Trump playing a dangerous game with Iran on his way out the door

By: Rachel Marsden

PARIS — For someone who can’t keep himself from firing up his Twitter account in reaction to even the smallest media-reported details that he considers to be “fake news,” U.S. President Donald Trump has been conspicuously silent about the shocking New York Times report that he requested military options last week for attacking Iran in the final two months of his presidency.

Only Congress can declare war, according to the Constitution — unless Iran has attacked the U.S., which it hasn’t. But disturbingly, there has been a recent intensification of efforts to justify aggression against Iran by conflating it with al-Qaeda. During an online forum last month, National Counterterrorism Center Director Christopher Miller said Tehran was hosting al-Qaeda command and control cells.

Iran and al-Qaeda are actually sworn enemies, and Iran has been actively involved in anti-jihadist activities in the Middle East.

Iranian officials denied a New York Times report last week that al-Qaeda’s second-in-command, Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, was killed in the streets of Tehran last summer by shadowy Israeli agents at America’s request. The Times story was based on anonymous U.S. intelligence sources.

Does anyone seriously think Trump could have restrained himself from tweeting about that, particularly amid his reelection campaign?

Still, the efforts to link Iran with terrorism have been ramping up. Trump fired Secretary of Defense Mark Esper last week and replaced him with Miller, the Iran/al-Qaeda conflater from the National Counterterrorism Center. Trump signed off on the January assassination of ISIS-fighting Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani inside Iraq without that country’s permission. With tensions heightened, the Iranian military mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian Airlines passenger jet that had turned toward a Revolutionary Guards military base, killing all 176 people aboard.

You’d think that disaster would have been a lesson in the unintended consequences of war, but apparently not. Trump reportedly had to be talked down by senior advisers, including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, when he asked about options for a military strike against Iran’s main nuclear site. When a neoconservative interventionist like Pompeo ends up being the voice of reason, you know your idea for a military strike has to be completely insane.

As part of last week’s Pentagon shakeup, Trump appointed retired Gen. Anthony Tata to be the acting policy chief for the Defense Department. Tata is a gruff former Fox News guest commentator who has referred to former President Barack Obama as a “terrorist leader” and has claimed on Twitter than Iran is developing nuclear weapons at locations it labels as cultural sites.

If Trump has been taking advice on Iran from the loyalists he just installed in the Pentagon, no wonder he’s developed a warped view of Iran. He clearly needs a reality check — and it’s up to Congress to give it to him.

In obsessing over Iran in the waning days of his mandate, Trump risks losing support from his “America First” fan base, for whom the Middle East isn’t considered vital to America. He also risks losing the goodwill of moderates who have turned a blind eye to Trump’s antics for one reason: He’s the first president in nearly a half-century who has refrained from starting a new war while in office.

If he persists in ginning up a pretext for bombing Iran — which could easily be done with a false flag event to make it appear that Iran is a threat to U.S. interests — Trump will lose the only lasting legacy of his presidency. You can’t go down in history as the antiwar president when you start World War III on the way out the door and fulfill every warmongering interventionist’s fantasy.

And make no mistake: An attack on Iran would lead to World War III. Iran is a strategic ally of Russia and China. Does anyone think they’re going to sit idly while America bombs one of their allies? And if the U.S. attacks Iran, who’s to say that Iran won’t react by targeting America’s Middle Eastern allies — namely, Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — who have long attempted to co-opt U.S. troops as their bought-and-paid-for proxies to fight on their behalf.

Trump clearly hates the fact that he lost the election and wants to hand President-elect Joe Biden a dog’s breakfast. Fine. Mess around with the White House furniture or change the language on all the computers to Chinese. What you can’t do is muse about options to effectively launch a world war as if it were on the same level as strategically placing a few whoopie cushions on the way out of the Oval Office.