President Trump famously brags that he doesn’t read very much. Well, before President Trump recently fired National Security Advisor John Bolton, he should have at least watched the recently released “John Wick, Parabellum” aka John Wick 3.0. The reason is that he would have learned what “Parabellum” means.
“Parabellum” isn’t the name of 9mm semi-automatic ammunition. “Parabellum” is the second part of one of the most famous Latin axioms(truisms) regarding war and peace: "Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum,” or loosely translated, "If you want peace, prepare for war." The paradoxical reason Trump should have watched “John Wick Parabellum” is that without “Bad Cop/Prep for War” Bolton, Iran has become irremediably convinced that Trump is actually fatally weak and paralyzed.
Therefore, Iran, sensing Trump’s real or apparent weakness, has boldly attacked Saudi Arabia’s Eastern provinces over 500 miles away from Yemen’s Houthis. In short, Bolton’s firing sparked a spiraling escalation of Iranian warfare that President Trump can not “talk” himself out of. In fact, with the November 2020 US Election bearing down on him, Iran is well-positioned to exploit the perceived Trump weakness to catastrophic effect against the United States.
Put another way, without Bolton’s “preparing for war,” President Trump will have war, not peace, up to November 2020.
Whatever disagreements Pres. Trump had with Bolton will, in retrospect, pale in comparison with the policy wreckage and minefield that Trump will now have with Bolton booted. Regarding the two greatest and most immediate threats, namely Iran and North Korea, wuthout Bolton, whatever Iran or North Korea were “asking for” as their "peace" price has just doubled, tripled, or been taken off the table,
Without the “Bad Cop/Prep for War” Bolton, both Iran and North Korea know there is no push to a military solution, or an internal policy backstop to Trump's sliding toward a nebulous “peace agreement,” or sanctions relief of some kind. President Trump almost confirmed as much by tweeting, “In fact, my [President Trump’s] views on Venezuela, and especially Cuba, were far stronger than those of John Bolton. He was holding me back!”. Iran and North Korea correctly read this Trump tweet to mean exactly what Trump didn’t
It is no accident that Iran destroyed Saudi Arabia’s ARAMCO’s Eastern provinces oil refineries the very week Bolton was fired. In fact, Bolton’s firing is the spark that ensured that Iran will now set Saudi Arabia on fire. While Bolton was still there, Iran saw that its Houthi proxies had unlimited attacks on Saudi Arabia. Iran, itself, had destroyed several tankers in the Persian Gulf, Iran had openly pirated a British tanker, and downed an American 280 million dollar drone with no American push-back. In fact, there was no American military reaction whatsoever.
Hence, if Trump was paralyzed in reacting to Iran with Bolton, then without Bolton, Iran has calculated that it can do whatever it desires against Saudi Arabia short of killing an American soldier. Iran’s attack on Saudi Arabia is just the opening salvo in what will be a string of Iranian attritional attacks against America’s allies right up to the November 2020 US election.
Rest assured that from today to the November 2020 Election day, Iran will bleed President Trump with attacks on Saudi Arabia. Why? First and foremost, Bolton is gone. Second, Iranian drones or cruise missiles are totally deniable and can be fired from Iran’s proxies in Iraq. Such attacks will leave no Iranian finger prints, and can’t be “absolutely” pinned on the Iranians, i.e. “The Houthis did it” even though the Yemeni Houthis are 600 miles away. Third, anti-war Democrats and Republicans will use the smallest element of Iranian deniability to put Trump into a policy box that he doesn’t have “definitive proof” that the Iranians were actually involved and “responsible. ” They will use “the Saudis started it by killing the Houthis in Yemen anyway" tagline. Fourth, the Iranian attritive attacks will make Trump look like a weak loser and help ensure Trump actually loses the election.
Going into 2020, a paralyzed President Trump idly watching an Iranian war of attrition will expose him to eviscerating Democrat attacks on his foreign policy, and his very Tough-Guy/Always-Win persona. With Trump clearly paralyzed and distracted with Iran in the Gulf, China and North Korea will smell blood and wait out any moves on Chinese Trade or North Korea’s nuclear file.
And imagine what America’s “mutual defense” treaty would be worth to Israel, if the anti-Iran President Trump is impotent protecting Saudi Arabia from Iran.
Fourth, what are Trump’s options? One either goes super big pre-emptive, or doesn’t go at all. If Trump attacks Iran, he needs to follow the Red Adair approach of fighting an oil rig fire: blowing it up to start with so that the smaller rig fire is starved for air, and goes out. In other words, to fight an Iranian “fire” you don’t bring “water” or “fire,” you bring “high explosives.” You don’t do “proportional,” you do preemptively “disproportional” and overwhelming and hit both civilian and military targets so Iran has little left with which to counter-attack.
Critically and unfortunately, US CENTCOM has placed its regional headquarters in Al Udeid Air base in Qatar. This means US CENTCOM HQ is on the very extreme front lines of the any Iran conflagration. Iran isn’t kidding when they say that American bases are in the range of their attack. Before any action, Al Udeid CENTCOM HQ needs to be immediately abandoned, and relocated so it is heavily protected.
If Trump is not going to go super big, he needs to just weather the storm until Iran makes a really fatal mistake. This will drive the Saudis to hysteria and desperation, sink their ARAMCO IPO, and put any Israel-Palestinian deal in the ice-box. It also has a policy plus in that it shows the American public up to the election how Trump’s energy-independence strategy is a huge strategic winner, and how the Democrat’s Green New “no-fossil fuel” deal is a catastrophic loser. It also shows President Trump as a “president keeping America out of Middle East wars.”
However, what President Trump can’t do is ensure a proportional medium, middle-of-the-road war. Such a “middle war” approach loses both the war and the 2020 election. And if Trump loses the 2020 election during a “middle-of-the–road-war”, any Presidential Democrat will immediately concede defeat to Iran no matter what, and reinstate the Iran deal. Therefore, Iran will “win” in the end of a proportional tit-for-tat war. Iran needs to decisively lose on Trump’s watch, and if that is not the goal, Trump shouldn’t fire a single bullet.
In conclusion, President Trump’s firing of John Bolton may have tactically felt good to President Trump at that specific moment. But, strategically, America’s mortal enemies see Bolton’s departure as ensuring President Trump is now unable to take any meaningful military or harsh action in North Korea, or Iran.
Without “Bad Cop/Prep for War” Bolton, President Trump may have turned himself into a hapless, lame duck president, incapable of acting decisively in the face of a war consisting of a constant barrage of Iranian “deniable” attacks.