In his State of the Union address on June 29th, 2002, President George W. Bush famously called Iraq, Iran, and North Korea the “axis of evil.” Pres. Bush made this statement in order to rally the nation against countries that he thought sponsored terrorism and/or desired to make weapons of mass destruction. 

About nine months later, in March, 2003, the U.S., Great Britain (and smaller forces from our allies) invaded Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein, on the pretext that he possessed “weapons of mass destruction.”  However, no such weapons were ever found and many experts agree that the real reason for the invasion was to seize Iraqi oil and that the Bush administration lied to the American people in order to countenance our invasion of Iraq. This decision by President Bush ranks as one of the worst decisions our country ever made.

The war lasted only about two months, but it cost the lives of 500,000 Iraqis and the lives of 4,486 Americans not counting their allies. The U.S. spent over two trillion dollars for this act of aggression, plus we are still paying the price today. How so? Political pundits feel that the death of Saddam Hussein left a vacuum in Iraq, one filled by some of Saddam’s generals, who formed a hard-core terrorist group called Daesh or I.S.I.S. that we are still fighting today. So much for the vaunted advantage of “military might.”

Some questions about our actions in the Middle East: Is there anything positive that came out of our war with Iraq or with our 18-year war against the Taliban in Afghanistan? Have we learned any lessons that would help us avoid future wars? Have our recent air strikes in Syria helped that nation bring closure to the civil war between the government of President Assad and the rebel groups we have supported? Lastly, will it further the cause of peace in the Middle East for President Trump to cancel the policy that required the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to report civilian deaths caused by our drone attacks in Afghanistan? Is flexing our muscle by bombing Syria, Afghanistan, and Yemen the way to go in the Middle East or should we try diplomacy and negotiation?

Both the U.S. and Israel have what I call “Iran Anxiety.”  Consider this: Iran has no desire to attack Israel. Rather, its foreign policy is basically defensive, since its military is no match for either Israel much less the U.S., it fears regime change brought about by the U.S., and an attack by Israel since Netanyahu has wanted to attack Iran for so-called nuclear weapons that are non-existent. Israel has at least 150 nuclear bombs while Iran has none. Israel has the best air force in the entire Middle East whereas Iran has obsolete planes dating back to the 1970s. Iran has a limited tank corps and is separated from Israel by rugged territory in several countries, (such as Iraq, Syria, and Jordan) that would not let the Iranian army pass through. (See Juan Cole, Engaging The Muslim World, New York, Palgrave/Macmillan, 2010).

Also, the Iranians are aware that it cannot attack Israel with its missiles without shedding the blood of Palestinian Arabs. Moreover, Israel could easily bomb Tehran, thus killing circa 8.5 million Iranians. In short, it would be suicide for Iran to attack Israel since the U.S. has Israel’s back and the present Shia’ clerics are well aware of that fact.

Historically speaking, the U.S. is no ‘Snow White’ when it comes to Iran. For example, in 1953 the C.I.A. (in league with Great Britain), engineered a coup against the democratically elected leader of Iran, Mohammad Mosaddeqh, because he wanted to nationalize Iran’s oil, rather than giving a lion’s share to the U.S. and Great Britain. As a result, the U.S. brought about regime change, installing Shah Pahlavi as the leader of Iran, who threw into prison or ruthlessly killed anyone who opposed him. 

There was a popular uprising against the regime of Shah Pahlavi, who fled the country and brought Ayatollah Khomenei to power in the 1979 Islamic Revolution. When Saddam Hussein invaded Iran, thus starting the Iraq-Iran war that lasted from 1980-1988, the U.S. said and did nothing to Iraq, when President Hussein used chemical weapons against the Iranians. No wonder Iran does not trust the U.S.

In 2017, President Trump unilaterally reneged on the nuclear deal with Iran, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (J.C.P.O.A.) made in 2015 with the P5 +1, namely, China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. In doing so Mr. Trump destabilized the Middle East and alienated our allies, who strongly believe that this agreement with Iran should be honored by all parties to the J.C.P.O.A. agreement. In reality, the J.C.P.O.A. was “a success for nuclear non-proliferation,” according to the Middle East Report in the Winter, 2015 issue.  

It’s of huge importance to control nuclear proliferation around the globe. President Reagan, for example, advocated for a world without nuclear weapons. Also, Israeli generals told P.M. Netanyahu that the current deal was working well. Over the years, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has carefully scrutinized Iran’s nuclear facilities and found no violations. In fact, Iran has accepted restrictions that went beyond its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

To heighten the tension with Iran, after unilaterally reneging on the J.C. P.O.A. agreement, Pres. Trump put severe sanctions on the Iranians in order to bring about regime change in Iran. These sanctions are costing Iranian banks, corporations, and funds amounting to over a billion dollars. The rial, Iran’s currency, has been hard hit by sanctions and has lost 70 percent of its value since 2018. Sanctions simply do not work and create more enemies than friends.

Isn’t it ironic that Pres. Trump has gone out of his way to schmooze with Kim Jong Un, who has constructed missile sites and made no concessions about curbing his nuclear program, yet our President, the great deal maker, has not invited Ayatollah Khamenei to meet with him face-to-face to iron out their differences, although the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has inspected Iran carefully and found absolutely no violations! 

Pres. Trump must do two things to show goodwill toward Iran: 1. Apologize for past mistakes when we have meddled in Iran by effecting regime change (that is totally against international law), and 2. Remove crippling sanctions immediately (that make the lives of Iranians totally miserable) so that serious talks can begin to ratchet down the tension between the U.S. and Iran and hopefully bring about peace between the U.S. and Iran, rather than war.  

It’s beyond the parameters of this piece to expand on other issues dealing with the U.S. and Iran. I intend to do so in another article.

Richard Penaskovic is an emeritus professor at Auburn University, who taught religious studies for 30 years.

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