From The Final Call Newspaper

U.S.-Iran war on hold amid Trump’s changing stories, murky motives?

By Askia Muhammad and Barrington Salmon The Final Call @TheFinalCall

Hundreds of anti-war with Iran protests have been held across the country, including this demonstration in downtown Chicago. Activists say an apparent step back from the brink by the United States and Iran doesn’t mean everything is alright. Tensions are still high and activists plan more anti-war protests on Jan. 25 to push back against U.S. warmongering and express concern about instability in the Middle East. Photo: Haroon Rajaee U.S.

WASHINGTON—Despite open rejections as false by Republicans as well as Democrats of President Donald Trump’s justification for the killing of Iranian military commander Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, and his impeachment trial looming in the Senate, the president still claimed victory in the showdown with the Islamic Republic, a showdown which barely averted a catastrophic outcome.

Mr. Trump claimed without offering a shred of proof that Gen. Soleimani—a military leader of a country not officially at war with the U.S.—posed an “imminent danger,” who had to be murdered because he planned to strike “four U.S. embassies.”

The confidential information provided to members of Congress a week after the strike was, “probably the worst briefing I’ve seen,” Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) told reporters Jan. 8 after the session, complaining that the Trump administration wanted to silence all dissent. “It is not acceptable for officials within the executive branch of government” to “tell us that we can’t debate and discuss the appropriateness of military intervention against Iran,” Sen. Lee continued.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper added more confusion. On Face the Nation Jan. 12, Mr. Esper said that while he “believed” that there “probably, could have been attacks” that put Americans in the Middle East in immediate danger as the president claimed, he “didn’t see” specific intelligence indicating an imminent attack on multiple embassies.

Meanwhile, according to a Wall Street Journal report, Mr. Trump told associates that he assassinated Iran’s top military leader in part to appease Republican senators who’ll play a crucial role in his upcoming Senate impeachment trial.

“Trump has reportedly now confessed that he ordered the assassination of General Soleimani in exchange for the votes of war-mongering Senators (Lindsay) Graham and (Tom) Cotton in his impeachment trial,” said prominent British journalist Nicholas Davies. Mr. Trump reportedly entertained Sen. Graham at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, who revealed that the president told him of the raid on the golf course.

But Adil Abdul-Mahdi, the prime minister of Iraq, told a very different story about the ambush. Mr. Abdul-Mahdi told reporters he had planned to meet Gen. Soleimani on the morning the general was killed to discuss a diplomatic overture that his office was brokering between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

The prime minister said that Mr. Trump personally thanked him for the efforts, even as the U.S. was planning the assassination–thus creating the impression that the Iranian general was safe to travel to Baghdad.

After more than one million mourners poured into the streets of Iraq and Iran for Gen. Soleimani’s funeral, many observers trembled at the prospects of a military retaliation which might escalate into a full-fledged shooting war between Iran and the U.S. But Iran chose only to launch missiles onto an unoccupied space on a military base where U.S. personnel are housed, after giving the Pentagon a warning that the non-lethal strikes were to be launched. Mr. Trump claimed victory. Iran, he said Jan. 8, “appears to be standing down,” in the wake of its missile strikes on American bases in Iraq that he said resulted in “no casualties.”

“The American people should be extremely grateful and happy,” Mr. Trump said, in an address to the nation from the White House the morning after the attacks. “No Americans were harmed in last night’s attack by the Iranian regime.”

His administration announced additional new sanctions in the aftermath of the Iranian response. The Islamic Republic has been under crippling sanction already for years. According to AP the new sanctions will target eight senior Iranian officials involved in “destabilizing” activities in the Middle East and the retaliatory missile strike.

It was announced by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin that Mr. Trump will issue an executive order imposing sanctions on anyone involved in the Iranian textile, construction, manufacturing or mining sectors. They will also impose separate sanctions against the steel and iron sectors.

“As a result of these actions we will cut off billions of dollars of support to the Iranian regime,” said Mr. Mnuchin. The administration has already reinstated all the U.S. sanctions that were eased under the 2015 nuclear deal, which has caused significant economic hardship in Iran and cut its oil exports to historic lows.

