The October Surprise: War with Iran

It’s mid-October. COVID-19’s second wave, reinforced by the return of another flu season, hit the United States once again sparing neither blue nor red state, city or county. Schools reopened despite warning signs from other countries that opened schools and had to shut them down again as kindergartners brought the no-longer-novel coronavirus home to the grandparents. The late summer partisan meltdown aggravated the pandemic’s economic devastation and added millions more to the unemployment rolls. Disrupting the Post office seems to have provoked a heretofore-sleepy Democratic constituency into a wave of early voting that bodes ill. At-risk Republican legislators have panicked. Attorney General Barr has just given his personal client a list of offenses for which he might be indicted should he lose the immunity of his office.

Trump has openly considered nullifying an election that does not go in his favor. However, all but his most rabid supporters have difficulty supporting that act of desperation.

Secretary of State Pompeo, accompanied by Elliott Abrams, his recently appointed Special Representative for Iran, goes to the Oval Office. “Mr. President” he begins. “Elliott has a solution to your dilemma. As you know Elliott has proven his loyalty to the Office of the President. He committed perjury to protect President Reagan during the Iran-Contra Affair in 1991.”

Pompeo ignores the quizzical look on the president’s face, confirming his suspicion that the President had never heard of Iran-Contra, and presses ahead. “We have a sure-fire way of winning re-election. Elliott here has proven that he can fabricate provocations and organize wars on very short notice. He was the mastermind behind the invasion of Iraq in 2003!” Trump, startled, tells Pompeo “you know I called that war a disaster and getting out of Iraq is part of my campaign pledge. I fired Bolton because he was trying to get me into a war.”

“Mr. President,” Pompeo replies, “Remember that Bush ’43 looked to be in serious trouble in 2004 but won anyway. He even got a popular majority despite his botching Hurricane Katrina and a score of other mistakes. And why do you think that was? Because, sir, the American people have never voted a wartime President out of office. Mr. President, you must be at war if we are all to be still employed in three months. Elliott can arrange it in a week.”

Impossible? Incredible? More incredible than the other truly incredible actions by @realdonaldtrump over the last three years and some months?

Why did Brian Hook, an amiable if somewhat clueless but loyal staffer, get his walking papers in August? He had no enemies in the White House and he had carried out his duties as Special Representative for Iran for the previous 11 months faithfully, parroting lies and half-truths designed to demonize Iran. No one worried about Brian’s mindless rhetoric because Trump had made it abundantly clear that he had no intention of fighting a war in the Middle East. In fact, he wanted to get out of there as quickly as his very reluctant national security team would let him. And, why did Pompeo pick Elliott Abrams, a charter globalist, a vigorous “Never Trumper” and a member emeritus of the hated neoconservatives whom Trump (correctly) blames for the foreign misadventures of Bush’ 43? It makes no sense, does it?

It does make sense if one looks at Pompeo’s poorly concealed determination to provoke war with Iran, a warlike stance that also characterizes his policies towards China and other enemies created or exaggerated by this administration. He tries to provoke military action against Iran. He barely concealed his disappointment at Trump’s refusal to strike Iran after it shot down an American drone. He masterminded the assassination of an Iranian General on Iraqi soil when Trump looked serious about withdrawing from that unhappy country. Pompeo undercut Trump’s offer of negotiations to Iran by issuing an ultimatum that called on the Mullahs to sign their own death warrants. But, you ask, “How does he get away with it if Trump does not want war?”

It’s simple. Pompeo has discovered that if he stokes Trump’s narcissism sufficiently he can count on Trump’s lack of interest in the minutiae of war and diplomacy to let him get away with (literally) murder. (Bolton got fired because his own ego would not let him stroke Trump’s.) Pompeo’s motivations are unclear. Some believe religious zealotry pushes Pompeo towards war against the Mullahs (think Pope Urban II peaching “Deus Vult” – God Wills It!” – to launch the First Crusade in 1095 against an earlier bunch of Mullahs). After all, Pompeo keeps an open bible on his desk and consults it for guidance on all issues. Others suggest Pompeo nurses a deep resentment having served as a tank platoon leader at the end of the Cold War in Germany when the USSR stopped being a threat. He watched others get all the glory when their units were transferred from Germany (many from the same base) to win a Glorious Victory in Operation Desert Storm.

Forget motivation. Ask why would Pompeo put an unreconstructed “never Trump” neoconservative in charge of Iran? Abrams and Dick Cheney co-authored the neoconservative manifesto of 2002 that advocated democratizing the Middle East via American military conquest. Trump did promise to avoid war, but it has not helped him stay up in the polls. Does winning re-election trump campaign promises? And, in truth, if Pompeo told Trump that the American people have never voted out a wartime President, he would be absolutely correct.


The latest postponement of a White House visit by Greece’s Premier – for a second time this year – in conjunction with the announcement of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s trip to Washington, DC in May is certainly not auspicious.

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