Attacking Iran, Part 2

Attacking Iran, Part 2
Bob Sheak
May 23, 2018

I focus in this post on Trump’s long-standing bellicose and war-supporting views regarding Iran, views that appear to bring the U.S. closer to waging on war with Iran than ever before. A war with Iran would produce more devastation, death, and instability in the Middle East, with unknown repercussions worldwide, than the U.S. involvements altogether in the ongoing wars in Iraq and Syria, in Afghanistan (which has spilled over into Pakistan), or in its military involvements in Africa, especially in Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen (supporting Saudi Arabia’s genocidal war there). And yet, Trump, his chief advisers, and too many others on the ideological and political right, view it as a walk in the park with everything eventually coming up roses. There is another possibility. They don’t pay attention to the consequences of what they do – and focus on grabbing as much wealth, power, as glory as they can while they can, and be the last ones “walking.”

Trita Parsi, author, expert on Iran and Middle, and President of the National Iranian Council, gives us a dose of realism as he reviews potential destruction associated with such a war (https://www.huffington.com/entry/opinion/parsi-war-with-iran_us_5abd46fde4b055e50acc2e82).

He makes four points. First, he refers to a classified Pentagon study completed in 2002 and costing $250 million that is based on a war game called Millennium Challenge. The exercise “envisioned U.S. Navy facing a coordinated Iranian assault in the Persian Gulf using swarming boats and missiles.” In this scenario, the “Iranians sank a total of 16 American ships – including an aircraft carrier.” Second, Parsi points out that Iran is “estimated to have the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the Middle East,” and they are “well positioned to target both ports and airfields in the region” and can make the whole region unsafe. Third, the Iranians can target the tens of thousands of U.S. troops already stationed in the region, pushing “Shia militias in Iraq to renew their attacks on U.S. troops and attacking U.S. personnel in Syria and in the “hundreds of U.S. installations throughout the region – from Jordon, to Kuwait to Afghanistan.” The Iranians know how sensitive Americans are to casualties. Fourth, Iranian forces could close the Strait of Hormuz, which is “a strategic choke point through which roughly 30 percent of the world’s oil supply passes.” This would cause “oil prices to skyrocket” and create turmoil throughout the global economy.

Be reminded that the U.S. government has spent trillions of dollars on wars and military engagements in these regions of the world, and that whole cities and areas have been reduced to rubble, millions of people have died or been maimed, millions have become homeless as internal or external refugees, the governments emerging after U.S.-led or supported-wars have been unable to quell disorder or meet the basic needs of vast segments of their societies, and the conditions arising from all this have created the spawning grounds for the proliferation of networks of terrorists. The record of U.S. interventions, going back at least to Vietnam, has not yielded democracy or justice, but mayhem, bloodshed, and contaminated environments. Indeed, U.S. military interventions have been among the world’s most de-stabilizing forces. Now we are faced with the increasing likelihood that the U.S. will attack Iran. Tom Engelhardt summarizes it well as follows.

“…one thing couldn’t be clearer: the planet’s sole superpower, with a military funded and armed like none other and a ‘defense’ budget larger than the next seven countries combined (three times as large as the number two spender, China), has managed to accomplish absolutely nothing. Unless you consider an expanding series of failed states, spreading terrorist movements, wrecked cities, countries hemorrhaging refugees, and the like as accomplishments” (A Nation Unmade by War, p. 21).

“…the massive destruction of Iraq or Syria; or what it’s meant for the ‘world’s greatest military’ to unleash its airpower from Afghanistan to Libya, send out its drones on assassination missions from Pakistan to Somalia, launch special operations raids across the Greater Middle East and Africa, occupy two countries, and have nothing to show for it but the spread of ever-more viral and brutal terror movements and the collapse or near-collapse of many of the states in which it’s fought these wars” (p. 49).

Alternatives to waging war on Iran?

