President Donald Trump’s unilateral exit from the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action (JCPOA) has triggered a frenzied push inside the administration to support color revolution-style regime change operations in Iran.
According to the neoconservative Free Beacon, National Security Director John Bolton has authorized the publication and distribution of an internal white paper urging “a strategy by which the Trump administration can actively work to assist an already aggravated Iranian public topple the hardline ruling regime through a democratization strategy that focuses on driving a deeper wedge between the Iranian people and the ruling regime.”
The white paper was produced by Jim Hanson, a self-proclaimed expert “practitioner of the art of war” who is virtually unknown in Washington. I know of Hanson primarily through his prolific presence on Twitter, where he operates under the handle, “Uncle Jimbo,” generally behaves like a far-right troll, and has eloquently branded me a “#JihaDbag.”
Hanson is the director of the Security Studies Group (SSG), a little-known think tank staffed by former employees of Frank Gaffney’s Center for Security Policy. Like Gaffney, who has spilled gallons of ink trying to prove that Barack Obama was a Muslim, Hanson and his colleagues are fervent anti-Islam zealots who emerged from the fever swamps of right-wing online media, touting their military experience and mock scholarship to market themselves as counter-terror experts.
During the 2016 campaign, Hanson and his crew insinuated themselves into the campaign of Ted Cruz before moving into Trump’s orbit thanks to sponsorship from Steve Bannon and his alt-national security council, the Strategic Initiatives Group. Bannon was eventually removed from the White House under pressure from the national security establishment, but the subsequent replacement of H.R. McMaster with Bolton at the NSC has brought Hanson and his SSG back into the fray. The resurgence of these counter-terror cranks suggests that Trump’s Iran policy is heading towards a dangerous and very strange place.
Back in April 2016, Sarah Lazare interviewed Hanson for the Grayzone Project. His comments are worth revisiting, not only because of the fanaticism he exhibited, but because of the ignorance he displayed when discussing his supposed field of expertise. Here are a few lowlights:
-Hanson offered vigorous support for the religious profiling of suspects by police but wasn’t sure if race should be a factor as well. “Um, no. How about no. I’ll go with no. If I was going to start, that’s not one of the things I would put in the initial profile,” Hanson said when asked if race should be part of law enforcement’s profiling criteria.
-He introduced a vague plan to patrol Muslim-heavy neighborhoods but couldn’t name a single one. According to Hanson, Minneapolis and Boston are hotbeds of “jihadism” and deserve some form of mass surveillance.
-He thought 14-year-old “clock boy” Ahmed Mohamed had engaged in a calculated publicity stunt when he was arrested for bringing a homemade clock to school. “Again, I don’t have any certainty on this, but the evidence points in that direction,” Hanson told Lazare.
-He insisted that I was, in fact, a “Jihadbag.” “That was the use of d-bag, a term of derision in conjunction with jihad since Max is a Palestinian terror apologist,” Hanson explained. “So it was a neologism combining the word jihad and d-bag for him personally.”
To counter allegations of Islamophobia, Hanson’s colleague at SSG, David Reaboi, has pointed to the “great relations” he enjoys with countries like the UAE. SSG’s website is filled with material that echoes the kind of messaging the UAE and Saudi have pumped out against Qatar since they attempted to place the country under an embargo last year.
In June 2017, Hanson headlined a rally outside the Qatari embassy calling on the country to submit to Saudi and UAE demands. He was reportedly joined by Nexus Services, an immigrant bond services company posing as a “church group.” While cashing in on heavily publicized prize giveaways and real estate hustles, the company has been sued for exploiting and defrauding jailed immigrants. Its presence at a rally against Qatar raises the question of whether some entity was paying people to pose as activists.
.@realDonaldTrump held a summit of Muslim leaders Most, including #Saudis, are working together to stop terror funding
While it is unclear if Hanson’s SSG enjoys financial support from the UAE, some of its key allies have been openly embraced by Abu Dhabi.
Last October, Bannon keynoted a conference in Washington aimed at promoting hostility towards the favorite targets of the UAE: Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Qatar. While the event was hosted under the banner of the neoconservative Hudson Institute, I witnessed UAE Ambassador Yousef Otaiba in attendance. The conference was preceded by Bannon’s meeting with UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, and was immediately followed by a $300,000 contract with SCL, the parent company of Bannon’s now-defunct Cambridge Analytica, which the UAE hired to wage an information war against Qatar.
The UAE has also embraced Daniel Pipes, one of the most noxious anti-Muslim ideologues in the US. Last November, Pipes took supporters on a “fact finding expedition” to Dubai and Abu Dhabi, marketing the kingdom as “a model of success in a region that badly needs one.” Pipes has also emerged as an enthusiastic promoter of Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman, whose rise has galvanized the Saudi-UAE-Israeli axis against Iran.
With Bolton in the White House, these forces have converged to produce an Iran policy that is edging quickly from containment to rollback. And Hanson appears to be in the thick of the action, producing a regime change blueprint for Trump’s NSC with enough time to still play “Uncle Jimbo” on Twitter.