Happy New Year! Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America cheer the Iranian people for risking everything to rise up against the corrupt, autocratic mullahs in Tehran and applaud President Trump for a much better response than the Obama administration offered in 2009. They also slam Democratic activists David Brock and Lisa Bloom for offering huge amounts of cash for additional women to publicly accuse Trump of sexual harassment or assault in the final days of the 2016 campaign. And they unload on the mainstream media for either ignoring the uprisings in Iran or offering misleading explanations or the protests – all to protect a political narrative.
Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton says President Trump did an excellent job of identifying and confronting the greatest threats to national security in 2017, but warns those threats still persist and Trump will likely have to make a fateful decision in the coming year.
Trump is the first president in U.S. history never to hold prior public office or serve in the military. Nonetheless, Bolton says Trump quickly got his “sea legs” and emerged with a foreign policy that should be recognizable to most Americans.
“I think it has been very much in the mainstream of conservative Republican thinking. That may upset some of his supporters and some of his opponents, but the fact is it’s been a responsible foreign policy. It’s corrected so many mistakes from the Obama administration,” said Bolton.
“In particular, I think Trump’s view of the threat posed by Iran’s and North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs is probably the most important,” added Bolton. “Decertifying the Iran nuclear deal and the very tough line he’s taken with respect to North Korea are very important.”
The North Korean nuclear threat reared its head many times in 2017, with the Kim Jong-Un regime firing off numerous missile tests that performed competently enough to convince top U.S. intelligence officials that the window of opportunity for diplomacy is quickly closing.
“CIA Director Mike Pompeo said sometime back that North Korea could be within months of getting the capability to hit the United States with thermonuclear warheads carried by ballistic missiles,” said Bolton.
As of now, Bolton says the U.S. still has multiple options for dealing with North Korea, but none of them appear very attractive. He says Trump will have likely have to make the toughest decision any president has to make sometime in 2018.
I don’t think there’s any serious dispute that in the next 12 months we’re going to have to make a very important, very hard, very unpleasant decision over whether we allow North Korea to have this capability to threaten us from now as far as the eye can see, threaten Japan, threaten South Korea and sell that capability to anybody with enough money to pay,” said Bolton.
He says Iran, ISIS, Al Qaeda and other bad actors could well end up as customers of the North Korean regime. He says the other option will be using military force to achieve Trump’s demand for the denuclearization of the communist state.
“This isn’t a choice President Trump wanted to make. Nobody wants to make it. It’s unattractive whichever option you pick. But it’s a consequence of 25 years failure on the part of American foreign policy,” said Bolton, a clear criticism of the Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama administrations in dealing with the emerging threat.
Bolton stresses the decision is not just limited to North Korea. He says failing to check Kim now could have massive worldwide consequences.
“We’re very nearly at the stage where our ability to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons will have failed irretrievably and that’s not a happy place to be. It’s going to be in the Trump administration where these key decisions are made. So in the new year, all of us are going to have to be thinking about what we think is best for the country,” said Bolton.
Another major accomplishment in recent months is the rout of ISIS forces in Iraq and Syria at the hands of U.S. air power, American coordination on the ground and the fighting of Iraqi and Kurdish forces.
Bolton is dumbfounded at how little coverage this accomplishment gets in the mainstream media. Regardless, he says the impact of the military success is significant.
“It’s a very significant victory. It was critical to eliminate the physical caliphate that ISIS had set up,” said Bolton. “To deny ISIS that base of operations. It’s very, very important. It just means the war on terrorism into a different phase.”
“The next question in the region is how to deal with Iran, making sure that they’re not empowered by the defeat of ISIS to extend their control as they’re trying to do with some success through Iraq, through (Bashar) Assad’s regime in Syria, through Hezbollah in Lebanon, all the way to the Mediterranean,” said Bolton, who also urges Trump to scrap the Iran nuclear deal once and for all.
The former ambassador to the UN also weighed in on the recent uproar in the General Assembly as 128 nations voted to approve a non-binding resolution declaring America’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel “null and void.” Just nine nations (including the U.S. and Israel) voted against the resolution and 35 countries abstained.