There are alternatives, but they might as well be in another universe from what the Trump administration and other right-wing forces in the U.S. government want. What are they? Stop threatening Iran with war and burdening the Iranians with horrendous economic sanctions, some of which extend back to 1979. Stop supporting terrorist groups, like the MEK (People’s Mujahedeen of Iran) which has assassinated nuclear scientists in Iran, conducted suicide bombings that blew up civilians, and, according to Medea Benjamin’s sources, “took their attacks overseas, targeting Iranian diplomatic missions in 13 countries” (Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic Of Iran,p. 164). Engage in diplomacy with the representatives of other countries and with Iran to address other concerns about Iran’s foreign activities.

Honor the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which went into force in 1970, then extended indefinitely in 1995, with 191 states joining the treaty, including, among many others, the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, and France – and Iran, but not Israel, Pakistan, India, and North Korea (https://www.un.org/disarmament/wmd/nuclear/npt). The U.S. may be in violation of Article VI of the treaty which requires that nations with nuclear weapons undertake steps to reduce and ultimately eliminate them.

Alternatives? Take seriously the proposal to make the Middle East a nuclear-free zone, which has been endorsed by Iran and most other Arab countries and member nations of the United Nations but blocked by the U.S. with the enthusiastic encouragement of Israel. While the idea of nuclear-free zones may receive virtually no interest among U.S. politicians and little coverage in the media, it does have an international stamp of approval and represents, according to the United Nations’ Office of Disarmament Affairs, “a regional approach to strengthen global nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament norms and consolidate international efforts towards peace and security,” and is consistent with “Article VII of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) [which] states: ‘Nothing in this Treaty affects the right of any group of States to conclude regional treaties in order to assure the total absence of nuclear weapons in their respective territories.’” There are currently five “nuclear-weapon-free zones in Latin America and the Caribbean, South Pacific, Southeast Asia, Africa, and Central Asia. Mongolia has declared itself to adhere to nuclear-free status. There are three international treaties that prohibit testing of nuclear weapons in Antarctic, prohibit placing nuclear weapons in orbit around the earth, installing or testing these weapons on the moon, or in outer space, and prohibit nuclear weapons on the seabed or ocean floor (https://www.un.org/disarmament/wmd/nuclear/nwfz).

Bear in mind as well that there are powerful democratic and secular forces in Iran that want peace and that would gain political influence if the U.S. joined other countries in genuine diplomatic negotiations. U.S. bellicosity and efforts to destabilize Iran serve only to strengthen the hardliners in Iran. Elect leaders in our own country who are not so damn hypocritical and deceptive about how they want to bring freedom and democracy to Iran, after they have invaded the country. The record is oh so clear that the U.S. has not only failed to advance freedom and democracy anywhere in the Middle East or Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, etc., but also that the U.S. supports the most authoritarian, religious dictatorships such as the one in Saudi Arabia, lavishing this culturally retrograde country with huge weapons’ agreements. And who benefits in the U.S., but the “defense” contractors and the Pentagon. When you sort it all out, U.S. policies have been about achieving dominance in Middle East with the principal goal of keeping the oil flowing from the region. One obvious alternative is to reduce the need in the U.S. and world for fossil fuels by a major increase in support for renewable sources of energy, as proposed, for example, by economist Robert Pollin in his book, Greening the Global Economy.

U.S. militarism intensified

The military-oriented foreign policy of the U.S. did not begin with Trump and his administration, but they are taking it to unprecedented levels, adopting a reckless and muddling view of what the U.S. military can accomplish, increasing funding for an already bloated “defense” budget bringing enormous profits for military contractors, promoting the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia and other countries around the world, withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal (i.e., the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action agreement with Iran), supporting Israeli bombing raids into Syria, continuing the modernization (and expansion?) of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile, conducting military exercises on the border of North Korea while threatening to nuke it, and continuing the expansion of NATO into Eastern European countries on the borders of Russia. Additionally, David Cay Johnston reminds us that diplomacy is being further demoted and marginalized under Trump. He writes:

“Donald Trump proposed to cut more than $14 billion from the $50 billion State Department budget, a 29 percent reduction. Only the Environmental Protection Agency would be cut more. The Trump budget would essentially end foreign aid, most of which benefits American companies by buying goods and services from them and giving them to poor countries. While Congress is unlikely to approve such cuts, their significance lies in showing where Trump would put federal money. He asked for $54 billion for the military” (It’s Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America, p. 160).

