Just like that, it was over. General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff called it ‘a kerfuffle’. A letter was sent to their Iraqi peers that the U.S was repositioning troops out of Iraq in accordance with legislation from Iraq ending the U.S military presence in the war-torn country, and suddenly then it was retracted by higher-ups. Running interference, Mark Esper backed Milley and said it was ‘an honest mistake’. It all went down within a day of the irrational assassination of Iran’s Soleimani.
The immediate termination of Chewning and Sweeney, at the same time as the assassination of Soleimani and Iran’s response raises some big questions. In the near future it will be of critical importance to get to the bottom of any possible relationship that Esper and his subordinates Chewning and Sweeney – who both served as Defense Secretary Esper’s Chiefs of Staff – had to the assassination of Soleimani. The assassination and any number of possible Iranian responses, can push the U.S into a broad and open military conflict with Iran. Such a war would also be Trump’s undoing.
We might otherwise be led to believe that Chewning and Sweeney’s sudden departure has something to do with Ukraine and the recent release of unredacted emails relating to L3Harris Technologies and funding in Ukraine. These of course also relate to the case against Trump and any possible impeachment. But the timing and symbolism of these as concurrent with the provocation against Iran and the blowback, as well as Esper’s backing of the ‘Kerfuffle theory’, lends strong credence to an Iran connection.
The connection to impeachment cannot be denied, but the necessity of uncovering its potential relation to Iran is tremendously important because it directly relates to larger constitutional and practical questions of the president’s ability to have a Department of Defense that works either for or against U.S strategy as formulated and executed by its democratically elected leadership, as opposed to its permanent bureaucratic administration. This is what Trump and his supporters quite rightfully refer to as the ‘Deep State’.
Were elements in the defense department working towards a heightened brinksmanship that the president did not really want? It would be far from the first time in history that such was the case.
Because the proverbial excrement rolls down-hill, was Esper involved in ordering Soleimani’s assassination which Trump was not informed of until it was too late, or until after? Chewning and Sweeney’s fate may be understood here. The ‘kerfuffle’ which was the withdrawal statement would then be a simple ruse to distract from the actual reasons that Chewning and Sweeney were terminated – acting without orders, insubordination, and even treason.
Trump’s Balancing Policy on Iran and America’s leadership crisis
One undeniable point is that a war with Iran works entirely against Trump’s middle-east policy and his prospects for re-election.
What the Trump administration seeks most now is a de-escalation with Iran. Given that Trump has fueled a rumor mill including the possible ending of sanctions if Iran doesn’t respond, or that there will be no further attacks if Iran’s response is ‘reasonable’, all exists in the unspoken framework that Trump inherently recognizes the ‘guilt’ of the U.S in its irrational act, while it is nevertheless politically impossible to frame it overtly as such.
Impeachment against Trump has now been used several times to push him to act aggressively in the middle-east, contrary to his policy and self-interest. On all the ‘impeachment threat – then strike’ occasions, Trump ordered strikes on predictable targets – targets so predictable and oddly executed, that Syrian and Iranian forces barely felt them. There appears to be at the very least an ‘unspoken communication’ at play, where strikes are made to assuage political needs but not to inflict serious damage. If Trump really wanted an excuse to strike Iran, he’s had it before.
There was precisely such an opportunity when subversives in government hatched a plan to push Trump into a war with Iran, when two planes were sent to violate Iranian airspace – one manned, the other unmanned – flying in close proximity. This created the chance that Iran’s downing of either plane could be used as a pretext for a major war-creating strike on Iran.
Despite Trump’s acting reasonably, government actors and media attempted to create a sensation where Trump was ridiculed for ‘calling off’ a planned retaliation in the aftermath of the downed drone. The same liberal media and Democratic Party establishment that attacked Trump’s de-escalation then from a hawkish perspective, today manifest as doves who suddenly oppose Trump’s reckless hawkishness.
Here, in the aftermath of the drone incident, a Trump policy was formulated – and it’s a policy that figures prominently in de-escalation in the aftermath of the assassination of Soleimani and Iran’s measured response.
The policy is this – if Iran kills Americans, then the U.S escalates. If the U.S does something provocative, then Iran is actually allowed to respond militarily, so long as American personnel are not killed.
Iran’s striking of the al-Asad airbase was predictable. That Trump has decided to officially declare that there were no U.S casualties has indicated his real stance. In all reality, the predictability of the target was such that American soldiers would have been repositioned out of that base, so that Iran could assuage its own popular-democratic needs in terms of legitimacy, without forcing the U.S. to respond again further.
Between an AIPAC rock and an Anti-War Hard-spot
A war with Iran would push the anti-war sentiments of independent voters away from Trump, and towards a more revitalized and mobilized Democrat Party anti-war base. Trump needs an anti-war base to be re-elected, and war with Iran pushes that base towards nearly any Democrat candidate.
At the same time, Trump also needs the continued support from America’s Christian Zionist evangelical ‘Israel Firsters’, as well as the infamous AIPAC, not only to be re-elected, but to maintain the support in the senate against impeachment.
