Hoping memories of Iraq have faded, U.S. hawks push new war with Iran
At the direction of its leader, John R. Bolton, the National Security Council asked the Pentagon last year to provide military options to strike Iran. | Andrew Harnik / AP

You could set a watch to it, or maybe a countdown timer.

After being frustrated by Venezuela’s resistance against a Washington-backed coup attempt, President Donald Trump and his favored attack dog, National Security Advisor John Bolton, have trained their sights on a new target: Iran.

Earlier this month, an aircraft carrier strike group and bomber task force were sent to the Middle East on the flimsiest of rationales: unconfirmed rumors of “attack plans” from Iran on U.S. troops. This considerable show of military might was later bolstered by Marines and missiles, adding to an already fraught situation in the region. Compounding the problem were even more recent claims of an Iranian attack on two Saudi oil tankers. But reports from the ground contradict Saudi Arabia’s account, as photographs showed those vessels had no visible signs of damage.

Comparisons have been made to the fabricated “Gulf of Tonkin incident” that served as justification for U.S. attacks on Vietnam in 1964, and they’re right on the money. But public mood in the U.S. is soured on another bloody incursion into the Middle East after the wholesale slaughters in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. Trump and Bolton are having a hard time selling their war, no matter how hard they beat the drums.

That doesn’t mean they’ll stop trying, of course. And we can’t forget this aggression has long been in the works, no matter how abruptly it appears they’ve pivoted from Venezuela to Iran. After illegally abandoning the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (aka the Iran nuclear deal) last year, the U.S. imposed unilateral sanctions on the country, claiming it hadn’t held up its end of the bargain.

Every other signatory of the agreement (Great Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany) disagreed, as did the International Atomic Energy Agency, the organization tasked with checking Iran’s compliance. They have done their level best to salvage the deal, but have been hampered by the sanctions and the later expiration of oil import waivers that allowed limited commodity trade.

Make no mistake—for all the talk of sanctions as a “softer” substitute for bullets and bombs, these measures are acts of violence in all but name.

Trump’s stated goal is to bring Iranian exports down to zero; there is no better term for this than “war,” except perhaps “extortion.” Essential supply lines are being cut off as other countries avoid trade for fear of being penalized, and the people suffer tremendous hardship as a result. China is acutely aware of these long-reaching reverberations, as the case against Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou is based around dubious allegations of sanctions breaches.

And as if this economic war weren’t enough, last October Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared the Treaty of Amity with the Islamic Republic—a document in force for more than 60 years—null and void. The U.S. has also demanded European signatories follow its lead and withdraw from the nuclear deal, in essence telling them to violate international law or else. Adding insult to injury, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard was fraudulently labeled a terrorist organization in April, the first time a governmental body has received such a designation.

With all this in mind, it shouldn’t have surprised anyone when Iran finally responded. Shortly after the U.S.’ deployment of its carrier strike group, the government declared it would stop holding to some aspects of the nuclear deal; specifically, it would stockpile enriched uranium and heavy water produced in its facilities rather than export them as the agreement stipulates. What is often lost in the reporting on this announcement is the fact these and other exports are restricted under the U.S.-imposed sanctions regime anyway. Lifting the sanctions would allow Iran to keep to its commitments, exactly as it did before the U.S. began its ridiculous provocations.

The international community has responded to these goings-on with a mix of disdain and disbelief. Europe has been working on a way around the U.S. sanctions, developing a mechanism to continue trade without direct contact. China has strongly affirmed its commitment to the nuclear deal, as well as its desire to ease tensions and maintain good relations with Iran. Russia has echoed these sentiments. Trump and Bolton are acting alone, and the rest of the world knows it. Whatever the U.S. president might threaten on his Twitter account, other parties prioritize peace above all else—Iran included.

U.S. defense contractors and the hawks at the Pentagon, meanwhile, are licking their chops. This is the war they’ve been dreaming of since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, considered by many within the George W. Bush administration to be mere prelude to an attack on the Islamic Republic. Mass deaths and widespread domestic disapproval after that catastrophe meant those plans had to be put on hold—though troops remain there and in Afghanistan—but with the old gang back in power under Trump, all bets are off. These jackals want bloodshed, and are ready to manufacture any pretext necessary to get it.

Obviously such developments are unsettling for Iranians, but they raise a question for the rest of the world, too: If the U.S. has proved itself an unreliable partner in peace, if its policy can change at a moment’s notice despite previous guarantees, why is it worth trusting in the first place?


Ian Goodrum
Ian Goodrum

Ian Goodrum is a writer and digital editor for China Daily in Beijing, China.