There Is No Case For War With Iran

Breaching The Emerald City

American tax dollars built the wall around Baghdad’s Green Zone, the space Rajiv Chandrasekaran called “The Emerald City,” back when those ten square kilometers served as the headquarters for the most brutal invasion of the twenty-first century.  The wall originally sheltered conquerors and their consultants from the explosions that raked the city, the country, and the world in the fallout from 2003 – aside from a few quixotic martyrs who imagined they could undo the will of a superpower with suicide vests, the Iraqi people respected the wall.  When, on June 28, 2004, President Bush decreed that Iraq could once again call itself a sovereign nation, he saw no grandiose purpose (a la Gorbachev) served in tearing down that wall.  Though he proclaimed his mission accomplished, he understood the ongoing merits of a concrete barrier between the shell-shocked people and the air-conditioned parlors where their fates would be meted out.  From the safety of the Green Zone, American businessmen and Iraqi factional leaders congratulated themselves on a job well done.  Generals and contractors began distributing institutions out of thin air while drinking Green Zone filtered water.  Those Iraqis dealt in could enjoy publicly funded Green Zone generators, Green Zone mansions, Green Zone cafeterias and Green Zone security details while they pieced together a paper government, privileging and punishing as they chose with the constant supervision of several occupying armies.  Beyond the wall there were two civil wars, an economic meltdown, and a rapid slide from a functional society into an anarchic mercenary state, where over one million people died prematurely through starvation, disease, or violence.[1]  For a moment, in 2016, protestors chanting “You are all thieves!” seemed on the verge of entering the Green Zone – but the moment passed.[2]

From the American Embassy in the Green Zone, three administrations have quietly overseen the extraction of Iraq’s enormous petrochemical wealth while their soldiers paraded in the streets hunting terrorists.  In the early days of the invasion, this meant putting a bag over a cleric’s head and holding him in a black site, raping and torturing him until terrorism started to sound reasonable.  Today this means coordinating drone assassinations and air raids, concentrated especially where there is oil to be found.  Political power, or the lack thereof, emanates from the Embassy across Iraq.  Both the power and the vacuum manifest in Iraqi blood; on the average day in the past seventeen years, over 160 people in Iraq have died directly or indirectly because of the invasion.  Some Iraqis are old enough to remember when John F. Kennedy and the CIA backed a coup to destroy their country’s prospering social democracy in 1963,[3] flaunting the bullet-riddled body of Prime Minister Abdul-Karim Qassim on television to warn against future attempts at self-governance.  Many more can recall how, in 1988, the Reagan administration deliberately supplied Saddam Hussein with the ingredients to make sarin, hoping he would use the nerve gas to attack his neighbors in Iran (Hussein not only gassed Iranians but tens of thousands of Kurds in his own country, though ironically he had long used up his supply when Bush accused him of stockpiling WMDs in 2003).[4]  Most were alive in 1996, when Secretary of State Madeline Albright told the audience of 60 Minutes that, though “half a million children” had died due to President Clinton’s sanctions on Iraq, “We think the price is worth it.”[5]  And the rest understand that seventeen years into occupation, nearly half of the population lives on less than $3 a day while those who collaborate with Americans live fabled lives of luxury in the Green Zone.  Is it any wonder, then, that the protestors who breached the wall of the Green Zone on New Year’s Eve were not terribly concerned with the holy waters of diplomatic immunity?

The greatest tragedy of the crisis unfolding in the Persian Gulf is one that will soon be written out of history: it comes at an unprecedented moment of hope for one of the world’s most brutalized nations.  Since October 1, 2019, Iraq has been rocked by daily marches, sit-ins, and displays of civil disobedience, as hundreds of thousands of protestors decried high unemployment, poor basic services, corruption, and the immense influence of the United States and Iran in Iraqi politics.  Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi, who rose to prominence as an asset to both the Iranian and American militaries during the Hussein years, had promised to resign.  With American weapons and American training, the Iraqi army has tried and failed to silence the uprising – unlike the police fighting similar riots in Hong Kong, Haiti, Lebanon, and Chile, in Iraq the troops shoot to kill; they have murdered over 500 protestors, many shot in the head by snipers.  Earlier protests since the invasion have never sustained this much energy without succumbing to fundamentalist violence – both in 2006 and in 2012, rage against the occupation and its puppet government boiled over into genocidal conflict between the Shi’a majority (backed militarily by Iran and politically by the United States) and Sunni radicals.  But these protests, so far, have drawn their strength from a broad, cross-factional base: the poor.  Despite violence against them, the protests have been joyful, filled with singing, chanting, and children.