That conflict between Trump’s two greatest populist strengths – between Trump’s anti-war base and his Christian Zionist base – largely defines his weakest political spot. That’s why it’s the best place to attack him.
Trump for his part, has a frenemy relationship with AIPAC, and has worked hard to build his profile with Christian Zionist voters even to the extent that this might limit AIPAC’s influence on them. He has purchased a lot of AIPAC support along the way by tearing up the JCPOA and recognizing the Golan Heights and Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. This is capital he will have to spend to maintain support in the Senate.
All together this means that while Trump may or may not have personally sought the assassination of Soleimani, he must take credit for it for any number of reasons. In brief, these relate again to the Zionist base and AIPAC, as well as needing to appear in control of the very country that he is nominally the president of. When Trump refused to go to war over the downing of the un-manned drone, the liberal media monopoly accused him of being soft on Iran and indecisive.
Israel for its part is not tremendously happy with either of the two competing U.S policies. They have been pushing a ‘bomb Iran’ line for years, so that Israel’s conquest of Iraq may come to be. They are also not happy that the U.S presence in the region will come to an end. Trump may or may not have green-lit Soleimani’s assassination, but in either even its result will be the purchase of political capital that he can use towards ending the anti-ISIS campaign in Iraq. The reality is that the U.S is being pushed out either way. Soleimani’s assassination has only strengthened that resolve.
Simultaneously, the anti-war sentiment in the U.S. is one that both led to Trump’s election and can lead to Trump’s undoing. Americans love sabre rattling and posturing. They also hate war.
To wit, in the immediate aftermath of the Soleimani assassination, the well-known American communist group – the PSL – and its anti-war front organization ‘ANSWER’ have already received incredible donations from deep-pocketed Democrat Party sponsors at the local party level, to stage the first significant anti-war demonstration since the Bush presidency. While PSL/ANSWER members and activists have been laudable in their consistent opposition to all American wars for capital and empire, they only seem to magically receive the funds for permits, advertising, organizing, and staging anti-war marches when a Republican is president. The secondary slogan of these mobilizations was ‘Dump Trump’. ‘Dump Obama’ was never a slogan seen at the non-existent mass mobilizations against the Libyan, Ukrainian, and Syrian wars. Trump’s refusal to take the Democrat-laid war bait, means he can pull off an end-run around the Democrat and deep-state plot.
Democrats also don’t want war with Iran, they only want that Trump loses the anti-war vote. They can force him into these compromised positions by coordinating with the ‘permanent administrative military-intelligence bureaucracy’, by coordinating with AIPAC. The Democrat’s plan is therefore pretty simple: use impeachment to force him to strike at Iran (or get Trump to take credit for a strike that the deep-state pulled off), and then use that entanglement to tank his re-election prospects. Then Democrats ride in on an anti-war ticket, restart JCPOA, and move towards integrating Iranian elites into the EU economy. Israel could ultimately guarantee its piece of Iraq and its Greek pipeline deal in due course, with a reformed and EU friendly Iran, ready to make major compromises with Israel. Maybe this is what Biden means by ‘restorationist’ – restoring the traditional left/right political divide which has empowered the Atlanticist status quo.
A Backroom deal? Iran’s Measured Response and Trump’s face-saving
The successful attack on the US’s al-Asad airbase in Iraq was characterized by Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamenei has characterized as a ‘slap’.
Interestingly, Khamenei’s language used is strategic, and uses a sleight of hand to take the steam from possible opponents. It is clear that Khamenei has said today that while the attack on the airbase is just a slap, and that Iran’s full response will come in the future, he has in fact set up that the solution will be political and diplomatic. He did so in a creative way which appeals to hardliners, saying that any solution could not simply be political and diplomatic, but rather more than this. This sort of double-speak does not reflect any moral lapsus, but is necessary for Iran’s greater geopolitical aims and serves the greater good.
De-escalation requires that both parties save face, and can come away with tangible minor victories and agree that the real underlying dispute is resolved in the future.
This reluctance to engage militarily is beyond the mere politics of justifying American casualties, but points to broader considerations of U.S power projection in the region in the aftermath of the failure of the Obama administration policy of overthrowing the government of Syria.
To understand the events at play requires a multi-dimensional and realist understanding of motivations and relationships, and how relationships work at the level of statecraft. And so in a way that would be popularly understood – as in Game of Thrones – just because you’re invited to the banquet or receive a high-honored appointment, doesn’t mean that are you indispensable or even a friend. Trump’s ‘GoT’ relationship with Israel and even his own cabinet, needless to say any number of Pentagon bosses, is precisely this. Bolton and Pompeo are such frenemies, as have been any number of ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ members of the Trump administration, more or less foisted and forced upon the chief executive by Trump’s opponents in the permanent administration and his partisan opposition, and within the Republican Party itself.
Did Trump make a backroom deal with Iran? Probably not – there was a high public dimension to Trump’s offers, and a recent history where an unspoken language was developed. Iran has demonstrated a high level of intelligence, restraint, intuition, and strategic thinking in its several thousand year-old civilization. There is no reason to think that they wouldn’t have understood and inferred everything explained in this article, and much more, without needing a direct conversation with Trump which no doubt would have led to yet another impeachment fandango.