In his interview Monday with Fox News host Tucker Carlson, President Donald Trump discussed the threats emanating from Iran. The President restated his commitment to confront Iran for its aggression while discussing his decision last week not to take retaliatory action against Iran’s downing of an unmanned U.S. drone after initially deciding to retaliate by attacking three surface to air missile batteries in Iran, (SAM).
Trump said, “We’re in a position to do far worse [to Iran] by not doing it [the planned retaliatory strike]. But hopefully, we don’t have to do anything. Iran now, since we terminated that horrible deal, which was a truly horrible deal, and, you know, you and I aren’t so different in terms of fighting, we want to have peace. We want to build our roads and build our schools and build all the things we want to build.
“But we can’t let Iran have a nuclear weapon. And you may even agree on that because I know where you stand.”
Trump made the appeal directly to Carlson because last week Carlson launched a libellous attack against Trump’s National Security Advisor, John Bolton. Carlson ostensibly did so to protest a potential war with Iran, but his attack has, arguably, made war more likely.
In his opening statement on his June 21 broadcast, Carlson echoed Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and former Obama administration officials — including Wendy Sherman, Susan Rice and Ben Rhodes — and launched a personal attack against Bolton.
Referring to Bolton as “a bureaucratic tapeworm,” Carlson alleged that a treacherous Bolton is working maliciously to push America into an unnecessary war with Iran for his own personal benefit. In Carlson’s words, “War may be a disaster for America, but for John Bolton … it is always good business.”
To justify his wild allegations of Trump’s senior advisor, Carlson grossly mischaracterized Bolton’s positions on the war in Iraq and the overthrow of Libyan dictator Muamar Qaddafi. Carlson also presented Bolton’s support for regime change in Iran and Syria as unadulterated lunacy without allowing his audience to understand Bolton’s position, let alone consider the mountain of evidence that argues in favor of that position.
In his words, Iran, the leading state sponsor of terrorism worldwide, is “a big, rich sophisticated country with an ancient culture and a cohesive population.”
Mixing his enthusiasm for Iran with derision for America’s chief Arab allies in the Persian Gulf, Carlson added, “In some ways, it’s an impressive place, not at all like the chintzy prefab capitals of the Arab world, like Riyadh and Dubai.”
(Unlike those capitals, which would likely welcome Carlson for a visit, the Iranian regime would not.)
The ostensible cause of Carlson’s diatribe was Trump’s decision the evening before to call off an airstrike against three Iranian surface-to-air missile (SAM) batteries. Trump had initially ordered the attack on the three SAMs in retaliation for Tehran’s unprovoked downing of a U.S. Global Hawk drone the day before.
Carlson pretended to praise the president for his move, calling it “a high point in the Trump presidency.”
But actually, Carlson’s faint praise for Trump was better understood as a threat. If the President had dared to respond to Iranian aggression, Carlson warned, he would have turned on him and taken his audience with him.
Or, as Carlson put it, “bombing Iran would have ended [Trump’s] political career in a minute. There’d be no chance of re-election after that.”
Carlson’s assault on Bolton, and his threat to end his support for Trump, (which he reinforced later in the week by giving a supportive interview with Democratic Presidential candidate Rep. Tulsi Gabbard following her statements against confrontation with Iran in the Democratic presidential debate), gave a major boost to the Democrats and the Iranians in their efforts to stymie Trump’s strategy for thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions and curtailing its regional aggression.
Trump’s strategy aims at maximum pressure on Iran, using primarily economic tools. The pro-Iranian efforts, by contrast, aim to limit Trump’s options and relieve the pressure on Iran. Critical to pro-Iranian efforts is the preservation of the 2015 nuclear deal. The nuclear deal provides the Iranian regime with the economic wherewithal to wait out Trump, continue its regional aggression, and eventually build a bomb. Both the Democrats and Iran hope that 17 months from now, a Democrat will defeat Trump in the presidential election and restore the nuclear deal.
The rationales for both sides’ actions were set out in an important article by Michael Doran, published last week in Mosaic online magazine.