The recklessness of Trump

Now, the headlines are that Trump has withdrawn from the multilateral nuclear deal with Iran, appointed a premier foreign policy hawk John Bolton to be his national security adviser, re-imposed (and continued) sanctions, and threatened to attack Iran if it should re-start and increase its capacity for generating nuclear fuel. Bolton has long advocated regime change in Iran, doesn’t pay any attention to the overwhelming evidence that Iran has not violated the nuclear deal, and advances the idea that the Iranian people are waiting for the U.S. to free them from an autocratic regime. Consider what Gareth Porter’s in-depth investigations have found, as quoted here from an article published in The American Conservative on March 22, 2018.
“Bolton’s been obsessed for many years with going to war against the Islamic Republic, calling repeatedly for bombing Iran in his regular appearances on Fox News, without the slightest indication that he understands the consequences of such a policy.”

“More than anyone else inside or outside the Trump administration, Bolton has already influenced Trump to tear up the Iran nuclear deal. Bolton parlayed his connection with the primary financier behind both Benjamin Netanyahu and Donald Trump himself—the militantly Zionist casino magnate Sheldon Adelson—to get Trump’s ear last October, just as the president was preparing to announce his policy on the Iran nuclear agreement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). He spoke with Trump by phone from Las Vegas after meeting with Adelson.

“It was Bolton who persuaded Trump to commit to specific language pledging to pull out of the JCPOA if Congress and America’s European allies did not go along with demands for major changes that were clearly calculated to ensure the deal would fall apart (http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/why-a-john-bolton-appointment-is-scarier-than-you-think-mcmaster-trump).

Note: The majority of Americans wanted the nuclear deal with Iran to continue

Jake Johnson, staff writer for Common Dreams, reports that a poll finds that the majority of Americans support the nuclear accord and don’t want to risk war with Iran and end up enmeshed in another war of choice. This time, Trump’s choice. Johnson writes:

“With President Donald Trump expected to deliver a huge gift to his administration’s “parade of warmongers, cretins, and outright liars” Tuesday afternoon by withdrawing the U.S. from the Iran nuclear deal, a new CNN poll shows support for the agreement is continuing to rise, with an all-time high 63 percent of Americans saying Trump should uphold the accord. https://www.commondreams.org/news/2018/05/08/trump-set-spark-war-risking-crisis-killing-iran-deal-poll-shows-63-us-support

Rebuttals to the arguments of Trump and his advisers

Trump, Bolton and the others in their corner rest their case on the argument that the nuclear deal is flawed because it does not eliminate Iran’s capacity to produce enriched uranium. But they also posit several additional arguments not included in the nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreement with Iran, namely, that Iran’s military poses a military threat to the region, that Iran’s leaders supports terrorist groups, and that the Iranian government represses its own people who are said to yearn for America to bring them “freedom.” On May 21, Trump’s new Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, gave a speech at the Heritage Foundation where he laid out a long-list of demands, far beyond what the JCPOA required, and that Iran must fulfill them all before the U.S. will lift its sanctions. You can see Jake Johnson’s report on Pompeo’s speech at: https://www.commondreams.org/news/2018/05/21/iraq-war-playbook-returns-pompeo-replaces-diplomacy-threat-crush-iran. The point is that the Trump administration is doing all it can to avoid a peaceful settlement with Iran.

