Who Does John Bolton Actually Work For? By Willy B


A review of publicly available reporting that I have accumulated in my files over the past two years would suggest that John Bolton's boss is really Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas casino king who has plied the Republican Party with tens of millions of dollars in largesse in order to remake it in his image. This conclusion is irrespective of what you might think of Trump himself and whether or not you believe he really meant it when he said there should be no more regime change wars. The fact is, the neo conservative "Never Trumpers" began moving in on Trump almost as soon as he won the election in order to ensure that their policy perspective prevailed. Greased by Adelson's money, it appears that they have succeeded to a considerable degree, particularly on Iran, but also on other aspects of national security policy as well, including, it appears, on Venezuela. And if US relations with Russia don't improve now that Russia-gate is dead, it'll be because of this crowd as well.

Bolton's history goes back to the Reagan Administration in the 1980's, and his perfidy during the runup to the Iraq invasion is well known to this readership. What I focus on here is the period from January of 2017 through mid-2018, around the time of his appointment to be Trump's national security advisor, plus a couple of months, during which period a number of interesting reports were posted on Trump's lobbying of the White House to get an administration position and his sponsorship by Adelson. Adelson's only concern, by his own quoted words, is protecting Israel and, according to the reports below, has even advocated the nuclear bombing of Iran if it doesn't give up a nuclear weapons program that every reasonable intelligence assessment and the IAEA say it doesn't have. Adelson is also credited with facilitating the firing of both H.R. McMaster and Rex Tillerson and replacing them with Bolton and Mike Pompeo, another one of Adelson's boys.

What follows is a time line of summaries of news stories covering the period above in the form that I wrote them at the time with the dates over each one of them. It's not meant to be comprehensive–there's undoubtedly a great deal of insight still to be gained on how deeply these neo-con networks have actually penetrated the administration–and the news reports the summaries are based on likely vary in their quality. I hope anyone with such deeper insights will post them in the comments section.

Appended at the end of the time line is a short report on Richard Goldberg, the Z-lobby activist who Bolton brought onto the NSC in January to be his "Director for Countering Iranian Weapons of Mass Destruction." Goldberg, who came out of the neo-con Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, is clearly part of Adelson’s orbit.

1) John Bolton: A Timeline for 2017-2018

Feb. 19, 2017

            AP circulated a wire, yesterday, reporting that Trump was interviewing candidates for the National Security Advisor position at his estate in Florida. The names mention were Cheneyac John Bolton (who, if I remember correctly, was already rejected by the Trump administration for a State Department job) and LTG H.R. McMaster, according to one unnamed White House official. Another had said that Trump had been interested in David Petraeus but that Petraeus  was not a finalist for the position. Picking Bolton would be shear lunacy, but McMaster is highly interesting. McMaster wrote a famous book about the Vietnam war in which he documented that practically everybody in the military leadership, and especially Maxwell Taylor lied about Vietnam and, like Mattis, he has a history of being a harsh critic of the RMA. I'll have more to say about him if he gets the job.

May 10, 2017

            Bloomberg's Eli Lake, in a column posted on Monday, described what amounts to a factional war inside the White House, with Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus on one side and H.R. McMaster on the other. Trump himself is said to have blasted McMaster for his phone conversation with his South Korean counterpart during which he assured him that Trump didn't really mean it when he said that South Korea should pay for the THAAD deployment. "McMaster's allies and adversaries inside the White House tell me that Trump is disillusioned with him," Lake writes. "This professional military officer has failed to read the president  — by not giving him a chance to ask questions during briefings, at times even lecturing Trump."

            According to Lake's sources (and I'm wondering if they might, in fact, be Bannon and Priebus, or people close to them), Trump has complained in front of McMaster in intelligence briefings about "the general undermining my policy." They say Trump has privately expressed regret for choosing McMaster and even called in neo-con John Bolton to talk being McMaster's deputy, an idea which was ultimately dropped.

Oct. 17, 2017

            Nikki Haley told NBC's Meet the Press on Sunday that it's the administration's hope that America stays with the Iran nuclear deal if Congress takes action to keep it together. "I think right now you are going to see us stay in the deal," she said. "What we hope is that we can improve the situation," she added. "And that's the goal. So I think right now, we're in the deal to see how we can make it better. And that's the goal. It's not that we're getting out of the deal. We're just trying to make the situation better so that the American people feel safer." The NBC press report doesn't report whether or not she explained how the JCPOA is going to be made better when all of the other parties agree that it's not up for renegotiation. They note, however, that Haley was one of the few voices in the Trump administration to encourage the president to declare Iran in violation. It's well known that both Tillerson and Mattis opposed decertification, with Mattis telling the Senate Armed Services Committee, two weeks ago, that it was in the US interest to stay in the agreement.