The nature of race and religious faction has long posed a puzzle for those who wish to dominate Iraq.  Perhaps because of the apartheid roots of our own society, American attempts to establish “democracy” after deposing Hussein were always preoccupied with ethnic tension – since Hussein had been Sunni, the best plan seemed to be a constitutionally preserved Shi’ite government (this only after Joe Biden’s initial proposal from the Senate floor, to partition Iraq into several countries along ethnic divisions, was deemed too gung-ho even for the neocons).  While some Shi’ite leaders, most prominently Muqtada al-Sadr, had preached cross-factional unity in defense of independence, the Bush administration preferred those who would loyally execute American policy objectives and began pouring weapons to Shi’ite nationalist militias, who in turn began a genocidal slaughter of Sunnis across Baghdad and provoked a Sunni extremist response from al-Qaeda in Iraq (now known as ISIS), a second genocide that claimed even more lives.

When they began arming extremist Shi’ite militias, the United States critically underestimated the grip of Iran in the Shi’ite political class; during Hussein’s rule, most Shi’ite opposition leaders had fled to Iran and formed clientelist relationships with the Iranian Quds Force.  Americans wanted to choose the new government from Shi’ite elites but demanded loyalty from the picks; therefore, the Shi’ites granted political power by the American occupation were not inter-factionally beloved populists like al-Sadr, but instead those duplicitous enough to remain assets of both the Iranian and American intelligence agencies.  Cables recently released by the Intercept show how many informants, including the Prime Minister, receive instruction simultaneously from the CIA and the Quds.[6]  Despite the animosity between Iran and the United States, the post-Hussein balance of power in Iraq can be best described as a joint US-Iranian takeover, in which material support flows from the Americans and political connections lace out from Iran.  The losers, of course, are the people, since both Sunni and Shi’ite Iraqis, who had lived peacefully and intermarried even under the early years of Ba’ath power, were more interested in national sovereignty than in factional representation.

So now that Sunnis and Shi’ites are pouring to the streets with a common cause, now that a cross-factional democracy seems possible in Iraq for the first time since 1963, now that Iraqis might themselves exert sovereignty over their oil fields and essential strategic access to both Asia and Arabia, Iran and the United States stand to lose a tremendous amount in their strongest foothold.  The American response has been to intensify airstrikes and put pressure on the Iraqi Security Forces.  The Iranian response has been to intensify their support of Shi’ite paramilitary organizations under the umbrella of the Popular Mobilization Forces, who have taken over most of the weak central government’s responsibilities during the past decade of war against ISIS.  Both the US-controlled Security Forces and the Iran-controlled PMF have reportedly murdered protestors and their families.  Yet as the new year approached, the momentum of a pro-democracy, pro-sovereignty, anti-neoliberal, anti-Iran, and anti-American movement in Iraq seemed only to be growing.  The Prime Minister and his puppet government were preparing to leave office.  Parliament was moving to expel American forces.  Effigies of Donald Trump and Ayatollah Khamenei were burning side by side in the streets.  2020 could well have been the year of Iraq’s true liberation.

