Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has announced he’ll head up a new “interagency task force” that wants to “come down hard on Iran”—just in time for U.S. midterm elections. Former CIA counter-terrorism specialist Philip Giraldi says this is just “the latest journey into fantasy.” He notes “many observers believe that the United States is being manipulated and played as a patsy against Iran by Israel and Saudi Arabia” but wonders if that’s what this is really about.
By Philip Giraldi
Will a new war be a midterm elections surprise? It is a demonstrated fact that the United States government, be it Democratic or Republican, is not very good at certain things. Every time the White House starts a new “war” on abstractions like poverty, drugs, or terror it gets dragged down into a bottomless pit that seems to empower the very things that it is fighting, leading to the belief that when it says “war” what it really means to say is “quagmire.” And then there are places like Afghanistan where real wars continue ad nauseam with no real objective and no real plan to “win” and exit.
The latest journey into fantasy is Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s recent announcement that the Trump administration is setting up an “interagency task force” consisting of an “elite team of foreign affairs specialists” that will coordinate efforts to come down hard on Iran. Pompeo described the venture as follows: “We are committed to a whole-of-government effort to change the Iranian regime’s behavior, and the Iran Action Group will ensure that the Department of State remains closely synchronized with our interagency partners.”
According to the press release, the group will be responsible for directing, analyzing, and coordinating all phases of the State Department’s Iran-connected activity, though it is unclear whether State will be the principal agency seeking to destabilize the Iranians.
Pompeo elaborated: “For nearly 40 years, the regime in Tehran has been responsible for a torrent of violent and destabilizing behavior against the United States, our allies, our partners, and indeed the Iranian people themselves. . . . We must see major changes in the regime’s behavior both inside and outside of its borders. The Iranian people and the world are demanding that Iran finally act like a normal nation.”
The new action group’s director, senior foreign policy adviser Brian Hook, also spoke at the launch, saying that the administration was taking “a comprehensive approach to Iran because the scope of Iranian malign activity is so wide-ranging.” He specifically mentioned Iran’s “aspiration for nuclear weapons” as well as its support for terrorist activity and added that he would be talking to America’s strategic partners to make sure everyone is on board with the new sanctions.
Interagency ventures in government rest on a basic premise that grew out of the so-called war on terror and 9/11, namely that if everyone sits around a table to share information and viewpoints the outcome will be superior to any single agency going it alone. The concept is, however, flawed, first of all because interagency reviewing slows down the entire process as it attempts to find consensus on issues that do not necessarily lend themselves to simple formulations. Second, attempting to find consensus ignores the fact that a number of the government entities sitting around the table are competitors rather than colleagues. Pompeo is delusional if he thinks that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA) are going to allow the State Department to take the lead in bringing Iran to its knees.
Those who hate Iran and want to see everything possible done to damage it, are, of course, delighted to see a group dedicated to doing just that. Mark Dubowitz, head of the neocon Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which has been taking the lead in Iran bashing, enthused:
“Secretary Pompeo’s establishment of the Iran Action Group led by Brian Hook, one of his most trusted advisers, is further evidence that the Trump administration sees Iran as one of its top foreign policy and national security priorities. The group will be empowered to leverage all instruments of national power to squeeze the regime in Iran.”
Pompeo has considerable experience in beating on Iran. When he took over at CIA in January 2017, one of his first acts was to set up an Iran Working Group to focus clandestine efforts to weaken and eventually subvert the Iranian government. In May, shortly after President Donald Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear agreement, he spoke about a broad program that most observers would define as regime change, pledging to “crush” Iran economically and militarily to bring about major concessions over its behavior in the Middle East. He specifically demanded that Iran end all nuclear-related programs, stop developing ballistic missiles, and cease support for “terrorists and militant partners around the world.”
The White House has advised that countries doing business with Iran will “not be doing business with the United States” and has also unilaterally declared that after Nov. 4 anyone buying Iranian oil will be subject to secondary sanctions, which has created problems with both friends and foes worldwide. China, Turkey, and Russia have declared that they will not submit to U.S. demands, while close allies in Europe are seeking exemptions or creating mechanisms that will move such transactions out of the dollar zone.
The new task force will not really be doing anything beyond what is already being done both openly and clandestinely to inflict pain on the Iranian people in hopes that they will rise up and bring down their government. The obsession with Iran on the part of the Trump administration is curious in any event, as Iran is surrounded by hostile regimes that are militarily far superior to it. Tehran does not threaten the United States or U.S. interests in any serious way, and its alleged nuclear program is a fiction. Iran is, in any event, fully compliant with the nuclear agreement (JCPOA) that it signed together with the U.S. and five other countries, an agreement that was subsequently endorsed by the United Nations.
Many observers believe that the United States is being manipulated and played as a patsy against Iran by Israel and Saudi Arabia, who do have an interest in bringing down the Iranian government. That is certainly true, but there might be another explanation for the strenuous activity by Pompeo and others. Midterm elections are coming up, and there is nothing that rallies the voting public quite as well as a good little war in which the bad guys are soundly whipped.
But, recalling Iraq, one should also consider that a war with a nationalistic and prepared Iran might not go as planned.
Every concerned American should be watching very carefully over the next 60 days to see what is developing around the Iran Task Force. Will Trump adhere to his pre-electoral promise to get out of ongoing wars in the Middle East, or will it be yet another politically motivated bait-and-switch with a bloody new war initiated by a false-flag operation or a deliberate provocation to turn an election?
Philip Giraldi is a former CIA counter-terrorism specialist and military intelligence officer and a columnist and television commentator. He is also the executive director of the Council for the National Interest. Other articles by Giraldi can be found on the website of the Unz Review.