History repeats itself first as a tragedy, then as a farce, argued Marx. This is what has been happening in the Middle East over the past few weeks with the same dubious cast of characters.
It beggars belief that after the catastrophes that the US visited on Afghanistan and Iraq under various pretexts, it still has the appetite and audacity to go after yet another Muslim country with the self-same bunch of excuses.
What is even more absurd is the deafening silence of the world community to the unfolding disaster even as it is sleepwalked into yet another civilizational conflict in the world’s most volatile region. All in the name of peace and progress and protecting the Western ideals and interests of course.
Interestingly, the current leader of the free world, who vehemently opposed the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and slammed his predecessors for repeatedly taking America to phoney wars in the Middle East, sees no irony in the way he is being manipulated and marched, eyes wide shut, into his own minefield in Iran by the war lobby and the Zionist-Neocon groups.
As Peter Beinart reasons in the Atlantic: “The unlovely truth is this: Throughout its history, America has attacked countries that did not threaten it. To carry out such wars, American leaders have contrived pretexts to justify American aggression. That’s what Donald Trump’s administration – and especially its national security adviser, John Bolton – is doing now with Iran.”
The ideological convictions of National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are hardly a secret. Neither is the baleful influence of Israel and its powerful friends like Jared Kushner, the son-in-law of the President.
A fossil from the Bush era, Bolton has for nearly a decade and half single-mindedly pushed for taking out Iran.
Last September, after an attack near the US embassy in Baghdad, Bolton warned the Ayatollahs next door: “If you cross us, our allies or our partners, if you harm our citizens, if you continue to lie, cheat and deceive, yes, there will indeed be hell to pay. We are watching and we will come after you.”
And hawks like him seem to have found a perfect opportunity in the current showdown that began with Trump walking out of the nuclear accord the US under Obama signed with Tehran.
After those mysterious attacks on Saudi and Emirati ships in the Gulf that were – not surprisingly – attributed to Iran and its friendly militias in the region, Tehran seemed to provide the US with yet another perfect excuse when it brought down a US surveillance drone over the troubled Strait of Hormuz last month.
Amid the war of words and claims and counterclaims over the location of the drone, an attack on Iran appeared all but imminent. The world waited with bated breath as many nervous Middle Eastern and international airlines diverted their flights to avoid flying over Iran and close to the strategic waterway that regulates much of the global supply of oil.
Commenting on the drone incident, Prof Beinart cites a number of instances when the US had similarly lured its potential victims: “In 1997, according to former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Hugh Shelton, a top official in Bill Clinton’s administration suggested that the general lure Saddam Hussein into shooting down a U-2 spy plane over Iraq so the US would have the “precipitous event” it needed “to go in and take out Saddam.”
In the end, if the US walked back from the brink and chose not to hit Iran, it was thanks largely to the rare commonsense that Trump sometimes betrays. Explaining the decision to hold back the very last minute, the president cited the high number of casualties that his action could have caused. In his ostensible psychosis, Trump demonstrates an uncanny sense of pragmatism that is both perplexing and encouraging.
However, he has been far from reasonable in his blind opposition to the nuclear accord with Iran. He has opposed it tooth and nail, partly because of his Zionist supporters and financiers like casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson and partly because of his pathological dislike for his much-loved predecessor.
But whether Trump really wants war or not, he risks, wittingly or unwittingly, sparking one with his dangerous doctrine of “maximum pressure.” First by unilaterally scrapping the nuclear pact and then by imposing several rounds of crippling sanctions on Iran, including on Ayatollah Khamenei, Washington is leaving Iran no room to manoeuvre, forcing it into actions that may be considered provocative. The US sanctions, especially on Iran’s vital oil exports, have devastated an already tottering Iranian economy, causing untold hardship and suffering to its people.
If Trump had hoped to rein in the regime in Tehran, forcing it to fall in line and beg for mercy, he would have been sorely disappointed. Indeed, these threats and tactics of bluff and bluster seem to make the Iranians even more defiant and firm in their resolve to confront the ‘Big Satan’.
This week, Iran announced that it had exceeded the critical limit on enriching weapons grade uranium set under the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, drawing swift rebuke from US and Europe. Trump has been quick to react warning Iran that it is “playing with fire”.
Indeed, no matter what its justification, by choosing to revive its nuclear programme, Iran may be walking into a trap set by its enemies. This is what the hawks – and this US administration is full of them – have been waiting for. Indeed, this has exactly been the plan, in the words of Beinart. Provoke Iran until it provides a pretext for America to strike.
The US has already despatched warships and thousands of soldiers to the region. It is a recipe for disaster.
On the other hand, Israel’s military designs on Iran have hardly been a secret. It cannot tolerate another strong and independent military power in the neighbourhood and has repeatedly vowed to take it out, nukes or not.
With tensions running this high and both sides being in the state of hair-trigger alert, playing dangerous war games in the volatile Gulf waters that have already witnessed so many disastrous wars, a tiny incident could spiral into a full-fledged conflict in no time.
More importantly, if a war between Iran and the US and its allies does become a reality, it is not going to be limited to the Strait of Hormuz or the Gulf but push the whole region into the flames of war.
Iran is not entirely blameless. It has a long history of playing power games across the region, from Syria and Iraq to Lebanon and Yemen, which is another country that has been totally ravaged thanks to the pointless proxy war between Iran and its Arab neighbours.
Both sides refuse to see how their war of attrition and endless bloodletting is not just draining away their precious resources and energies, not to mention thousands of innocent lives, it is also directly helping their common enemy. Without these never-ending wars in the Middle East, where would the US military-industrial complex and Western manufacturers of arms be? What would they do to sustain their national economies?
By Mr. Aijaz Zaka Syed
The writer is an independent writer and former editor.