Ambassador Nikki Haley said the U.S. would take note of those countries looking to strip our nation of its sovereignty. And Trump has suggested those nations might see less foreign aid in the years to come.
Bolton likes the American response.
“For two long, countries had a completely free hand at the United Nations. They could denounce the United States. They could attack our allies. They could vote against us. It was all cost-free to them. So it shouldn’t be any surprise to us that their behavior in many respects was purely irresponsible,” said Bolton.
“I think if the president follows through and says we’re going to make sure there are consequences, it’s a potential game-changer, and not just directed at the countries that vote the wrong way but to use this as a wedge for substantial change in the way we fund the United Nations itself,” said Bolton.
But as 2018 dawns, Bolton says the far more immediate priorities are what do do about the emerging nuclear threats in North Korea and Iran.
“I expect 2018 to be a year of considerable activity,” said Bolton.
Human rights advocates are vigorously applauding the Trump administration’s decision to stop sending aid to Iraqi Christians and Yazidis decimated by ISIS through the United Nations and to provide the help directly from now on.
On Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence announced the shift in policy.
“Christians in the Middle East should not have to rely on multinational institutions when America can help them directly. Tonight, it is my privilege to announce that President Trump has ordered the State Department to stop funding ineffective relief efforts at the United Nations.
“From this day forward, America will provide support directly to persecuted communities through USAID,” said Pence, referring to the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Virginia, was a leading human rights advocate in Congress for more than three decades. He is now a distinguished senior fellow at the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative. He is very happy to see the Trump administration make this move.
“It’s a very good decision that the administration and President Trump and Vice President Pence have made,” said Wolf. “This may very well save Christianity in the cradle of Christendom. more biblical activity took place in Iraq than any other country of the world other than Israel.”
Wolf says relief efforts organized by the United Nations failed for a number of reasons.
“Many in the Christian communities say they were afraid to go in some of the UN-run camps,” he said. “Secondly, the aid was not getting to the Christian communities. Many of the Christian communities and Yazidi communities wanted to return to where they were from. Their towns were liberated but they were not getting any assistance through the UN.”
Wolf says Christians were fearful of entering UN camps because of the Sunni Muslim refugees there. Not knowing which families had relatives fighting alongside ISIS, the Christians were afraid the Sunnis in those camps would report them and put their lives in danger.
Now that ISIS has largely been rooted out of Iraq, Wolf says the displaced people are eager to return home. However, with the UN failing to provide aid, going home if almost impossible.
“They were concerned about security. They were also concerned that they were seeing the money funded to different groups but not to them. They couldn’t rebuild their water treatment plant, couldn’t rebuild their electrical grid, couldn’t restore some of their communal property,” said Wolf.
But while the removal of ISIS is a good thing, Wolf is very concerned about the Shia militias, called Hastashabi, that seem to be filling the vacuum.
“The Hastashabi are Iranian-backed, sometimes paid for by the Iranian government, Shia militias who are now filling in the gaps. We went to checkpoints where there were Shia militias who had taken over for the others,” said Wolf, who was in northern Iraq just two weeks ago.
He says the rise of Shia militias is greatly concerning given Iranian ambitions in the region.
“The Iranians want to create what they call a land crescent or a land bridge, so you’ll be able to drive from Tehran, through Iraq, through Syria, to a port on the Mediterranean, whereby they will be able to aid terrorist groups with guns and missiles and weapons,” said Wolf.
“So there are problems as you see ISIS defeated. There are some potential problems out there, particularly with regard to the militias,” said Wolf.
Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton says President Trump took a good first step in decertifying the Iran nuclear deal but he says the whole thing must be scrapped in order to remove the smokescreen that Iran is an honest player and end the financial windfall for the the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism.
Bolton is also cheering the collapse of ISIS and commending President Trump for policy changes that expedited that outcome, however he is deeply concerned about the fate of the Kurds as Iranian-backed militias and even the official Iraqi forces look to force Kurdish fidelity to the regime in Baghdad.
And he is also urging Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to get on the same page quickly for the sake of American foreign policy.
On Thursday, Trump announced he was decertifying the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, negotiated among the Obama administration, Iran, and five other nations in 2015. Decertifying the agreement does not kill it but gives Congress 60 days to act on it. If Congress cannot reach a consensus on how to move forward, Trump could then decide to abandon the deal.