              I didn't come across this until yesterday afternoon, but it turns out that Politico published a big piece, last Friday, basically attributing Trump's decertification decision to Haley, who is portrayed as a neo-con channel into the White House. At the other end of the channel is John Bolton, who even is able to get Trump on the phone himself from time to time, despite John Kelly's efforts to obstruct him.  According to Politico's sources, the line in Trump's speech where he said that the US could pull out of the JCPOA "at any time" was added after Bolton reached Trump on the phone on Thursday afternoon. Bolton was calling from Las Vegas where he "was visiting with Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson." Adelson's possible role in this is not further explored in the Politico article but probably bears further investigation.

         The article otherwise goes into great depth on how Haley is at odds with most of the rest of the administration on Iran, particularly Tillerson, her nominal boss and who is reported to have strenuously objected to her trip to Vienna in August to put pressure on the IAEA to demand inspection of military sites in Iran. One White House official described the escalating tensions between Tillerson and Haley as reaching "World War III" proportions. Two weeks after the Vienna trip, Haley appeared at the AEI in Washington where she publicly floated what became the parameters of the policy that Trump announced on Friday. "The purpose of the AEI speech was to figure out, 'Is this gonna work? Does this thread that needle?'" one official said. After Trump's speech, Bolton gloated: "The Iran deal may not have died today, but it will die shortly." He supports full US withdrawal from the agreement, and has reportedly transmitted his view to the White House through Jared Kushner.

          Asked about the Politico report on Sunday, Haley said "That is just so much drama. I mean, it's really, it's all this palace intrigue."    

         Anti-neocon activist and former US Air Force analyst Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski told Sputnik that she believes that Trump was mislead by fake intelligence. "I suspect that Mr. Trump is being fed information regarding Iran as a nation and as a government that is cherry-picked and creatively elaborated, largely outside of intelligence channels, by his neoconservative advisers," she said. She noted despite Trump's 2016 promise to "drain the swamp" of discredited foreign policy interventionists, many of them have managed to weasel their way back into government service. "This faction has always slated the destruction of Iran as a regional power for several decades now, and if they have the ear of the President, there is never a better time than the present to press their case," she said. She insisted, however, that neither Trump himself, nor the U.S. military is determined on war against Iran. 

Oct. 24, 2017

            According to VOA (at any rate), there's a big fight in Washington over the future of U.S. adherence to the JCPOA. Lunatic Lindsey Graham fully supports the policy that Trump announced on Oct 13 (no surprise there), while the French armed forces minister, Florence Parly, who was in Washington, last week, supports the agreement. "We need the JCPOA," she said during an appearance at CSIS on Friday. "Scrapping it would be a gift to Iran's hardliners and a first step towards future wars." Tim Kaine, who has leading an effort in the Senate to write a new war authorization, echoed her. "If you weaken diplomacy, you raise the risk of unnecessary war, and that's what this president is doing.… If we take a step back from the deal, Iran will take a step back. And what will they ask for, that they get to now increase centrifuges or get some of their enriched uranium back? I do not want to give Iran one thing back from this deal," said Kaine.

            But, if you believe Graham, Iran will be let loose from the deal in 15 years (some people say 10 or even 8 years) to enrich as much uranium as it wants. This ignores the fact that Iran will still be a member of the NPT and will be subject to its additional protocol. Top Iranian officials have said that if the US sabotages the JCPOA, Iran will make appropriate decisions in response, but they won't be building bombs.

      The even more lunatic John Bolton is thrilled about Trump's policy, but complains, in an op-ed in The Hill, that so far at least, it doesn't go far enough. After blaming Obama for giving the Middle East to Iran and Russia, Bolton demands that Trump recognize Kurdish independence and give the pesh merage the weapons and support they need to face the American-made tanks of the Iraqi army. "Rapidly increased pressure against Iran's role as the world's central banker of international terrorism, stressed in Trump's Oct. 13 speech, cannot come fast enough," he goes on. And, of course, European commercial relations with Iran are not to be tolerated. Othewise, "Tehran will rightly conclude the United States is really not serious about confronting their threat to us and our allies. That is the legacy of the Obama administration. It should not also be the legacy of the Trump administration." Nobody wants to rush the country headlong into disastrous faster then the neo-cons. 

Oct. 26, 2017

            Gareth Porter, in an article that was posted on Oct. 20 (but that I didn't come across until yesterday) on the American Conservative, reports that the new policy that Trump announced on Oct. 13 not only "clearly represents a dangerous rejection of diplomacy in favor of confrontation" but also marks "a major shift toward a much closer alignment of U.S. policy with that of the Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu." "Whether explicitly or not, Trump's vow to work with Congress to renegotiate the Iran nuclear agreement, and his explicit threat to withdraw from the deal if no renegotiation takes place, appear to be satisfying the hardline demands Netanyahu has made of Washington's policy toward Tehran," Porter writes. Those demands being either US withdrawal from the JCPOA altogether, or demanding changes in it that cannot be attained.

