Liberty Expose: Bolton's Dangerous Iran Gambit

Cliff Owen | AP

Cliff Owen | AP

Defense Secretary Designate Patrick Shanahan unveiled a plan earlier this month crafted for the administration’s National Security Advisor, John Bolton. In typical fashion, the patron saint of neoconservatism’s strategy calls for the deployment of an estimated 120,000 troops to the Middle East to deter the Iranian government from launching strikes on American forces in the region or from developing nuclear weapons and from possibly using them.* The plan is both ambitious and certainly concerning for many. The United States is already planning on moving the USS Lincoln carrier group and several nuclear-capable B-52 strategic long-range bombers to the fragile region. The addition of over a hundred thousand troops may only serve as the catalyst for a conflict far bloodier than any of the wars that has dominated the Middle East.

The current tensions gripping the region was years in the making. After the United States abandoned the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in 2018 that would lift all sanctions, including unfreezing Iranian assets held abroad, the Trump administration decided to double down on the economic pressure by increasing sanctions. But this action merely caused a divide between the U.S. and allies who were a part of the JCPOA. The United Kingdom, France and Germany remain committed to seeing the deal through; however, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced this month that his country will no longer respect several provisions in the nuclear deal. Iran plans to “no longer respect limitations on keeping enriched uranium and heavy water reserves” which are crucial in the nuclear fuel cycle. The JCPOA recognized that Iran would eventually develop a working nuclear weapon and would have merely delayed this inevitable outcome.

While it was right to have a few misgivings about the Iran deal from the beginning, leaving it only damaged U.S. soft power and merely encourages Iran to continue on with its program. The U.S. exit from the deal shows that we are an unreliable actor on the world stage who will forsake any agreement unless it meets all of our demands. Other nuclear armed or nuclear weapon-seeking countries will be hesitant to join in on a deal because of this. In a time when Russia is working on hypersonic cruise missiles equipped with a nuclear warhead that can hit its target in five minutes – thereby eliminating the ability for other countries to respond in kind – the world needs more non-proliferation treaties, not less.

Whether or not these plans will materialize into action remains to be seen. Despite the announcement from Secretary of Defense Shanahan, top officials from the Pentagon have stated that there are no plans to deploy more troops. Even President Donald Trump himself expressed disinterest toward any engagement with Iran, suggesting that he is not fully on board with what his advisors are planning. This desire not to get engaged with Iran in a military conflict seems to have been muddled by recent statements and tweets from the President suggest otherwise. Sadly this miscommunication in policy seems to be a feature, not a bug of the Trump administration as was the case with pulling out of Syria and Afghanistan among other conflicts. Indeed these issues leave much to be desired. If neither the American people nor our allies know what our strategy is, how does that demonstrate our strength and leadership? The inconsistency coming out of the executive branch will force allies like Germany and France to shoulder much more of the burden when it comes to regional and global security.

The reception to the military plan has been mixed, especially on the Republican side. Republican Senators and champions of neoconservatism Lindsey Graham (SC) and Tom Cotton (AR) both encouraged the President to listen to his advisors. Senator Cotton in particular argues that all it would take is “two strikes” on Iran and it would be over. On the opposite side, Republican Senators Mike Lee (UT), Cory Gardner (CO), and Rand Paul (KY) are all urging caution and demanding that the President’s team briefs Congress on U.S. plans for the region.

Bolton’s plan for the Middle East also demonstrates the need for Congress to take back its Constitutional authority over the ability to deploy American troops. From Korea to Syria, America’s Presidents have failed to follow through with protocol by going to Congress and selling the pitch of why the country has to go to war. Regardless of whether or not our involvement in these wars were necessary, bypassing Congress prevents a cohesive government coalition from ever forming.

This is not to say that Iran is not a threat. The Islamic Republic has consistently been a thorn in the side of the U.S. and its regional partners, including Israel, Iraq, etc. Terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah receive SCUD rockets and other munitions to fire into Israel and Iran is attempting to bring Iraq into its sphere of influence by supporting Shi’a politicians. Iran’s nuclear program is still a clear and present danger as the country continues its quest in harnessing the power of the atom. However the United States cannot go blindly into another war without assessing the implications of one. Attacking Iran in a preventative strike could elicit a military response from Russia or China, causing an even greater war that could wreck more than just the Middle East.

The United States must take caution with how it approaches Iran. Deploying hundreds of thousands of troops and nuclear weapons into a nest of vipers will only lead to the complete disintegration of regional stability. Regardless of whether or not we could win a war, the toll it would inflict on the world is far too great to bear. Furthermore, the mixed messages coming from the administration is merely damaging the U.S.’s ability to come up with a cohesive Iran strategy, nor is it reassuring our global allies. Congress must take back its authority over war powers and troop deployment to prevent any and all administrations from pouring more fuel onto an already raging fire.

* As of Wednesday, May 22, 2019, the Pentagon unveiled a plan to deploy around 10,000 troops.