Bolton has long called for a complete withdrawal from the JCPOA, but he is encouraged by Trump’s decision to declare Iran non-compliant.
“It’s certainly much better than recertifying that the deal is in America’s national interest. What he did is to at least serve notice that it’s not. Nobody should be under any illusions that we’re still in the Obama administration,” said Bolton.
But he says it is vital for Trump to kill the deal once and for all in the next couple of months.
“The reason that United States needs to withdraw entirely is to create a new reality, to strip away the camouflage that Iran is provided by this deal, where it gains resources from trade and investment deals from all over the world but basically continues to pursue its nuclear weapons program without adequate inspection or verification,” said Bolton.
And Bolton is confident that Trump will have the chance to kill it because he has no confidence in Congress.
“This basically gives Congress 60 days to see if they can come up with some kind of comprehensive strategy. I have no faith whatever that Congress will be able to do that.
“So at 60 days, it’ll be back to the president. I’m hoping then that having given the supporters of the deal and the people who think the deal can be improved time to play out their option and failing, that he’ll then take the next step and get out of the deal entirely,” said Bolton.
Bolton says “camouflage” of a compliant, responsible Iran is nonsense.
“The argument to stay in the deal is that somehow the deal is constraining them and I believe that it’s not. They gave up temporary, easily reversible concessions in exchange for hundreds of billions of dollars of trade and investment and assets being unfrozen,” said Bolton.
Furthermore, Bolton says Iran’s supposed transparency is also a farce.
“Every time that the Iranians have made a disclosure about their nuclear program for the last 20 years, it’s only been after U.S. intelligence uncovered it or Iranian opposition groups made it public,” said Bolton.
He says Iran did have one brief moment of honesty that also reveals the futility of the JCPOA.
“Just about two months ago now, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran said that if they made the decision themselves to withdraw from the deal, they could get back to pre-deal levels of uranium enrichment in five days.
“Now, you take everything the Iranian leadership says with a big grain of salt but in that case they happen to be right, and it’s an indication of just how minimal their concessions were,” said Bolton.
But if the JCPOA is not an effective nuclear deterrent for Iran, what would be? First, he says it’s time for the U.S. to see Iran and North Korea as part of the same nuclear threat instead of separate challenges. He says the following step is to make sure neither rogue actor has nukes.
“I know people don’t like to hear it but you can’t leave the military option off the table because if you believe, as Trump said in his UN speech just about a months ago, that only way forward with North Korea is denuclearization, and I think the same is true with Iran, that means we can’t leave the current scenario with them still in possession of nuclear weapons.
“Otherwise, they’re available to extort and blackmail the United States as far as the eye can see,” said Bolton.
In neighboring Iraq, the news is better at least for the moment. On Tuesday, U.S.-backed militias said they had routed ISIS in its home base of Raqqa, Syria. U.S. officials indicated there is still work to do but that the vast majority of Raqqa had fallen.
Bolton says the speed of military success against ISIS is a big change from the previous administration.
“The president is right to say that he significantly speeded up the end of the ISIS caliphate. I think we are at the point where there may still be resistance here and there, but functionally the caliphate is over,” he said, while being quick to point out many ISIS figures fled to other hostile nations, so the ISIS threat itself lives on.
However, Bolton is worried that the Iraqi forces and the Shia militias backed by the U.S. and Iran are now taking aim at the Kurdish forces in the north, already wresting control of Kirkuk away from the Kurds who saved the city from ISIS.
Bolton says the Iraqis and militias are now moving on the Kurdish capital of Irbil and they’re doing it with American weapons. He says the Trump administration ought to respond in two ways, help the Kurds now and depose the Iranian government in the long term.
“The safety of the United States depends upon the ayatollahs being overthrown. I’ve believed that ever since the Ayatollah Khomeini took over in 1979.
“In the near term, I think we need to provide the Kurds with the armor and the artillery that, ironically, we’ve provided the forces of the Baghdad Iraqi government and the Shia militias. The Kurds are now being attacked with American weapons,” said Bolton, noting the Kurds have not been given such weapons.
