John Bolton, the controversial former U.S. ambassador to the UN and dyed-in the-wool foreign policy hawk, is rumored to be one of Donald Trump’s leading candidates as national security adviser if H.R. McMaster quits or is fired. Bolton is currently a senior fellow at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute and the chairman of the Gatestone Institute, a right-wing “pro-Israel” activist group that has been accused of fomenting anti-Muslim sentiment. He is a frequent contributor to Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Times, the Weekly Standard, among other right-wing media outlets.
Gina Haspel, Donald Trump’s nominee to replace Mike Pompeo as director of the CIA, gained national attention because of accusations that she oversaw the torture of prisoners in clandestine CIA sites in 2002 and later destroyed video evidence of that torture. Fiercely opposed by some Republicans like John McCain, Haspel is a darling to many Republican hawks and neoconservatives. Responding to Sen. Rand Paul’s criticism of Haspel, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), Dick Cheney-s daughter, said that “Gina Haspel has spent her career defending the American people and homeland” and accused Paul of “defending and sympathizing with terrorists.” Haspel would be the first woman named director of the CIA.
Mike Pompeo is the Trump administration’s nominee to replace Rex Tillerson as secretary of state. Pompeo has served as director of the CIA and was a congressman from Kansas from 2011-2016. Pompeo has been among the more vocal opponents of the Iran nuclear deal and a staunch hawk on Iran and foreign policy in general. He a leading advocate in the House of Representatives of the repeated inquiries into the attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya, which focused on the activities and decisions of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Richard Goldberg is a senior adviser at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Prior to that, he served as Chief of Staff for Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner after a decade of work as senior foreign policy adviser to Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL). Goldberg, a staunch opponent of the Iran nuclear agreement, advocates U.S. military action against Iran. He is also an outspoken critic of UNWRA, the UN agency responsible for Palestinian refugees, arguing that the agency is maintaining a culture of victimhood among Palestinians and that the United States should reduce or eliminate its funding for the agency. As a Senate aide, Goldberg first gained widespread attention spearheading a campaign against Barack Obama’s 2013 nominee for Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. In his work for the Illinois governor, Goldberg was a driving force behind the first state bill to be passed that compelled a state not to do business with any company that supports the Palestinian BDS movement.
Reuel Marc Gerecht is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a contributing editor for the Weekly Standard. A strident opponent of the Iranian nuclear agreement, Gerecht has called for sweeping sanctions that would be in violation of U.S. commitments under the deal. Decrying the inaction of the Trump administration, Gerecht writes, “Trump appears already there: the White House annoys Tehran with minor sanctions, sells more weaponry to Gulf Arabs, occasionally has a second-tier official—the secretary of state—give a speech on Iranian oppression, leaves some troops in Syria and Iraq, and calls it progress.” Gerecht supports Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, contending that it is good for the Palestinians. A former Middle Eastern specialist at the CIA’s Directorate of Operations, Gerecht now regularly criticizes the agency and calls for major reforms.
John Hannah has advocated pushing the United States into conflicts across the Middle East. An assistant to Vice President Dick Cheney during the early years of the “war on terror,” Hannah was one of the key voices pushing the United States to invade Iraq under false pretenses, even writing an early draft of Colin Powell’s speech to the United Nations offering misleading reasons for going to war. He has since held posts at neoconservative outlets like the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs. An extreme alarmist on Iran, Hannah wrote in late 2017, “We’ve seen what happens when the price of stopping a virulently anti-American rogue state from going nuclear becomes the devastation of a critical U.S. ally. The story ends with that rogue state being able to hold all of our great cities hostage to its nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles. That’s the North Korean playbook that Iran ultimately wants to follow.” In 2018, anonymous Trump administration sources told Al-Monitor that the administration had offered Hannah the position of envoy to Syria. Hannah reportedly declined the position.
Dennis Ross is a former diplomat who has served in high-level roles under several presidents, including Barack Obama. Since Obama’s departure, Ross has stepped up his pressure for aggressive U.S. action in the Middle East. He has accused Donald Trump of being all talk and no action on Iran and urged the U.S. to threaten military action if Russia does not stop Iranian expansion in Syria. Ross has close ties to neoconservatives and a history of antagonism towards Iran. When not in government service, he works for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a spinoff of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. In that role, Ross has been a vocal critic of the Iran nuclear deal and called for its revision as well as for renewed aggression and new sanctions aimed at Iran.
Hardliners at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies are working overtime to convince the Trump administration to “fix” the nuclear agreement with Iran on the pretext that it will give the US leverage in negotiations with North Korea.
North Korea and Iran both understand the lesson of Libya: Muammar Qaddafi, a horrifyingly brutal dictator, gave up his nuclear weapons, was eventually ousted from power with large-scale US assistance, and was killed. However, while Iran has a long and bitter history with the United States, North Korea’s outlook is shaped by its near-total destruction by forces led by the United States in the Korean War.
Europe loathes having to choose between Tehran and Washington, and thus it will spare no efforts to avoid the choice. It might therefore opt for a middle road, trying to please both parties by persuading Trump to retain the accord and Iran to limit missile ballistic programs and regional activities.
Key members of Trump’s cabinet should recognize the realism behind encouraging a Saudi- and Iranian-backed regional security agreement because the success of such an agreement would not only serve long-term U.S. interests, it could also have a positive impact on numerous conflicts in the Middle East.
Given that Israel failed to defeat Hezbollah in its war in Lebanon in 2006, it’s difficult to imagine Israel succeeding in a war against both Hezbollah and its newfound regional network of Shiite allies. And at the same time not only is Hezbollah’s missile arsenal a lot larger and more dangerous than it was in 2006, but it has also gained vast experience alongside its allies in offensive operations against IS and similar groups.
Donald Trump should never be excused of responsibility for tearing down the respect for truth, but a foundation for his flagrant falsifying is the fact that many people would rather be entertained, no matter how false is the source of their entertainment, than to confront truth that is boring or unsatisfying or that requires effort to understand.
It would be a welcome change in twenty-first-century America if the reckless decision to throw yet more unbelievable sums of money at a Pentagon already vastly overfunded sparked a serious discussion about America’s hyper-militarized foreign policy.