Tensions continue

While Mr. Trump is probably its most flamboyant practitioner in some time, the U.S. has long been guilty of “imperial overreach,” according to Katrina Vanden Heuvel, editorial director and publisher of The Nation.

“Imperial overreach is a major expansion of U.S. foreign policy goals and power, beyond what is good for common sense or for security. I think the overreach goes back decades, let’s be honest, but we’re looking at this decade,” Ms. Vanden Heuvel told this writer in an interview for WPFW-FM.

“The 2010s began during the Obama years,” she continued. “You saw regime change in Libya and Syria, increased containment of Iran, a country very much in the news now, the global war on terror expanded to more countries in the Middle East and Africa. So, this overreach has only accelerated under President Trump.

“Instead, what he’s done is, a sanctions happy expansion; more deployment of troops around the world; direct military strikes against Syria; and we’ve now sent 3,000 troops deployed to the region (near) Iran.

“So, it’s a moment to take stock of how this expansion, this overreach certainly doesn’t bring us more security or economic wellbeing; doesn’t end well as we’ve seen in history. And with this a military offensive against Iran in the last week, it’s important to bring attention to this overreach because the United States is clearly not retreating under Trump. It’s expanding in stupid, militaristic and dangerous ways,” said Ms. Vanden Heuvel.

“Tensions in the Middle East are escalating, and the Iran nuclear issue is facing grave challenges,” Geng Shang, a spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs told reporters in response to the Trump administration’s latest aggression. “The United States’ unilateral withdrawal from the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), turning a blind eye to international law and international obligations, imposing maximum pressure against Iran and obstructing other parties’ implementation of the JCPOA are the root causes of the Iran nuclear tensions and should be the basic starting point for all parties to deal with the issues in an objective and fair manner.”

The assassination of Gen. Soleimani was condemned for sparking an “unnecessary crisis” according to retired colonel and Vietnam veteran Andrew Bacevich, who’s president and co-founder of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft.

“Well, the assassination was an act of great recklessness,” he told “Democracy Now!” “I mean, in some respects, it was typical of this president’s decision-making. It appears that he acted very much on impulse. There’s no evidence that he had thought through the consequences of assassinating Soleimani. You know, what would be step two, step three?

“And so, this reckless act plunged us into an unnecessary crisis, that, thankfully, both the administration and the government in Tehran found a way to back away from. So, we’ve avoided war, I think. That said, I think it would be a mistake on our part, everybody’s part, to sort of breathe a sigh of relief and say, ‘OK, everything is fine now,’” he said.

Domestic pushback

Steven Warner, Michele Watley and Roxanne Gupta have not been shy about saying how nervous and unsettled they are in the aftermath of the Soleimani killing and subsequent chain of events between the U.S. and Iran.

The trio said there’s little that they’ve seen from the Trump administration that gives them any comfort that retaliation from Iran and American counterstrikes won’t ignite a global conflagration that draws in Saudi Arabia, Israel, Bahrain and other countries in the so-called Middle East.

“It’s terrible. They’re killing people. My biggest concern is escalation to World War III,” Ms. Gupta said. “The planet is ripe for this. It’s so stressful. The gap between the government we’re stuck with and the people is getting wider. The rich and powerful have been able to change laws behind people’s backs and now they say what they do is legal, that it’s okay. When did it change? Now, they pursue policy and say its American interests.”

Ms. Gupta, an educator, yoga teacher and peace activist who lives in upstate New York, has been a fierce and vocal critic of the Trump administration and a political system she says is corrupt, unresponsive and sometimes hostile to the people it purports to serve. President Trump, she said, lies with ease and to her dismay, many Americans accept what he says because of his position.

“This is a spoiled country. There’s no more spoiled country on the planet, so the seriousness of what’s going on escapes people who want entertainment and fun,” she said. “In this case, Trump ramped up the anxiety then people went back to sleep. They think nothing will happen to them because they’re American. That psychopath in the White House is giving people a false sense of security although he has created a dangerous global situation.”

Analyst Aaron David Miller, a former State Department adviser and Middle East negotiator, asserted that killing Mr. Soleimani has significantly weakened rather than strengthened the U.S. in the region. Americans are less safe, Iran’s regional influence, especially in Iraq, has been boosted, not weakened; and U.S. influence is at its lowest ebb in a decade and a half. Mr. Warner, a South Florida resident, and radio personality, said it’s fortuitous that this happened 10 months out from the 2020 presidential election and not last year.