Finally, Bolton says only President Trump and Secretary of State Tillerson know the true state of their relationship, but he says it is vital that they get on the same page fast as these two men are at the center of executing American foreign policy.
“It’s not something you can let drift on and paralyze our decision making. It’s just too important of a combination not to have both ends of it working effectively,” said Bolton.
Bolton has some criticism of Trump on the personnel front. Unlike Trump, he believes it is vital for Trump to nominate good people to fill a myriad of vacancies at the assistant and deputy level in the State Department. He says Trump can’t bring about the change in bureaucracy and policy he’s promised without putting the right people in critical positions.
“The bureaucracy is like a big aircraft carrier. The way it was sailing when the president took office on January 20th is the direction it’s going to sail in until somebody says to turn it around. If you don’t have people around, your ability to turn it around is greatly reduced. I think that harms the president, ultimately,” said Bolton.
While ISIS is pushed to the brink of extinction, the Shia militias and Kurdish fighters who drove the purported caliphate out of Iraq are now fighting each other over control of key areas in northern Iraq and a decorated U.S. general says the ones who benefit are the mullahs in Iran.
NBC News reports Monday that Shia militias are launching a “major, multi-pronged attack” aimed at taking away the critically important city of Kirkuk from Kurdish control. The Kurdish peshmerga successfully defended Kirkuk from ISIS three years ago as the Islamists were sweeping through northern and western Iraq and prompting the official Iraqi forces to throw down their weapons and flee from the invaders.
Further complicating matters is the non-binding Kurdish referendum on independence last month. The vote passed easily but was seen by the Iraqi government and other anti-Kurdish elements as inflammatory.
When ISIS was routed out of Mosul earlier this year, retired U.S. Air Force Lt. General Tom McInerney was sobered by the key role of Shia militias loyal to Iran in that victory. He says the same groups are now turning on the Kurds.
“The people attacking them are primarily Shi’ite organizations that the Iranians set up for the Iraqi military. So I think we’ve got to get our hands on it very quickly and not let it get out of control,” said McInerney.
When asked if any U.S. sympathy for the Kurdish position would drive the Iraqi government even closer to their Shia brethren in Iran, McInerney says that ship has already sailed.
“Let’s not kid ourselves. The Iraqi government is already in the hands of Iran. Whether they can go further or not is another question
“We’re having out own challenge with the Iranian government on the JCPOA, the nuclear agreement. I think you can see this is only going to get worse because of the expansive nature of Iran,” said McInerney.
While acknowledging this is a complicated and delicate diplomatic dance for the U.S., McInerney says the sacrifices of the Kurds over the years need to be recognized.
“This is very complex. My gut feel is clearly that we should be supporting the Kurds. They resurrected Kirkuk when ISIS tries to take it over an d the Iraqi government fled. So they should be given credit for that.
“I’m not sure where our government’s going to go, but I do believe that we ought to make it so that since the Kurds saved Kirkuk from ISIS that they ought to be given credit for that,” said McInerney.
McInerney is quite sympathetic towards the creation of an independent Kurdish nation, known as Kurdistan, but also points out that creating that state is contrary to the interests of several nations in the region, since the Kurdish population centers would lead to a nation carved out of Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey.
While admitting the issue is so thorny that he does not have any specific proposals to solve the sectarian schism that’s now turning deadly, he says decisive U.S. leadership could well play a key role in preventing the escalation of these renewed tensions.
“It’s going to take State Department and Defense working closely together with all parties to create a solution that is satisfactory. But it will take U.S. leadership, strong leadership to do that.
“I’m delighted that we’ve got President Trump who’d be willing to make some of the hard decisions on what transpires over there right now. No clear, easy answer,” said McInerney.
Ultimately, McInerney believes any long term stability will require dealing with the Iranian regime. McInerney says Iran will likely work behind the scenes to kill any agreement that the U.S. finds palatable. He says as long as the mullahs are pulling the strings there and in their own nation, peace will be elusive.
“Iran is on a path that we need a regime change with the mullahs. We ought to admit it and there are so many allies over there that will help us change that regime and create a different calculus over there. We need to be looking at that very seriously,” said McInerney.
Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton is cheering President Trump for a strong address to the United Nations this week and for perhaps already reaping critical results in his effort to isolate North Korea.
On Thursday, Trump announced a new round of U.S. sanctions aimed at North Korea and also reported that China is vowing to deal a major financial blow to the communist regime in Pyongyang.
“Today I’m announcing a new executive order I just signed that significantly expands our authorities to target individuals, companies, financial institutions that finance and facilitate trade with North Korea,” said Trump.
Bolton says this could be a very significant move.
“It’s potentially significant because if we were to sanction companies or banks doing business with North Korea, that could have a knock-on effect to other countries doing the same and could effect their ability to do transactions in the United States,” said Bolton.
He says it leaves those banks and corporations with a stark choice.
“Do you want to do business with us or do you want to do business with North Korea? Your choice entirely, but it’s going to be one or the other,” said Bolton.
Bolton likes the aggressive nature of the sanctions.
“Why didn’t we do this about eight or ten years ago? Why is it that we’ve waited this long? I think we have the answer. I think President Trump is determined to do something about North Korea and Iran and their nuclear programs,” said Bolton.
Bolton served as ambassador to the United Nations for President George W. Bush. So why didn’t these sanctions come then?
“There was a lot of discussion in the Bush administration about sanctions but (there was) a lot of opposition to really squeezing North Korea. Ultimately, I don’t think we did really anywhere near what we could have,” said Bolton.
He says there was virtually no chance for stiff penalties in the Obama years.
“There was no appetite for sanctions against North Korea. They were exercising what they called ‘strategic patience’ in the Obama administration. That’s a synonym for doing nothing and the North Koreans took advantage of it,” said Bolton.
Just as importantly, Bolton says the new sanctions turn the screws on China as well.
“The vast bulk of the institutions doing business with North Korea – financial, commodities, machinery, you name it – are Chinese. China, for 25 years, frankly, has two-timed us on their concern about the North Korean nuclear program. So this gives the president some bite,” said Bolton.
That may have already paid off Thursday, as, Trump announced news that seemed to surprise even him, as China appears ready to play hardball with Kim Jong-Un as well.
“China, their central bank has told other banks – and it’s a massive banking system – to immediately stop doing business with North Korea,” said Trump.
Bolton says if China is serious about taking this step it could have a huge impact on North Korea. However, he says it is very tough to determine if China is making good on such a policy.
“I think that’s difficult from the outside. God knows how many banks there are and how many new banks can be created that might be able to facilitate North Korean trade, for example with Iran,” said Bolton.
Trump made major headlines with his blunt talk about North Korea in his speech on Tuesday.
“The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea. Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime. The United States is ready, willing and able, but hopefully this will not be necessary,” said Trump.
Bolton says Trump struck exactly the right tone.
“I thought it was entirely appropriate. Some of these people who talk about what’s becoming or unbecoming to say at the UN. Honestly, the United Nations is not a church. You’re not supposed to be reverential towards threats to international peace and security and innocent American civilians,” said Bolton, who thought the Trump approach was refreshing after the past eight years.
“After eight years of global governance kind of rhetoric from Obama and the weakness that he projected, maybe some people are shocked when they hear what a real American president has to say. All in all, I think it’s the right thing for the president to do. In America, plain speaking is a virtue and it’s important that these other countries hear it,” said Bolton.
Bolton also lauded Trump for labeling the Iran nuclear deal an “embarrassment” and “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into.” He says that puts the onus on Trump to get out of the deal soon.
“If you don’t certify but stay in the deal that you’ve described already as embarrassing, I think that’s unpresidential. It’s sort of a one shoe on, one shoe off foreign policy. He needs to lead with moral and political clarity. I think the way you do that is to say this deal is a disaster for the United States and its friends and allies and we’re getting out of it,” said Bolton.
Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America react to President Trump making a deal with Democratic leaders to enact DACA into law in exchange for “massive border security” that has yet to be defined. They also sigh as the Trump administration continues sanctions relief for Iran in conjunction with the nuclear deal it still hasn’t scrapped. And they slam the White House for suggesting ESPN anchor Jemele Hill ought to fired for tweeting that Trump is a white supremacist while also blasting Hill and ESPN for their aggressively extreme politics.