And then, chaos.  On December 27, rockets struck an Iraqi (that is, American) airbase in the Kirkuk province, and killed an American citizen, a civilian contractor.  President Trump announced that the rockets were fired by Kata’ib Hezbollah, one of many militias in the PMF under the broad supervision of Iran’s Quds Force.  Kata’ib Hezbollah leaders denied and were ignored.  On December 29, American bombers struck five Kata’ib Hezbollah positions, killing 25 soldiers and wounding 55 more – because Kata’ib Hezbollah is part of the PMF, this meant targeting and killing 25 official Iraqi servicemembers, which is both an international war crime, a violation of a treaty alliance, an unconstitutional act of aggression, and an escalation beyond any intentional American move in Iraq since 2003.  Outraged by such a naked affront, and by the decades of humiliation before it, the Iraqi people (led by PMF members) swarmed to the streets of Baghdad.  Knowing where the order must have originated, they converged on the Green Zone.  They breached the wall.  They approached the American Embassy.  They were teargassed.  They responded by setting three trailers on fire and beginning a sit-in.  Kata’ib Hezbollah spokesman Jaafar al-Husseini promised that the protests would not enter the embassy, but that they would remain outside “until American troops leave Iraq and the embassy is closed.”[7]  US Marines in the embassy teargassed the protestors a second time until finally the crowd dispersed.  Two days later, in supposed retaliation, a missile from an American drone immolated a car carrying Qasem Soleimani, a decorated war hero and Major General in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and the director of the Quds Forces, as he left the Baghdad Airport.  Now we are on the verge of war.

Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran

“Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)” by country singer Alan Jackson became a smash hit in the months after the September 11, 2001 attacks, heralded as a touching tribute to a healing nation.  In the song, Jackson seems to take pride in the fact that “I watch CNN, but I’m not sure I could tell you / the difference between Iraq and Iran.”[8]  This basic geographic confusion on the part of the American body politic has become a core tenet of post-9/11 foreign policy – Jackson likely referenced the two countries because of their constant name repetition on cable news, but in fact, neither Iraq nor Iran were even tangentially related to the attack he milked as a cash cow.  Twenty years later, confusion runs higher than ever, as does deluded 9/11 nostalgia.  In an attempt to justify assassinating Soleimani, Vice President Mike Pence recently tweeted that Soleimani “assisted in the clandestine travel to Afghanistan of 10 of the 12 terrorists who carried out the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.”[9]  In fact, there were 19 attackers, not 12; they were financed not by Iran but by Saudi Arabia (which also financed the Pence-Trump campaign);[10] and rather than assist terrorists, Soleimani fought alongside American and Iranian soldiers to eliminate al-Qaeda and overthrow the Taliban in Afghanistan, since both Sunni extremist organizations sought to overthrow Shi’ite rule in Iran.  The story seems to have stuck, though; from a CNBC story originally titled “America just took out the world’s no. 1 bad guy”[11] to the Democrats’ rush to label Soleimani a “monster,” there seems to be broad consensus that Trump was, in some sense, doing his job by killing a terrorist.  This type of blatant revisionism is only to be expected; as Progressive Party champion and California Senator Hiram Johnson said while opposing the first World War in 1917, “The first casualty when war comes is truth.”  Looking beneath the bipartisan drive to bloodshed, however, it becomes clear that Soleimani’s murder is not at all a punishment for terrorism (as Republicans, Democrats, and the media all seem to agree), but part of a longer plan hatched long before the pillars of World Trade ever fell.

In 1997, a dark-money-funded think tank called the Project for a New American Century (led by Bill Kristol, now a hero in liberal quarters for his opposition to Trump’s nomination) emerged as the most powerful foreign policy lobby in Washington, D.C.  Its members included soon-to-be Vice President Dick Cheney, once-and-future Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and long-time Republican attack dog Paul Wolfowitz.  Together, in September of 2000, a full year before 9/11, they published one of the most important documents in modern American history: Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategy, Forces, and Resources for a New American Century.  Publicly, they worried that the United States might grow soft with no looming threat from the Soviet Union; privately, they were cashing enormous checks from weapons manufacturers who worried that liberal Democrats might not reinvest a “peace dividend” in the arms industry if the country was not, in fact, at war.  Well aware that there would never again be “potential global war spread across many theaters,” they proposed a shift in focus to “potential theater wars spread across the globe.”  Not interested in abstractions, they went so far as to posit a list of potential targets that “pose a grave challenge to the American peace and the military strength that preserves that peace.”  Those countries?  “North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Libya, and Syria.”  A government for the new century would need to be ready to crush these countries completely, yet also keep wars simmering for decades at a time.  This would be good for shareholders, good for morale, good for America, and thus good for America’s world.  Of course, the enormous expansion of military infrastructure necessary to keep a permanent state of war around the world, which in PNAC’s words would be a “revolutionary change,” could not happen overnight – that is, “absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor.”[12]