The principal argument – the flawed deal. Trump and Bolton make about the nuclear deal is that it allows Iran to continue producing some enriched uranium. Binoy Kampmark quotes Bolton as calling the agreement “fundamentally flawed” and that it “allows Iran to continue technologies like uranium enrichment…” (https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/05/10/withdrawal-symptoms-trump-and-the-iran-nuclear-deal).

There are technical issues involved in this claim. What’s clear, though, is that a country can only produce deliverable nuclear weapons if it has sufficient enriched uranium and the related technological capacity – which has to do with the number of centrifuges and other relevant components. (For a short explanation, go to Science and the article “What’s a uranium centrifuge?” at https://science.howstuffworks.com/uranium-centrifuge.htm.)

The issue raised by Bolton concerns the nuclear technology dealing with the process for enriching uranium. Trump and Bolton want to eliminate all of Iran’s capacity to enrich uranium. However, contrary to their interest in total elimination, the agreement permits Iran to produce some, but not nearly enough, to make a nuclear bomb. Bear in mind, that the goal of Iranian’s leaders has always been to build a peaceful nuclear power system designed for civilian, not military, purposes, that is, for the generation of electric power. This is permitted by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. There is overwhelming evidence substantiating that Iran has complied with the agreement. Consider some examples.

According to 11 investigations by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the agency empowered to undertake regular highly intrusive inspections wherever and whenever it wants, Iran is in full compliance with the agreement. On May 9, 2018, the Director General of the IAEA, Yukia Amano, issued the following statement, affirming Iran’s compliance.

“The IAEA is closely following developments related to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). As requested by the United Nations Security Council and authorised by the IAEA Board of Governors in 2015, the IAEA is verifying and monitoring Iran’s implementation of its nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA. Iran is subject to the world’s most robust nuclear verification regime under the JCPOA, which is a significant verification gain. As of today, the IAEA can confirm that the nuclear-related commitments are being implemented by Iran” (https://www.iaea.org/newsletter/statements/statement-by-iaea-director-general-yukia-amano-9-may-2018).

But it is not only the IAEA that validates Iran’s compliance. In an article for Salon, Paul Rosenberg reports on other corroborating evidence of Iran’s compliance https://www.salon.com/2018/05/13/donald-trump-goes-full-neocon-embracing-torture-and-war-with-iran-why-should-we-be-surprised.

Rosenberg writes: “Trump’s top intelligence officials have likewise confirmed that the Iran deal was working. In a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Angus King, I-Maine, asked Dan Coats, the director of National Intelligence, ‘Is it the judgment of the intelligence community that Iran has, thus far, adhered to the deal’s major provisions?’ Coats replied, ‘Yes. It has been — the judgment is there’s been no material breach of the agreement.’ And, one other example. “During his confirmation hearings last month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (then the CIA director) said that ‘Iran wasn’t racing to a weapon before the deal, [and] there is no indication that I am aware of that if the deal no longer existed that they would immediately turn to racing to create a nuclear weapon.’

So, Trump and Bolton are asking for Iran to do more than the agreement requires it to do. This is a specious argument, motivated by the desire to find some reason to justify the imposition of additional crippling sanctions, if not to justify some military action. You can see a more technical analysis of this issue by Scott Ritter at http://truthdig.com/article/the-truth-about-the-iran-nuclear-deal-lies, where, among other points, he notes that the limits imposed by the agreement on Iran’s ability to enrich uranium apply until 2030. The withdrawal of the U.S. from the multilateral deal with Iran, along with the re-imposition of economic sanctions, increases the chances that Trump will use the military option. As I noted earlier, this would have catastrophic consequences for the region and perhaps the world, while costing the U.S. hugely in U.S. military casualties, taxpayer dollars and rising national debt related to military spending, and vast destruction throughout the Middle East and surrounding regions.

