Will Trump Resist War Hawks on Iran?

Though President-elect Trump seems ready to reduce tensions with Russia, his consideration of neocon John Bolton as Secretary of State could presage more Mideast warmongering toward Iran, writes Gareth Porter at Middle East Eye.

By Gareth Porter

Post-election comments on Middle East policy last week by President-elect Donald Trump and one his campaign advisers have provoked speculation about whether Trump will upend two main foreign policy lines of the Obama administration in the Middle East.

But the more decisive question about the future of U.S. policy toward the region is whom Trump will pick for his national security team – and especially whether he will nominate John Bolton to become Secretary of State.

Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton.

Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton.

Bolton, one of the most notorious members of Dick Cheney’s team plotting wars in the George W. Bush administration, would certainly push for the effective nullification of the main political barrier to U.S. confrontation with Iran: the 2015 multilateral nuclear deal.

Trump created a minor stir by giving an interview to the Wall Street Journal last Thursday in which he reiterated his criticism of the Obama administration’s involvement in the war against Syria’s Assad and supported cooperation with Russia against the Islamic State group. And a Trump campaign foreign policy adviser once connected with an extremist sectarian Christian militia in Lebanon named Walid Phares suggested in an interview with BBC radio that Trump would demand that Iran “change [a] few issues” in the agreement and that “the agreement as it is right now … is not going to be accepted by a Trump administration”.

The significance of that interview, however, is very unclear. Trump himself had avoided threatening such a move during the campaign, denouncing the nuclear agreement as “disastrous” but avoiding any pledge to renounce it as his Republican rivals Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio had done. In his speech to AIPAC, Trump thundered against the agreement but promised only to enforce it strictly and hold Iran “accountable.”

Trump has consistently embraced the long-standing official U.S. animosity toward Iran, but thus far he has given no indication that he intends to provoke an unnecessary crisis with Iran.

In any case, Trump’s own views will only be the starting point for policymaking on Syria and Iran. His national security team will have the power to initiate policy proposals as well as effective veto power over Trump’s foreign policy preferences. That is why Trump’s choices of nominations for the top positions on national security will certainly be the crucial factor in determining what policy lines ultimately emerge on those issues – and why the real possibility of Bolton’s nomination as Secretary of State now represents the greatest threat to international peace and security.

Undermining Obama

Barack Obama became president with a firm intention to get U.S. combat forces out of Iraq within 16 months as he had promised during the campaign. But in his very first meeting with CENTCOM Commander Gen. David Petraeus, Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen in late January 2009, Petraeus and his two allies pressed Obama to back down on his pledge, arguing that it wasn’t realistic.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on May 1, 2011, watching developments in the Special Forces raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Neither played a particularly prominent role in the operation. (White House photo by Pete Souza)

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on May 1, 2011, watching developments in the Special Forces raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Neither played a particularly prominent role in the operation. (White House photo by Pete Souza)

In the end, Obama accepted a scheme devised by the military and Pentagon officials under which combat brigades remained in Iraq long after the August 2010 Obama deadline for their withdrawal with no reduction in combat capability. They were simply given additional tasks of advising and assisting Iraqi military units and renamed “advisory and assistance brigades.”

Later in 2009, Obama’s national security team, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, pushed for a major U.S. military escalation in Afghanistan in 2009-2010. Obama didn’t buy the arguments by Petraeus, Gates and Mullen for a huge increase in U.S. troops in Afghanistan. He and Vice-President Joe Biden argued that the implosion of Pakistan was a much bigger problem than Afghanistan and that there was no evidence of a threat that Al Qaeda would return to Afghanistan. But the war coalition leaked a story to the press that the White House was ignoring a new intelligence assessment that the Afghan Taliban would invite Al Qaeda back into the country if they won the war.

In fact, the intelligence community had produced no such assessment, but the proponents of a big counterinsurgency effort in Afghanistan were demonstrating their power to use the media to raise the political cost to Obama of resisting their demand. Obama gave in on the additional troops, again imposing a deadline for their withdrawal, and the U.S. is still engaged in a losing war in Afghanistan seven years later.

