Robert Azzi: America, Iran, Venezuela: Be afraid. Be very afraid.

  • U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to the press about Venezuela on Jan. 26 at the United Nations. AP

For the Monitor
Published: 2/3/2019 12:10:31 AM

Last week, I got a thank-you card signed by a group of students from Somersworth High School with whom I spent time discussing Khaled Hosseini’s book, A Thousand Splendid Suns. They had read the novel with insight – kudos to their teacher – had prepared thoughtful questions in advance, and were interested in and prepared to go beyond the printed page to further their understanding of worlds far-removed from New Hampshire’s Seacoast.

It was fun; if only all adults – especially adults tasked with ensuring our security – were as curious and engaged.

Last week, before the Senate Intelligence Committee, CIA Director Gina Haspel and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, along with other senior intelligence officials, publicly discussed their assessment of national security threats, assessments that contradict several of President Donald Trump’s positions and assertions.

For example, Haspel said Iran is still in compliance with the Iran nuclear deal (from which Trump has unilaterally withdrawn America), while DNI Coats said that ISIS hasn’t been defeated and remains a strategic threat in Iraq and Syria. They testified that North Korea isn’t likely to either denuclearize or end its nuclear programs and, as Coats offered, that our national security is directly threatened by climate change.

Not one person suggested that America was confronting an existential crisis along its southern border.

Not one.

Yet, in response to their presentation, President Trump tweeted that the intelligence officials (whom he appointed) were “extremely passive and naive,” that they should “go back to school.”

Such rhetoric unsettles allies, emboldens enemies.

In 2001, immediately after al-Qaida’s attacks on America, neo-conservatives, from Vice President Dick Cheney on down, realized that they could exploit the attack in order to advance their long-held imperialist dream of invading Iraq and re-making the Middle East.

They invaded Iraq in 2003 with disastrous consequences for which we, and the world, are still paying.

Unbelievably, these men are back in power today.

Today, sadly, these unreconstructed cheerleaders and apologists who were part of that first Orientalist adventure – John Bolton, Mike Pompeo and Elliott Abrams – are advancing regime change in Iran and Venezuela.

That troika, today known as Trump’s national security adviser, his secretary of state and his newly appointed special envoy to Venezuela, want to go to war.

It worked well before, didn’t it?

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Bolton is a longtime supporter of the Mujahedeen Khalq (MEK), a cultist Iranian dissident group that advocates for regime change in Iran. MEK, which was on our State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations from 1997 to 2012, is still suspected of the assassination of six Americans and the bombings of American companies in Iran.

Pompeo is a well-known Islamophobe and supporter of “enhanced interrogation” techniques. After the Boston Marathon attack Pompeo, in spite of evidence to the contrary, falsely suggested that American Muslims were “potentially complicit in these acts,” painting a target on the back of America’s Muslim population and marginalizing an entire community.

Abrams was convicted of lying to Congress during the Iran-Contra Affair for helping to organize illegal financing of Nicaragua’s Contra rebels (and pardoned by President George H.W. Bush). During the Reagan administration he tried to whitewash a massacre by U.S.-funded death squads in El Salvador of a thousand men, women and children. In 2002 the Observer reported that Abrams gave the green light to an attempted coup against Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.

Many of the dictatorial regimes and death squads that have plagued Central and South America, including in Chile, Argentina, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala have American – and Abrams’s – fingerprints on them and are directly related to the humanitarian crisis throughout the region.

We helped break them all.

Today, Abrams, with fellow regime-change advocates Bolton and Pompeo, stand together to further hegemonic interventionist interests while at the same time serving an ignorant authoritarian-wannabe whose sole interest is to exploit resentments and tensions to further his own power, political interests – and profits.

Pompeo recently began a speech in Cairo, ”In my office, I keep a Bible open on my desk to remind me of God and his word, and the truth.”

The truth is that the true evangelical calling of such rapacious men is not to serve God but to serve Mammon, to serve the narrow, imperialist and hegemonic interests of selfish and ignorant men.

“I’ve crossed paths since with men like him,” Hosseini writes in And the Mountains Echoed. “... What I have learned is that you dig a little and you find they’re all the same, give or take. Some are more polished, granted ... but really they’re all unhappy little boys sloshing around in their own rage. They feel wronged. They haven’t been given their due. No one loved them enough. Of course they expect you to love them. They want to be held, rocked, reassured. But it’s a mistake to give it to them. They can’t accept it. They can’t accept the very thing they’re needing. They end up hating you for it.”

Today, it’s they who should “go back to school”; I recommend they go to Somersworth High School.

That would make me feel a lot safer.

(Robert Azzi, a photographer and writer who lives in Exeter, can be reached at His columns are archived at

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