For the time being, Kampmark reports that Iran will continue its participation in the nuclear deal but only if Britain, France and Germany continue to honor its terms. That means doing what they can to integrate Iran into the global economic system and not interfering with the normalization of trade and economic relations with Iran. At the same time, Iran has the option, if the agreement breaks down, to restore the country’s enrichment capabilities. Kampmark quotes Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani: “I have ordered the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran to be ready for action if needed so that if necessary we can resume our enrichment on an industrial level without any limitations.’ In a note of mild reassurance, Kampmark adds, Rouhani claimed that the agreement would still remain in place provided its “goals in cooperation with other members of the deal could be achieved.”

Presently, the situation remains uncertain and the future of the nuclear deal depends on the decisions of the other participants to the agreement. There is some good news. Julia Conley reports that the EU and Iranian officials have reaffirmed their commitment to continue their respective adherence to the agreement (https://www.commondreams.org/news/2018/05/19/eu-and-iran-will-attempt-to-salvage-nuclear-deal-following-trumps-breach-agreement).

“The European Union and Iran signaled on Saturday,” Conley writes, “that they would not permit President Donald Trump’s deeply unpopular decision to exit the Iran nuclear deal to deteriorate their own involvement in the agreement.” She quotes Manuel Areias Canete, the EU’s top energy official” who told reporters in Tehran that the Europeans “are sticking to the agreement [and] the Europeans will…fulfill their commitment.” The heads of state of Britain, Germany and France independently affirmed their commitment to abide by the deal. Rob Price quotes from the official statement.

“‘Together, we emphasize our continuing commitment to the JCPoA,’ the leaders of Britain, France and Germany said in a joint statement, referring to the deal by an acronym. ‘This agreement remains important for our shared security.’

“‘We urge the U.S. to ensure that the structures of the JCPOA can remain intact, and to avoid taking action which obstructs its full implementation by all other parties to the deal,’ said the statement, provided by British Prime Minister Theresa May’s office after she spoke by phone to France’s President Emmanuel Macron and Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel.

And China and Russia, the other signatories to the agreement, are most likely to adhere to it – and fill some of the economic gaps left by the withdrawal of the US. One example reflecting such a course of events is reported by Julian Girault, who learned that China is picking up a major gas deal with Iran, after the French oil giant total gave it up because of threats from the U.S. (https://juancole.com/2018/05/picking-frances-dollars.html). Iran is already connected to China in significant ways. Benjamin mentions that China is seeking a partnership with Iran “in implementing its Silk Road Economic Initiative and is trying to build a transportation network that connects China to Europe, bypassing the Red Sea and Mediterranean.” There are mutual benefits. China is a market for Iran’s rich energy resources, while Iran has received “critical investment and help in modernizing its oil and natural gas sector.” And they have together, Medea Benjamin writes, “slowly built a solid military relationship, including weapons sales, training, and joint naval exercises in the Persian Gulf” (p. 191).

Similarly, Russia has shared interests with Iran in Syria and seeing that the Assad regime is not overthrown. They both, Benjamin points out, “want to push back against Sunni extremism globally. They have “extensive trade links.” Russia is also involved in the “development of Iran’s oil and gas fields,” and recently investing in “telecoms and agriculture” (p. 190).

By withdrawing from the nuclear deal, the Trump administration risks alienating America’s European allies and strengthening the influence of China and Russia. It remains to be seen whether the Trump administration will be able to cripple Iran’s economy through its enhanced system of sanctions or create the conditions that will lead Iran to resume is nuclear capacity. On the one hand, the sanctions imposed by Trump will make it unlawful for U.S. banks and corporations to invest in businesses in Iran and discourage European companies from continuing to operate in the country. On the other hand, some European companies may remain in Iran, China and Russia will increase their economic ties to the country, and perhaps trade and economic relations with other countries will be started, maintained, or be enhanced. For now, the governments of Britain, Germany, and France have pledged to honor the nuclear deal with Iran, as are China and Russia. In the background, however, is the threat by Trump and his advisers that the U.S. will launch a war on Iran.