            Porter goes deeper into the conduits for this policy into the White House than a Politico article I reported on earlier that came out at about the same time. He identifies Jared Kushner as the main conduit for the Likudist outlook into the White House. Kushner is a friend and supporter of Netanyahu and his parents have been backers of Israeli settlements. He also delves deeper into the significance of Sheldon Adelson than the Politico report did, noting that Adelson is a long time friend of Netanyahu, has used his assets in Israel to give Netanyahu political support and gave the Trump campaign $100 million. "Adelson's real interest has been in supporting Israel's interests in Washington—especially with regard to Iran," Porter notes, adding that in 2013, Adelson openly called for the nuclear intimidation of Iran.  In the next few paragraphs, Porter provides a thumbnail sketch of the history of the neo-cons in order to highlight the role of John Bolton in all of this. It was Bolton, Porter reports, "who worked with Israeli officials to plan a campaign to convince the world that Iran was secretly working on nuclear weapons." But the real purpose, which continues, was not so much to scare the world about an Iranian bomb, but rather, to use it as an issue to be exploited to weaken the Islamic regime and ultimately achieve regime change. Porter concludes by saying that Trump is cooperating with this objective even more enthusiastically than GW Bush did. 

Jan. 3, 2018

            The protests in Iran may have started spontaneously in anger at economic conditions, and/or at the instigation of Rouhani's rival Raisi and his father -in-law in Mashad, but the evidence that they're being, at the very least, encouraged from the outside is growing. Unnamed Trump Administration officials told the Washington Free Beacon that both Trump and Pence are watching the protests very closely and the officials said they are working to ensure that Trump does not miss an opportunity to incubate a possible revolution that could topple Iran's hardline ruling regime. "With the world watching growing demonstrations across Iran, the Trump administration sees an opportunity to feed the growing protests," the Free Beacon reports, something that they and the neo-cons say that Obama failed to do in 2009, when protests erupted against Ahmedinijad's re-election. "The Trump administration's strong and vocal support for the demonstrators is a 180 from the Obama administration's approach and it's signaling to Tehran that this will not be a repeat of the 2009 demonstrations," the administration official said.

            The regime change cheerleader from outside the administration is, not surprisingly, John Bolton. During an appearance on "Fox and Friends" on Monday, Bolton argued that these protests are different than the post-election protests in Iran in 2009, which questioned the legitimacy of the election of then-Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and who should lead the regime. "These protests are about whether the regime survives or not, and that makes them much more threatening to the ayatollahs, much more dangerous, and raises the stakes considerably," Bolton said. He called on Trump to end the nuclear deal, re-impose previous sanctions and impose new ones that increase the economic pressure on Iran and provide material support to opposition forces. "There's a lot we can do to, and we should do it," Bolton said. "Our goal should be regime change in Iran."

            Neo-cons in the Congress and elsewhere in Washington are enthusiastically following Bolton's lead. "The Iranian people want freedom and an end to the ayatollahs' reign of terror," said Senator Ted Cruz. "Iranians are looking toward America to support their struggle," Mark Dubowitz, chief executive of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, wrote in The Wall Street Journal, urging the White House to continue condemning the regime, and follow up with "sanctions targeting corruption and human-rights abuses."

            Bolton's protégé, Nikki Haley, is calling for an emergency UNSC session to discuss the crisis in Iran. "The Iranian dictatorship is trying to do what it always does, which is to say that the protests were designed by enemies. We all know that is complete nonsense," Haley said (is it, realy?), yesterday. "The U.N. must speak out," Haley added. "We must not be silent. The people of Iran are crying out for freedom."

March 10, 2018

John Bolton has been snooping around the White House. CNN reported on Wednesday, that Trump met with him at the White House, suggesting that he may be under consideration as an "outside expert" to help the State Department manage the North Korea portfolio. CNN says that Bolton  argues that a pre-emptive strike on North Korea would not only be legal but also effective at curbing the threat.

            On Tuesday, Bolton told Fox News that "The only thing North Korea is serious about is getting deliverable nuclear weapons." Bolton said direct and indirect talks with North Korea have occurred for the last 25 years and never end up successful. He said if a new round of talks begins, North Korea will possess a deliverable nuclear weapon by the end of the year. So, Bolton obviously believes that the past determines the future.

