

After months of delay, and after enduring mockery from the Trump administration, three major European allies on Thursday finally introduced a financial mechanism to do just that…

The new company, called Instex, for Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges, would essentially allow goods to be bartered between Iranian companies and foreign ones without direct financial transactions or using the dollar. By avoiding the American banking system and currency, the hope is that European companies and others will feel confident that they can do business with Iran without being subject to the sanctions.

That move is probably what prompted the Trump administration to arrange an ill-conceived summit in Warsaw, Poland this week, which was billed as a Middle East security conference. But as Alex Ward explained, “it was an open secret that the gathering of more than 60 countries was really about getting the world on board with America’s tough-on-Iran policy, even though the U.S. denied that was the case.”

If the goal was to pressure our European allies into joining with the United States to isolate Iran, the summit was a miserable failure.

“Rather than serving as a unifying diplomatic exercise to highlight Iran’s troubling regional activities, the summit primarily highlighted America’s diplomatic isolation from its European allies,” Amanda Sloat, a Europe expert at the Brookings Institution, a think tank in Washington, DC, told me.

But the Saudi Ambassador to the United States demonstrated that he was on board with the agenda.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was also in Warsaw and might have accidentally tweeted the quiet parts out loud.

That tweet has been deleted and replaced with this one:

Earlier this week I noted that national security advisor John Bolton made a provocative claim that Iran continued to seek nuclear weapons, which is a lie. Given the fact that he has been advocating for military intervention in Iran for years now, I speculated that one of the things stopping Trump from going along with that is the fact that Russia is such a strong ally of Iran. That is what makes Secretary of State Pompeo’s statements in Warsaw so significant.

Mr. Pompeo, who usually avoids gaps between his positions and Mr. Trump’s, spent much of his day portraying Russia as untrustworthy, with a ferocity Mr. Trump has never shown.

“Russia has grand designs of dominating Europe and reasserting its influence on the world stage,” Mr. Pompeo told American troops at the NATO base in Orzysz, about 40 miles from the Russian border at Kaliningrad. “Vladimir Putin seeks to splinter the NATO alliance, weaken the United States and disrupt Western democracies.”

He referred to Russian “hybrid warfare” against the United States even as Mr. Trump continues to question Russian interference in the 2016 election. Mr. Pompeo also promised to counter any Russian threat.

It certainly appears as though several people in Trump’s inner circle, along with allies in countries like Israel and Saudi Arabia, are attempting to lay the groundwork for going to war with Iran. It is impossible at this point to know all that is going on with that behind the scenes. But there is a reason to keep a close eye on this story.

Trump is experiencing significant defeats in his interactions with Congress and is facing mounting pressure from various investigations. Under those circumstances, Jonathan Swan wrote that the president liked the idea of declaring a national emergency “because it’s the maximalist, most dramatic option.” I don’t think that starting a war with Iran is front and center in the president’s mind at this point. But as the pressure mounts, he could be on the lookout for another “dramatic option.” Then the question becomes, can his handler in Moscow stop him when so many others are pressuring him to bomb Iran?

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.