On Monday, Americans observed a solemn remembrance of the lives lost in the horrific terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, but retired U.S. Air Force Lt. General Tom McInerney says victory will be tough to achieve unless the U.S. gets serious about specifically identifying the enemy as radical Islam and getting Muslim leaders to publicly condemn the perpetrators.
“We still have not identified the threat’s ideology, that is radical Islam. Until you do that, you can’t defeat the threat,” said McInerney, who rose to the number three position in the U.S. Air Force and also served as vice commander of U.S. Air Forces Europe.
He says President Trump did identity the ideology correctly on the campaign trail but has not been nearly as bold since taking office.
“We do not use the term ‘radical Islam’ very much in this administration. I’m a little disappointed in the Trump administration because the president was using it quite a bit and then has since restricted his use of the term,” said McInerney.
Another reason he can’t call the war a success is the volatile state of the entire Middle East.
“Now you have the Middle East. It’s the most unstable it has ever been in its history, so that’s why I’m not giving us high marks for being successful,” said McInerney.
Another major priority after 9/11 was the state of American intelligence capabilities. Here again, McInerney sees disappointment compared to what was possible.
“They haven’t identified these threats. They haven’t articulated the issues. Our special ops are good at getting high-value targets, so our intelligence people are doing a good job with all of our censors, etc. But we haven’t bundled it in the proper way, so our leaders can properly express the threat and the ideology I talked about earlier,” said McInerney.
So how can the U.S. prosecution of the war become more effective? McInerney says it all starts with prominent Muslims clearly and frequently denouncing terrorism.
“The only people that can really defeat radical Islam are the Muslims themselves. So we need fatwas out of Mecca and Medina. We need Arab leadership to declare those radical Islamists to be unholy warriors and that they will forever live in damnation for attacking the West,” said McInerney.
McInerney says critical mistakes from both George W. Bush and Barack Obama made the fight more difficult. He says Bush’s decision, through Amb. L. Paul Bremer, to disband the Iraqi army after toppling Saddam Hussein was a major error that only teed up experienced fighters to be part of the subsequent insurgency.
He says Obama’s decision to withdraw all U.S. forces in 2011 then created the vacuum that fostered the rise of ISIS.
McInerney says to pursue stability now requires a concerted confrontation of Iran.
“We cannot have the mullahs running wild over there. They’re developing ICBM’s and nuclear weapons covertly. We cannot accept that,” said McInerney.
He calls the Iran nuclear deal another major mistake by the Obama administration and says extensive collaboration with allies in the region will be need to to neutralize Iran.
“We need to take care of Iran, because they are the most destabilizing group in the Middle East. They are driving a lot of this (radical Islam-inspired terrorism),” said McInerney.
McInerney also asserts that 2016 campaign tactics are hampering our ability to work with Russia, which is a key player in any effort to stabilize the region.
“The Russian collusion was always a deceptive move by the Democratic Party to shield the wrongdoings that the Democrats under Obama did, with the unmasking, with a whole host of other things – Hillary Clinton’s emails, which was a violation of the Espionage Act,” said McInerney.
So now our relationship with Russia is tense. If we’re going to solve the problems over there, we need to be working with the Russians. All those things coupled together can bring the stability we need, but we must replace the current Iranian regime,” said McInerney.
Since 9/11, terrorist attacks in the West feature fewer grand, sweeping plots and many are carried out by individuals or small cells. McInerney says our intelligence efforts should be able to sniff out these plots much better because we know where to look for the potential terrorists.
“When you look at the incidents we’ve had in Europe and the United States, it always goes back to the mosques. We have not taken the appropriate actions to infiltrate them and to get rid of the bad ones,” said McInerney.
President Trump made an “unfortunate mistake” by re-certifying the Iran nuclear deal on Wednesday and he was pushed into a decision he didn’t want to make through the power of an entrenched government bureaucracy, according to former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton.
On Monday, after almost an hour of animated debate with his national security team, President Trump reluctantly declared that Iran is complying with the terms with the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, hammered out by the Obama admnistration, Iran, and five other nations.