They were the neoconservatives, and this was their manifesto.  Two months later, with some help from the Supreme Court, they swept to executive power, and within a year, they had their Pearl Harbor.  Three days after 9/11, every member of Congress except California’s Barbara Lee had signed on to their Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists, a blank check allowing them to wage war anywhere they even suspected so-called terrorist activity.  They executed their objectives just as they had promised.  After a brief detour to Afghanistan, Bush took out the Iraqi government in 2003.  In 2006, he began a billion-dollar campaign to destabilize the Syrian regime.[13]  His successor, the apparently liberal Nobel Peace Prize-winner Barack Obama, backed a right-wing religious insurgency to topple the Libyan regime of Muammar al-Qaddafi in 2014 thanks to the neocons in his own administration (who can forget Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s glee in announcing, “We came, we saw, he died!”[14]).  The only two countries on PNAC’s list not currently occupied by American troops are North Korea (the least valued target) and Iran (the most).

In the case of Iran, the neoconservatives found themselves hoisted by their own petard.  In 2000, the theocratic regime in Iran was internationally isolated, dogged by terrorist attacks, surrounded on every border by hostile powers, suffocated by American sanctions, and domestically unpopular – that is, despite the Ayatollah’s rhetorical flourishes, an entirely unthreatening presence in geopolitics.  But by offering essential tactical support during the American invasion of Afghanistan on its northeastern border in 2001, and again in the invasion of Iraq on its western border in 2003, Iran became an acceptable coalition partner – strategically superior, at least in the eyes of the Europeans, to the erratic oil-rich Sunni monarchies of Arabia.  And with Hussein deposed and a Shi’ite government installed in Iraq, Iran was able, through the canny intelligence work of the Quds Forces, to permeate every of element of Iraqi civil and military society.  The Intercept’s latest leaks show incontrovertibly how the Iraq War granted Iran a “geography of dominance from the shores of the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea,”[15] an almost overnight seizure of the most strategically valuable and oil-rich land in the world.  With powerful proxies in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, Iran is now for the first time positioned to cripple both oil markets and intercontinental trade more broadly – not to mention pose legitimate threats to the civilian populations of American client states across the Arab peninsula.  By 2008, Iran had for the first time secured itself from foreign invasion, thanks to the American hubris of the War on Terror.

Any reasonable political observer in the world could understand this.  To his credit, President Obama spent much of his foreign policy capital trying to normalize relations with Iran – by far the most decent and courageous element of his legacy.  The Iranian people seemed receptive to Obama’s peace offering, and in 2013, they voted to replace the conservative administration of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with Hassan Rouhani of the centrist Moderation and Development Party.  The rise of ISIS seemed to cement a new US-Iranian détente – across Iraq and Syria, Iranian and American soldiers cooperated in missions targeting the Sunni fundamentalists, missions which continued until this week.  Rouhani put forward moderate liberalization and civil rights reform in Iran, the most humane since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.  Proxy wars between the Iran and the US-aligned Gulf monarchies burned on in Yemen and Syria, but channels of dialogue were widening.  By 2015, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council unanimously ratified a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran (JCPOA, also called the Iran Nuclear Deal), ending more than forty years of punitive sanctions as long as Iran refrained from developing a nuclear weapon.  Rouhani readily agreed.  Hardliners in Iran warned that any deal with the United States, the Great Satan, was bound to be broken – they remembered the 1953 coup in which the CIA deposed the leftist Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh and gave absolute power to the brutal Shah, and the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s when Saddam Hussein used American dollars and weapons to kill half a million Iranians.  But Rouhani and Obama both understood that America had more to gain in opening trade than in watching Europe and China enjoy exclusive access to Iranian oil.  This seemed obvious.

