Bolton left and the fever of the war with Iran suddenly fell
The price of oil fell 2.2% just a few minutes after the news spread that the US national security adviser, John Bolton, had lost his job. In…
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(CNN) - The price of oil fell 2.2% just a few minutes after the news spread that the US national security adviser, John Bolton, had lost his job. In an instant, the prospect of a catastrophic war in the Middle East seemed to recede dramatically.
Bolton is famous for being the man who never knew a war he didn't like (except the one in Vietnam, which he avoided). And the conflict with Iran is the war he seemed to like best.
- Why did John Bolton have to leave and now what can you expect?
In 2015, he wrote an editorial in The New York Times newspaper titled To Stop Iran's Bomb, Bomb Iran ”(“ To stop Iran's bomb, bomb Iran ”). He was a regular (paid) speaker at the annual meetings of Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK), a group of Iranian exiles that for years was hosted by Saddam Hussain, and that until 2012 was on the list of terrorist groups of the State Department from the United States.
In his most recent appearance at a MEK meeting in 2018, Bolton stated: "The behavior and objectives of the [Iranian] regime will not change and, therefore, the only solution is to change the regime itself."
He previously advocated a regime change in Venezuela, Iraq, North Korea, Libya and Syria, to name a few.
Bolton was, mainly through his Fox News exposition, one of the most vocal critics of the Iran nuclear agreement of 2015. He assumed the position of national security adviser in April 2018 and, a month later, the United States withdrew unilaterally of the agreement.
Without Bolton, the hawk cloak over Iran now goes to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. But, unlike Bolton, Pompeo seems to have given priority to his relationship with President Trump.
A recent profile of Pompeo in The New Yorker included a quote from an exalted White House official describing the secretary of state as "among the most flattering and servile people around Trump." A former US ambassador told the author of the article that Pompeo is "like a missile in search of heat for Trump's ass."
Bolton's departure may change the style of Trump's stance on Iran, but perhaps not the substance.
Washington's "maximum pressure" policy is designed, according to Pompeo, to change Tehran's behavior. But, taking into account the severity of the sanctions, they seem designed to bring Iran to its knees.
"Now we have made Iran's economy a disaster," Pompeo boasted to George Stephanopoulos on ABC's Sunday program, where he described the effect of US sanctions. "We believe that its economy could be reduced to 10 or 12% in the next year."
Only two days later, a few hours after Bolton's departure, Pompeo said Trump could meet with Iran's president Hassan Rouhani "without preconditions."
- After Bolton's resignation, that's how Trump's cabinet was
With Bolton out of the way, such a meeting can now continue without much resistance within the Trump White House.
It is not clear, however, what could come out of a Trump-Rouhani meeting. If we look at the example of North Korea, although the nature of the relationship between Trump and Kim Jong Un may have changed - both leaders now exchange "love letters" instead of insults - the underlying problems, such as the nuclear program of North Korea, international sanctions, etc., remain unchanged.
Without the relief of sanctions, or the promise to do so, Iranians are unlikely to act like Kim.
Also against a dramatic change in US-Iranian politics is Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who has pressured successive US administrations to take a tougher position on Tehran.
Trump has been more than willing to fulfill Netanyahu with almost all of his wishes. He recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moved the US embassy there; he confronted and cut funds to the Palestinian Authority and the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, and closed the Palestinian diplomatic mission in Washington.
After months of bellicose rhetoric about Iran, this summer Trump began to change the tone. Instead of bombing Iran, he started playing with the idea of talking to them.
So, has Trump cooled over facing Iran? The 2020 elections are important and the option of a war with Iran combined with the real possibility of a recession in the United States could mean a disaster for the president.
Never outstanding in terms of loyalty, Trump threw Bolton without ceremonies. The strongest voice in favor of the confrontation with Iran has now been banished to the desert, or perhaps to Fox News, where it came from.
While it is always dangerous to try to predict Trump's actions, there is now a real possibility of a slight improvement in the long and unhappy relationship between the United States and Iran.
Trump is not known for his deep understanding of the complexities of the Middle East, or for a thoughtful approach to the delicate affairs of the State.
Nor has he ever expressed much interest or sympathy for those who live here. But perhaps by design or, more likely, by happy coincidence, by leaving Bolton, President Trump may have made war less likely.