Those largely unknown episodes underline just how vulnerable Donald Trump will be as president to pressures from his national security team to support policies with which he may disagree – unless he chooses people who agree with his policy preferences. But Trump has a peculiar problem in that regard. Because he has already alienated virtually the entire Republican Party national security elite by attacking sacred cows such as NATO, and he has been boycotted by the corps of senior officials from the George W. Bush administration – except for Bolton.

War with Iran 

Although he is best known as U.S. Ambassador the United Nations in the George. W. Bush administration, it was in his previous role as Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security from 2001 through 2004 that he played his most important role in U.S. foreign policy.

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani celebrates the completion of an interim deal on Iran's nuclear program on Nov. 24, 2013, by kissing the head of the daughter of an assassinated Iranian nuclear engineer. (Iranian government photo)

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani celebrates the completion of an interim deal on Iran’s nuclear program on Nov. 24, 2013, by kissing the head of the daughter of an assassinated Iranian nuclear engineer. (Iranian government photo)

Although the story was never covered in the corporate news media, I have recounted in my history of the Iran nuclear issue how Bolton, with the full approval of Vice President Dick Cheney and in coordination with Israel, began in 2003 to implement a strategy aimed ultimately at maneuvering the U.S. into a military confrontation with Iran. The strategy relied on the accusation that the Islamic Republic was carrying out a covert nuclear weapons program.

Bolton and Cheney failed to get their war with Iran, and Bolton was moved to the United Nations in the second Bush term. But Bolton has never stopped talking about the need for the United States to bomb Iran.

In a New York Post op-ed on Nov. 14, he called on Trump to “abrogate” the nuclear agreement on his first day in office. He wants to be Secretary of State in order to pursue just such a policy, and he is under serious consideration, according to news reports last week. If he were nominated as Secretary of State it would be an open invitation for more plotting of schemes within the Trump administration for the war against Iran that Bolton still craves.

Bolton would not necessarily prevail in pushing for a direct military confrontation with Iran over the nuclear issue, because the U.S. military would probably exercise its veto over any policy that risks war with Iran. But he could nevertheless provoke a crisis with Iran by subverting the agreement itself. He would begin by trying to get Trump to stop using his presidential waiver power to carry out its provisions on lifting sanctions against Iran.

Under normal circumstances, Bolton would never have a chance to reprise his role as war provocateur, but the political circumstances today are anything but normal. There is a very real danger that the Trump transition team will turn to him because it sees no alternative among the usual suspects.

The only alternative is to turn to a seasoned diplomat who has not served in senior national security positions in a Republican administration. And if the choices for other top positions are not determined to avoid the kind of confrontation that Bolton would try to provoke, he could conceivably succeed.

So the disintegration of the political order controlled by the old Democratic and Republican party elites could spawn new threats of war unless Trump and his advisers are clever enough to see the need to avoid them in their choices of national security officials in the coming days.

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of the newly published Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare. [This story originally appeared in Middle East Eya.]

25 comments for “Will Trump Resist War Hawks on Iran?

  1. Sam
    November 18, 2016 at 00:32

    With Flynn in, seems like the direction is clear. Islamophobia reigns in Trumpland.

  2. Minnesota Mary
    November 17, 2016 at 01:41

    “Will Trump resist the War Hawks on Iran?”

    The answer is “NO!” Nor on anything else the war hawks want. They are firmly in control.

  3. November 16, 2016 at 10:02

    I really do not know why someone has not shot that S.O.B. a long long time ago. Along with Negropont, he has spread an awful lot of misery around the world..

  4. Joe L.
    November 15, 2016 at 22:50

    I always remember the interview that John Pilger did with Bolton where Mr. Pilger asked some really hard questions and as the interview ended Bolton asked if Mr. Pilger was a Communist Party member. Bolton should not be a part of any government.

  5. Rick
    November 15, 2016 at 22:39

    Iran did not retaliate with chemical weapons against Saddam Hussein. They didn’t have the capability or as some have said they believed it to be unethical. Considering the stories of “human waves” of young boys and old men thrown at Saddam’s army it is challenging to make a case for Iranian tradition of ethics, yet optimism can be productive in international relations and we can listen to reason from Tehran.

  6. backwardsevolution
    November 15, 2016 at 17:52

    Trump must clean house; everyone must go.

