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America is on the verge of another big military mistake. We should have learned better from our disastrous attacks on Vietnam, Iraq and Libya. Why must American foreign policy be all muscle and no brains?

A series of mistakes has moved us to a dangerous precipice. President Trump, urged on by Israel and Saudi Arabia, initiated this downward spiral by withdrawing from the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement. The agreement's co-signers, China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, Germany and Iran, strongly disapproved and still support the agreement. Trump's program of "maximum pressure" then crippled the Iranian economy, and was supposed to bring Iran to the negotiating table. But Iran had already been at that table, signed an agreement, and remained in full compliance. Trump continued his aggressive moves, tightening the screws until Iran, under extreme U.S. pressure, announced on May 8 it would increase production of slightly enriched (but within treaty limits) uranium for 60 days, when it would break out of the treaty.

Iran, an ancient and proud nation, had little choice. To capitulate would be to accept defeat in the 40-year hot-cold-and-proxy war between the two big Mideast powers: U.S.-backed Saudi Arabia, leader of the Sunni Islamic tribes, and Russia- (and China-) backed Iran, leader of the Shiite Islamic tribes.

This was just what Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton needed to embolden their hawkish advice. Four B-52 bombers -- the airplane that carpet-bombed Vietnam -- were dispatched to Qatar, an additional aircraft carrier strike group sailed toward the Strait of Hormuz, non-essential personnel were pulled out of Iraq, and 1,500 additional troops are going to the Mideast along with an additional $7 billion in military aid to Saudi Arabia. Iran's foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif commented that the U.S. buildup is "extremely dangerous and threatens international peace and security." Iran has described the increasing pressure as "psychological warfare."

U.S. behavior has discredited Iranian moderates such as Zarif and President Hassan Rouhani while emboldening Iranian militants such as the Islamic Revolutionary Guard. In the wake of Trump's maximum pressure, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei publicly chastised Rouhani and Zarif for agreeing to the nuclear deal, a deal Khamenei had tacitly approved in order to lift economic sanctions.

Bolton is a loose cannon. In 2004 he warned Iran would soon acquire nuclear weapons, perhaps in just three years. Last year he, along with U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas (who claims a war with Iraq would be "easily winnable"), successfully urged Trump to ax the nuclear deal. Bolton has argued for years that we need to attack Iran. This parallels his advice prior to invading Iraq. According to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, "despite having access to assessments that challenged the notion that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, Bolton still pushed for war."

If you thought Iraq and Vietnam represented the ultimate quagmires, think again. Iran's population today is 81 million, versus Iraq's 26 million when we invaded. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld insisted 100,000 troops could defeat Iraq within six months. The number of troops in Iraq during 2003-2009 varied between 140,000 and 180,000. Paul Bremer, Bush's administrator in Iraq, later admitted that "we never had enough troops" there. Since Iran is over three times as populous as Iraq, the U.S. would need over 500,000 troops to occupy Iran -- similar to Vietnam at its peak in 1968.

The U.S. ran into big trouble in Iraq when the other side turned to guerrilla tactics. Iran can already mobilize 1.5 million paramilitary personnel, in addition to a half-million active-duty personnel. Iraq was ruled by a 17 percent Sunni minority of the population, allowing the U.S. to ally with the majority Shiites against Hussein's Sunnis; Iran is ruled by a 90 percent Shiite majority that would fairly uniformly oppose our invasion. The U.S. had international allies in Iraq; European nations would not join us in Iran. Iraq's neighbors didn't strongly oppose our Iraq adventure; Shiite Iraqis, Syrians, the Hazara of Afghanistan, and Pakistan's 40 million Shiites would support Iran. We would look like a unilateral bully.

A war with Iran would either be endless, or would end with our defeat.

We have boxed ourselves into a corner. We have over-militarized the problems of the Mideast, enormously multiplying the death, displacement and destruction. It's time instead for the U.S. to pull out of all Mideast military involvement, including Saudi Arabia and Israel, and confine ourselves to the kind of assistance that actually helps: Food, health, education, peaceful infrastructure and support for the United Nations.

Commentary on 06/11/2019

Print Headline: No war with Iran

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