Trump And Bolton Are Pushing Us Toward a War with Iran


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I. Background: why should we be worried?

Donald Trump, led by National Security Advisor John Bolton, has put the United States on a collision course for war with Iran.

Bolton announced on Sunday, May 5th, that the U.S. was sending an aircraft carrier and bomber task force to the region in response to what were then unspecified threats from Iran. The goal, according to Bolton’s statement, was to “send a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force.” The U.S. Navy had actually already announced this routine deployment one month prior. Initial reports after Bolton’s statement indicate that the intelligence the Trump team is working from is “unclear.” But Trump officials have now pointed to Iran moving short range missiles via boat in the Persian Gulf – a claim that has been made for years – resulting in Trump sending four additional B-52 bombers.

It’s clear that Trump and Bolton — an unrepentant Iraq war champion who has made it his life’s work to push the United States into war with Iran — are using a previously scheduled deployment to goad Iran into some kind of counteraction that can be used to justify a U.S. military response.

What’s even more worrying is the extremely broad parameters Bolton laid out for what would trigger U.S. military action: an attack by Iran, or any of its proxy or allied forces in the region, on U.S. interests, or those of our allies. Bolton’s triggers for U.S. military action are so broad that one influential ally outside the administration who has been pushing for regime change in Iran for more than a decade interpreted it to include Hamas in Gaza because their efforts “are aimed at distracting the Israelis from whatever Iran may be planning.”

In short, we are closer to war with Iran today than we have ever been. Iran has threatened to abandon certain limits on its nuclear program if it does not receive promised economic benefits codified in the nuclear agreement within 60 days, and the White House is reportedly considering a plan to send upwards of 120,000 U.S. troops to the region.

There appears to be an all hands on deck effort to make regime change great again, and it’s largely happening without public scrutiny, responsible journalism, or any rational justification for the Administration’s increased urgency and hostility.

This memo explains why the risk of a war with Iran is real and what you can do to stop it. Disclaimer: This memo is intended to sound the alarm that current U.S. policy toward Iran could steer our country toward yet another U.S. war in the Middle East. It is NOT intended to assert what we believe the overarching U.S. policy should be towards Iran. In this way, it does not cover the myriad ways the U.S. can and should diplomatically address Iran’s long record of regional meddling, human rights violations, and military actions that violate international law.

How did we get here?

The Iraq War Playbook: From the earliest days of the administration, Trump and his hawkish advisors have used the Iraq War playbook to lay the groundwork for an eventual conflict with Iran. The Trump administration has consistently sought to link seemingly disconnected events to create the narrative that conflict is the only viable option. Trump is following the lead of George W. Bush and his cabinet — including Bolton — who justified the Iraq war with tall tales of weapons of mass destruction and an alleged connection to al-Qaeda.

Stoking War with Iran: Trump has sought confrontation with Iran at every opportunity. He unilaterally violated the Iran nuclear deal, despite repeated independent verification that Iran has been complying with the deal. He has built a war cabinet, including John Bolton and Mike Pompeo, who have both called for bombing Iran, and former U.S. ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, who had consistently brought anti-Iran propaganda to the United Nations. Moreover, Bolton was infamously a chief architect of the Iraq War and has a history of skewing intelligence to shape his worldview and policy preferences. Trump’s war cabinet has installed an “Iran Action Group” — better termed the Iran War Group — at the State Department, led by some of the loudest proponents of violating the Iran deal. Trump’s war cabinet is advised by and parrots incredulous talking points of extremely hawkish “think tanks” that have sought regime change in Iran at every turn. And on top of all that, Trump and the GOP’s biggest campaign donor is Sheldon Adelson, an extreme right-wing hawk who has called for nuking Iran, and exerts considerable influence on Trump’s Middle East policy.

Think Tank Propaganda: Several major Washington DC “think tanks” that in effect serve as interest groups on behalf of the right-wing governments of Israel and Arab Gulf states, are seeking a U.S. confrontation with Iran. These include the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), the Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA), among others. Through their propaganda, they peddle falsehoods about Iran and drive fear about the country’s security challenge to the United States.