    “Trump won the presidency, but the Oligarchy is still in power, which makes any real reforms difficult to achieve. Symbolic reforms can be the product of the contest between President Trump and the oligarchs.

    Karl Marx learned from historical experience, and Lenin, Stalin, and Pol Pot learned from Karl Marx, that change cannot occur if the displaced ruling class is left intact after a revolution against them. We have proof of this throughout South America. Every revolution by the indigenous people has left unmolested the Spanish ruling class, and every revolution has been overthrown by collusion between the ruling class and Washington.

    Washington has conspired with traditional elites to remove the elected presidents of Honduras on a number of occasions. Recently, Washington helped elites evict the female presidents of Argentina and Brazil. The presidents of Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia are in the crosshairs and are unlikely to survive. Washington is determined to get its hands on Julian Assange. To achieve this Washington intends to overthrow the Ecuadoran government that, in defiance of Washington, gave Julian Assange political asylum.

    Hugo Chavez had the power to exile or to exterminate the Spanish ruling class in Venezuela when the ruling class participated in a CIA coup against Chavez. But before the CIA could kill Chavez, the people and the military forced his release. Instead of punishing the criminals who would have murdered him, Chavez let them go.

    According to Marx, Lenin, and Stalin, this is the classic mistake of the revolutionary. To rely on good will from the overthrown ruling class is the certain road to the defeat of the revolution.

    Latin America has proved itself unable to learn this lesson: Revolutions cannot be conciliatory.”


  7. backwardsevolution
    November 15, 2016 at 17:35

    Along with resisting the war hawks, Trump will have to resist the paid protesters:

    “Who are the anti-Trump protesters besmirching the name of progressives by pretending to be progressives and by refusing to accept the outcome of the presidential election? They look like, and are acting worse than, the “white trash” that they are denouncing.

    I think I know who they are. They are thugs for hire and are paid by the Oligarchy to delegitimize Trump’s presidency in the way that Washington and the German Marshall Fund paid students in Kiev to protest the democratically elected Ukrainian government in order to prepare the way for a coup.

    The organization, change.org, which claims to be a progressive group, but might be a front, along with other progressive groups, for the Oligarchy, is destroying the reputation of all progressives by circulating a petition that directs the electors of the Electoral College to annul the election by casting their votes for Hillary. Remember how upset progressives were when Trump said he might not accept the election result if there was evidence that the vote was rigged? Now progressives are doing what they damned Trump for saying he might do under certain conditions.

    The Western presstitutes used the protests in Kiev to delegitimize a democratically elected government and to set it up for a coup. The protest pay was good enough that non-Ukrainians came from nearby countries to participate in the protest in order to collect the money. At the time I posted the amounts paid daily to protesters. Reports came in to me from Eastern and Western Europe from people who were not Ukrainian but were paid to protest as if they were Ukrainians.

    The same thing is going on with the Trump protests. CNN reports that “for many Americans across the country, Donald Trump’s victory is an outcome they simply refuse to accept. Tens of thousands filled the streets in at least 25 US cities overnight.” This is the exact reporting that the Oligarchy desired from its presstitutes and got.

    I hope no one thinks that simultaneous protests in 25 cities were a spontaneous event. How did 25 independent protests manage to come up with the same slogans and the same signs on the same night following the election?”


    He then goes over “who benefits”: the Oligarchy.

    • Bart in Virginia
      November 16, 2016 at 15:52

      I’d tend to blame social media.

  8. Wobblie
    November 15, 2016 at 17:22

    At this point I would be very surprised if Trump didn’t come into the DC fold.

    His cabinet transition is getting manhandled and filled with neocons.

    But Tweedledum and Tweedledee are dying.

    When will they learn?


  9. backwardsevolution
    November 15, 2016 at 17:17

    Will Trump Resist the Snowflakes?

    “Let’s review what just happened. 469 people, including many professors who should know better, are taking offense because the head of their university quoted the university’s founder, Thomas Jefferson, who also happens to be the 3rd President of the United States and the author of the Declaration of Independence, in an email asking for unity in the wake of a contentious presidential election.”

