The Trump dis-administration today announced it was deploying an aircraft carrier strike group and a bomber task force to patrol off the coast of Iran, supposedly in response to perceived Iranian threats to US assets in the region. National security wingnut John Bolton threatened to unleash “unrelenting force” against Iran if any US or allied forces in the region are attacked.
At first glance, it is a deeply disturbing escalation of the tensions between the two countries. Trump last year unilaterally withdrew the US from the nuclear agreement that Barack Obama had painstakingly negotiated with Iran over the course of several years. Nuclear proliferation analysts have described the agreement as the most significant nonproliferation deal in two decades, a major achievement of the Obama era. So of course Trump couldn’t let it stand.
Five other nations and the UN also signed the agreement with Iran. They have staunchly stuck with the deal, taking Trump to task for his unilateral and destabilizing action.
More recently, the State Department announced that it was officially designating the Iran Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization, the first time that the US has so named an official branch of another government. The White House also announced a new tightening of the economic sanctions against Iran that the US has unilaterally reimposed.
The naming of the Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization could have deeply negative outcomes in Iraq, where US, Iraqi and Iranian forces are combining efforts to find and eliminate remaining elements of ISIS. Some of the Iranian militias have formal relationships with the Revolutionary Guard. The terrorist designation means that US military commanders can no longer even talk to those militias. So these threats aimed at Iran could actually help ISIS in the end.
The earliest reports about the deployment of the carrier task force noted that “exactly what prompted the [escalation] action was unclear.” But a source told Axios that it was Israel that provided the intel which led to the US deployment.
Israel passed information on an alleged Iranian plot to attack U.S. interests in the Gulf to the U.S. before national security adviser John Bolton threatened Iran with “unrelenting force” last night, senior Israeli officials told me.
Why it matters: Bolton’s unusual and aggressive statement included news that the U.S. would move an aircraft carrier to the region. The officials said intelligence gathered by Israel, primarily by the Mossad intelligence agency, is understood to be part of the reason for Bolton’s announcement.
Israel, of course, is not exactly an independent and unconcerned observer in this matter. Israel would love for the US to go to war against Iran. It doesn’t require any level of paranoia to suspect that the intel has been ginned up for a certain purpose. And it seems to have worked.
But the White House obviously has its own reasons to escalate tensions and all but threaten war with Iran at this particular moment in time. It’s called the Mueller Report.
Trump is in trouble politically and he knows it. For one thing, the public is just not buying his “total exoneration” claims. As Congress continues to hold hearings into his full range of crimes and corruption, his political position will continue to erode.
So it’s time for a distraction! It’s time to wag the dog.
The phrase “wag the dog” is used to indicate that attention is purposely being diverted from something of greater importance to something of lesser importance. The expression comes from the saying that ‘a dog is smarter than its tail’, but if the tail were smarter, then the tail would ‘wag the dog’.
A popular 1997 Hollywood film starring Robert DeNiro and Dustin Hoffman, called “Wag the Dog” appropriately enough, brought the political tactic to the attention of the general public. In the film, shortly before an election, a spin-doctor and a Hollywood producer join efforts to fabricate a war in order to divert attention from a Presidential sex scandal. The plan would have the president heroically end the war (in Albania of all places) and thereby assure his reelection.
Here’s why I think this aircraft carrier deployment is a case of wag the dog. In the past, there had always been a US aircraft carrier strike force patrolling the Persian Gulf. Last year, Trump decided to end this constant naval presence in favor of only occasional visits.
This is one of those visits. In other words, previously announced standard operating procedure. But if you plunk Mad John Bolton down in front of a bank of microphones and have him spout alarmingly militaristic rhetoric (he’s a master), well then, voila!, you have banner headlines pushing certain other headlines to the sidelines. For a day or two.
I think we’re going to be seeing more and more of this in the coming days and weeks. Trump is going to wag so much you’ll be sick and tired of wagging.