“It was an unfortunate decision for the administration to issue this certification,” said Bolton. “I think the president was blindsided by the bureaucracy.”
Bolton, who served in the State Department during the first term of the George W. Bush administration, says the foreign policy bureaucracy is a powerful force in Washington.
“It was the bureaucracy on autopilot from the Obama administration. If you don’t tell them to change direction, they just keep doing what they were doing before,” said Bolton.
But it’s not just Obama holdovers pushing the status quo. Reports confirm that Defense Secretary James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford all pleaded with Trump to re-certify the agreement.
Bolton says the bureaucracy has a way of winning over new cabinet members to embrace existing policy.
“The bureaucracies have a way of capturing the appointees. Some of those (Trump officials) are still in the bureaucracy or never really left it. It’s an art form. People who know Washington, particularly who have watched the State Department seduce political appointees, especially Republicans and they make reasonable-sounding arguments that are simply justifications for continuing the prior policy,” said Bolton.
The Iran deal has now been re-certified twice in the first six months of the Trump administration. Each time, the official recognition of Iranian compliance has been accompanied by a Trump administration denunciation of Iran’s human rights record and sponsoring of terrorism.
Bolton says the disconnect is jarring.
“It’s a committee camel that came out and it reflects the confusion that happens when you don’t give the president options and when you don’t allow time for a full debate. Those mistakes will not be made again,” said Bolton, who firmly believes Trump will not certify the agreement again.
Those who applauded the decision to re-certify say abrogating the deal would create a great deal of chaos, particularly with our allies who were part of the negotiations with Iran.
Bolton doesn’t think that should be a deterrent from doing the right thing.
“If the allies are going to be upset by something, what you do is a vigorous diplomatic campaign to explain why we think the deal was a mistake, indeed why they made the same mistake we did, and why we’ve got to correct it before it’s too late,” said Bolton.
“The consequences of a bad deal are a regime of religious fanatics in Iran getting nuclear weapons,” said Bolton.
Bolton says the problems with the JCPOA are legion, starting with the painfully unclear language that he says Iran can manipulate and insist it is meeting its obligations.
“Many provisions of the deal are so badly worded, they’re so ambiguous, that a reasonable person could say, ‘The Iranians came right up to the line of their interpretation of the deal and they didn’t cross it so it’s hard to say it’s really a violation.’ That’s the argument,” said Bolton.
“That argument fails for several reasons. First off, the fact that the agreement is badly worded is one more reason to junk it. It shows just how poorly our negotiators, including Secretary of State John Kerry, did. It shows the leeway that it affords Iran. And it shows the way forward. They’re going to press the ambiguities right to the outer limit,” said Bolton.
And he expects Iran to eventually blow right past those limits.
“If they can hide what they’re doing, they’re going to press beyond the outer limits and make it impossible to enforce the deal strictly. That’s part of the problem. The deal is so bad that trying to enforce it strictly is like trying to nail jello to the wall,” said Bolton, while also nothing the deal offers no inspections of Iranian nuclear sites and has no binding provisions concerning ballistic missile development.
Bolton says the bottom line is that nothing has changed as a result of this agreement.
“Iran has never abandoned its policy to get deliverable nuclear weapons. It’s exploiting this deal. It’s made temporary, easily-reversible concessions. It’s cooperating with North Korea, which is getting ever closer to its own deliverable nuclear weapons capability,” said Bolton.
“We’re living in a delusion if we think this deal is slowing Iran down,” he added.
So what is the right U.S. posture? Bolton says the U.S. bring back economic sanctions immediately and be prepared to do whatever needs to be done to prevent Iran from being able to deploy nukes.
“To be realistic, if we don’t want Iran to have deliverable nuclear weapons, if that’s really what we believe, we and Israel have to look at a military option,” said Bolton.
The U.S. and other coalition partners are celebrating the defeat of ISIS in Mosul, but a prominent national security expert says the victory is actually jump starting the most dangerous part of the ISIS strategy and paving the way for Iranian domination of Iraq.
“The global Coalition fighting ISIS congratulates Prime Minister al-Abadi and the Iraqi Security Forces on their historic victory against a brutal and evil enemy,” stated Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, commanding general of Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve.