Allies Who Want War: Arab Gulf states like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates use their extreme wealth to influence U.S. policy in the Middle East and stoke conflict with Iran. Examples of this include developing close ties to Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who is ostensibly in charge of U.S. policy in the Middle East, and building a new alliance with Israel based on their shared interest of a U.S.-led military confrontation with Iran. Meanwhile, Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who lobbied for the U.S. to violate the Iran deal, takes every opportunity to call for confrontation with Iran.

What recent developments have us worried?

Bolton’s announcement on May 5 was preceded by months of escalatory moves by the Trump administration, starting last October when Trump, Bolton, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo used their megaphones on the international stage at the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in New York to lay the groundwork for a military confrontation with Iran. Trump’s UNGA speech and his remarks at the UN Security Council meeting he chaired on Iran made it abundantly clear that U.S. policy towards Iran is regime change. Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani also made sure that no one had trouble reading between the lines by calling for “revolution” in Iran.  

More Pro-War Propaganda: During the same week as UNGA, Pompeo and Bolton also spoke at a UANI event, which should have been named the U.S.-Gulf Forum for Regime Change in Iran. At the event, Bolton threatened Iran with “hell to pay” and Pompeo claimed Iran “is truly an outlaw regime.” The State Department’s Iran War Group also ran a Hollywood-esque and cringeworthy campaign depicting Iran as an “Outlaw Regime,” accompanied by a 48-page report by the same name.

Twisting Regional Events: In the region, the administration has been increasingly blaming unfavorable events on Iran. When Iraqi protesters in Basra violently attacked diplomatic missions in the province last September – including the Iranian consulate – the White House made a special point to hold Iran responsible. Trump then withdrew U.S. personnel from the U.S. consulate in Basra, again blaming Iran for the violence. Pompeo then claimed the U.S. had solid intelligence that Iran is behind threats to Americans in Iraq (sound familiar?). Meanwhile, after two separate 2017 terror attacks in Iran, the administration essentially said the attacks were Iran’s fault.

U.S. military involvement in the region also creates additional potential flashpoints for an escalation between the United States and Iran. Secretary Pompeo lied to Congress about Saudi and UAE actions in Yemen to justify continuing U.S. military involvement there, in part because of the administration’s desire to confront Iranian influence in the country, and Iranian militarism in the region more generally. In addition, Bolton declared the U.S. military would indefinitely remain in Syria specifically to confront Iran and end Iranian influence, despite having no authorization from Congress for such operations.

Reimposing Harsh Sanctions: Trump reimposed oil and banking sanctions back in November 2018 as part of its “maximum pressure” campaign on Tehran, and recently revoked sanctions waivers to certain countries buying Iranian oil, in a move that seeks to zero-out Iran’s crude exports. At the same time, Trump issued sanctions on Iranian metals exports that target Iranian jobs, not government revenue. Given that this campaign has had little effect on changing Iran’s behavior, it has become clear that Trump, Pompeo, and Bolton’s goal is to give Iran no choice but to cease compliance with the nuclear deal and provide a pretext for armed regime change war. Iran President Hassan Rouhani announced on May 8 that Iran will cease complying with certain elements of the nuclear agreement if certain conditions are not met within 60 days. The administration is also considering revoking sanctions waivers for countries working with Iran on projects aimed at limiting its nuclear production capabilities. Revoking these waivers would in effect cancel these projects, thereby opening a path for Iran to build a nuclear weapon (and providing one more pretext for an attack).

Linking Iran to al-Qaeda: On a track running parallel to Trump’s efforts to goad Iran into withdrawing from the nuclear deal or provoking military action, the administration recently stepped up its years-long effort to falsely claim that Iran and al-Qaeda are working together against the United States. In February, a report emerged that the Trump administration was exploring making a legal case for war with Iran by increasingly focusing on linking Iran to al-Qaeda, thus providing an opening to use the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) to justify war with Iran. And Pompeo recently refused to rule out whether the 2001 AUMF would apply to Iran.

Designating the IRGC a terror group: In April, Trump took the unprecedented step of labeling an arm of Iran’s military, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corp, a terrorist organization, a symbolic move that senior U.S. defense officials opposed because of increased risks to U.S. troops in the region. According to a recent report, “the administration’s decision to designate the Iranian IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization in April likely escalated the tensions that precipitated the showdown that unfurled over the weekend.”