Argument #2 – Kampmark also reports that, according to a Bolton press briefing, President Trump has made “a firm statement of American resolves to prevent not only Iran from getting nuclear weapons, but a ballistic missile delivery capability” as well (https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/05/10/withdrawal-symptoms-trump-and-the-iran-nuclear-deal). This is another argument that must be put into context. And note, while it is not part of the nuclear deal, it could be open to negotiations without ending the nuclear deal.

The main point is that there are good reasons, sadly, for Iran to arm itself with missiles and to maintain a relatively large military force. Here are three.

First, the U.S. has meddled in Iran’s internal affairs for decades. In 1953, the US helped to orchestrate a coup overthrowing the democratically-elected government of Mohammed Mosaddegh, then installed the Mohammad Reza Shah in power, who built a centralized, militarized state. Benjamin points out that Mosaddegh is “remembered by his people as a nationalist leader in the mold of India’s Gandhi, Indonesia’s Sukarno, and Egypt’s Nasser” (p. 27). In September 1980, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein attacked Iran (with the encouragement of the Carter administration), initiating a war that lasted eight years. Iraq used chemical and biological weapons. Both sides conducted extensive aerial bombardment. Estimates indicate that there were from 400,000 and 1 million casualties (See Benjamin, p. 42). Guess what? And here’s the kicker. The U.S. supplied both sides with weapons and hoped they would destroy one another. Jumping to recent times, Bush Jr. and now Trump have publicly stated they want regime change in Iran. The message they sent to Iran is clear and unmistakable: surrender to our demands or we will crush you.

Second,Iran is surrounded by countries occupied by U.S. troops and Arab countries, most prominently Saudi Arabia, that are antagonistic toward Iran. The point is that, in the absence of peaceful initiatives, it would be foolhardy for Iran not to maintain a strong military force, including advanced weapons systems. Michael T. Klare argues that conditions exist that could easily lead to a “Third Gulf War.” The Middle East is fraught with tension and conflict. And the U.S. is a major factor in this. Consider the main points in Klare’s analysis.

“A Third Gulf War would distinguish itself from recent Middle Eastern conflicts by the geographic span of the fighting and the number of major actors that might become involved. In all likelihood, the field of battle would stretch from the shores of the Mediterranean, where Lebanon abuts Israel, to the Strait of Hormuz, where the Persian Gulf empties into the Indian Ocean. Participants could include, on one side, Iran, the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and assorted Shia militias in Iraq and Yemen; and, on the other, Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United States, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). If the fighting in Syria were to get out of hand, Russian forces could even become involved. (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2018/05/14/gearing-third-gulf-war)

Third, Saudi Arabia and Israel, two of Iran’s greatest adversaries, have far greater military forces than Iran. And Israel is the only Middle Eastern country that has nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them anywhere in the region. If for no other reason, Iran believes it needs a military force that includes advanced weapons systems, including ballistic missiles for defensive reasons. Though for now, Iran is committed to not developing its capacity to produce nuclear weapons.

The solution is not to threaten Iran with war but to find the diplomatic steps to reduce the hostilities in the region. This may be pie-in-the-sky, but U.S. policies in the Middle East have thus far proven to be counterproductive and threaten to engulf the region in even more death and destruction.

Argument #3 – Iran is said to support terrorist groups and to be responsible for causing instability and turmoil in the Middle East. But there is a big question. Do the groups identified by the U.S. as terrorists deserve to be so labeled? Before addressing this question, keep in mind that Saudi Arabia, a great U.S. ally and the biggest market for U.S. arms’ sales, is the source of much of the extremism and violence in the Middle East. David Cay Johnston offers some evidence on this point, something the Trump administration – and previous ones – fail to acknowledge.

“…the Saudis are the world’ largest sponsor of terrorism, far exceeding the Iranian government that Trump frequently denounces for its support for terrorism. The State Department lists sixty-one terrorist organizations, all but two of which are aligned with Sunnis and the extreme Wahhabi sect that is officially endorsed in Saudi Arabia. The Saudis fund fifty-seven of those terrorist groups” (It’s Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America, p. 157).

