On August 7 President Donald Trump issued a strong warning to countries trading with Iran, following his re-imposition of sanctions on the country. “Anyone doing business with Iran will NOT be doing business with the United States,” he tweeted. Some reimposed sanctions took effect overnight, while additional, more punitive ones—relating to oil exports and central bank transactions—will take effect in the first week of November.
Trump’s executive order signed on Tuesday will target Iran’s purchase or acquisition of US banknotes, its trade in gold and other precious metals, most of its currency transactions, and issuance of sovereign debt. The looming oil export ban is even more significant, however. It threatens major disruption of the world’s delicately balanced oil market, reducing spare capacity to dangerous levels and taking out up to 1.5 million barrels a day from the global oil supply. According to energy analysts, “this would leave the world with safety buffers near zero for the first time in the modern oil age—a thinner margin than during the two great oil shocks of 1979 and 2008 . . . a Sword of Damocles hanging over the global economy.”
Economic sanctions, previously known as embargoes, are de facto tools of war. Their objective is to force the targeted country to cave in, or else to deplete its defensive capacity in preparation for the shooting war. They were used by FDR against Japan as a means of getting the United States indirectly into the European conflict which most of the nation abhorred. In Iran’s case, they were imposed in order to force Tehran to accept a list of demands which no sovereign government could ever endure. Right now the Iranians are not offered even a symbolic way out. As I wrote here two months ago, the next stage probably will be to accuse them of returning to the nuclear weapons program, and to “prove” this by the absence of proof that Iran is not doing so. A splendid little false flag operation could follow, involving an Iranian patrol boat in the Straits of Hormuz, or a stage-managed attack on a Saudi oil installation.
The tragedy of the current Iranian crisis of choice is twofold. Donald Trump is risking yet another unwinnable war in the Middle East, potentially far more costly and devastating than the Iraqi fiasco. At the same time, he is playing right into the hands of his domestic enemies who see the war against Iran both as an opportunity to reassert America’s “engagement,” and as a splendid opportunity to destroy his presidency. In fact, whether by design or default, the looming Iranian debacle is developing into one of the two key pincers meant to bring about regime change, install Mike Pence in the White House, and bring Nikki Haley to Number One Observatory Circle
Hannibal’s brilliant double envelopment of the Roman army in a blood-soaked Apulian field 2234 years ago has been a seldom-attainable dream of military strategists ever since. The pincer movement enabling one’s forces simultaneously to attack both flanks of an enemy formation was replicated by Napoleon at Austerlitz in 1805, and executed—on a grand scale and with devastating effect—by the Red Army at Stalingrad in November 1942. It was attempted, albeit imperfectly, by the German army in France in 1914. Similar, less significant examples abound.
In today’s Washington, the principles of Cannae are being applied by the enemies of President Donald Trump in the political arena. The order of battle is different, but the concept is the same.
One flank is trying to penetrate Trump’s defenses through the quasi-legal means of Robert Mueller’s inquisition. It is aided and abetted by the relentless chorus of the corporate media and deep state operatives, 24/7.
The other flank is trying to push him into a military conflict with Iran, which would be certain to destroy his presidency. If the first pincer does not produce impeachment or resignation in the next year or so, they assume, it will ensure a Democratic victory in 2020. Working in unison, they share the same regime-change grand strategy.
Trump may be able to withstand the first pincer by finally encouraging Attorney General Jeff Sessions to end the Mueller farce, or else firing his faithless DA. It is time for him to start a bold, albeit belated media counteroffensive that would go beyond his ad-hoc, frustrated tweets. A prime-time address to the nation is in order.
As for the second pincer, Trump is inexplicably helping his enemies—for now—by setting the stage for an absurd, unwinnable, and unnecessary conflict with Iran, a war devoid of strategic rationale. His enemies want a new war in the Middle East both because they want to destroy him, and because they want America to be “engaged” in the Middle East (and everywhere else) for ever. For them, and for Israel and Saudi Arabia, America’s war against Iran would be a win-win proposition.
Donald Trump is not a student of history, but he may yet follow his instincts—surprisingly prescient thus far—and avoid the deadly Iranian trap. The alternative is too horrid to contemplate.
Dr. Srdja Trifkovic, Foreign Affairs Editor of Chronicles, is the author of The Sword of the Prophet and Defeating Jihad.