John Bolton – The Arsonist: As noted above, Bolton to this day believes the U.S. invasion of Iraq was the right decision, and he has been calling for war with Iran for nearly two decades. Trump’s push toward war accelerated after hiring Bolton, who soon after assuming his role as National Security Advisor, shepherded the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran deal. In January, he reportedly asked the Defense Department to draw up options for military strikes on Iranian targets after the militia attacks on Basra and Baghdad. “People were shocked. It was mind-boggling how cavalier they were about hitting Iran,” one former senior U.S. official said. Another story from January reported that “[s]enior Pentagon officials are voicing deepening fears that…Bolton could precipitate a conflict with Iran at a time when Mr. Trump is losing leverage in the Middle East by pulling out American troops.” Bolton also recently claimed there is “little doubt” that Iran is committed to developing nuclear weapons and cited no credible evidence for his claim.

Media Complicity: Just like during the run-up to the Iraq war, mainstream U.S. media outlets like the New York Times and CNN are carrying water for Trump and Bolton’s march to war with Iran, often uncritically reporting administration claims without offering any skepticism, scrutiny, or opposing viewpoints. There have been some bright spots that other outlets should be emulating, however. For example, the Daily Beast reported last week that U.S. officials said the intelligence on the supposedly new “threat” from Iran – that Bolton used to justify the Trump administration’s recent military escalation in the region – was overblown.

How would war begin?

Scenario 1 – War of Distraction: These actions, coupled with the Trump administration’s escalatory rhetoric, set up a situation in which any event in the region for which the administration can pin the blame on Iran could be used to justify war. Domestic turmoil in the U.S. – including Trump’s low approval ratings, the fallout from the Mueller investigation, or rising gas prices due to Trump reimposition of oil sanctions on Iran  – could cause Trump to launch a war of distraction to try to create a “rally around the flag” effect.

Scenario 2 – The Accidental War: There is also the danger of an accidental war between the U.S. and Iran. Even if Trump truly does not want a full-scale war with Iran, his top advisers have been pushing one for decades (again, we’ll name John Bolton as an outstanding offender). Influential states in the region, namely Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, have also been driving toward a U.S. conflict with Iran at every opportunity. Given Trump’s lack of attention to detail, and the absurdly broad criteria for U.S. military action Bolton laid out in his May 5 statement, it’s entirely possible that he could be boxed into a conflict. There is also a risk that a misunderstanding in one of the region’s conflicts could result in accidental contact between the U.S. military and Iran, or a U.S. ally’s military and Iran or Iranian proxy or allied militia. In such an event, Trump’s instinct may be to strike back against any perceived or actual Iranian provocation, which would likely be supported by congressional hawks, and result in an uncontrollable military escalation.

II. Digital Mobilization Guide – How can we mobilize to prevent a Trump-Bolton war with Iran?

Strategy & Targets: A core component of the Trump administration’s Iraq War Playbook is normalizing the path to war. Grassroots mobilization is critical to burst the bubble of normalization, intervene on anti-Iranian sentiment, build the narrative that the U.S. public — and lawmakers’ constituents — see through this warmongering scam, and demand Congress stop it in its tracks before it’s too late.

Realistically, an act of war by the Trump administration is highly likely to circumvent Congress altogether. Alternatively, if Congress were asked to vote on an authorization for the use of military force (AUMF), starting to organize opposition during that crisis moment will be too late.

Thus, it is critical to build grassroots pressure now. Win Without War prioritizes building broad based opposition to a U.S.-Iran war in two ways:

  1. Identifying National Security Advisor John Bolton as a key driver towards military confrontation;
  2. Constituent advocacy to Congress to curtail unchecked executive authority in foreign policy.

Elected officials in Congress are likely to have the loudest megaphones to challenge and offer counter-narratives to the Trump administration’s war hawks. Therefore, we must urge Congress to speak out now to make it more difficult for the administration to take unilateral action. We must work to stiffen Congress’ spines by building a base of opposition in the event of a sudden vote on war or the launch of an unconstitutional war without Congress’ say-so. Doing so can also set the political foundation for supporting the potential impeachment of warmongering administration officials like John Bolton.