“I think based on the time remaining between now and then, we’ve dodged a bullet,” he said. “I don’t think anyone wants to openly declare war. There’s posturing back and forth and talk that will go into the election. Time is on our side.”

That being said, Mr. Warner added, America isn’t out of the woods. “Iran has egg on its face (because it mistakenly shot down a passenger plane) and may chill for a while, but in the next couple of months I think there will be strange alliances and partnerships that will be formed, said Mr. Warner, host of “Wake Up and Live,” a daily syndicated program of music and commentary that is carried on at least 41 online stations around the world and has more than 200,000 listeners.

He was speaking about the eventual acknowledgement by Iran that it shot down a Ukrainian jetliner by accident, killing all 176 people aboard not long after launching its missiles at U.S. targets.

There has been pushback politically as the Democratic-controlled House on Jan. 9 approved a resolution asserting that President Trump must seek approval from Congress before engaging in further military action against Iran. The war powers resolution is not binding on the president and would not require his signature.

Danger, uncertainty still looms

Republicans have accused Democrats of “supporting terrorists” while Democrats accuse Republicans of failing to utilize a system of checks and balances to rein in a president with no clear, cohesive foreign policy strategy for the Middle East.

Ms. Watley spoke of the trepidation and uncertainty she felt when it appeared evident that Iran and the United States would go to war.

“The question is what happens next? Are we going to be in a war? How will it play out?” she said. “It’s scary because we don’t know what’s next. We have a leader who is inconsistent and incapable of handling the job of the presidency. It’s scary because we have this type of leader at the helm.”

What is unfolding is a lot for Americans to grapple with and consume, she explained. Ms. Watley, a Kansas City, Missouri native—and founder and owner of The Griot Group LLC, a strategic communications and political advocacy consulting practice—said she usually gets her news from CNN, MSNBC and Fox News but the polarization and fragmentation of news makes it harder to distinguish fact from opinion.

“Back in the day, like five to 10 years ago, you could watch the news and get the news,” she said. “But the news isn’t what it used to be. You keep hearing the same old stuff, they over-sensationalize things and it’s a 24-hour news cycle with breaking news that’s not breaking news. I’ve not been a Twitter fan but following pundits, influencers and journalists has helped me know what’s going on,” she said. “If you want to be up on news, you have to be on Twitter.”

She said she was heartened by the vigorous pushback from Democrats, especially Bernie Sanders and others running for president.

“This administration does what it wants unchecked. Trump doesn’t care about the consequences,” said Ms. Watley, who served as the director of African-American Outreach for the Bernie Sanders campaign in 2016. “But the Democratic candidates have been staunch in their rebuke, strong in their response. They haven’t waffled or wavered.”

Veteran activist and anti-war protestor Medea Benjamin told The Final Call that tensions remain high and the real possibility of war still looms.

“The U.S. is in danger. There’s a rumor that he did this to appease conservative senators,” said Ms. Benjamin, a longtime political organizer and co-founder of Code Pink, a women’s anti-war group founded in response to growing American involvement in the Middle East. “It’s remarkable that he’s been able to get away with killing an Iranian general. He is such an arrogant warmonger and has the world cowed and unwilling to challenge him. It’s really horrendous that there’s one person who’s putting us in danger.”

Ms. Benjamin said anti-war groups such as Indivisible and MoveOn organized 82 rallies around the country on Jan. 4 and since then, they and other organizations have held 300 more rallies.

“There’s a call for rallies and demonstrations on Jan. 25 across the country and globally,” she explained. “Different groups have signed up globally.” She said Trump saber-rattling has re-energized the anti-war movement.

“The anti-war movement fell apart under Obama. No one wanted to oppose the nation’s first Black president,” said Ms. Benjamin. “It was very hard to build in those days and few organizations were involved in the anti-war effort. But there has been a resurgence of the movement at nearly every level, but that needs to be more sustained and widespread. It will be hard though, because the (immediate) threat of war has subsided.”

(Associated Press contributed to this report.)