As the first US president in 40 years who hasn’t started a new war, Trump is using what are likely to be his final weeks in office to take the Pentagon in a different direction by loading it up with loyalist appointees.
But their individual histories suggest they’d be an ideological mixed bag that could give rise to one of two outcomes: no wars, or a war with Iran.
By now, all of Washington knows that Donald Trump’s nickname for his former military-industrial complex lobbyist turned defense secretary, Mark Esper, was “Yesper” – generally interpreted to suggest that Trump considered Esper a “yes man” who would do anything he wanted. Esper was quick to push back on that suggestion shortly after being fired. But the other possible interpretation is that it was the military-industrial complex, and not Trump, to which Esper couldn’t say no.
Under Esper’s leadership, defense spending continued its stratospheric climb, even as Trump pledged to withdraw troops from overseas and dialed down on America’s overseas bombing campaigns.
Trump’s appointment of National Counterterrorism Center Director Christopher Miller as acting secretary of defense, replacing Esper for the two months before Biden will likely replace him in turn with his own choice, suggests a rush to accomplish something in what appear to be the final days of his administration. But what exactly?
Trump has repeatedly said that he wanted to bring the troops home and end America’s senseless overseas wars. Miller can hardly be described as anti-war. When Trump announced US troop withdrawal from Syria, Miller advocated against it. Miller has also played a role in conflating radical Islamic terrorism, allegedly sponsored by Persian Gulf states, with Iran – despite Iran’s efforts to eradicate these jihadists across the Middle East. Miller has even suggested that Al-Qaeda has command and control cells in Tehran. CNN has called Miller a “driving force in some of the President’s anti-Iran and anti-Hezbollah policies”, citing unnamed officials. Those policies have nearly already led to war with Iran, when the US assassinated Iranian General Qassem Soleimani earlier this year in an unprovoked attack inside a third country (Iraq).
If Trump was truly antiwar, then Miller wouldn’t be his first choice to lead the Pentagon for two months until they’re both forced to make way for Team Biden. If, however, he wanted one last run at Iran, he’d be hard-pressed to pick someone better… unless one counts General Anthony Tata, who Trump has just tasked with the duties of undersecretary for defense policy. Tata has previously defended the war crime of bombing Iranian cultural sites by arguing that Iran is hiding secret nuclear weapons at those sites in order to “dupe noncritical thinkers.” You have to get up pretty early in the morning to fool one-star General Tata – unless, apparently, it’s to start a senseless and potentially suicidal war with Iran by bombing invisible nuclear weapons.
Tata has previously written in favor of outsourcing American overseas wars to select private citizens, so the Average Joe can also make some decent money with war by playing G.I. Joe. Because why should the big guys have all the fun, right? Tata co-authored an op-ed with Blackwater founder Erik Prince, advocating in favor of letting private American firms take over the war in Afghanistan and blowing Uncle Sam’s money.
Again, if Trump was really interested in promoting an anti-war position within the Pentagon, installing someone like Tata, who advocates for war as a privatized entrepreneurial venture, widely misses the mark.
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But there’s one new appointment that at least looks promising. Trump has named decorated US combat veteran Col. Douglas Macgregor as senior adviser to new Pentagon chief Miller. Trump’s mistake was not reversing these two appointments; Macgregor is one of Washington’s most lucid critical thinkers on American defense and foreign policy.
And Macgregor apparently knows where the bodies are buried. When US airstrikes hit Iraq last year, he suggested in a Fox News interview: “I don’t think the Iranians or the Iraqis, per se, are necessarily going to respond in the way the neocons would hope.” The implication is that the airstrikes were an attempt to goad Iran into a war with the US.
Macgregor, in the same interview, also asked: “If Americans look at this, the first question is what are we doing in Syria and Iraq with troops on the ground? What’s the purpose to begin with? I don’t think that’s ever been fully explained. What we’ve heard repeatedly is that we’re coming out. Each time the president seems to be subverted and we end up with a few more troops left.”
If anyone would be capable of seeing through any potential attempts by Trump’s new appointees to mindlessly drag America into a conflict with Iran because they’ve been unable to resist the bipartisan establishment brainwashing on Iran that pervades Washington, it would be Macgregor. And if Trump had been serious about establishing a zero tolerance for senseless wars – with any and all nations – he would have put Macgregor in charge at the Pentagon. The fact that he didn’t should raise doubts about Trump’s intentions in the final days of his tenure – particularly towards Iran.
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