TEHRAN (Press Shia Agency) – A former US Senate foreign policy analyst deplored National Security Adviser John Bolton’s hawkish approach toward Iran and said he is leading the administration to “earlier American misadventures in places like Iraq, Libya, and Syria”.
“Through the appointment of Bolton (also Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is Bolton’s rival for the king’s ear but whose policy thinking is indistinguishable), the Trump administration has effectively outsourced its foreign policy to what amounts to the same foreign influences that have led to earlier American misadventures in places like Iraq, Libya, and Syria,” Washington-based political analyst James Jatras said in an interview with the Press Shia Agency News Agency.
James George Jatras is Deputy Director of the American Institute in Ukraine, a privately funded American NGO. Based in Washington, DC, he is a former US diplomat and adviser to the US Senate Republican leadership.
The full text of the interview with Jatras is as follows:
Press Shia Agency: On Friday, US President Donald Trump’s administration renewed five of seven sanctions waivers that allow Russia and European nations to conduct civilian nuclear cooperation with Iran but revoked the other two as part of its pressure campaign against Tehran, according to the US State Department. Washington also stopped issuing waivers to buy Iranian crude oil on Thursday. Before the US moves, Iranian officials, including Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Major General Mohammad Hossein Baqeri, had warned against their consequences. What is your assessment of the developments and how do you think about Iran’s possible reaction to the US decision?
Jatras: I trust Iran’s response to the newest US efforts to choke off oil exports will depend on how Washington tries to accomplish that. For example, if ending the waivers means only the US applying financial sanctions against the purchasing countries – in effect, economic warfare against the purchasing countries – Iran will try to find ways to facilitate payment that avoids the US financial system and the dollar. That’s a formidable task but probably doable for Iran. If, however, the US decides to try to stop Iranian exports by closing the Strait of Hormuz via naval action (stopping ships believed to contain Iranian oil) we are already talking about war. In such case, if Iran responds by stopping other countries’ shipping, the US would certainly take forceful action directly against Iran, though in what form I can’t say. It should be kept in mind that any US moves from this point forward will be calculated to provoke an Iranian reaction, which then can be used to “justify” more forceful measures ultimately aimed at regime change.
Press Shia Agency: In a statement on Sunday, Bolton, who has spearheaded an increasingly hawkish US policy on Iran, said the US is deploying a carrier strike group and bombers to the Middle East in response to troubling “indications and warnings” from Iran. Zarif was recently in the US. In multiple interviews with US media outlets and a roundtable with reporters in New York, he made the case that a group dubbed “the B-Team” was goading the US toward conflict with Iran, not Trump. The B-team is a group of advisers and foreign leaders whose names share the same letter: Bolton, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), and the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (MBZ). What is your take on Zarif’s remarks? How do you assess the message of his trip to the US?
Jatras: It’s hard to dispute Mr. Zarif’s observation. He also noted that he believed Mr. Trump wants a deal but the B Team is calling the shots. The sad fact is, it probably doesn’t matter much what Trump wants or doesn’t want. Through the appointment of Bolton (also Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is Bolton’s rival “for the king’s ear” but whose policy thinking is indistinguishable), the Trump administration has effectively outsourced its foreign policy to what amounts to the same foreign influences that have led to earlier American misadventures in places like Iraq, Libya, and Syria. It’s possible that Trump could (or at least believes he could) be the one to make “the final decisions,” so it doesn’t matter what his underlings want. That’s a dangerously naïve hope. No matter who the top man is, subordinates determined to implement their own agenda (in this case, that of Bibi, Bin Zayed, and Bin Salman) can create facts that limit the president’s options. With respect to Iran, they hope to set in motion a dynamic (including Iran’s responses to provocations) that can lead hostilities to achieve regime change, with Trump having little ability to do anything else (compare his two cruise missile strikes on Syria, over what he must have known were false accusations of chemical weapons use). The other possible hope is the professional military. There have been recent media reports of a shouting match between Pentagon officials and Bolton’s staff because the latter didn’t think they were being provided enough military options on Venezuela. You can be sure that the military is even more nervous about what “options” for Iran look like. But you can also be sure those options exist and that, if we reach that point, the military will do as ordered.
Press Shia Agency: Zarif recently said he plans to visit North Korea in the near future. What do you think about possible objectives behind his trip and do you think that it would have links with his recent trip to the US?
Jatras: Many observers have pointed out that after Trump’s walking away from the JCPOA with Iran, he crippled his ability to negotiate a de-nuclearization deal with North Korea. After all, if you were Kim, what “security guarantees” from Washington could you trust? (The Libya lesson is also instructive.) Still, Trump genuinely seems to want an agreement but then allowed himself to get maneuvered by Bolton into presenting demands at Hanoi that have probably shot down any possibility of a US-DPRK agreement – to the horror of the South Koreans, by the way. So now we have Kim going off to see Russian President (Vladimir) Putin, who is also coordinating with China’s Xi. The message is: if Washington won’t cooperate in creating conditions for peace on the Korean peninsula, Moscow and Beijing will, with Seoul happy to participate (and probably Tokyo too, in the not too distant future). These countries look to their future in Eurasian integration via China’s Belt and Road Initiative and Russia’s Eurasian Union. Europe is also a natural partner at the western end if, in time, they can throw off American hegemony via NATO. The only answer the US has at this time is to threaten and disrupt. (For example, I am convinced the US is fueling Salafist terror in Xinjiang, just as we have in numerous other countries – while then accusing Iran of being the “number one terror sponsor.”). In the short term, that means picking off vulnerable countries unwilling to abide by US diktat. Right now, Venezuela is at the top of the list but Iran is the next and far more important target because of the regional ambitions of the B Team. Thus, I can’t say specifically what Mr. Zarif’s discussion will cover, but I would expect there to be a discussion of how the countries with a stake in peaceful Eurasian integration can coordinate their policies to dissuade the US from doing something stupid and destructive. It’s a very tall order.