Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has a term of endearment for Iran’s enemies, “The B-Team.”
The “B-Team” consists of U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton, Israeli Prime Minister (nee Dictator) Benjamin Netanyahu, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and the UAE’s Mohammed bin Zayed.
When we look seriously at the attacks on the oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman this week the basic question that comes to mind is, Cui bono? Who benefits?
And it’s easy to see how the B-Team benefits from this attack and subsequent blaming Iran for it. With Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tehran opening up a dialogue on behalf of U.S. President Donald Trump the threat of peace was in the air.
And none of the men on the B-Team profit from peace in the Middle East with respect to Iran. Getting Trump to stop hurling lightning bolts from the mountain top the B-Team guided him up would do nothing to help oil prices, which the Saudis and UAE need/want to remain high.
Bin Salman, in particular, cannot afford to see oil prices drop back into the $40’s per barrel. With the world awash in oil and supply tight, even with OPEC production cuts, Bin Salman is currently on very thin ice because of the Saudi Riyal’s peg to the U.S. dollar, which he can’t abandon or the U.S. will abandon them.
Falling oil prices and a rising dollar are a recipe for the death of the Saudi government, folks. Iran knows this.
Netanyahu and Bolton don’t want peace because the U.S. fighting a war with Iran serves the cause of Greater Israel and opens up the conflict in the hopes of regime change and elimination of Iran.
Bolton, as well, is finally feeling the heat of his incompetence and disloyalty to Trump, according to John Kirakau at Consortium News.
Of course, a more rational person might conclude that Bolton has done a terrible job, that the people around him have done a terrible job, that he has aired his disagreements with Trump in the media, and that the President is angry about it. That’s the more likely scenario.
Here’s what my friends are saying. Trump is concerned, like any president is near the end of his term, about his legacy. He said during the campaign that he wanted to be the president who pulled the country out of its two longest wars. He wanted to declare victory and bring the troops back from Afghanistan and Iraq. He hasn’t done that, largely at the insistence of Bolton. Here we are three years later and we’re still stuck in both of those countries.
Second, my friends say that Trump wants to end U.S. involvement in the Yemen war, but that Bolton has been insistent that the only way to guarantee the closeness of the U.S. relationships with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates is to keep providing those countries with weapons, aerial refueling planes, and intelligence support.
So, couple the attacks on these tankers with the timing of Abe’s visit and the vote on Rand Paul’s bill to end selling arms to the Saudis in support of their war in Yemen (which flew through the Senate thanks to this attack getting a number of senators to change their vote at the last second) and we have a perfect cui bono.
That’s the entire B-Team’s motives distilled down to a couple of drones flying in to create a casus belli which saves Bolton’s job, keeps the weapons flowing to the murderous Saudis and creates an opportunity for Netanyahu to feed Trump bad information via his ‘intelligence’ services.
The rush to judgment by the usual suspects in the Trump administration should be all the proof you need that we’re looking at a set up to get Trump to fly off the handle which he, so far, hasn’t done.
Remember, Trump wants lower oil prices. He wants a weaker dollar and lower interest rates. He needs the frackers in Eagle Ford and Permian to keep raising output but they keep bleeding red ink. He’s fighting the Fed as well as former directors of the FBI, CIA and ODNI via his new attorney general, William Barr.
His approval rating is high and he’s going after his political enemies now. But a potential war in the Middle East is a real problem for him.
And this is where Moon of Alabama’s Bernard comes in with his excellent analysis of the current situation vis a vis Iran. The whole article is worth your time but the money-shot, as it were, is right here:
To say that the attacks were provocations by the U.S. or its Middle East allies is made easier by their evident ruthlessness. Any accusations by the Trump administration of Iranian culpability will be easily dismissed because everyone knows that Trump and his crew are notorious liars.
This cat and mouse game will now continue and steadily gain pace. More tankers will get damaged or even sunk. Saudi refineries will start to explode. UAE harbors will experience difficulties. Iran will plausibly deny that it is involved in any of this. The U.S. will continue to blame Iran but will have no evidence to prove it.
