We, in the United States, are not very good at learning from history.
After our protracted, bloody and ultimately pointless war in Vietnam, the United States adopted the Weinberger Doctrine, designed to prevent wars not vital to our interests, and the kind of aimless blood-letting that carved more than 58,000 names on the Vietnam Memorial and left an estimated 3 million dead in Vietnam.
In 2003, we forgot that lesson and invaded Iraq, based on a concocted threat that proved to be entirely without merit. We had no feasible way to replace the power structure we toppled, and ultimately achieved nothing but creating a power vacuum that was filled by ISIS and between 500,000 and 2.4 million dead civilians.
Now, as if there were no lesson to be learned there, our president and his advisers are clamoring for another war that has no feasible victory and every promise of death, destruction and humanitarian crisis at a level not seen since World War II, or at least Vietnam (but we’ve forgotten what happened there).
Let’s assume the Iranians shot down our drone in international air space, and committed the attacks on two tankers — both disputed by Iran. Those would be provocative acts. But, they’d be nothing new in our long state of tension with Iran, and certainly not something worth the deaths of tens of thousands of young U.S. men and women and likely hundreds of thousands of Iranian civilians.
To approach the topic of Iran with even the slightest shred of honesty, we have to acknowledge the situation there is entirely of our own making. In 1953, the CIA overthrew democratically-elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh and reinstalled the Shah, in exchange for 40 percent of Iran’s oil. The Shah proved to be such a cruel dictator the population welcomed the arrival of the Iranian Revolution and the ayatollahs in 1979.
Since then, tensions have been constant, with peaks of provocation on both sides. When I was commissioned a naval officer 21 years ago, the greatest threat we trained for, the one we expected to be the most bloody, was a forceful reopening of the Strait of Hormuz in a war with Iran.
Thankfully, we never had to undertake that bloody business, because cooler heads always prevailed. But now, with the ascendance of Donald Trump and John Bolton — cowards who both evaded service in Vietnam — the presence of cooler heads and, frankly, adult leadership, has been removed from this volatile equation.
Bolton has been unabashed in his longstanding bloodlust for a war with Iran. When he left the Bush 43 administration in 2006, Bolton openly railed against the president who’d invaded Iraq as being too soft on Iran, for having “four and a half years of failed diplomacy.” To John Bolton, you see, not getting into a war is a case of failed diplomacy.
In advance of the now-defunct (because the Trump administration violated it) nuclear pact with Iran, Bolton openly advocated instead for a military strike, and has since repeatedly promised to invade Iran and topple its government (after all, it worked so well in 1953 Iran and 2003 Iraq).
The recent alleged provocations notwithstanding, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has striven to reduce tensions through our allies and the U.N., sidestepping direct interface with the Trump administration — a reasonable tactic, given Bolton’s loud calls for blood and Trump’s lack of integrity in violating our own treaty. Khamenei has reiterated that Iran does not want nuclear weapons, and his 2010 ruling that nukes are illegal under Islamic law — a ruling it would be hard for him to step back from within the context of his claim to legitimacy as an Islamic head of state.
But, Bolton will not be dissuaded, and just as we did in Iraq, he is furiously working to gin up justification for what he’s wanted all along — a bloody, costly war.
Our president disingenuously promises he doesn’t want a war, all while pouring gasoline on the flames of regional tension, sending billions of dollars of weapons to Iran’s regional foe, Saudi Arabia, and its bloody proxy war with Iran in Yemen. It seems unlikely Trump has the intent or competency to rein in John Bolton, leaving us dangerously close to an unnecessary and foolish war.
To those who think this war will be easily-won, that it’s necessary and would be glorious, let me say two things. First, I beg you to take an honest look at our history, at the wars we’ve fought and the coups we’ve sponsored since World War II. Use that littered field of bloody failure as a lens through which to view any conflict with Iran. Second, I understand where you’re coming from, in a way. I joined the U.S. Navy as an idealistic young officer, believing in the cause of our republic. Unfortunately, the ultimate outcome of my service was that I helped kill a lot of people who didn’t need to be killed, in a war that should not have been fought, and helped plunge an entire region into anarchy and violence beyond the wildest dreams of the regime we removed. And I don’t wish that on anyone else.
America’s fighting men and women deserve leaders who understand history, who will commit their lives to war only as the last resort, and who, preferably, would have had the courage to face a fight themselves. American citizens deserve leaders who will not commit their sons and daughters to war for corporate profit and to appease their own egos. America’s neighbors deserve an America that strives for peace, with integrity. We do not have what we deserve in our current president. And, if we want to avoid repeating our unfortunate history of unnecessary and costly war, we need to stand up to the president and his warmongering lackey.