            The Washington Post, in the above cited article, reports that Christopher Hill, who was on Capitol Hill this week to talk about North Korea, said that he face "withing attacks" from conservative Republicans when he was engaged in the six-party talks in 2005. "People like John Bolton said I was a traitor for talking to the North Koreans," Hill said in an interview. The Post then reports that Bolton offered conditioned praise for Trump, saying Friday that he expected the president to deliver a warning about U.S. willingness to use military force.

            Daniel Davis, in an op-ed in Fox News, argues that Trump goes ahead with announced plans to meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, he would open the door to potentially solving our nuclear dispute with the Communist nation short of war. This is a far better course that listening to the calls from some to give up on diplomacy and use military force against the North. The "some" include Bolton who has been making the case for a preventive military strike against North Korea. "If such a U.S. strike were ordered, it would have catastrophic consequences for us. Far from ensuring our safety, it would impose egregious levels of casualties on U.S. forces and American civilians [not to mention Koreans who would make up the bulk of casualties -cjo], and harm – not help – our security and our prosperity," Davis writes.

March 23, 2018

            You've all seen the headlines by now. I'm not going to say a lot about it. The punditry is that it means more aggressive US policies towards both Iran and North Korea. It also likely means that Sheldon Adelson has a direct line to the White House and Nikki Haley's position at the UN has been strengthened, since she and Bolton have been reported to have a close relationship. The suggestion in the press coverage is that Bolton is more likely to tell Trump what he wants to hear, particularly on Iran, but we probably shouldn't automatically assume that Trump wants to go to war as badly as Bolton does.

March 25, 2018

            Jim Lobe and Eli Clifton, writing in Lobelog, yesterday, argue that Sheldon Adelson was responsible for Trump's turnaround from populist anti-war candidate to pro-Israel hawk. In 2016, they write, Trump was mocking those, like Marco Rubio, who were seeking Adelson's support, meaning they were seeking his money. By the time of his inauguration, however, Trump had adopted Adelson's militant pro-Israel stance, including Adelson's demands to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and pursue a confrontationist approach to Iran, and Adelson occupied a prominent seat at the inauguration ceremony.

            "Trump met Adelson in Las Vegas in early October 2017. One week later, Trump announced that he would no longer certify that Iran was complying with the Iran nuclear deal, even though the U.S. intelligence community and all of Washington’s European allies, as well as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), had found no evidence that Tehran was cheating," Lobe and Clifton write. "One month later, Adelson used his own newspaper, The Las Vegas Review Journal, to express his frustration with Trump’s failure to quickly redeem his promise to move the embassy. Two months after that, Trump reversed a half century of U.S. policy by formally recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. According to Michael Wolff’s book Fire and Fury,  Steve Bannon credited Adelson for Trump’s decision."

            Adelson's big protégé, as I've reported previously, is John Bolton. According to Lobe and Clifton, it was Adelson who made the arrangements to get Bolton back into the White House, overcoming efforts by White House chief of staff John Kelly keep to keep him out. Adelson also reportedly orchestrating the firing of McMaster and of Tilleson and their replacements by Bolton and Pompeo. Ands Bolton, like Adelson, has long favored a "military solution" to the Iran nuclear problem. In 2013, Adelson posted an op-ed in his newspaper, the Las Vegas Review Journal, calling for the nuclear bombing of Iran, first in some uninhabited area of the country to send Iran's leaders "a message" and if that didn't work, a second bombing of Tehran itself (this of course, would be a war crime in the first degree). Bolton, himself, in an op-ed two years later, held up the Israeli bombing of Iraq's Osirak reactor as the model for what the US should (as was later documented by a Norwegian researcher who's name I don't recall, the bombing of Osirak did not end Saddam's Hussein's nuclear bomb program. Rather, it forced it underground and out of sight, as UN weapons inspectors discovered in the 1990's after Gulf War I).

March 31, 2018

            Journalist Whitney Webb, writing Mintpress News, finds Bolton's appointment as Trump's national security advisor, to be particularly dangerous. Webb puts Bolton's appointment in the context of those of Pompeo to be secretary of state and Gina Haspell to run the CIA, but finds Bolton the most dangerous of the three, "due to his bellicose rhetoric, unilateral decision-making, and his “kiss up, kick down” style of interaction with superiors and colleagues, allowing him to be remarkably effective in getting his way."

            Webb's purpose is to explore what Bolton's appointment means for US national security policy and he begins with Bolton's deep ties to Israel–ties "so deep that some have posited that his commitment to extreme Zionism has led him to betray the national interest of his own country on more than one occasion." Webb cites a number of examples of this, which add up to Bolton pursuing his own warmongering policy against Iran even when the administration he was nominally working for had the opposite policy. Bolton has pressured Israeli officials to attack Iran even when calling for such an attack was not the U.S. government’s position. According to Shaul Mofaz, former Israeli defense minister, Bolton “tried to convince me that Israel needs to attack Iran,” which Mofaz recently asserted was not “a smart move – not on the part of the Americans today or anyone else until the threat is real.”

