By Javad Heirannia

Trump was witness war in Iraq destroyed Bush’s Presidency: expert

June 3, 2019

TEHRAN - Alireza Ahmadi, a New York-based Middle East analyst says “Donald Trump was witness to how the war in Iraq destroyed George Bush’s Presidency. He adds “During the campaign he railed against “dumb” Iraq war and the arrogant elites who pushed for it.

“The level of support among Republican voters, who had made up the base of support for the Iraq war, for this message was surprising,” Ahmadi tells the Tehran Times.
Following is the full text of the interview:

Q: Some argues that going to war with Iran is not President Trump policy preference. What is your opinion?

A: Donald Trump was witness to how the war in Iraq destroyed George Bush’s Presidency. During the campaign he railed against “dumb” Iraq war and the arrogant elites who pushed for it. The level of support among Republican voters, who had made up the base of support for the Iraq war, for this message was surprising. Trump doesn’t recognize any moral or legal barrier to the projection of America power, by military means or otherwise. However, he does recognize the risks more than many of the hawks he’s positioned in his cabinet.

He is, though, extremely vain and worried about looking weak. This is why he tweeted about how he may “end Iran” the day after newspapers carried stories about him ruling out any military confrontation with Tehran. Fear of being perceived as weak is a significant concern for politicians around the world and in the U.S. specifically, where boldness – and even brashness – has historically been more respected by voters than restraint. It is important for any risk point or impasse between the U.S. and Iran be resolved before politicians feel cornered by domestic political expectation and an action imperative.

We should remember that both Trump’s national security adviser and Secretary of State have openly called for a U.S. military assault on Iran during the JCPOA negotiations. Hardliners like Bolton and Pompeo believed in the ability of America to defeat any foe through escalation dominance. It seems increasingly the case, and this is reflected in some of the reporting, that Trump’s foreign policy inner-circle had downplayed both the potential risk point and the resolve of Iran when selling him on their approach. Since Iran announced that its limiting its participation in the JCPOA, Trump has repeatedly called for Iran to contact him, said all he wants is Iran not to have nuclear weapons (a significant climb down from Pompeo’s 12 demands), and assured Tehran that he does not seek regime change. Clearly, he is feeling pressure, or at least, the downsides of his approach are becoming more obvious.

What I am mainly concerned about is the idea that Pompeo will talk Trump into some limited military action promising him that Iran will be paralyzed by fear of the U.S. military to respond. But at this point, Trump seems uninterested in further military escalation.

Q: Some argues that President Trump priority is his trade wars. Recent trade wars with EU, China, and other are examples for this argument. What do you think?

A: Trump’s voters and the American people more generally, have always treated economic issues as more vote-determinative that foreign policy and are particularly wooed, at this time, by certain victimhood narratives surrounding trade. The American people have faced significant economic challenges over the past few decades. Despite rising GDP and workforce skyrocketing productivity, the American public has not received a raise in 40 years. Meaning, their wages have been relatively stagnant, when adjusted to inflation, since the Reagan administration swept into office and adopted an economic policy designed for the investor class that focused on lower taxes, removal of trade barriers and limiting regulation.

The key narrative embraced by many aggrieved white, middle and lower income voters, who were key to Trump’s election, is that America’s neoliberal inclination towards free trade agreements and its “stupid leaders” have allowed weaker countries to take advantage of the U.S. and institute trade policies that allow them to absorb America manufacturing jobs with lower wages and weaker regulatory regimes. Trump made this a prominent feature of his Presidential campaign and promised to make America respected again by starting and winning trade wars against those countries that have abused American permissiveness.

This narrative is attractive and simple but deeply flawed in many ways. Economists agree, the U.S. has actually lost more jobs to automation than trade and recreating the sixties and seventies, when America was flushed with manufacturing jobs thanks to the fact that its competitors were still reeling from World War II, is not realistic. So far, may experts argue that Trump has been willing to settle for token new concessions from peripheral countries that he could promote as victories at his notorious campaign-style rallies rather than pursuing meaningful change. His most important trade war, the one featuring China, also increasingly seems stuck in a battle of wills.

Q: Based on the priority of trade war, some says President Trump’s foreign policy toward Iran will not be close to John Bolton who wishes war with Iran. What do you think?

A: The trade war will not cause Trump to retreat from the sanctions. As long as the world and its corporation refuse to confront the US on its damaging sanctions behavior, maintain and extending secondary sanctions will be done easily.

Trump’s understanding of the risks of war has actually pushed him to use sanctions more aggressively. Sanctions are a tool perfected by the previous administration and, for Trump, they are a cost-limited and safe weapon to deploy from afar without the fear of uncontrolled escalation. This is very reminiscent of the Obama administration’s feverish use of drones after campaign success on an anti-war platform.

Q: Some argues if President Trump cannot reach to his goals on Iran until the beginning of the presidential campaign, maybe he fires an odious persons like John Bolton. What is your assessment?

A: It is unlikely, but not inconceivable, that Trump would fire Bolton. It is much harder to see him firing Pompeo or fundamentally shifting direction on Iran. Pompeo, unlike Bolton, is close to Trump and trusted by him. Pompeo spent much time cultivating this relationship with Trump while leading the CIA, mainly by being present at the White House and interacting with Trump much more than would have been required.

The holistic shift in the administration’s foreign policy decision making process that occurred during the second year, and by extension, the overall approach to Iran, is likely to endure. When Trump first came to office, he surrounded himself with CEOs and Generals. The American media repeatedly referred to these officials as the “grownups” in the room, assuming they would block Trump’s more egregious designs. At least, to a point, they did. Trump once, reportedly, called for the Pentagon to draw up plans on assassinating Bashar Assad but those orders were thwarted by then-Secretary Mattis. What Trump has done, in his reorganization of this foreign policy team, has been to bring aboard hardline hawks who are at least assumed to be more qualified for drawing up conspiracies against America’s foes. In this new dynamic, rather than Trump trying to invent hardline strategies and being tempered by the “grown-ups”, he is giving Bolton and Pompeo space to take on their own power projection projects and simply policing their efforts occasionally. This current dynamic is more currently suited to his weaknesses in drafting national security solutions and is unlikely to be discarded.

Q: As Trump fights Trade war with China, North Korea negotiations, Venezuela and Iran cases are the main issues in President Trump’ foreign policy. How much do you think the upcoming elections cycle to choose the next presidential of U.S. will affected by these issues?

A: In terms of how these separate but interconnected lines of effort by the U.S. will be affected by the election, it is difficult to say. U.S. presidents tend to become more cautious when entering election season. Major new initiatives or escalations are not likely once we reach the Iowa Caucuses in February of 2020. Even if Trump’s domestic foreign policy fortunes are deteriorating quickly and he feels the need for a jingoistic moment, he will likely try to achieve that by demonizing immigrants and refugees from Latin America, not starting a war in the Middle East.

American campaign politics historically shies away from deep discussions of foreign policy. During this Democratic primary season, however, due to Trump’s terrible policies and the more assertive position of left-wing political forces in America, American foreign policy is being discussed more seriously and critically than it has at any time since the cold war. Bernie Sanders has formed a cogent foreign policy thesis for his campaign that boldly rejects the mainstream consensus that America must enforce its will around the world. Other candidates have also taken specific and detailed positions in favor of more diplomacy and restraint. Most Democratic candidates have pledged to reenter the JCPOA if Iran fully complies. This debate makes one more hopeful of a more responsible foreign policy will emerge from Washington in the intermediate future.

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