Still, the neocons regretted the lost opportunity.  While John McCain was running for president in 2007, he performed an impromptu song to the tune of the Beach Boys’ “Barbara Ann” in front of a campaign audience in South Carolina: “Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran!”[16]  Such laudatory figures as Bill Kristol, Norman Podhoretz, and David Frum continued to warn in magazines from the American Conservative to the Atlantic how Iran posed an apocalyptic threat that could only be tempered by military force.  None of the neoconservatives quite matched the vulgarity and gusto of Bush’s former UN Advisor John Bolton, who in 2011 became a paid lobbyist for the militia Mujahedin-e Kalk (MEK), a fringe group dedicated to the overthrow of the Iranian government and responsible for dozens of assassinations and bombings across the country.  In 2015, Bolton published an op-ed in the New York Times titled “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran.”[17]  His brand of excess and frequent presence on right-wing media made him a favorite of Saudi, Emirati, and Israeli lobbyists, who feared their own influence in the Middle East was being limited by a prosperous Iran.  But his worldview was fast losing favor with the American body politic.  Exhausted by decades of war and economic stagnation, even the Republican electorate turned on the neocons in 2016.  Donald Trump, guided by the internet populism of Goldman Sachs-banker-turned-alt-right-organizer Steve Bannon, dismissed the Bush administration as “globalists,” and distinguished himself from his fellow Republican candidates by (falsely) saying, “In Iraq, I was the only one who said, ‘Don’t do it, don’t do it, you’re going to destabilize the Middle East.’”[18]  He won the Republican nomination in a landslide.

Yet here we are.  At first, Trump scoffed at his corporate cabinet’s idea of hiring Bolton (apparently claiming “His mustache is a problem”).  But after his first two picks for National Security Advisor were either indicted or forced to resign, the President reconsidered.  John Bolton, or more likely the donor bundles he represents, was too valuable to be cut from the fold of the Republican Party leadership, and so on April 9, 2018, he became the National Security Advisor to the President.  He held the post for just over a year, jumping ship just before the impeachment inquiries began, but his time in office (however brief) was an existential victory for the neoconservative project and an incalculably destructive contingency for the world at large.  It was Bolton who sabotaged a peace accord between North and South Korea, it was Bolton who pulled together the clumsy coup attempt in Venezuela.  But nowhere did Bolton exert his hawkish idiocy like in Iran.  Just before accepting his nomination, he made big promises to an audience of MEK members: “The declared policy of the United States should be the overthrow of the mullahs’ regime…And that’s why, before 2019, we here will celebrate in Tehran!”[19]  He did so in two steps.

First, on May 8, 2018, he guided the President through withdrawing unilaterally from the JCPOA, reinstating a severe sanctions regime on the Iranian people and any other nation who might engage in trade with them.  Immediately, the Iranian economy collapsed, the nation’s fairly robust social services crumbled, the poor began to starve, and the moderate Rouhani administration plummeted in popularity while far-right Islamist populist parties cheered in vindication.  To cut their losses, the Rouhani government imposed a moderate tax on subsidized gas, which provoked nation-wide protests.  To silence the protests, Rouhani launched the country’s most brutal crackdown in decades, severing access to the internet and killing as many as 1,500 of the protestors.  In less than two years Iran has plummeted from a slowly liberalizing and prosperous power to one of the world’s most vicious police states.  However, it is worth noting that Rouhani has maintained his end of the JCPOA, taking no steps towards nuclear armament, in the hopes that cooler heads could still prevail in the United States.

Second, on April 8, 2019, Bolton declared the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, the official military of the sovereign Islamic Republic of Iran, a terrorist organization and therefore a legitimate target in the War on Terror.  Though the Authorization for Use of Military Force in 2001 was specifically drafted to target non-state actors (hence its indifference to geographic boundaries), Bolton argued that, for blatantly Islamophobic reasons, the IRGC fit the bill.  They are Muslims, and they are armed, after all.  His allegations that their proxies pose a national security threat to the United States, or deliberately threaten American civilians, are fabricated.  Though of course the IRGC is guilty of atrocities (bombing civilians in Syria and Iraq, executing citizens at home), these crimes pale in comparison to America’s own armed forces, or our proxy armies in Saudi Arabia and Israel.  At the time, this new designation changed little on the ground.  The IRGC was still our ally, conducting joint operations across Syria and Iraq to eliminate ISIS.  The Quds Forces, the foreign arm of the IRGC, continued to fight alongside American soldiers.  From his position on the battlefields as head of the Quds, Qasem Soleimani, like all Iranian leaders, assumed this was simply posturing – he responded in kind, posting memes mocking Bolton and Trump to Twitter.  But he should have paid attention: in legal terms, Qasem Soleimani, a recognized member of a tactical ally’s sovereign government, was now no different from Osama bin Laden or Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