May 8, 2018

            Trump tweeted yesterday that he would be announcing his decision on Iran today at 2 PM. The Washington Post, citing the usual gaggle of unnamed officials, US and foreign, reports that he is expected to say that he will not continue a waiver of sanctions against Iran. Exactly what this means is not at all clear. Trump is not expected to renege on the nuclear deal altogether. Instead, the Post says, he will address a portion of the wide range of sanctions that were waived when the deal was first implemented, while leaving in limbo other waivers that are due in July. As for what comes next, Boris Johnson said that as far as he knows, the administration has no clear "Plan B" for what's to follow. The affected sanctions, the Post notes, not only impose restrictions on US trade with Iran but also threaten pther countries that buy Iranian oil. Officials, who spoke to the Post about the upcoming announcement on the condition of anonymity, suggested that Trump will use the threat of further measures as leverage on both the Europeans and Iran itself.

            As has been too often the case, we may be seeing Trump and his advisors expressing two different policies on Iran. Rudy Giuliani, Trump's newest lawyer, delivered remarks to meeting of something called the Iran Freedom Convention for Democracy and Human Rights, during which he advocated regime change in Tehran. "We have a president who is tough," Giuliani is reported to have said. "We have a president who is as committed to regime change as we are." Confronting Iran, he added, is "more important than an Israeli-Palestinian deal." He also predicted the end of the nuclear deal.  "What do you think is going to happen to that agreement!" Giuliani said of the deal, before taking a piece of paper in his hands and pretending to rip it apart.

            The State Department immediately dismissed Giuliani's remarks. "He speaks for himself and not on behalf of the administration on foreign policy," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told The Associated Press on Monday. The Hill further noted that U.S. officials were alarmed by Giuliani's comments and said they weren't consistent with the White House's policy.

            This is confirmed by another report in the Washington Post. "But if regime change is on the agenda, Trump has been far more circumspect about how it would happen," writes the Post's Ishaan Tharoor. "Dethroning the mullahs would likely involve waging war against Iran, a prospect at odds with his own stated desire to withdraw from Syria and disentangle the United States from a generation of costly conflicts in the Middle East." Tharoor goes on to tie the regime change crowd, including Giuliani and Bolton directly to the MeK. The MeK, Tharoor writes, was behind the event at which Giuliani spoke this weekend, "marking yet another episode in his long, cozy relationship with the organization." Tharoor cites Politico reporting that the MeK has paid Giuliani "handsomely," to include not only appearances before the group but also for lobbying to have it removed from the State Department's terror list, which was done in 2012.

            Tharoor also cites Jason Rezaian, the Washington Post reporter who was detained in Iran for a year-and-a-half, reporting that the MeK is held with contempt by ordinary Iranians, who view the organization as a craven, treacherous outfit. "In the seven years I lived in Iran, many people expressed criticism of the ruling establishment — at great potential risk to themselves," noted Rezaian. "In all that time, though, I never met a person who thought the MEK should, or could, present a viable alternative."

            "To those who claim that the nuclear deal isn't working, regime change remains the only solution," wrote Rezaian. "For the MEK, and Bolton, if his words are to be taken at face value, the only path to that could be war. The group has long been prepared to do whatever it takes to see that happen, including presenting fake intelligence about Iran's nuclear program."

May 9, 2018

            Before I get into the reactions following Trump's speech of yesterday, I'll cover a few other details from what Trump announced.

            The memorandum that he signed after concluding his remarks states that the policy of the U.S. is "that Iran be denied a nuclear weapon and intercontinental ballistic missiles; that Iran's network and campaign of regional aggression be neutralized; to disrupt, degrade, or deny the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and its surrogates access to the resources that sustain their destabilizing activities; and to counter Iran's aggressive development of missiles and other asymmetric and conventional weapons capabilities."

            In addition to directing the Secretaries of State and Treasury to begin the process of reimposing the economic sanctions that were waived as a result of the nuclear deal, it also directs the Secretary of Defense to "prepare to meet, swiftly and decisively, all possible modes of Iranian aggression against the United States, our allies, and our partners.  The Department of Defense shall ensure that the United States develops and retains the means to stop Iran from developing or acquiring a nuclear weapon and related delivery systems."

