War drums in Washington, echoes of the past
Ambassador Curtis A. Ward
(27 June 2019) — The louder the war drums in Washington the more I think of what has been and what could be. The grainy video presented to prove Iran’s culpability in the attack on the oil tankers in the Gulf of Hormuz purportedly shows the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) removing unexploded mines from the hull of one of the tankers. The video alone is not conclusive evidence to support the claim of Iran’s complicity in the attacks. Iran has denied its own direct involvement or ordering any of its proxies to carry out the attacks. The U.S. had not presented other supporting evidence of Iran’s involvement. Yet, Iran was deemed guilty of the attacks and must be punished. European countries, with few exceptions, were sceptical of the claims out of Washington and were asking for indisputable evidence.
A US-Iran military conflict would be devastating for Iran, destabilize the entire region, and the ensuing impact on the global economy would be at an un-imaginary scale. However, to believe Iran’s denial of culpability for the attacks on the oil tankers would suggest the IRGC was engaged in mitigating action to prevent a US military attack.
Since most do not believe Iran wants a suicidal war with the United States, it raises the possibility the attacks on the oil tankers could have been orchestrated elsewhere other than Tehran. Terrorist groups, such as ISIS and al-Qaida and others less well known, would welcome another Middle East war as an opportunity to resuscitate, grow and extend their reach. Also, countries in the region that are enemies of Iran that encourage destructive US military actions against Iran could see this as an opportunity to further their cause.
In the wake of deep global scepticism, and with the situation remaining fluid and dangerous, new issues since emerged pushed both countries closer to military confrontation. The US military disclosed that Iran shot down one of its drones in international space over the Strait of Hormuz. Iran, in admitting to downing the unmanned aircraft, claimed it was in Iran’s air space and its defiance was in defence of its territorial integrity.
In what would amount to a significant escalation of the situation, President Donald Trump responded by ordering a surgical strike in Iran to destroy the site from which the Iranian missile was fired downing the US drone. President Trump revoked his military order within minutes of the impending attack, saying he rescinded the order to prevent the loss of human lives in Iran which would have been disproportionate to destruction of the unmanned aircraft. A sceptical international community breathed a collective temporary sigh of relief. Neither government appeared trustworthy, and President Trump’s change of course could turn before long on the future persuasiveness of his hawkish foreign policy advisers
In lieu of a military response, President Trump imposed new targeted financial sanctions on Iran’s Supreme Leader and others appointed by him, including military leaders. Considering the sanctions already imposed on Iran and Iranian entities and individuals since the US withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA or Iran Nuclear Deal), the effect of the new sanctions on these individuals are likely to have marginal effect. At least for now the war hawks in Trump’s administration and among Republican legislators in Washington have been shunted aside.
Iran is far from being blameless for the region’s instability and insecurity, and the IRGC is a known major sponsor and facilitator of terrorist groups, but the current Iran crisis was created in Washington. President Barack Obama’s administration successfully led difficult negotiations to halt Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. Following abrogation of the JCPOA, President Trump imposed harsh comprehensive sanctions on the Iranian government and Iranian entities with devastating consequences to Iran’s economy. Backed by war hawks in his administration an Iran crisis was revived reversing the stable geopolitical and strategic environment bequeathed by President Obama, like many of his geopolitical initiatives, has been reversed.
Iran’s capacity to block shipping through the Strait of Hormuz, thus disrupting global oil supply and seriously affecting global economic stability, is not in doubt. The debilitating effects of US sanctions on Iran’s economy evoked a threat from the Iranian government to exercise that option. Iran’s threat may be seen as self-preserving and a bargaining option for that country’s leaders. While the Trump administration has said the sanctions were intended to force Iran to cease sponsorship of terrorism in the region, the administration’s stated objective is to effect regime change. Facing Trump administration’s threats, Iran’s leaders may be desperate to forewarn of the heavy price to be paid if they are attacked militarily.
In this milieu of claims and counter claims, it is imperative that the Trump administration provide the international community with the ‘indisputable evidence’ of Iran’s illegal actions claimed to be in US possession. Trump’s foreign policy team from the very outset has pushed for regime change in Iran. Thus, mere words will not suffice. Given unassailable proof, the international community would support re-imposition of harsh UN Security Council sanctions on Iran and Iranian leaders. And, for Iran to have any negotiating leverage with the international community it cannot be seen as the villain.
The international community cannot ignore lessons of the past. Obfuscations of President George W. Bush’s administration resulted in regime change in Iraq. Many voices, particularly in the UN Security Council, doubted US claims that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. The US was not deterred from pursuing the Iraqi disaster. Some 16+ years later, the region remains unstable. The international community has suffered the consequences, including the proliferation of international terrorism.
Notedly, Iraq’s degraded and disorganized military in 2003 is incomparable to Iran’s sophisticated and missile-armed military. Also, through its many proxies, Iran has the capacity to unleash an asymmetric war against the US, its allies and interests far beyond the region. War with Iran will result in many casualties on both sides. No one should seek that.
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© 2019 Curtis A. Ward/The Ward Post
Ambassador Curtis A. Ward
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