Insurance for Middle East cargo will become very expensive.Consumer prices for oil products will increase and increase again. The collateral damage will be immense.
All this will gradually put more pressure on Trump.
Don’t forget that the U.S.’s sanctions on Iran makes it difficult for Iran to insure its cargoes. So, even if a company or country wanted to still do business with NIOC, they can’t because they can’t get insurance on the cargo.
It’s been a real problem that Iran had to solve by having its own fleet of tankers which it also insures domestically to keep what oil it can export flowing. So it only makes sense to begin hitting the rest of the world via the same weapons being used against Iran.
But as Trump has ratcheted up the pressure he’s put Iran in the exact position that makes them the most dangerous. Acting through deniable proxies Iran can now drag this out as a low-grade conflict far longer than Trump can bear politically.
They don’t need to shut down the Strait of Hormuz. They just have to screw with its enemies’ ability to make a living. The political pressure that will come to bear on a global economy imploding because of instability in the flow of oil is not something a butcher like Bin Salman of Saudi Arabia is capable of handling.
Bernard calls Trump’s administration ‘notorious liars’ and that’s the key. People can look no further than the ludicrous and inept handling of the regime change operation in Venezuela and see the mendacity first hand.
That operation was so bad, culminating in the pathetic “Bay of Fat Pigs” coup attempt, that it has left every country that backed Bolton and Pompeo’s play there, including Trump himself, looking like morons.
You don’t embarrass the narcissists who inhabit high-level government offices and not suffer in some way. This is why I give a lot of credence to John Kirakou’s conclusion that Bolton being one approved candidate away from unemployment.
Firing Bolton and having Abe and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas go to Tehran are good will gestures. But Trump has let his B-Team badly mismanage this situation in the same way that he let Bolton and Pompeo mismanage Kim Jong-un and North Korea.
No one believes he’s capable of peace or showing shame. He’s left himself in no position to climb down from this position without the help of Iran itself.
This is exactly the argument I made in April of 2017 after his missile strike on Syria over a “beautiful piece of chocolate cake.” He revealed himself to be both tactically and strategically incompetent.
He has to come groveling to them now. But he won’t. And Iran and its benefactors, Russia and China, have no incentive to come to him. He can’t keep his promises since he’s not really in charge of policy. As Ayatollah Khamenei pointed out on Twitter (oh, the irony):
Trump thought the B-Team was giving him negotiating leverage. But what happens to your leverage when the other person takes his chips, walks away from the table and says, “No. I won’t deal with you.”
So now the screws will be put to everyone. Trump pushed Erdogan of Turkey away over the S-400 and Putin called in his marker forcing Erdogan to end his support for Al-Qaeda in Idlib. That campaign will be slow and excruciating but it will eventually grind them out.
Iran has been handed all the cards they need to become the exact thing Pompeo, Trump and the B-Team have been accusing them of being but now with the cover of deniability and asymmetry. All of the things Moon of Alabama laid out are now going to happen even if Trump fires Bolton, pulls troops out and lifts the oil embargo on Syria, etc.
Netanyahu will scream bloody murder and up the ante until Putin slaps him down. Because now that Trump has made it clear he doesn’t want war with Iran we know there’s a limit to what Bibi can incite.
If Trump was serious about war with Iran it would have already been declared. The smoke, however, is blowing in a different direction.
Iran will retaliate here just to make the point that they can. They will make Saudi Arabia and the UAE pay the biggest price directly while Trump finally has to start thinking things through or his presidency will end badly next year.
The war of attrition against the fragility of the Western financial system will enter the next stage here. Iran, China and Russia will now, sadly, activate the weapons they have been holding back for years, hoping that Trump and his B-Team would come to their senses.
This is what happens when you let the B-Team overplay your hand for you against people who are 1) smarter and 2) more patient than you are.
And, frankly, I don’t blame them one bit. Because as the only thing that American power brokers understand is strength. And you have to hit them between the eyes with a stick to get them to respect you.