            Trump's speech was shortly followed by a press briefing by John Bolton. One of the matters that came up repeatedly was the question of regime change. The first question was whether or not the administration was hoping that regime change would be part of addressing Iran's supposed malign activities. "No," Bolton said. What Trump has said, he went on, "is that one of the fundamental criticisms that the President and others have made to the deal is that it sought to address only a limited aspect of Iran's unacceptable behavior — certainly a critical aspect — but not taking into account the fact this is, and has been for many years, the central banker of international terrorism."

            Secondly, he was asked if this was a precursor for the U.S. putting boots on the ground in Iran. Anybody who believes that "would be badly mistaken if that's what they thought," Bolton said.

            Thirdly, a reporter asked Bolton if the administration was in contact with the MeK or other exile groups about a government in exile. 'I'm not aware of any of that, and that's just not something that's ever come up," he said.

            Bolton was then asked if the administration would support a regime change in Syria as well. "I think the President made clear in his address a couple weeks ago when he announced the response to the Syrian chemical weapons attack, that the use of military force there and our diplomatic responses was limited to the question of the use of weapons of mass destruction," he siad. He then added that the real concern was Iran extending its influence through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon."

            On the JCPOA Bolton denied that the US had violated the agreement. Instead, the US is withdrawing from it. But he wouldn't acknowledged that Iran is in compliance, as the IAEA has reported numerous times. "I think there are plenty of cases where we're simply incapable of saying whether they're in compliance or not.  There are others where I think they've clearly been in violation," he said. "For example, their production of heavy water has repeatedly exceeded the limits permissible under the JCPOA.  They're almost in the heavy water production business.  They sell excess to Oman.  They've sold it to European countries.  It's a way of keeping the heavy water production facilities alive.  They're warm.  And that's part of the danger.  And they have exceeded the limits."

            At the end of his speech, yesterday, Trump said that the future of Iran belongs to its people. At first, this sounded to me like the preface to a call for regime change. What he said was this: "Iran's leaders will naturally say that they refuse to negotiate a new deal; they refuse.  And that's fine.  I'd probably say the same thing if I was in their position.  But the fact is they are going to want to make a new and lasting deal, one that benefits all of Iran and the Iranian people.  When they do, I am ready, willing, and able." A reporter asked Bolton if this meant that the US was ready tot alk to the Iranians from a position of strength. He replied that what the administration is prepared to do, along with the Europeans and others, is "to talk about a much broader deal addressing all of the aspects of Iran's conduct that we find objectionable.  We're prepared to do that beginning right now."

May 21, 2018

            If the New York Times is to be believed, Bolton is bringing with him, the same coterie of old neo-con cronies to work for him in the NSC that he's been surrounded by since his days in the Reagan Administration in the 1980's. This includes Charles M. Kupperman, a former Reagan administration official and defense contracting executive, who has come in as a temporary advisor. The list of those under consideration for positions in the NSC includes  Frederick H. Fleitz, Sarah Tinsley and David Wurmser. "Mr. Bolton’s relationships with most of the associates date back decades, to his days working in positions related to foreign policy in the Reagan administration. But he continued working with them in the dozen years since he has been out of government, serving as an adviser to Mr. Wurmser’s company, according to its website, while relying on Mr. Kupperman, Ms. Tinsley and several other associates to help run a constellation of conservative political organizations that he founded to advance his foreign policy views and political prospects," the Times reports. "The activity brought Mr. Bolton into regular contact with some of the biggest donors on the right, while giving him a platform to explore his own possible presidential campaign in 2016 and to be an advocate for confrontational strategies in dealing with Iran, North Korea and Russia."

            The Times report is a little weak on the ideology of these folks, preferring instead to focus on Bolton's ethical lapses, but can't avoid the matter entirely. Matthew C. Freedman, a long time associate who Bolton appointed to interview prospective hires, Kupperman, Tinsley and another associate, Garrett Marquis, the Times reports further,  were affiliated with a Bolton-led nonprofit, the Foundation for American Security and Freedom, which aired ads in 2015 opposing the Iran nuclear deal. The Times also notes Bolton's close relationship with Sheldon Adelson, whom the Times describes as "an influential hawk and supporter of Israel from whom Mr. Bolton has sought assistance for his political ventures."

May 22, 2018

            Sheldon Adelson has only one issue, Israel, and he has paid the Republican Party handsomely to make sure his views are the views of the party. According to Mintpress News' Whitney Webb, Adelson has lavished some $90 million on the part since 2016, including $35 million to the Trump campaign, and another $55 million to two Republican SuperPACS, Congressional Leadership Fund and the Senate Leadership Fund. "After investing so heavily in the GOP in 2016, Adelson’s decision to again donate tens of millions of dollars to Republican efforts to stay in power is a direct consequence of how successfully Adelson has been able to influence U.S. policy since Trump and the GOP rode to victory in the last election cycle," Webb writes. "Adelson’s belief that Trump would be “good for Israel” was the main driver behind his decision to spend more than $90 million on helping Trump and other Republicans win in the last election."

