By Robert Somynne
“Those of us in the President’s office believed that we were going to have to do something about Iran. Iran under the leaders of the Islamic revolution were never going to be a rational actor. The only way to stop nuclear weapons or end international terrorism was to change the regime in Tehran.”
These were the words of former Ambassador John Bolton, previously the US ambassador to the UN, a man who wanted to see the organisation scrapped as it failed to recognise America’s role as the bringer of liberty to a tyrannised world. A man who believed that the EU and any common European defence policy was an existential threat to the US hegemony over Europe, the Baltics and the Mediterranean. A Bush adviser who once stared down European and British negotiators during nuclear negotiators with Iran because they wanted a more constructive relationship with the Islamic republic.
Bolton, who served under President George W. Bush, was one of the main architects of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. When he was Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security in 2002, he pushed the now discredited claim that Saddam Hussein was hiding weapons of mass destruction.
This week Bolton was announced as the new National Security adviser to the Trump administration in a move which has brought fear and loathing around the world and even at the centre of US global power. The reasons are not hard to understand if one looks at the record of a policy adviser who remains a symbol of how those who prosecuted the illegal war on Iraq have been reward by the institutions of US power.
Whether in media outlets or policy circles among conservative think tanks in America, Bolton has never been far from power and along with Mike Pompeo, former director of the CIA and now Rex Tillerson’s replacement at the State Department constitutes a formidable war lobby in favour of attacking Iran.
Bolton has been busy the past 15 years maintaining his contacts with UAE lobbyists, Saudi policy directors and promoting Iranian opposition groups widely considered by even the most anti-Ayatollah Iranian exile to be terrorist thugs, the MEK. He has promoted military action against Iranian military bases and the nation’s government buildings, urging the US to cooperate with Israel and Saudi Arabia to form a collective front of action.
In an Op-ed piece for the New York Times, Bolton said: “An attack need not destroy all of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, but by breaking key links in the nuclear-fuel cycle, it could set back its program by three to five years. The United States could do a thorough job of destruction, but Israel alone can do what’s necessary. Such action should be combined with vigorous American support for Iran’s opposition, aimed at regime change in Tehran.”
But who are these opposition groups Bolton refers to? In the long history of ready made democratic oppositions, US war hawks in the case of Iran have turned to the MEK.
Mujahideen-e Khalq cult, described as a terrorist group and “cult following” is a political organization guilty of the bombings of political and civilian targets in Iran following the 1979 revolution. The two most infamous cases being that of the Hafte Tir bombing in 1981 and the bombing of the office of Mohammad Javad Bahonar, Prime Minister of Iran in the same year.
They have been consistently misrepresented as a “democratic” Iranian opposition group, no doubt helped by financial ties to men such as Bolton, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani and John McCain. As Bolton assumes the role of NSA chief and talks about “vigorous American support for Iran’s opposition,” we know he is referring to the MEK.
This is vital to know as it is a reminder of the care free attitude of the advocates towards of regime change, not in the interest of the people of West Asia, but a desire to sow chaos for chaos sake. We are also reminded how oblivious Iran hawks such as Bolton are to political realities inside the country. MEK are an exile group with no support in their own country and are in fact widely despised there for good reason.
For our purposes it’s crucial to see Bolton’s appointment as another sign of how weakened the moral case for unquestioned Atlanticism is. The UK cannot remain the enfeebled conscience of a US dedicated to partial truths and military conquest. Bolton’s appointment is a sign that rather than personnel and presidency asserting American power in the region, it is the structure of the US political system which perpetually reinstates war mongers.
The UK will have a hard time attempting to restrain the US from reckless action against Iran and any British minister should be wary of Bolton’s influence in UK politics. As Jack Straw stated: “The neocons, people like John Bolton, were never terribly keen on me, but I’ve no idea what observations were made through the back door.” Later in 2014 he would accuse Bolton and others of pressuring Tony Blair to sack him as Foreign Secretary for the crime of siding with Europeans over the nuclear negotiations from 2003 to 2008.
What we can expect from a British perspective in John Bolton's appointment is a return to a brazen foreign policy which does not rely on even the pretence of evidence. Cooperation from an Atlantic viewpoint becomes one of friendly bullying where the UK will have to choose between its relationship to International law, and its obligations to the US. The Iran Deal and its diplomatic mechanism the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action) has now been declared dead on the operating table. This is despite agreement from the EU, Russia, China, Iran and the US, and the overaraching diplomatic message of a solid, good faith negotiaion and adherence to international law.
From a neo-conservative perspective international law is simply a nicety in the form of a straight jacket which prevents the US from following its moral mission around the globe. The only credible policy position is to emphasise the isolation of the US following the appointment of Bolton, by siding with the Europeans on the Iran Deal, and ensuring that the way that the Iranian government is treated on its nuclear ambitions is proportionate to evidence presented by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
This year the IAEA reported for the ninth time that Iran was abiding to the terms of the nuclear agreement. According to their reports “the most rigorous checks on Iran ever" were implemented and the ageny are "satisfied". John Bolton, however, has dismissed the IAEA as a weak liberal front similar to the UN and a danger to US interests.
John Bolton's record on Iran should also concern the UK because it proves that it doesn’t matter how “rational” or liberal Iran’s negotiators are, Bolton's treatment of the nation remains unchanged. Bolton’s role as part of the US negotiating stance during the administrations of Rafsanjani and Khatami two relatively reformist candidates in Iran bodes ill for the future. Both Iranian President’s desire to open up the West or at least engage in a form of detente, yet the overriding doctrine of regime change at all costs meant opportunities were lost.
The US would stumble through its 17 year occupation of Afghanistan without the crucial intelligence and logistical help Iran could have offered through its northern border. As the Iraq War loomed, Iran advocated against the invasion of the nation that had attacked it for ten years but then offered to help with the post war reconstruction. This overture was also turned down out of mere spite.
The time has come for a break with the US in order to maintain what little adherence to international law there is in UK politics. The return of Bolton must be responded to, and not just with the UK taking firm policy positions in support of the Iran Deal, or against sanctions that would hurt the Iranian people. Whatever shape the response from the UK takes, it must be distinct from its own connections to Iran’s regional rivals Saudi Arabia and the UAE.