The new US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has declared war on Iran. The location and timing that he made his declaration was just as important if not more so than the content. What was not said expressly is more important that what was said. Crucially not mentioned is how Pompeo expects to convince American allies more so than the Iranian regime.

It only takes one sentence to declare war and this was evident from his opening remarks. Yet Pompeo’s declaration of war was 12 points long that go beyond just nuclear matters demanding that Tehran must permanently and verifiable abandon its nuke bid, halt missile development, end support for terror, and stop threatening to destroy Israel. He didn’t offer Tehran anything in return and didn’t envisage an exchange of live fire. His main tool was truly tough sanctions that he expected would make the regime come to its senses. There was nothing dramatically new in the 11 page content that emphasized on how Trump would be different from Obama. The tone of the paper was patriotic; that the deal is not the objective but the goal is - to protect the American people.

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The significance of Pompeo’s declaration of war on Iran was the location and the timing. He made his declaration at the Heritage Foundation in Washington D.C. on a Monday morning just 19 days after starting his job. His presentation was an abrupt and a short stop because he was on the way to the CIA for the swearing-in ceremony of its first female Director.Reading between the lines about this illustrates a characteristic of the Trump administration. Few people at the front last long in the Trump administration so making an important declaration quickly to enter the history books is essential for any Trump subordinate. Such declarations of policy need to be in line with Republican Party thoughts and is provided by those behind the scenes.


Here it was evident that Heritage Foundation had a significant role in drafting Pompeo’s declaration of war on Iran perhaps more so than the government office he leads and represents. This is not surprising. The Heritage Foundation and its scholars have been working on the same issues for a very long time. Pompeo certainly wouldn’t have had the time to write the declaration so soon after entering office! Pompeo openly acknowledged this. He thanked the Heritage Foundation as having shaped his thinking on matters of the world and public policy issues.

The Heritage is an American conservative public policy think tank that first took a leading role during the presidency of Ronald Reagan, whose main policies were taken from Heritage's policy study Mandate for Leadership. The Heritage has since continued to have a significant influence in US public policy making, and is considered to be one of the most influential conservative research organizations in the United States. After the 2016 election of Donald Trump as U.S. President, Heritage board member Rebekah Mercer played a major role in shaping his transition team.

As with any policy paper of any think tank the academic authors enjoy emphasizing that facts are worth recounting if only for the purpose of ensuring that subsequent arrangements do not repeat them.This is also essential for public consumption as the justification of a decision taken to differentiate between Presidents Trump and Obama. And so Pompeo read them out even if they were already well known. The highlight was that the Iran agreement failed to guarantee the safety of the American people from the risk created by the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran; that the JCPOA put the world at risk because of its fatal flaws.

Pompeo then turned to the path forward. This was repeating the Oval Office view that is already well known. There was nothing new in his revelation that America’s commitment to the Iran strategy by President Trump laid down in October 2017 remains. It will now be executed outside of the JCPOA. The US will ensure Iran has no path to a nuclear weapon - not now, not ever.

The strategy of achieving this goals falls along several lines of effort. The most active one is financial pressure on the Iranian regime mainly in the form of sanctions. In Cold War Heritage Foundation terminology Pompeo also listed the passive means including deterring Iranian aggression and ensuring freedom of navigation on the waters in the region. On the tactical level he said that the US will also deploy to prevent and counteract any Iranian malign cyber activity and track down Iranian operatives and their Hezbollah proxies operating around the world.

What was not said expressly is more important than what was said. Although the words regime change were not used the inference was clear. The understanding was paraphrased from a previous Heritage policy paper to support a previous Republican administration - that of President Bush's - also about the Islamic world and also about the Middle East.In doing so Pompeo recognized the recent Iranian street protests. He stressed that the timeline for the success of sanctions will be decided by the Iranian people. That means that at the end of the day, the Iranian people will either suffer because of the sanctions or they can end them by making a choice about their leadership. If they make the decision quickly, that would be wonderful.

Crucially not mentioned is how Pompeo expects to convince American allies more so than the Iranian regime about the termination of the 2015 Iran agreement and the imposition of sanctions. Perhaps that was discussed privately later on the same day at the CIA swearing-in ceremony of its first female Director? 


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