June 29, 2018

            Mark Perry, in an article posted in Foreign Policy, yesterday, posits that Mattis is waging a losing battle against Bolton over the question of war with Iran. He reports that since his arrival at the White House, Bolton has marginalized Mattis in national security policy making, so Mattis is turning his energies towards preventing a US attack on Iran. At the core of Mattis' concerns is, number one, it's a lot easier to start a war with Iran than to end it, and secondly, the US military services are all in poor shape after decades of wars and other never-ending contingency operations. Mattis, like many of his colleagues in the senior military leadership, have a long standing animus towards Iran, but at the same time, they don't see any good way through a war against Iran. Bolton and his co-thinkers, on the other hand, see a war to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon and to change the regime in Tehran as almost a moral obligation.

            Mattis' concerns are shared by the senior military leadership. "We've been in the air and in combat since 1993," a senior retired Air Force officer said, "and the wear and tear on the force has been considerable. The tempo has been crushing." Perry says this is actually an understatement, given that 30 percent of Air Force aircraft are not "mission capable," in part because of huge pilot shortfalls and a deterioration of military capability. The story is the same for the other services. 

            Then there's the military campaign itself. An air campaign could easily destroy Iran's nuclear facilities and its conventional military forces, but what happens afterwards? As noted by several experts that Perry consulted, the end of the air campaign would be the beginning of the war, not the end of it. There's no reason to expect that the government in Tehran would surrender and it would be able to fight on with its considerable unconventional military capabilities, not only in the IRGC but its proxy forces as well, such as Hezbollah.

            In truth, the unease over any future conflict goes much deeper than these concerns, Perry notes, "and is seeded by what one senior and influential military officer called 'an underlying anxiety that after 17 years of sprinkling the Middle East with corpses, the U.S. is not any closer to a victory over terrorism now than it was on September 12.' It is this anxiety that undergirds military doubts about going to war with Iran — that the United States would be adding bodies to the pile and not much more." In other words, it would be another forever war, only one that asborbs many times mor resources than even the ones we're in right now have done.

July 2, 2018

            Ha'aretz ran a story, yesterday, very similar to the Mark Perry article I reported on last week, on the policy fight within the administration over what to do about Iran. Officially, the administration is committed to diplomatic and economic pressure to bring Iran to the negotiating table, where a new agreement should be constructed that would replace the JCPOA. Ha'aretz's sources say, however, that Bolton is behind the scenes advancing the option of collapsing the Iranian regime.According to those sources, Bolton views the demonstrations that have broken out in Iran in recent months over the state of the country's economy as an indication of the regime's weakness. He has told Trump that increased U.S. pressure could lead to the regime's collapse. One person who recently spoke with senior White House officials on the subject summarized Bolton view in the words: "One little kick and they're done."

            Mattis, on the other hand, despite is long held animus towards Iran is skeptical of regime change. Mattis, the sources stated, supports increasing pressure on Iran, but with the clear objective of bringing the Iranians back to the table for a better agreement – one that would roll back their regional aggression. Pompeo is said to lie in between but is moving towards Mattis.

            Ha'aretz also points to the influence of outside advisors like Rudy Giuliani–who recently addressed the annual conference of the National Council of Resistance in Iran in Paris as–as a further factor in the uncertainty around Trump's policy. What Ha'aretz doesn't mention, though, is the Russia factor and that what Trump ultimately decides to do could be determined in Helsinki on July 16.

July 26, 2018

            Fazel Hawramy, an independent journalist working in Iraqi Kurdistan, reports in an article in Al Monitor, that the State Department is replacing the outgoing counsel general in Erbil with an Iran expert by the name of Steven Fagin, the director of the Office of Iranian Affairs at the State Department's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. As director of the Office of Iranian Affairs, which has several outposts around the world, including in Istanbul and Dubai, Fagin was responsible for developing, coordinating, recommending and executing US policy on Iran, Hawramy reports. Fagin's presence in Iraqi Kurdistan is significant given that the armed Iranian Kurdish opposition groups fighting the Islamic Republic are based in the region. Hawramy names the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI), in particular, whose leader,  Mustafa Hijri, Fagin met with last month, when he was in Washington, by invitation from the Trump Administration, for a week long series of meetings at various think tanks. Each side is said to be exploring the seriousness of the other.