And Benjamin adds the following information that challenges the U.S. claim that Hezballah is the main terrorist organization in the Middle East is absurd. Here’s what she writes.

“According to the Global Terrorism Database of King’s College London, more than 94 percent of the deaths caused by Islamic terrorism from 2001 to 2016 were perpetrated by ISIS, Al Qaeda, and other Sunni jihadists. Iran is fighting those groups, not fueling them. Iran is a Shia nation combatting Sunni jihadists who consider Shia, and Westerners, infidels. Not one Iranian has ever been linked to a terrorist attack in the United States” (p. 201).

Back to the administration’s contention that Iran is the major source of support for groups identified as terrorist by the U.S. In his recent speech at the Heritage Foundation, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo list 12 demands for Iran, including this one: “…Iran must end support to Middle East terrorist groups, including Lebanese Hezballah (sometimes spelled Hizballah), Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.” (See the report by Jon Wolfsthal and Julie Smith for details at http://foreignpolicy.com/2018/05/21/pompeo-iran-nuclear-plan-is-a-pipe-dream-trump.) I’ll focus on Hezballah.

Hezballah has its roots in the Lebanon Shia community going back to the late 1970s, particularly in the south and parts of Beirut, according to Benjamin. These were areas of Lebanon in which there were thousands of Palestinian refugees and the headquarters of the Palestinian Liberation Army. Hezballah emerged in 1982 and was officially formed in 1985. Benjamin describes some of its activities, which can be viewed from a very different lens than the one used by the Trump administration.

“In 1982, Israel invaded south Lebanon to attack the Palestinian militants. Shia leaders, looking for a way to resist the Israeli occupation, challenged the mainstream Shia Amal movement and formed an armed movement that would later become Hezbollah. Early on, they sought support from Iran, and their targets were the Israelis and their American backers.”

“Hezbollah continued its guerilla war against Israeli forces in South Lebanon, but also began to play an active role in Lebanese politics. While the U.S. portrays Hezbollah as an Iranian agent, for Lebanese it is one of the most popular political parties in the country, where it routinely wins among the highest number of votes in the parliament, and where it is widely viewed as a legitimate political party, with an armed wing that succeeded in liberating and defending the country from Israel twice: in 1982 and 2006” (p. 186).

Hezbollah has also been involved in Syria and, along with the Lebanese Army, “fought a three-year battle to uproot the rebels [fighting against Assad], including ISIS forces, and succeeded in dislodging ISIS from the border areas in August 2017” (p. 187).

Gary Leupp provides more details in an article for Counter Punch on May 15, 2018. Leupp reports on the political popularity of Hezbollah, writing that in the elections in Lebanon on the previous Sunday, “Hizbollah and its allies (mostly Maronite Christians, actually)” won a majority in Parliament, winning 67 out of 128 seats. This doesn’t sound like the accomplishment of a terrorist movement. And, addressing the issue of terrorism directly, Leupp makes the following points.

“Why has Hizbollah been designated a “terrorist” organization by Israel and the U.S., followed (somewhat reluctantly) by the EU in 2013 under U.S. pressure? Germany continues to refuse to designate Hizbollah “in its entirety” as terrorist; like the EU in general it distinguishes between the “military wing” and the political party. Neither Russia nor China see it as terrorist. They realize that Hizbollah is a large political movement based in the Shiite community but enjoying an alliance with Christian and other minorities. It maintains a robust militia, more powerful than the Lebanese Army. It also maintains radio and TV stations, charities, hospitals. It has a genuine social base in Lebanon; that, rather than Iranian aid, is the key to its success. But instead of examining it in its specificities, successive U.S. administrations have simply condemned it while emphasizing its Iranian ties.”