In order to build grassroots awareness and opposition, we must also educate the public on how close we are to war with Iran through digital mobilization. Below you will find successful grassroots messaging frames and asks, and additional digital resources for mobilization:

Asks: We recommend urging grassroots activists to voice their opposition to a U.S.-Iran war in the broadest sense, identifying it as “John Bolton’s war with Iran”, as well as ask their Senators and Representatives to cosponsor companion bills in the Senate and House: S.1039 and H.R. 2354, the Prevention of Unconstitutional War with Iran Act of 2019, introduced by Sens. Tom Udall, Dick Durbin, and Rand Paul in the Senate and Rep. Anna Eshoo in the House.

As of May 13, the Senate bill has 12 cosponsors and the House bill has 13. Constituents whose members of Congress have already cosponsored can thank them and urge them to use their media platforms to  speak out against U.S. armed conflict with Iran. See cosponsors for the House bill here and for the Senate bill here.

This bill is primarily an organizing vehicle to drive pressure. It affirms the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution of 1973, both of which state that a preventive attack against Iran without authorization from Congress is illegal and unconstitutional.

However, a war would still be possible if Congress votes to authorize it, or if the Trump administration either claims that Iran attacked first, or simply flat-out ignores the Constitution (for which there is ample precedent).Because the legislation would not itself directly stop a Bolton war with Iran, we recommend language such as “put up a roadblock to war” or “throw a wrench in Bolton’s plans for war,” emphasizing what the bill will do rather than what it won’t do.

Additional asks for constituent contact: In addition to cosponsoring H.R.2354 / S.1039, members of Congress can take positive action to prevent war with Iran in several ways:

  • speaking out publicly against the administration’s narrative that war with Iran is inevitable;
  • reiterating support for the JCPOA, Iran nuclear agreement;
  • and supporting the end of U.S. military involvement in regional conflicts by withdrawing the U.S. military from Iraq, Syria and Yemen (through which a confrontation with Iranian-backed forces could be used as a pretext for escalation against Iran).

Grassroots Messaging Frames and Language (feel free to copy directly):

Sample Petitions:

Sample Campaign Frames:

