Read the news very carefully. The war looming with Iran is a racket.
watching a crisis unfold before us. The last few days have not inspired much
hope in me – the United States and Iran have been playing an awfully dangerous
game of cat and mouse. The Trump Administration has openly aggressed on the
people of Iran, with the unconditional support of the Saudi Arabian theocrats
and the Israeli neocons. Nothing good can come from this.
Let me be very clear here. I have no sympathy for the regime in Tehran. It is theocratic, authoritarian, and bigoted. Neither Iran’s citizenry nor American people have any interest in regime change. The only people who stand to gain are American arms manufacturers, Saudi monarchists, and the politicians who seek to curry favor with their militaristic benefactors.
Strikingly, the president has managed to be an even more disruptive and destabilizing force than his predecessor. President Obama was not exactly a saint in MENA. We can thank the Obama administration for the failed state of Libya, the ongoing civil war (and genocide) in Yemen and helping arm ISIS. Americans are excellent at fucking up the Middle East for personal profit. We’ve been doing it for a long time.
One of the few Middle East policy triumphs of the Obama administration was the signing of the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action”, more colloquially referred to as the Iran Deal. This deal was fairly simple: in exchange for restraining their civilian nuclear program (in a way that would make it impossible to utilize for military purposes) and allowing the U.N. total access to all facilities in order to ensure compliance, the United States would lift sanctions in order to prevent the Iranian economy from going “boom.”
The results were striking. American & European businesses began integrating themselves into the Iranian economy, spurring economic growth for all parties involved. Iran upheld its pledges, knowing full well that their country’s fragile economy depended on it. For a moment, the American foreign policy establishment could take a breath and relax.
The Geopolitics of the Iran Deal
Shortly after the signing of the deal, President Trump catapulted into office on a wave of right-wing populism. During his campaign, Trump’s distaste for the Iran Deal was palpable. He openly condemned and promised to repeal the Iran Deal, even calling it “the worst deal ever made.”
His critique of the Iran Deal centered around the fact that it didn’t fundamentally change Iranian foreign policy: the Persians are still engaged in a brutal cold war with the Saudis. This is important. The Saudi Arabian monarchy and the theocratic republicans in Iran have two fundamentally different views of what the Middle East ought to look like (in terms of religion and political ideology), and contest each other in regional conflicts constantly. As such, the Iranian’s finance terrorist groups and militias throughout the region. The Iranians are directly competing against three (more or less) allied regional powers: the Saudis, Israel, and the Egyptians.
Iran Deal was designed to prevent the “rogue state” from becoming a nuclear
state. It is directly in the Iranian’s interest to develop nuclear weapons. Israel
has a stock of nuclear weapons & the Saudis openly have
nuclear ambitions (and allegedly a role in the Pakistani nuclear
program). Moreover, both states are almost unconditionally supported by the
United States, the uncontested military superpower of the world.
Thus, what the Obama administration did was shift the Persian’s incentives away from developing nuclear weapons. This was extremely controversial within the borders of the Islamic Republic. To understand this bit, you’ll need to understand how the Iranian government functions. You know how Iran is the “Islamic Republic” of Iran? Well, there are two separate executive roles. The Supreme Leader (the “Islamic” part) is an unelected, extremely powerful executive who works alongside (and is even occasionally subservient to) various religious institutions. Meanwhile, the President is elected (albeit candidates are vetted by the religious institutions). The current president is a man named Hassan Rouhani, who is (comparatively) moderate.
President Rouhani played an awfully dangerous game and made the mistake of trusting the United States. He pushed for and defended the Iran Deal against the Iranian fundamentalists and hardliners within the clerical branches of the government, who have never been very inclined to trust the Americans. Rouhani has been put under immense political pressure from the more conservative elements of Iranian civil society, including the Supreme Leader. He really put his ass on the line in making this deal, which is part of why the falling through is so egregious. When America punishes compromise, our adversaries are less likely to utilize diplomacy in the future.
Escalation, Saudis, Violations… oh my!
Prior to Trump withdrawing the United States from the deal, there were mild escalations: Iran continued testing (non-nuclear) missiles and financing proxy militias throughout the region, and America began reinstating economic sanctions against Iran. Things went awry in May of 2018.
On May 8th, 2018, President Trump formally withdrew from the Iran Deal. The important thing to note here is that, until this point, Iran had complied with the restrictions and allowed the IAEA full access to their nuclear facilities. His withdrawal was unilateral.
As everybody predicted, the European Union and the various European states involved in the deal were deeply upset. The Europeans have not given up on the Nuclear Deal. They believe very strongly in maintaining the economic benefits (and lack of a nuclearized Iran) gained through the deal. This has become a major area of contention between the United States and our transatlantic friends. The Europeans continue to defy the president and his demands, and our relationship with them continues to deteriorate.
