Pity President Donald “America First” Trump, Secretary of State (and former CIA Director) Mike Pompeo, National-Security Advisor (and Cold War fanatic) John Bolton, and Special U.S. Representative to Venezuela (and Cold War fanatic) Eliott Abrams. Knowing that the American people have grown weary with their forever wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Yemen, these four interventionists can’t decide whether to initiate a new war against Venezuela or against Iran or against both. They just know that they want a new war, an exciting war, a winnable war against a poor Third World country, a war that will cause Americans to forget about the ongoing fiascoes in the Middle East and Afghanistan and that will hopefully restore America to greatness through “mission-accomplished” conquest, bombing, death, destruction, and regime-change. One can easily imagine the arguments that must be taking place in the White House: “Iran! They ousted our Shah from power!” “No, Venezuela! It’s part of the worldwide communist conspiracy to take over America!”
Ideally from their standpoint, the choice will be made easier for them if either Iran or Venezuela strikes first. After all, let’s not forget that the Constitution, which is supposedly the law of the land, requires a congressional declaration of war before the president and his army can wage war. Moreover, after World War II, the Nuremberg War Crimes declared it to be a war crime for one nation to initiate an attack on another nation.
Not that any president concerns himself with the Constitution and with Nuremberg principles. Trump knows that he can violate that section of the Constitution with impunity. He knows that while Congress might impeach him for “collusion” with the Russians or with the nebulous crime of “obstructing justice,” there is no possibility that Congress will impeach him for intentionally violating the declaration-of-war restriction in the Constitution. He also knows that there is no possibility that the U.S. Supreme Court, whose responsibility is to enforce the Constitution, will be anything but passive and deferential to any war initiated by the president.
Nonetheless, from the standpoint of these four interventionists, the ideal is for either Venezuela or Iran to attack the United States or, as they’re now putting it, attack “U.S. interests,” whatever that means. That way, they can exclaim, “We have been attacked! We are shocked! We had no idea that this would happen! We are innocent! We were just minding our own business! This is an act of aggression! This is another day that will live in infamy! We now have no choice but to engage in self-defense by dropping bombs and wreaking death and destruction in order to achieve regime-change!”
Their model, of course, is President Franklin Roosevelt, who finagled Japan into attacking U.S. troops at Pearl Harbor. At that time, U.S. presidents were still complying with the constitutional provision requiring a congressional declaration war. FDR knew that he couldn’t secure a congressional declaration of war, given that the the American people were overwhelmingly opposed to entering World War II, especially after the deadly, destructive, and useless fiasco of World War I.
At first, FDR did his best to provoke the Germans into attacking the United States, so that he could exclaim, “We have been attacked! Now give me my declaration of war!” But the Germans refused to take his bait. So, FDR went into the Pacific and began provoking the Japanese, with the aim of securing a “back door” to the European conflict. Among his principal means of provocation were insulting and humiliating Japanese officials, freezing Japanese assets in the United States, and most important, imposing an embargo on oil, which FDR knew the Japanese needed to maintaining their war machine in China.
FDR’s plan worked brilliantly. Insulted, humiliated, and squeezed, the Japanese tried to slip out of FDR’s ever-tightening noose by trying to knock out the U.S. Pacific Fleet with their attack at Pearl Harbor, which would have, they hoped, enabled them to secure oil from the Dutch East Indies without U.S. interference. The attack at Pearl Harbor enabled FDR to appear before Congress and exclaim: We have been attacked! We are shocked! We are innocent! We had no idea that this was going to happen! This is an act of aggression! This is a day that will live in infamy! Now, give me my declaration of war!” Because Germany declared war on the U.S. to honor its alliance with Japan, FDR had gotten what he wanted — entry of the U.S. into World War II.
That is the model that Trump, Pompeo, Abrams, and Bolton are now employing against both Iran and Venezuela. They have announced that they will not permit any nation to buy oil from Iran, with the aim of bringing as much economic suffering and even death to the Iranian citizenry as possible. At the same time, they have frozen assets of Venezuela here in the United States, decreed an alternative president for the country, inflicted massive harm on the Venezuelan people though ever-tightening economic sanctions, and fomented violent revolution within the country,
Time will tell if Trump had his merry band of interventionists will be as successful as Roosevelt was, or whether Trump and his interventionist cohorts will lose patience and initiate a new undeclared war of aggression against Iran, Venezuela, or both.