The Guardian: Fears of hasty decisions in Trump’s recent days
Washington correspondentJulian Borger has warned of foreign policy chaos in the final days of Donald Trump, heightened by reports of the outgoing president’s thinking of striking Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Borger said in a report translated by “Arab21” that the fears that Trump would cause chaos on the world stage in his last desperate days seemed real after he asked what options he had left to strike Iran.
The report referred to the New York Times reporting that the president had abandoned the idea of striking nuclear reactors that would lead to an expanded conflict. But that did not allay concerns about trump’s recent attempt to strike Iran or its regional allies and proxy groups.
On the same day, his defense secretary-designate Christopher Miller announced a reduction in the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, numbering 2,500 in both countries, in clear disregard of concerns about the impact of a hasty withdrawal on the government-Taliban peace process in a way that could convince the latter that it can win without a deal.
A defense inspector general’s report on Tuesday noted that it was “unclear” whether the Taliban had violated a separate agreement they signed in February with the United States.
The announcement of the troop withdrawal, which appears to have been uncoordinated with U.S. allies in Afghanistan, drew criticism from NATO Secretary General Jan Stoltenberg, who often avoids criticizing a powerful United States.
Stoltenberg warned that Afghanistan would once again become a “platform for global terrorism” if U.S. forces left, declaring that “the price of a hasty and uncoordinated departure will be high.”
Those developments came days after Trump fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who opposed the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, and appointed his loyalists and others at the National Security Agency known for supporting his hardline positions on Iran or withdrawing troops from Afghanistan.
Miller on Tuesday issued an order to his Pentagon team warning them against opposing the president’s “do your job” and “focus on the mission.”
His first goal, he said, was to “end the current war in a responsible manner and ensure the security of our citizens”. Miller did not refer to the “current war” but understood that it meant war in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security Ezra Cohen, who was appointed the same day with Miller, is said to have pushed for regime change in Iran and a harsh move against pro-Iranian militias in Iraq.
The turmoil within foreign policy and defense comes amid Trump’s continued refusal to accept the election results and president-elect Joseph Biden’s denial of intelligence briefs.
Former officials say Trump knows he should eventually leave the White House and is considering running again in 2024, so he’s trying to look at his options, fulfill his campaign promises, and build a narrative that the election was stolen from him because of fraud.
“This will be a copy of the losing cause,” said a former Trump administration official, referring to post-Civil War attempts to present a romantic portrait of confederate states that fought the U.S. During the War and “could come out in a storm of glory and say that he was stabbed in the back where this theory will be strengthened and all his achievements.”
The former official said there are groups within the administration who believe the final weeks of the Trump administration are their last chance to achieve their goals.
One of them focuses on regime change in Iran, groups that collaborated with Trump to destroy the 2015 nuclear deal that eased sanctions on Iran in exchange for limiting its nuclear program.
Efforts to kill the agreement have failed so far, as signatories have continued to believe in it even after Tehran increased its uranium enrichment rates beyond what the agreement allowed.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo plans to increase sanctions on Iran in each of Trump’s remaining weeks to complicate the task of maintaining the agreement.
“What I’ve always feared is an attempt by those around Trump to convince him that he’s the only thing standing between the “weak Democrats” who will take over and prevent Iran from developing the bomb,” said Rob Malley, a former Obama administration official and now director of the International Crisis Group.
On the New York Times report persuading those around him not to go ahead with the iran strike, Mali comments: “I don’t think it’s the end of the story, and there may have been covert operations that carry a lot more risk than the president was talkingabout.
Unlike in previous years, he will not bear the consequences” of any action.
Groups within the Trump administration may have sought to achieve what they want in the next few weeks, such as recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the West Bank, where Pompeo, the first U.S. official, will visit West Bank settlements this week.
Yemen’s Houthi group may be classified as a terrorist organization or the Muslim Brotherhood. But the president now constrained by his loss will be unable to make big military decisions, because the military leadership will resist him, and he can make administrative decisions.
“The most important thing the Pentagon has improved is slowing down the White House,” says Military Historian Tom Rick, “and these services are aware of their constitutional responsibilities.”