In June of 2019, Bolton thought he had his moment.  After an explosion at a Saudi oil well, which American and Saudi intelligence blamed on an Iranian drone, events were spiraling rapidly.  At the insistence of Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and CIA Director Gina Haspel, away from media attention, Trump committed over a hundred thousand troops to a potential occupation of Iran, and authorized the first stages of an airstrike campaign.  Then, perhaps recalling Bolton’s failure to topple the Venezuelan government as promised a few months before, he got cold feet.  He called off the invasion with planes already in flight.[20]  Insulted and embarrassed, he began closing Bolton out of policy conversations until the National Security Advisor saw himself out last fall.  Pompeo and Haspel, of course, remain to whisper the neocon line in our President’s vapid narcissistic ear.

And now Bolton’s moment has finally come.

To The Future

Though the media and both political parties are tripping over themselves to frame Qasem Soleimani as a “monster” or “the world’s number one bad guy,” to again quote headlines, almost nobody in the United States knew he existed even one week ago.  Such an omission is perfectly understandable, since, contrary to the political establishment’s claims, Soleimani has never participated in any activities that impact domestic life in the United States.  However, in Iran, Soleimani was not only well known but widely loved, and the choice to assassinate him of all people could prove a catastrophic miscalculation on the part of the Trump administration.  According to American observers, Soleimani was far more popular among Iranians than President Rouhani or the government at large – as of October, 82% of Iranians viewed him favorably, even as support of President Rouhani sank to 42%[21] and anti-government protestors took to the streets.  Soleimani was an adept social media user who posted memorable propaganda videos from the front lines of the war with ISIS.  Both in Iran and Iraq, he is widely seen as responsible for the defeat of their brutal caliphate.  There are high-grossing films celebrating his storied career.  At a moment when hundreds of thousands of Iranians were willing to risk their lives protesting their government, Soleimani’s death is already reminding the Iranian people to unite against a common enemy, a greater threat.  In the Iranian elections next month, the far right will almost definitely use his murder as a rallying cry to defeat Rouhani’s moderates and restore the religious mania that fueled the regime’s worst atrocities in the 1980s.  If we do go to war with Iran this year, it will be war with a far more idealistic and effective government, and a far more dedicated populace, than ever before.  The scope of the murder that would be entailed in such a conflict is impossible to predict or even contemplate.

Ironically, Soleimani was likely in Iraq to suppress the very pro-sovereignty protestors who are now using his death as an anti-American rallying cry.  He flew into the Baghdad Airport, which doubles as an American army base, because he knew he was defending both American and Iranian interests.  He may not deserve the grief of the millions of mourners who flooded the streets across the Shi’ite world in his honor, but our government very much deserves their wrath.

Prime Minister Mahdi of Iraq, a spineless and corrupt coward who was on his way out of power just a week ago, has used this incident to regain the trust of his people by offering them what they want: on Sunday, he proposed (and Parliament passed) a bill to eject the United States from Iraq after seventeen years of occupation.  In response, Donald Trump tweeted that “we will charge them sanctions like they’ve never seen before.”  Again, Trump must have missed the irony, since the Clinton administration he so reviles already instituted the most brutal sanctions in world history on Iraq, killing well over a million people by starvation and disease over the 1990s.  Once a feared revisionist, Trump is adhering now to a tried-and-true method of political power perfected by Bill Clinton himself; don’t forget that Bill Clinton also once launched a round of air raids on Iraq at the height of an impeachment process.  It is hard to imagine any scenario from this point forward that does not involve increasing US presence in Iraq, where a proxy war between the United States and Iran is most likely to play out.

