Whither goes US policy in Iran after Bolton?

What happened with Bolton underscores the fears of more than one Arab party that dealt with the Trump administration.
Saturday 14/09/2019
US National Security Advisor John Bolton answers questions by journalists in Minsk, August 29. (AFP)
US National Security Advisor John Bolton answers questions by journalists in Minsk, August 29. (AFP)

John Bolton’s dismissal as US President Donald Trump’s national security adviser poses far more questions than it answers. Perhaps the first burning question is whether there will be a change in the US administration’s policy towards Iran.

It is no secret that Bolton was one of the hawks and his primary concern was confronting Iran and its policies. It is not known whether, by firing Bolton, Trump had decided to pave the way for a meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rohani on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

It has been reported that Iran had put Bolton’s departure as a precondition for a US-Iran meeting. Bolton has never concealed his hostility to the Iranian regime, which Trump did not hesitate to describe as “terrorist.”

It is not important to have the man who never liked the Islamic Republic and who knew but too well the dangers represented by its expansionist project removed from office. The important thing is whether there will be a change in the US position on sanctions against Iran.

Time has shown that the sanctions have had a far greater effect than previously thought and that they have served their purpose, which is to clamp down on Tehran.

Because of the US sanctions, Iran can no longer continue with its expansionist project using the sectarian militias it established in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. Those militias serve as extensions of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and carry out all the tasks required of them.

The victims of these militias tend to be Iraqis or Syrians or Lebanese or Yemenis, who are sacrificed for the glory of Iran, the same Iran that aspires to one day strike a deal with the “Greater Satan” (the United States) or the “Lesser Satan” (Israel).

There are two schools of thought in Washington. One says Trump is setting up dialogue with Iran and that these talks are inevitable, given the US president’s desire to avoid military confrontation that would obliterate his hope of being re-elected in November 2020.

Defenders of this hypothesis insist that Trump has no other concern but to return to the White House for a second term, even if the price to pay is the policy towards Iran that he had laid out at the beginning of his term and culminated in tearing up the nuclear deal that Iran had struck in July 2015 when Barack Obama was in the White House. The current US president has always said that agreement was the “worst deal” that could be reached with Iran.

Trump laid the foundations of his Iranian policy in a speech he gave one year into his presidency, providing an exhaustive list of the crimes of the Iranian regime since 1979.

Some say that Trump has no principles, that he is just a salesman looking after his own interest and that the United States is ready for a dialogue with Iran in the direction of a new deal acceptable to both sides.

Iran will consider that the agreement about its nuclear file will be unchanged and that its biggest victory will be the lifting of US sanctions. In contrast, the Trump administration will consider that it has been able to introduce substantial changes to the nuclear agreement to plug the gaps that made the original one unacceptable in the first place.

It doesn’t matter whether that is true. What is important is that Trump has avoided a military confrontation that would end his hopes of re-election.

Others, however, say Bolton is not the Trump administration and that there will be no dramatic change in Washington’s Iranian policy, especially the sanctions. They assert there is a guarantee that this hard-line policy towards Iran will continue as long as Mike Pompeo remains secretary of state.

Only time will tell which school of thought will win but we can be certain that Pompeo remains a guarantor of continuity in US policy towards Iran. The secretary of state did not hesitate to expose Iran and what it is doing at home and in the region, such that Bolton had become a secondary figure in the Iranian file as the US State Department recovered the initiative and its role in American foreign policy.

Most important, US policy towards Iran is no longer tied to Trump alone, even though he is the president and he can do whatever he wants. In addition to the State Department, there are the American military and security establishment, which understand what it means to surrender to Iran. There is also Vice-President Mike Pence who, despite having no real powers, remains a symbol of the American tough stand on Iran, at least from an ideological point of view.

A final point remains to be made related to the outcome of the Israeli election September 17. The vote will be crucial to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s future and he is for taking a very tough stance on the Iranian nuclear file.

Bolton’s dismissal confirmed that Trump is a very moody person. Why bring a person known for his extreme positions on Iran to the White House as national security adviser if the plan was to make a U-turn in your policy just to stay in the White House for another four years? That is, if it turns out that a change in American policy was behind the expulsion of Bolton.

What happened with Bolton underscores the fears of more than one Arab party that dealt with the Trump administration, in the sense that the man is not the type who can be trusted, period. It would probably be best to think the situation through before deciding to place eggs in the American basket.