After withdrawing, the Trump administration began carrying out a strategy of “maximum pressure” against the government in Iran by undercutting the core sectors of their economy. The premise is simple: bring the Iranian people to their knees, and the government has no choice but to either cave to America’s demands or face revolt from those who can’t afford to eat. Increasingly severe sanctions have been placed upon Iran’s energy/manufacturing/financial sectors, exacerbating the country’s economic downturn. The situation is so dire that the International Court of Criminal Justice ruled that the United States must lift sanctions on humanitarian resources such as food and medicine. We did not.
Our president continually posits himself as the defender of the Iranian people, even as he actively attempts to starve them. Let’s be clear here: The United States does not oppose Tehran on humanitarian grounds. The United States has fervently backed Saudi Arabia, a totalitarian Salafi monarchy comparable only to North Korea in its brutality. The United States opposes Iran because Iran does not roll over and allow Americans to dictate their economy. It is worth noting, very quickly, that the current regime in Iran only exists because the United States overthrew their secular government to prevent the nationalization of the Iranian oil sector. Trump is not helping the Iranian people – he is trying to make their existence so intolerable that they lash out at their government.
On April 8th, 2019, the United States registered the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (the personal military detachment/secret police of the Supreme Leader) as a terrorist organization. In response, the Persians label our military a terror group as well. Around this time, the United States begins selling nuclear technology to the Saudi monarchy. Shortly after, the Trump Administration begins threatening to sanction anybody who buys oil from Iran.
Blowing the Gasket
Between the crippling economic sanctions, the cold war, and being surrounded by Saudi-friendly nuclear states, things aren’t looking good for Iran. Relations have completely deteriorated between us and the Persians. And again, I would like to emphasize that all of this has been continually initiated by one side – America.
On May 8th, the gasket was blown. Iran announced that they were not abiding by certain aspects of the deal and threatening to even leave if the situation didn’t change. As touched on earlier, the domestic situation in Iran isn’t great. The United States betrayal of the agreement led to massive backlash within the Islamic Republic. If things do not change promptly, the fundamentalist hardliners will be calling the shots.
Things are on the precipice. The United States, operating on Israeli intelligence that alleges a threat (that is disputed by our own allied coalition forces in Iraq), has moved an aircraft carrier and strike group into the Persian Gulf. The president is unrepentant about his willingness to put troops on the ground if further escalations occur. Iraq is occupied by both American soldiers and the Iranian-backed Shia militias that want us gone.
The United States has very few allies here. The Europeans are bitter and uncooperative and refuse to stop buying Iranian oil (much less invade Iran). The Iraqis, as an ally to both sides of the conflict, are terrified of getting caught between the two of us. A war with Iran would be disastrous, and even more restrained military actions will almost certainly lead to conflict with far-reaching effects.
This is a racket. Trump loves to paint himself as “hard on Iran.” The Persians are not the aggressors here. They have done exactly what one would expect them to do. The Obama administration allowed them to avoid the wrath of the American empire and salvage their economy at the same time, at the cost of developing a nuclear deterrent against their many nearby threats. We changed our minds, and Iran has the right to “violate” an agreement that the other side is not holding up.
We finance their Persian’s mortal enemies. In fact, we help said enemies carry out illegal and genocidal strikes against civilian agricultural and transportation targets in Shia-controlled areas of Yemen. Our nearby allies have a nuclear stockpile of their own. We wage economic warfare to starve the Iranian people into revolution. We have overthrown multiple governments in the region, each time to great disaster. We make an agreement to stop the Iranian people’s hunger, and then we break it.
Iran is a bad guy. But are they the only one?
We must not aggress further. Trump claims he does not want war, and I hope to God that is true. I agree that the Persians should not have nuclear weapons, but everything Trump has done until now has only incentivized them to build the bomb. You prevent nuclear proliferation through diplomacy, not starvation and bombs.
Prominent Democrats, such as Bernie Sanders & Elizabeth Warren, have decried this reckless and brutal foreign policy. Yet, even a Sanders administration would be unable to salvage our relations with Iran. The status quo is immensely destabilizing, and blatantly amoral. The people of Iran are poorer, the extremists are more powerful, and a single terrorist attack (real or fabricated) could send us plunging into war.
Trump thinks bullying Iran makes him look tough. It probably does, to people who know and care very little for foreign affairs. With the election looming ahead, nothing invigorates Americans more than beating the war drum. Do me a favor, folks – don’t fall for the scam. Everything Iran has done was in response to American aggression. I hate to say this folk, but America is on the wrong side of a conflict with an Islamic theocracy. Be vocal about this. What is happening now is not okay. If we are to repair America’s image throughout the world, we must begin by preventing our president from erratically turning the Middle East into rubble.
The left must articulate a coherent foreign policy that prioritizes the well-being of humankind. We must not pretend as if actors such as Iran are positive forces in the world, but we must also be willing to coexist with them. We must value diplomacy, soft power, and economic incentives over blockades, bombs, and starvation. Let us hope that this is resolved quickly and peacefully and let us hope that our next president is a wise one. They will have more than a few holes to repair.