We now have a full-blown crisis in the Middle East with various incidents, particularly the attacks on a Norwegian and a Japanese tanker near the Strait of Hormuz. Immediately, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed the attack squarely on Iran without providing any evidence. In short order, the U.S. military released a video showing that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard removed a mine from one of the tankers, the Kokuka Courageous, a Japanese operated ship. It’s weird that this incident occurred when Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was in Iran attempting to bring about peace between the US and Iran.
Moreover, the Norwegian tanker was hit by a torpedo, whereas the Japanese tanker was hit by two flying objects, according to the president of the Kokuka Sango Company. Strangely, neither tanker was hit by a mine, as alleged by President Trump. So much for the video showing that a mine was released from the Kokuka Courageous by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard!
John Bolton wants to bring about regime change in Iran and in North Korea by the use of force, whereas Pompeo prefers to use draconian sanctions to bring Iran’s leaders to the bargaining table to change Iran’s behavior, forcing it to give up its nuclear facilities and drastically reducing Iran’s (and its allies) missile program.
Unfortunately, many Western allies (except Great Britain) do not trust President Trump and his close advisors like Mr. Bolton and Mr. Pompeo, knowing that President Trump and his team often lie and, more importantly, are to blame for reneging on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (J.C.P.O.A.) or Iranian nuclear deal made in 2015, and then imposing debilitating sanctions on Iran that amount to an economic or financial war with Iran in 2018. By pulling out of the Iranian nuclear deal, the Trump team has unknowingly strengthened the hand of Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.
It doesn’t seem fair for the US to blame Iran for every incident that happens caused by the Houthis in Yemen, since the Houthis do not take orders from Iran. Moreover, the Houthis are Zaydi Shiites and are not of the same sect as the Iranians. It’s true that Iran has given the Houthis a couple of millions of dollars, but this pales in comparison to what President Trump has given the Saudis by selling them $110 billion in weapons that cost 10,000 times more money than what the Iranians gave the Houthis. (See Juan Cole, Informed Comment, June 13, 2019).
For his part, President Trump does not want a war with Iran, for several possible reasons: it would be highly unpopular in the US, it would not be supported by France, Japan, Germany, China and Russia, it would cost about $5 trillion, thus adding to the national debt, and it would serve no good purpose, since it would not bring about peace in the Middle East. Rather, it would exacerbate the tensions between the Sunni nations (like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates) as opposed to the Shiites in Iran, Iraq, the Houthis in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Hamas in the West Bank.
Lately, the U.S. has sent the 90,000-ton aircraft carrier, the USS Abraham Lincoln, with about 70 aircraft, (with 44 Navy F18 Super Hornets), along with B52 bombers, cruisers and destroyers to the region near Iran. The strike force also includes submarines, drone aircraft, and surface-to-air missiles. They are now conducting war games in the area, flying fighter jets off the aircraft carrier twenty-four seven to make Iranians nervous.
Moreover, the US plans to send 900 more ground troops to the area, extending the stay of 600 ground troops already there, thus adding to the tens of thousands of other US troops stationed throughout the Middle East. There are now plans to send another antimissile system to the area as a backup for the antimissiles already there. (See “US Carrier in Gulf region sends clear signal to Iran,” The Associated Press, June 9, 2019).
Based on international law, the US has no right to punish Iran by putting a stranglehold on its economy nor has the US gone to the U.N. Security Council to get its approval for its draconian sanctions against Iran.
What would happen if the situation with our presence in Iran’s backyard were reversed? What if Russia (or Iran, if it could) sent an aircraft carrier with a strike force, composed of advanced fighter jets, bombers, cruise ships, destroyers, submarines, and the like, 12 miles off New York City in the Atlantic Ocean and played war games twenty-four seven? Would we allow this to happen? Would we idly stand by and do nothing? I don’t think so. We would declare war on Russia in a heartbeat.
This crisis in the Persian Gulf and other areas near Iran is one manufactured by our president. If President Trump and his team were wise, they would end this precipitous standoff with Iran immediately by removing these horrific sanctions. If this does not occur, Iran will enrich its uranium, thus nullifying the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action J.C.P.O.A. or nuclear agreement with Iran, and gravitate more closely to Russia.
According to Michael Morell, former deputy director of the C.I.A., there is no immediate threat if Iran ups its uranium enrichment program. Why so? It would still take about a year to develop an atomic bomb. Also, with Russia’s backing, Iran could utilize Russian weapons and know-how to its advantage in opposing the US and the Sunni Arabs. The stakes are sky-high, but the time for the President to remove these debilitating sanctions on Iran is now before we have a full-blown war in the Middle East in which no side wins, much like what happened relative to our war with Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Will we never learn from our past mistakes?
Richard Penaskovic is an emeritus professor at Auburn University, who taught religious studies for 30 years.