Here we go again

Published May 18, 2019

THE sanctions, the threats, the arms build-up, the shrill accusations and the allegations against Iran are all from a B-movie we have seen before.

They are all part of the march to war that preceded the invasion of Iraq 16 years ago. Thousands of lives and six trillion dollars later, the region and the world are in a far worse place.

But empires never learn from their

What is in its DNA that has put the US on such a violent path?

mistakes. Before Iraq, there was the Vietnam quagmire that cost nearly 60,000 American and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese lives.

In fact, in its 239 years as an independent country, the US has seen only 17 years of peace. The rest of the time has been spent on fighting major and minor wars around the world. From its string of wars against a defenceless indigenous population to heroic actions like the invasion of Panama, the US has used its overwhelming military muscle to impose its will on those too weak to defend themselves.

But every now and then, it has encountered foes that had the tenacity and the courage to give it a bloody nose. The North Vietnamese taught the Americans that there were limits to their power, a lesson reinforced by Iraqi militias.

And now, the hopelessly outgunned Afghan Taliban are forcing the Americans to eat humble pie in the grinding war of attrition that has been going on for 18 years in Afghanistan. The current negotiations between the Taliban and the Americans are an indication of the latter’s desperation to exit the arena.

Given this track record, why do people like John Bolton, the national security adviser to Trump, and Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, think they’ll do better against Iran? Granted that they are ideological hawks, and are itching to attack Iran at Israel’s and Saudi Arabia’s behest, but an armed conflict will be no walk in the park.

The Iranian armed forces showed they were no pushovers when Saddam Hussein attacked their country back in 1980. After eight years of bloody fighting against a foe that had the support of the West, including help in acquiring chemical weapons technology, the war ended in a stalemate.

Since then, the Iranians have developed a sophisticated arms industry, and a formidable standing army. Their naval assets include hundreds of small, fast boats that carry anti-ship missiles, and can also be used in suicide attacks. They have thousands of missiles that can be launched from caves that honeycomb the coast.

So while an American first strike will do considerable damage, the Iranian response will be ferocious. And American bases in the region will be hostage to Iranian attacks.

Should Israel join the US in its attack, expect Hezbollah to launch a major offensive from its bases in Lebanon. If there is one force in the Middle East the Israelis would prefer not to fight, it is Hezbollah. Battle-hardened, well-armed, highly motivated and trained, it is capable of doing major damage to Israeli targets.

Given all these factors, why do the Americans seem hell-bent on starting a war against Iran? Obviously, Israel, with its massive clout in Trump’s White House, has been urging the Americans to attack, using the Iranian nuclear programme as a pretext. Never mind that uranium enrichment has been put on hold since the signing of the deal in 2015. Netanyahu has persuaded the gullible Trump that Iran’s nuclear programme had to be completely dismantled, failing which air strikes were the only other option.

Saudi Arabia has long been singing the same tune. The Saudis know full well that despite billions of dollars of arms purchases, their armed forces are no match for Iran. They have thus been calling on America to attack its hated regional rival.

Despite their string of military setbacks in the recent past, why are so many Americans still so gung-ho about yet another war? What is in the American DNA that has put the country on such a violent path? Why don’t American warriors give diplomats a chance to resolve differences rather than shoot from the hip?

I have long admired the creative ferment that has led to so many American triumphs in the arts and sciences. But I have been appalled by the daily acts of violence we witness with such sickening regularity. The killing of (usually) black suspects by cops, and the random shootings by armed psychotics in bars, schools and other public places have come to define America.

Although American forces have not exactly shone on the battlefield, they are still revered by the public. Despite the horrors they have visited on prisoners, politicians fear to criticise them. American generals, eyeing promotions and medals, have repeatedly assured politicians that victory is around the corner, given a few more years and a few thousand more soldiers.

But as we have seen, the years stretch on and victory remains elusive. And so it goes until the next war.

Published in Dawn, May 18th, 2019



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