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June 21, 2019 / 0 Comments / Uncategorized

War with Iran?


During the Obama administration, it looked like the
United States and Iran were making progress towards more normal relations. The
culmination of this was the historic nuclear deal. When Trump was elected president,
he quickly backed out of the deal—although he presumably neither understood the
deal nor cared what was in it. While it would be odd to attribute an actual planned
foreign policy doctrine to Trump (other than “make money for Trump”), his
administration took an aggressive stance towards Iran—and this became
increasingly so as old-school hardliners and hawks, such as John Bolton and
Mike Pompeo. Recently tensions have flared with accusations that Iran attacked ships with mines and shot
down an American drone
. As it now stands, the United States claims that Iran
attacked the ships and shot down the drone in international waters. Iran claims
they did not attack the shops and while acknowledging they shot down the drone
they claim it was over their territory.

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Laying aside political and nationalistic biases, both
the United States and Iran have credibility issues. While Iran is not known for
its honesty, Trump and the Trump administration have no credibility; lying is
simply the nature of this administration. As such, the matter cannot be settled
by an appeal to credibility—although, sadly, Iran seems to be less inclined to
relentless lying than Trump.

The United States also has a history of creating
incidents and lying in order to “justify” going to war. The misrepresented Gulf of Tonkin
incident was used by Johnson (a Democrat) to justify open warfare against North
Vietnam
and Bush (a Republican) got the United States to invade Iran with
lies about weapons of mass destruction. While past deceptions do not prove that
there must be a present deception, they do provide grounds for suspicion: what
has been done before certainly can be done again. From a critical thinking
standpoint, it is reasonable to doubt both the United States and Iran in this
matter and suspend judgment. There is also the question of whether the United
States should attack Iran.

The
hawks of the Trump administration apparently persuaded Trump to launch a strike
on Iran; then Trump  claims to have changed
his mind when he learned of the likely number of casualties
. This seems to
indicate an odd split in the Trump administration. On the one hand, Trump has
advisors who have long favored regime change in Iran and tend to favor a more militaristic
foreign policy. On the other hand, Trump, perhaps
because of his experience avoiding serving in Vietnam,
has presented
himself as reluctant to get America involved in another war. Unfortunately,
Trump does not seem to have any meaningful doctrine to define a policy of when to
use force—he seems to, as with other things, act on impulse or in accord with
the last thing he heard. But if Trump does have a general policy of being reluctant
to start a war, then that is certainly a laudable policy—especially considering
recent wars.

While Iran consistently acts in ways contrary to
the interests of the ruling class of the United States, a war seems like a terrible
idea. While Iran is not identical to Iraq, the Iraq war provides an excellent
cautionary tale. There is no doubt that the United States could defeat Iran and
do so with impunity. The problem lies in the aftermath—as Iraq showed. While Iran
is seen as a “bad actor”, it is a stable and functional state—something that
should not be destroyed lightly. If the United States removes the existing
ruling class, it is not clear that we would be able to build a functional
government in the new Iran—even if we airdropped billions upon billions of
dollars onto the country. While Iran might not end up like Iraq, it might
follow the Syrian model and plunge into chaos and war. While it could be argued
that a wrecked Iran would be good for the United States, it seems even more likely
that this would be worse for the United States—and certainly worse for the
region and the Iranian people.

While we should have no illusions about Iran, it
is also important to not have delusions about Iran. It is preferable to try to
work things out with diplomacy—as the Obama administration tried. This
requires, obviously enough, sticking to the deals we make—or at least only
breaking them for excellent reasons, rather than from petty impulses.

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