Argument #4 – The Trump administration also asserts that the anti-Iran policies of the U.S. grows out of how the U.S. has a “moral” obligation to free the Iranian people from the authoritarian and repressive government of Iran. This argument may ring a bell, since it is one that was used in Iraq and in virtually every other place that the U.S. military has invaded in the Post-WWII era. While the Iranian people suffer dearly from economic hardships, most due largely to U.S. imposed sanctions, and from oppressive and discriminatory laws, they favor the nuclear deal and fear and oppose U.S. threats of war. Also, it is important to note that Iranian citizens have overall more freedom than the citizens of one of the chief U.S. allies in the Middle East, that is, Saudi Arabia. In short, any claims by the Trump and his advisers that they are concerned about the freedom of Iranians or about bring democracy to their land ring hollow. I’ll expand on these points with quotes from two sources.

In an article for Common Dreams, Trita Parsi puts to rest the idea that Iranians yearn for liberation by the U.S. and that the U.S. failure to lift sanctions and then its withdrawal from the nuclear deal may reduce the likelihood of democratic reforms in Iran (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2018/05/08/trumps-reckless-decision-puts-us-path-war-iran).

“Perhaps the most absurd aspect of President Trump’s Iran policy is his attempt to claim solidarity with the Iranian people, even as he bans Iranians from the U.S. and his top advisors openly support the MEK terrorist group that is universally reviled by Iranians. The Iranian people overwhelmingly supported the nuclear deal, at least until the sanctions relief that was promised failed to materialize and will be the party most impacted by Trump’s decision.

“Many were hopeful that the nuclear deal would facilitate broader change in Iranian society over time by empowering moderate forces in their demand for social and economic justice. By diminishing the excuse of sanctions and raising expectations for economic improvement, the nuclear deal appears to have added pressure on Iran’s leaders to meet the public’s political expectations. However, a potential opening for accelerated progress in Iran has now been slammed shut by Trump, an action that will redirect attention from the Iranian government to the United States. This will not just empower hardliners, it will force Iran’s political elite to paper over fissures on key social and political issues while cracking down further on any dissent. This is potentially the biggest crime of Trump’s decision – limiting the agency of Iran’s own people to choose peaceful political evolution in order to address their grievances.”

Medea Benjamin compares the social and political conditions of Saudi Arabia with those in Iran and finds less “freedom” in the former than the latter.

“The Iranian government is certainly guilty of many abuses, including gross violations of free speech and assembly, restricting the rights of women, imprisoning dissidents, and executing people for nonviolent offenses. But when juxtaposed with Saudi Arabia, the U.S. ally is far more repressive internally. Iran has flawed elections; Saudi Arabia doesn’t have national elections at all. Iran’s women are restricted, but Saudi Arabia is a much more gender-segregated society. The West applauded the 2017 Saudi announcement that it would allow movie theaters (albeit segregated), while Iran has had a thriving film, theater, and music industry for decades” (p. 3).

Concluding thoughts

The Trump’s thundering against Iran is typical of his militarized foreign policy and of the double-standards, hypocrisy, and immorality of this policy. It is also consistent with the positions of past administrations, though Obama’s did support the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). However, now we are in the worst situation vis-à-vis Iran than we have ever been, as Trump and his advisers actively and with great determination look for reasons to wage what would be a counterproductive and horrendous war on Iran that could easily escalate to the whole region and even beyond. Why? Part of the reason is that they are blinded by false assumption that the U.S. military can triumph wherever it intervenes when it has the full support of the administration, all the resources it needs, including, if deemed necessary, nuclear bombs. There are also geopolitical reasons. Like other presidents going back to President Carter, Trump believes that the fossil fuels of the Middle East should be controlled by allied countries, and the U.S. is prepared to wage war to make it so. And there are increasing concerns in the higher circles of the U.S. that the nation’s power should be used to curtail the growing influence of China in the Middle East – and elsewhere. Destroying Iran through war or extreme sanctions is apparently viewed by those in the White House as one way of achieving its goals. In the meantime, Trump’s policies increase the hardships of Iranian citizens and weaken the influences of those who want diplomacy to succeed.

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