The Democratic Party, which just last month was willing to impeach Donald Trump for some minor electoral gamesmanship, is already proving itself entirely unwilling to prevent him from committing historic atrocities and war crimes in Iraq or Iran.  Despite her ability as Speaker of the House to kneecap Trump’s entire war machine, Nancy Pelosi saw no problem handing the President $738 billion to spend on military operations at his discretion just three weeks ago.  Only 48 of the 232 Democrats in the House of Representatives voted against the bill, and Congressman Ro Khanna’s amendment which would have specifically prevented an unauthorized attack on Iran was blocked by Speaker Pelosi herself.  Only eight Senators (four Democrats and four Republicans) voted against the bill, and only two presidential candidates, Bernie Sanders and Tulsi Gabbard, voiced opposition to the spending package.  It is a given that the political institutions in the United States will only enable a war with Iran, as they enable all wars.

How then do we prevent atrocity and violent suffering on a scale unprecedented in recent memory?

I’m asking sincerely.  I have absolutely no idea where to go from here.  It is not enough to maintain, as Camus did, that “it is the job of thinking people not to be on the side of the executioners.”  It is not enough to bear witness from the comfort of our computer screens.  It is not enough to pretend, like the timid and faithful, that there is another world for justice beyond this one.  Unless we are able to organize a project for the dignity and sovereignty of human beings, very quickly, that is as powerful as the project for the destruction of human dignity and autonomy, we will be complicit in unimaginable suffering.

[1] Physicians for Social Responsibility, Body Count: Casualty Figures after 10 Years of the “War on Terror,” (New York: Physicians for Social Responsibility, 2015), 15.

[2] See a strikingly honest op-ed from one of the Green Zone’s former colonizers, Emma Sky, “How the ‘Green Zone’ helped destroy Iraq,” Politico, March 2, 2016.

[3] See, among others, Robert Fisk, The Great War For Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005), 149.

[4] See Shane Harris and Matthew M. Aid, “CIA Files Prove America Helped Saddam as He Gassed Iran,” Foreign Policy, August 26, 2013.

[5] Interview with Lesley Stahl, 60 Minutes, CBS News, May 12, 1996.

[6] Jeremy Scahill and Murtaza Hussein, “The Changing of the Overlords: From the Rubble of the US War in Iraq, Iran Built a New Order,” Intercept, November 18, 2019.

[7] Quoted in Qassim Abdul-Zahara, “Protestors attack US Embassy in Baghdad after airstrikes,” Associated Press, January 1, 2020.

[8] Alan Jackson, “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning),” track 7 on Drive, Arista Nashville, 2002, compact disk.

[9] Mike Pence, Twitter post, January 3, 2020, 3:05 PM.

[10] Jeremy Scahill, “More Than Just Russia – There’s a Strong Case for the Trump Team Colluding with Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the UAE,” Intercept, June 10, 2018.

[11] Now deleted, this headline could be found on CNBC, Twitter post, January 3, 2020, 7:21 AM.  It was replaced with the more genteel quip, “America just took out a man many consider the world’s no. 1 bad guy.”

[12] Donald Kagan et al, Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategy Forces, and Resources for a New American Century (Washington: Project for a New American Century, 2000).

[13] See Craig Whitlock, “US secretly backed Syrian opposition groups, cables released by WikiLeaks show,” Washington Post, April 17, 2011.


[15] James Risen et al, “A Spy Complex Revealed: Leaked Iranian Intelligence Reports Expose Tehran’s Vast Web of Influence in Iraq,” Intercept, November 18, 2019.

[16] Quoted in Liz Sidoti, “McCain Jokes About Bombing Iran,” Associated Press, April 19, 2007.

[17] John R. Bolton, “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran,” New York Times, March 26, 2015.

[18] This claim has been thoroughly debunked, but that does nothing to diminish its importance.  See Andrew Kaczynski and Nathan McDermott, “In 2002, Trump Said He Supported Invading Iraq,” Buzzfeed News, February 18, 2016.

[19] Quoted in Robert Mackey, “Here’s John Bolton Promising Regime Change in Iran by the End of 2019,” Intercept, March 23, 2018.

[20] See Michael D. Shear et al, “Strikes on Iran Approved, Then Pulled Back,” New York Times, June 20, 2019.

[21] Nancy Gallagher et al, “Iranian Public Opinion Under Maximum Pressure,” University of Maryland School of Public Policy, 2019, 38.

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