urrent U.S. saber-rattling over Iran evokes a very strong sense of déjà vu: a weak but tough-talking president in need of a distraction, a military buildup in the Persian Gulf and officials travelling abroad to find allies in a bid to censure a Middle Eastern country.
There are more than a few shades of the 2003 invasion of Iraq in current hyperbole about Iran.
That a similar scenario is playing out despite the fiasco that was Iraq speaks volumes about the Trump administration. The occupation of Iraq cost hundreds of thousands of lives and fleeced U.S. taxpayers out of more than $2 trillion despite a failing effort that was eventually shown to be unjustified and built on a foundation of lies.
One would like to think Americans won’t be taken in – fool me once … – but things don’t always go that way. Allied countries, however, are likely to be much more skeptical this time around – the coalition of the willing ain’t what it used to be.
Iran isn’t Iraq. It’s much bigger and controls a strategic waterway through which as much as a third of the world’s oil flows. It’s in many ways worse than Iraq in terms of its policies and affronts to human standards, but that alone isn’t enough to justify, say, a massive bombing campaign (the U.S. won’t be eager to put boots on the ground).
From crackdowns and killing of protesters, to the seizure of hostages and the murder of foreign nationals, Iran’s militant rulers have won themselves few friends in the world. That’s made it easy to international support for sanctions, especially those related to controlling Iran’s bid for nuclear weapons, but there’s no appetite for the death and destruction that would come with the war. Even for hawks, the interests of the oil industry may trump the desire to impose U.S. will on yet another reluctant state.
Therein lies the issue that arises in any discussion about the region: oil. We might not care for the people we get it from, but we want it nonetheless.
So far, concerns about Iran’s nuclear ambitions and very real support for Islamic militants play second fiddle to the flow of oil, particularly to China and Russia, both of which have veto power at the UN Security Council.
The U.S., too, has much at stake in the region. While chastising Tehran, their hold on the moral high ground is precarious.
Having invaded Iraq under dubious pretexts, the U.S. position was steadily undermined by revelations that the reasons for war were unfounded.
Iran may indeed be a major threat to the region – there are plenty of experts who make a case for that stance. But the Americans, having been exposed as liars in Iraq, cannot now count on support for action against Iran, if only increased sanctions led by the United Nations.
Ironically, the case against Iran is much stronger than it was in Iraq. Iran’s previous nuclear posturing and fundamentalist bent are far larger threats. Still, that country is only of interest because of its natural gas and oil reserves, and for its strategic location. If Iraq is any model, those factors will play the largest role in whether the war expands to Iran.
There are many real reasons to censure Iran, but none of them have to do with protecting human rights and ridding the world of an evil dictator. Those making noises about Iran are guilty to some degree of supporting dozens of vile regimes led by dictators who terrorized their own people. The United States, which supported Saddam Hussein for years, has a long record of backing, arming and aiding those who practiced atrocities. The list of repressive, often genocidal regimes is long (see Vietnam, Cambodia, East Timor, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Chile, Kosovo, Rwanda,etc.); examples of righteous indignation leading to action and justice are much harder to find.
Right or wrong, the current war posturing must be judged against this larger picture. No one can rightly claim moral superiority