    As one commenter pointed out: “I wonder if those Professors and students are aware that the clothes they are wearing came from child labor sweatshops. I also wonder if they realize that the chocolate they like to eat came from slave states in Africa.” They’re also not protesting the millions of people slaughtered and sanctioned to death in the Middle East, the murder of a sovereign leader, Gaddafi, the U.S.-orchestrated coup in Ukraine and the thousands killed.


    Snowflakes, unite! What a bunch of self-centered, pampered idiots. No wonder the country is going down the tubes.

    “Dozens of students at Cornell University gathered on a major campus thoroughfare for a “cry-in” to mourn the results of the 2016 presidential election Wednesday, with school staff providing tissues and hot chocolate.

    At Tufts University, arts and crafts were on offer. And the University of Kansas reminded students via social media of the therapy dogs available for comfort every other Wednesday.

    There was a steady flow of students entering Ms. Boynton’s office Wednesday. They spent the day sprawled around the center, playing with Play-Doh and coloring in coloring books, as they sought comfort and distraction.”


    Say it isn’t so.

  10. bluto
    November 15, 2016 at 16:57

    ‘The Israeli Civil War and 1P1V1S’

    WHEN: Oct 22 2016, Saturday, 4:00 – 5:00 pm
    WHERE: Otay Branch San Diego Public Library,
    3003 Coronado Ave, San Diego, Ca 92154
    WHO: Dr Lance Dale


    ‘Israeli Apartheid and the 3rd Israeli Generals Revolt’
    The Commanders for Israeli Security (CIS)

    The Israel Civil War:
    ‘Hillary and the CIS vs Bibi, Adelson, and the Settlers’

    The UN Sec Council Resolution against Israel supported by the US

    1P1V1S (– One Person One Vote One State)
    Marwan Barghouti and 1P1V1S from the River to Shining Sea

    The 3 Existential Events (and seen as such by Israel itself) for Israeli Apartheid:
    The Iran Nuclear Deal, UN Sec Co Resolution against Israel, and the ICC

    ‘The Collapse of Israeli Apartheid and the Tsunami on American Politics’

    ‘The Successful 2nd American Revolution of 4-2-15 and the Iran Nuclear Deal’

    How the Israeli/Israeli Lobby ‘Clean Break Dream’ perished in Aleppo

    Q and A after the talk

  11. evelync
    November 15, 2016 at 14:50

    Thank you Gareth Porter for this article and your link to your 2014 article published by ips news.
    I called Senator Lindsey Graham’s office and provided a link to your 2014 article as well as a reference to Andrew Bacevich’s talk earlier this year at the opening of the Pardee School at Boston University.
    I told him our policies are wrong, counter productive and focus on the wrong things.
    Profits for the MIC.
    I told him I feel sorry for the people who serve in our military.
    I told him that we are creating enemies and basing policy on one individual or another such as Assad when we should be considering the millions of people who are being displaced and killed and maimed thanks to our policies.
    We are creating enemies.
    I asked him to take a leadership position to stop this.
    We need new people in our Senate to replace the war mongers and those who don’t have the courage to speak out against our war mongering.
    Paul Wellstone is sorely missed.

  12. backwardsevolution
    November 15, 2016 at 14:19

    Trump is not stupid. He just sounds stupid. There’s a difference. As someone else pointed out, Trump likes to keep his cards close to his chest. Before we lose heart, let’s wait and see.

    The following video at a Catholic charity dinner I think illustrates the confidence that Trump possesses. Imagine roasting Hillary (with her sitting two seats away) 19 days before the election, at times being booed, and yet not being fazed by the power in the room, not flinching, not sweating, just carrying on. That took guts. He was funny, gracious and confident. I think this is how he will handle the power that comes grovelling at his feet. He will be civil, but his own man.


  13. J'hon Doe II
    November 15, 2016 at 14:08

    Bolton is an absolute megalomaniac who will fit seamlessly into the Trump and Companions New American Hostility.


  14. Dr. Ibrahim Soudy
    November 15, 2016 at 14:01

    Bolton or not, the Military Machine has to be fed…………Democrats or Republicans in government, pick your poison…..America needs to move from a WAR ECONOMY to a different type of economy if the continuing history of war (I mean history of the US since WWII) were to stop…………..The best way to make money in America is to get into the WAR BUSINESS………..