  • The Trump administration is ripping a page straight out of the Bush administration’s Iraq War playbook: Cut off diplomatic options. Make a government look 100% evil. Open the floodgates to war.
    • Aircraft carrier deployment: Bolton created the conditions for military action with Iran by asserting that a routine carrier deployment to the Middle East was meant to counter Iran. He also laid out a broad set of standards that would trigger a U.S. military response.
    • UNGA : At the United Nations, Trump demanded a roomful of world leaders get behind regime change in Iran. That’s Washington-speak for war. Then, ultra-hawk John Bolton followed that up by threatening that Iran would have “HELL to PAY.”
    • Ending the amity treaty: The Trump administration yanked the United States out of a six-decade treaty of goodwill with Iran, calling Iran’s government “henchmen” and “a rogue regime.”
    • UANI posters: The Trump administration made B-list movie posters to normalize the path to war with Iran. It would be funny, if it weren’t so deadly serious. This level of blatant propaganda for war with Iran is straight out of the Iraq War playbook – Step 1: Get the American public to think Iran is evil; Step 2: Call for regime change; Step 3: Start a devastating war of choice with Iran.
  • The Iran regime change industry is gaining power and dragging us down the path to war. Here are some of the key actors in that industry:
    • John Bolton: Fifteen years ago, ultra-hawk John Bolton helped engineer the Iraq War. And Congress let him. Now, Bolton’s back — and desperate to do it all again with Iran. Bolton once wrote, “to stop Iran’s bomb, bomb Iran,” just as the US and world powers were inking a deal to rein in Iran’s nuclear program. Having helped pull the US out of the successful Iran nuclear agreement, Bolton has reportedly single-handedly pushed the Pentagon to draw up war plans for Iran.
    • Think tanks: Discredited “experts” get top billing in major news outlets like the Wall Street Journal advocating for regime change in Iran. Regime change is Washington-speak for death, destruction, and war. It’s a failed “strategy” that belongs in the dustbin of history — not paraded in major headlines.
    • Iran Action Group: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is building Trump’s Iran regime change army. Pompeo just appointed a bunch of people to formal positions in the U.S. government whose job is regime change in Iran. And what’s even scarier? They’re not the only ones. This new group at the State Department is just one small piece of a large and powerful Iran-regime-change industry.
    • Other regime change industry players you can highlight: Sen. Tom Cotton, Mark Dubowitz, Rudy Giuliani, Sheldon Adelson, and did we mention John Bolton?!
  • Sanctions are economic war on the Iranian people.
    • Harm of sanctions on the Iranian people: Trump’s sanctions will only serve to hurt ordinary people, especially everyday working-class Iranians, while empowering hardliners. The impact of years of sanctions on the Iranian economy, combined with government mismanagement and corruption has resulted in an unprecedented crisis of inflation. The value of Iran’s currency, the rial, has already hit historic lows and the Iranian people are facing rapidly declining wages, skyrocketing food prices, and difficulty getting medicine. This is on top of damages from unprecedented flooding across the country — for which much international relief aid was also blocked by sanctions. Sanctions hurt ordinary people, and everyday working class Iranians the most.
    • False claims of standing with the Iranian people: It is true that Iranians have risen up in cities across the country against government financial mismanagement and political repression. But let’s be clear: Sanctions will only starve these homegrown efforts for change. And other harmful Trump policies, like the Muslim Ban, make clear this administration doesn’t really care about the Iranian people. Anyone who claims otherwise is pushing for one thing: War.
    • Sanctions snapback: Trump reimposed harsh oil and banking sanctions that were even more painful after Iran was hit with massive floods. If we can stir up some serious grassroots pressure to oppose sanctions on the Iranian people, we can make stopping the Iran war hawks a top priority in Congress in the coming months.
  • Media Blackout:
  • International media outlets are not covering the lived realities of the many Iranians facing the inflation crisis, harsh sanctions, and environmental disasters — some of which described above.
  • Yet the megaphone is often given uncritically to Iran hawks and self-proclaimed experts on Iran calling for regime-change and war — often by co-opting the “will of the Iranian people” without lifting up actual progressive activists in Iran who are fighting for social change.
  • If we can encourage media outlets to scrutinize information from the administration and think tanks, we can mute the megaphone for war from dominating the narrative.
  • Proactively, we can demand outlets feature Iranian and Iranian diaspora antiwar voices and journalists covering the lived realities of life in Iran from regular working class Iranians and activists working for change.
  • As progressive activists, we need to speak out against a war with Iran, not despite everything else going on but because of it.
    • Why now: In this moment, it is hard not to feel afraid and overwhelmed. Congress appears reluctant to hold Trump accountable for his corruption and illegal activities, like obstructing the Mueller probe. Senators trampled over the bravery of survivors of sexual assault to confirm Trump’s pro-torture, pro-surveillance, totally unqualified nominee to a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court. Children are still locked in cages at our border. And regime-change-obsessed warmongers are dragging us toward a war with Iran that would be like the Iraq War ten times over.
    • Why progressives: War with Iran will sink the U.S. deeper into war debt at the same time that Trump is doling out tax cuts and corporate welfare. War with Iran will shrink domestic budgets for health care, education, and housing while stuffing the pockets of defense industry CEOs. A war with Iran will hurt both the Iranian people and the American people. It will help no one but Trump and the war hawks circling him. We must not let it happen. And we can stop it by mobilizing a broad-based unified outcry against a U.S.-Iran war.  
    • Why we have hope: Together, we can stop this war. In this moment of crisis, millions of activists around the country are rising up together to defeat the forces of bigotry and hate. We cannot let Trump’s hateful administration break our determination to ALSO stop a Trump-Bolton war with Iran.