            The KDPI, it turns out, is a military organization that has a long history of staging attacks against the IRGC in Iran. The KDPI has also stepped up efforts to establish an entity through which all the Kurdish parties can coordinate their efforts against Tehran. Meanwhile, on July 21, the Kurdistan Free Life Party, affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers Party, announced the killing of 15 Iranian soldiers near the town of Marivan, close to the border with Iraqi Kurdistan. No mention is made of how much support these groups might have among Iranian Kurds, however. They may not be any more viable than the MeK, except for making trouble of course.

            If the US is really seeking to employ such groups to try to destablilize Iran along ethnic lines, this would be nothing new. Gareth Porter, in an article that appeared in Middle East Eye on May 18, reports that John Bolton, when he was in the GW Bush Administration pushed aggressively for regime change but that Bush himself wasn't interested. Bolton may find history repeating itself, with Trump resisting his plan for regime change, just as Bush did in 2003, Porter writes. In the week before Porter's article came out, Bolton denied that the administration policy for Iran was regime change, despite the pullout from the JCPOA.  "I've written and said a lot of things when I was a complete free agent. I certainly stand by what I said at the time, but those were my opinions then. The circumstance I'm in now is I'm the national security adviser to the president. I'm not the national security decision-maker," he told CNN's Situation Room. The implication is clear. Number one, Bolton still believes in regime change. Number two, his view has not prevailed with Trump.  The recent comments by both Trump and Pompeo would seem to bear out that Trump's policy remains, as Pompeo said, to change the regime's behavior, not to change the regime.


            2) Who Is Richard Goldberg?

            In early January of this year, Bolton brought onto the NSC, one Richard Goldberg, to be the NSC's "Director for Countering Iranian Weapons of Mass Destruction." Goldberg, Jewish Insider reported on Jan. 7, was the lead Congressional staff negotiator for sanctions on Iran prior to the nuclear deal in 2015 in his capacity as deputy chief of staff and senior foreign policy adviser to former Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL), and later served as chief of staff for former Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner. After leaving government in 2017, Goldberg joined the neo-con Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

            The National Interest's Curt Mills confirmed Goldberg's neo-con credentials the same day.  “Couldn’t think of anyone better than my @FDD colleague @rich_goldberg to join NSC to maximize the maximum pressure campaign against the Islamic Republic of Iran.” FDD president mark Dubowitz jubilantly tweeted. Goldberg "takes a view of Iran similar to many of Washington’s most committed Iran hawks. He views the regime in Tehran as akin to the Soviet Union—a hub of a global, anti-American counterculture and internally collapsible if Reagan-style pressure is applied," Mills reports. "For FDD, which has functioned as the administration’s go-to think-tank on Iran, it’s another coup. The Goldberg move to the White House comes as at a time when the organization had been publicly doubting the administration’s course for the first time," Mills reports later in the article.

            Daniel Larison, writing in The American Conservative, characterized Goldberg this way: "Goldberg has been a leading opponent of the nuclear deal and a fanatical advocate for enforcing new sanctions on Iran and anyone that does business with them. Bringing Goldberg into the administration is a sign that the Iran obsession is getting worse, and by making him the 'Director for Countering Iranian Weapons of Mass Destruction.'" One might say we've seen this playbook before, in Iraq in 2002-2003.

            As for Goldberg's history, we find that he's been a very militant advocate for Likudnik Israel going back to 2004 when he first arrived on Capitol Hill as a staffer (Goldberg is a young punk and was probably in his early to mid-20's in 2004). According to the FDD's biography of him, Goldberg was "A leader in efforts to expand U.S. missile defense cooperation with Israel, Richard played a key role in U.S. funding for the Arrow-3 program, Iron Dome and the deployment of an advanced missile defense radar to the Negev Desert." During his time working for Mark Kirk, Goldberg "emerged as a leading architect of the toughest sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic of Iran. He was the lead Republican negotiator for three rounds of sanctions targeting the Central Bank of Iran, the SWIFT financial messaging service, and entire sectors of the Iranian economy. Richard also drafted and negotiated legislation promoting human rights and democracy in Iran, including sanctions targeting entities that provide the Iranian regime with the tools of repression."

            In September 2017, Goldberg authored a memo that was circulated on Capitol Hill which advocated that the president should declare to Congress next month that the deal is no longer in the national security interest of the United States, Foreign Policy reported at the time. Then the president would make clear his readiness to hit Iran with a “de-facto global economic embargo” if it failed to meet certain conditions over a 90-day period, including opening military sites to international inspectors. “This would be a 21st century financial version of [John F.] Kennedy’s Cuba quarantine,” according to a copy of the proposal obtained by Foreign Policy. The embargo would involve reimposing sanctions lifted under the deal, as well as additional measures including restrictions on oil exports. This is clearly recognizable, now, as the policy that the Trump Administration has imposed on Iran since Trump announced the US withdrawal from the JCPOA in May 2018.

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