The war drums in the White House have been beating louder in recent months. While Trump has shown himself willing to embrace bellicose rhetoric to further his political ambitions, until recently, it had been mostly all talk. However, the appointment of known war hawk John Bolton as national security adviser signaled a strong shift from mere rhetoric towards actual policy.
It’s no secret that Bolton is pushing hard for a war with Iran—he has been advocating for intervention since 2002—but his current position of power in the Trump White House has significantly raised the stakes. The major concern, however, is not that this new policy—aggressive taunting and overt calls for war—is the status quo, but that it is seemingly being ignored by a large portion of the American population.
Beneath a barrage of domestic issues and bickering on both sides of the aisle, the public seems to be less preoccupied with the prospect of war than they should be, which is itself a dangerous situation.
Kept in the Dark
It is not out of the ordinary for Trump to use obfuscation to distract the American public from important issues. Indeed, it has been his modus operandi from day one, where he began with a pointless debate about his inauguration attendance numbers. However, his administration has successfully used this diversionary tactic many times since and is now deploying it as it seemingly prepares to instigate war with Iran.
Even while Trump talks down the chances of war (which he raised with fiery rhetoric in both tweets and comments), it seems his administration is moving ahead preparing for an armed conflict. Indeed, several incidents, taken together, seem to be setting the stage for the possibility of a US incursion into Iran. One of the most overt is the re-positioning of a naval carrier group near the Iranian coastline in a move John Bolton described as sending a “clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime” that any show of force against the US or its allies would “be met with unrelenting force”.
Similarly, the State Department recently ordered the evacuation of all non-emergency US government employees in Iraq and issued a severe travel advisory against Americans visiting the country. Bolton was quiet on the matter but has been generally vocal about enacting stricter sanctions and punitive measures on Iran. This hawkish rhetoric also comes as the Trump administration aligns itself more closely with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.
As recently as this month, Trump used an obscure provision in the Arms Export Control Act 1976 to declare a state of emergency, allowing him to approve over 20 arms sales to Saudi Arabia that would ordinarily have been blocked by congress and the senate. The emergency? The White House pointed to years of ‘Iranian influence’ but failed to actually identify what constitutes an emergency.
To date, Saudi Arabia remains the United States’ best arms customer, with one fifth of all American weapons sold between 2012 and 2017 heading to the Kingdom. Trump even lauded his most recent agreement to sell arms to Saudi Arabia, which would be worth $110 billion in the short term and up to $350 billion over 10 years.
The bigger issue with these arms sales extends beyond the bypassing of congressional checks and balances, but that Saudi Arabia will use them on a different battlefield—Yemen, where it has waged a devastating military campaign against local forces. International observers and organizations have declared the scene on the ground as a humanitarian crisis, and some have accused the Saudi forces, along with Gulf State allies, of war crimes.
According to Human Rights Watch, by November 2018 the conflict had already resulted in over 6,800 civilian deaths, with more than 10,700 injuries caused by the airstrike campaign led by the Saudi military and fully supported by the US. More than 14 million people remain at risk of starvation and death due to cholera and similar diseases.
The White House’s brinkmanship and Trump’s continued insistence on supporting regimes perpetuating war crimes, attacking allies and foes alike is pushing the world closer to conflict. Fortunately, America’s Western allies have been reluctant to follow Trump’s lead. Germany, for instance, has vowed to abide by the nuclear agreement signed by the Obama administration before Trump withdrew from it. France has also warned against inflammatory rhetoric and actions that could spark conflict, and Turkey has pushed back on the US’ insistence on a fresh round of economic sanctions against Iran. More push-back is needed, however.
Time to Take a Stand
While major international players have started to question aggressive American foreign policy, we are yet to see Western partners outright reject the Trump/Bolton propaganda machine. This new round of military escalation is happening under the noses of the American public, and we’re being distracted by a fresh round of obfuscation from the White House. It is time to step out from behind the curtain, and demand accountability from the administration, the government, and the American military.