  15. Zachary Smith
    November 15, 2016 at 13:44

    The Moon of Alabama site has a hilarious tale of a neocon who had previously trashed Trump applying for a job in the Trump Administration.


    Turns out that Bolton had a PAC, and I can find no record he gave a dime to Trump. Instead he seems to have tried to get elected a bunch of neocon nuts to help Hillary’s warmongering. I’ll be mighty surprised it this got him any brownie points with Trump.

  16. Herman
    November 15, 2016 at 13:36

    Are the only choices really the names mentioned? There is not one who does not see the world as made up of good guys and bad guys and who espouses the crazy notion and that you cannot openly talk to the bad guys is a recipe for endless tension and even war.

    Looked at RT this morning. The Parliament and their cabinet is crying out for an end to the Cold War and greater cooperation. Well our Washington crowd might cry out that is because we are winning and we just need to do more of the same. A better answer is Russia sees the value of a change from confrontation to cooperation but our side seems to see greater value in confrontation. Things like profit from defense spending, bolstering our economy and putting more stars on the shoulders of more generals.

    It is too early to tell whether Trump’s statements about working with Russia will play out but aside from Hillary’s negatives, I think it was a ray of hope, enough to sway many to his side. Then names like Bolden pop up and that opening in the sky through which hope beams begins to narrow.

    Was it worth voting for Trump? At the time, yes. Could he be worse? If he lets himself be intimidated, he could be.

  17. Sally Snyder
    November 15, 2016 at 12:03

    Here is a very interesting look at how Israel feels that Iran’s power should be controlled:


    The logic of allowing a form of the Islamic State to continue to exist simply to counter Iran is an extremely self-centred viewpoint on the part of Israel.

    • Joe Tedesky
      November 15, 2016 at 12:48

      And there in lies America’s problem, this Middle East endeavor isn’t as much about U.S. interest, as it is about Israel’s goals to be won.

  18. Katherine
    November 15, 2016 at 11:57

    Trump has pulled off one of the greatest bait and switch acts of all time, and I bet if you look inside that Trojan horse you will find Bibi and his AIPAC minions. I voted Green, but I considered Trump the lesser evil in matters of foreign policy. Iran will probably stick to their agreement with the other countries and they may still get bombed by the U.S.

  19. Stephen Kennedy
    November 15, 2016 at 10:48

    Very hard to understand why Trump would consider Bolton, since he is diametrically opposed to the policies (or at least most of them) espoused by Trump. The Secretary of State does not make policy, but serves to carry out the wishes of the President. Of course, they can be very influential. We can hope that Trump has a clear idea of who he is and what he wants, unlike President Obama, who was turned around 180 degrees from where he began to become the ‘drone President’.

    • Chris Chuba
      November 15, 2016 at 11:48

      Bolton was crafty enough to start a Fifth Column rather than join the #NeverTrumpers. He plied Trump with flattery, think Wormtongue in “Lord of the Rings”. Given the horrible choices, I hope he goes with Giuliani just because he isn’t Bolton, I would have preferred Gingrich just because he isn’t either of the other two and he is more pragmatic even if he is still a Neocon.

      • evelync
        November 15, 2016 at 15:28

        Bolton has always reminded me of Yosemite Sam.
        He looks like Yosemite Sam and he is belligerent like Yosemite Sam.

        I’d loooove Trump to choose retired colonel and Boston university history professor, Andrew Bacevich.
        He wouldn’t be pushed around and would stop the regime change.


        • J. D.
          November 16, 2016 at 10:20

          Despite his physical likeness to Yosemite Sam, Bolton reminds me more of Satan.

    • Zachary Smith
      November 15, 2016 at 12:43

      Very hard to understand why Trump would consider Bolton, since he is diametrically opposed to the policies (or at least most of them) espoused by Trump.

      Trump now has some professional politicians working for him, and they’re doing the stuff they usually do. This might be a trial balloon, but I’d venture a guess it’s more likely setting up somebody else who is darned bad, but when compared with Bolton looks good by comparison. At that point everybody is expected to go Whew!, we dodged a bullet with that horrible XXX guy.

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