In “What is Iran Really Up To,” Doran explained that to achieve its goal of regime survival, Iran is using low-level, but ever-expanding, aggression in the Persian Gulf. Iran hopes to pressure the Democrats on the one hand and the Europeans on the other to prevent the Trump administration from canceling the nuclear waivers it instituted upon leaving the deal. These waivers enable Iran to preserve and expand its nuclear program under international cover. They also provide a means for the Iranian regime to carry out just enough commerce to keep the Iranian economy afloat.
According to Doran, over the past several months, key people in the Trump administration have clashed with the Europeans over those waivers. European supporters of the failed nuclear deal insist on maintaining the waivers to reward Iran, and Democratic lawmakers in both houses of Congress have have backed the European position against Trump administration officials.
According to Doran, like the Iranians, the Democrats and the Europeans fear that without the waivers, the Iranian regime will not outlast Trump’s term of office. They also believe that if Iran walks away from the deal completely or commits direct acts of lethal aggression against either European or U.S. forces or nationals, the Europeans will reluctantly reinstate sanctions, dooming the Iranian regime.
To prevent this, Iran is committing only limited acts of aggression. Attacking Japanese and Norwegian oil tankers, for instance, hit close enough to home to send a message of what will happen to global oil commerce if Iran decides to launch all-out war — but not far enough to trigger that war.
So too, by shooting down an unmanned drone rather than attacking U.S. forces directly, Iran made it difficult for Trump to counterattack without risking the likes of Carlson and the New York Times editorial board calling him a warmonger controlled by a cabal of uberhawk traitors.
The Iranian regime wants to survive the Trump administration for obvious reasons. It is also keen to maintain the nuclear deal, which enriches it while giving it a glide path to nuclear weapons. As Doran noted, Iran’s threats to use late-generation centrifuges to enrich uranium and to restart its plutonium production to weapons-grade levels have led the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to project that Iran can achieve nuclear breakthrough status within five months. These projections themselves show that the nuclear deal of 2015 was not geared towards preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power at all.
The Democrats wish for the Iran nuclear deal, and the regime, to survive Trump for two reasons. First, the Democrats’ anti-Trump mania requires them to undermine every measure Trump undertakes, no matter how beneficial to the U.S. This means foiling Trump’s maximum pressure strategy and helping Iran to continue its regional aggression and progress toward nuclear weapons. Second, the Democrats will be able to restore U.S. commitment to the nuclear deal if they win in 2020 and so restore Obama’s foreign policy of appeasement, which Trump has rejected.
There is no question that Doran is correct in his assessment that Iran will do whatever it can to weaken Trump’s chances of re-election. To this end, Tehran can be expected to take whatever aggressive and destabilizing actions the regime believes the U.S. media will let them get away with.
This, then, returns us to Carlson, his over-the-top criticism of Bolton and his barely veiled threat against Trump. Like the Democrats – and the Iranians – Carlson’s version of events is based on a fable of Iranian moderation on the one hand and American venality on the other hand.
Far from being “rich,” Iran stands on the brink of economic meltdown. Far from cohesive, Iran’s population is multiethnic and stratified. If anything unifies the Iranian people, it ishatred for the anti-American regime, not hatred for America.
Iran’s rationale for demonizing Bolton is self-evident. Bolton supports policies he believes (and the Iranians fear) will prevent them from acquiring nuclear weapons and threatening the U.S. their neighbors, in accordance with Trump’s stated goal.
The Democrats’ rationale for demonizing Bolton is similarly self-evident. If he is successful in helping to achieve Trump’s goals of preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power and threatening its neighbors and the U.S., then their plan to use Iran’s aggression as an election issue to harm Trump will be scuttled as will what remains of their credibility in foreign affairs.
What is unclear is Carlson’s rationale for joining the attack. What does he expect to achieve by libeling Bolton, a man who has devoted his career to keeping his country safe? What does he expect to achieve by issuing political threats to Trump that only support the false Democratic narrative that Trump is irrational and dangerous? Monday, Trump responded to Carlson’s unfounded attacks with reason. It must be hope that he was open to listening.