Sample social media and graphics:

Congressional Action


Trump is threatening a regime change war in #Iran. #Bolton is threatening Iran with “HELL to PAY.” Demand the Senate support the @SenatorTomUdall @randpaul @SenatorDurbin bill to block the path to a reckless & unconstitutional war with Iran:

Trump and his war cabinet are zooming down the path to war with #Iran — but @SenatorTomUdall, @randpaul, and @SenatorDurbin have introduced a bill to intervene. Demand your senators support #S1039 now:

House of Representatives:

Trump is threatening a regime change war in #Iran. John Bolton is threatening Iran with “HELL to PAY.” Demand the Senate support the @RepAnnaEshoo bill to block Trump’s path to a reckless and unconstitutional war with Iran:

Trump and his war cabinet are zooming down the path to war with #Iran — but @RepAnnaEshoo has a bill to intervene. Demand your Representative supports #HR2354 now:

All of Congress:

?TELL CONGRESS: Don’t let Trump tweet us into a horrific war of choice with #Iran. Speak out now.  

Last May, Trump and his war cabinet axed the Iran deal and put us on a collision course to war with Iran. Now, a U.S.-Iran war is closer than ever. Add your voice & demand Congress step in to stop Trump from dragging us into a terrible war with Iran:

The Trump administration is ripping a page straight out of the #IraqWar Playbook. We CANNOT let this terrible administration drag us into a reckless war with #Iran. Demand Congress act:

Ultra-hawk John Bolton helped engineer the #IraqWar. And Congress let him. Now, Bolton’s back in power as Trump’s National Security Advisor — and desperate for a war with #Iran. Demand the Senate block Bolton’s path to war:

War with Iran will hurt both the Iranian and American people. It will help no one but Trump and the war hawks circling him. We must not let it happen. Stop a U.S.-#Iran war now:

Stop Bolton’s war with Iran:

National Security Advisor John #Bolton is ratcheting up a war with #Iran.We just deployed warships to their doorsteps, on top of suffocating sanctions & killing the Iran deal last year. We must stop him. Add your name: Stop Bolton’s war with Iran now!

John #Bolton and Mike #Pompeo are zooming down the path to a needless, destructive and costly war with #Iran. We must stop them now. Add your name before it’s too late.

The Trump administration, led by #Bolton, is stoking the flames of war with #Iran. Add your name if you will do everything you can to stop John Bolton from waging a devastating war with Iran.

John #Bolton has been obsessed with waging war on #Iran for decades. And we must do everything we can to stop him. Add your name: Stop Bolton’s war with Iran now!

Impeach Bolton:

Tell Congress: John #Bolton is a dangerous warmonger and we must impeach him!

In just 1 year, ultra-hawk #Bolton has destroyed multiple, vital international treaties, and is dragging us inches from two wars of choice with Venezuela and Iran. Tell Congress: Impeach John Bolton!

John #Bolton is trying to drive us to war with #Iran, but he is not a permanent fixture. He is impeachable. Tell Congress to act now.

From engineering the devastating Iraq War, to stoking the flames of war with #Iran now — John #Bolton’s track record is reckless and cruel. Tell Congress to impeach him now.

General/Human Costs of War

Trump’s sanctions are a tool of war. They starve everyday Iranians, stifle Iranian activism, and drag the U.S. closer to a devastating war with #Iran. Instead, we must demand diplomacy and peace!

In the cacophony of calls for war with #Iran the voices of everyday Iranians and the antiwar Iranian diaspora have been absent from U.S media coverage. Those of us who want peace must demand that these voices be included in the discussion.

The pounding of the war drums for war with #Iran are drowning out the voices of the Iranians and the Iranian diaspora who will be impacted this war. Media outlets need to lift up these voices now!

While the #Iran hawks push sanctions to look tough, the truth is they hurt ordinary Iranians who need food and medicine. Sanctions are a weapon of war. We cannot allow them to suffocate the Iranian economy any longer.

Trump’s sanctions only serve to hurt ordinary people, especially working-class Iranians, while empowering hardliners. Paired with government corruption and disastrous floods, sanctions are a threat to the security of the very people that the Iran war hawks claim to want to help.

After unprecedented flooding across #Iran, the US used sanctions to block relief to Iranians in crisis. Sanctions do not hurt government hardliners or the Revolutionary Guard, they hurt ordinary Iranians.

Sample graphics — (click on each image to download)

All unbranded graphics  — including memes — here for download.