“Make no mistake; this victory alone does not eliminate ISIS and there is still a tough fight ahead. But the loss of one of its twin capitals and a jewel of their so-called caliphate is a decisive blow,” he added.
On Monday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi went to Mosul to declare victory in the eight-month-long battle to take back Iraq’s second-largest city from the Sunni radicals. The win comes just three years after Iraqi forces humiliated themselves by throwing down their weapons and taking off their uniforms as ISIS advanced.
Retired U.S. Navy Captain Chuck Nash says U.S. involvement played a key role.
“The United States has been back in there. We’ve been training. I know some of the special forces people who have been over there and did a fantastic job. Now they’ve got some good, solid leadership in the junior officer and middle ranks and they’re still working on some of the senior ranks,” said Nash.
But as ISIS rapidly loses control of territory in Iraq and Syria, including control of the supposed capital of the caliphate, Nash says the West is about to see the evolution of the group that presents the most danger to us.
“It’s a big deal. That’s going to hurt their recruiting efforts somewhat, but what they’re doing is going into ISIS phase three,” said Nash.
He says the first phase was to build up up troops from the former Al Qaeda in Iraq into a large fighting force and the second phase was to expand the territory of the caliphate. Now that those gains are being quickly rolled back, Nash suspects we’ll see more of the latest strategy from ISIS.
“Phase three is, ‘What happens when we lose that ground? How do we reinvent ourselves?’ What’s happening is they’re sending hundreds of these foreign fighters back to their countries of origin and the countries of origin are taking them in. So they’re going to metastasize this,” said Nash.
As horrific as the ISIS control over parts of Iraq and Syria have been, Nash says we knew where to find them and kill them. He says this dispersion strategy makes the job of free societies a lot harder.
“At one point, it was a cancer but it was a tumor, it was observable. We could see it growing, but it was localized. Now as they lose and they go into phase three, that cancer is going to metastasize,” said Nash.
He says the means Islamic radicals are going back to their home counties and the leaders of those countries are rolling out the red carpet.
“Now they’re going to be among us and what are they going to do? The whole vehicle into crowds, the knifing attacks and all that, and it won’t take long until the bombs start going off either. This is a very dangerous phase, which is why these governments are near suicidal by allowing these people back into the countries,” said Nash.
Back in Iraq, it’s not just better trained Iraqi soldiers who are defeating ISIS. He says the best fighters are actually a combination of Iranian Quds forces and various Shia militias from the southern part of Iraq.
Nash says Iran and it’s satellites are not just fighting to uproot ISIS, but because Tehran has visions of dominating the region.
“The Iranians are looking to connect the Persian Iran, the Shia Iran, through Shia Iraq, through and into Syria and Lebanon where they have Hezbollah. They’re looking at what’s been termed the Shia crescent, that now covers an arc spanning from the east in Iran all the way westward to the Mediterranean,” said Nash.
Given the Shia domination of Iraq’s government, Nash suspects there will be little resistance in Baghdad to doing Iran’s bidding.
“When we deposed Saddam Hussein, that opened the door for the Iranians and now the Shia population vastly outnumbers the Kurds and the Sunnis. So it is a Shia country and it is a Shi’ite government and it is aligned with Iran,” said Nash.
However, Nash believes that Iraq can be convinced to take a different course, premised on the boundless economic potential of remaining fiercely independent.
On a trip to Iraq shortly after Hussein was deposed, Nash and others received a briefing on the economic possibilities resulting from Iraq’s location at the fertile crescent and their vast oil reserves.
“The reason is because of Mesopotamia. [The briefing officer] said, ‘This is the richest soil, the rainfall and the water from the Tigris and the Euphrates could be the breadbasket of southwest Asia and the Middle East. Add in oil, and all of a sudden you have a monster of an economy,” said Nash.
Nash says there’s an obvious foot in the door for the President Trump and our allies by showing a willingness to partner with Iraq in rebuilding Mosul and other cities devastated by ISIS.
“He needs to engage the Iraqi government and let them know when they come out of this that the United States is willing to trade and continue to work with Iraq to help them re-establish,” said Nash.