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Last June, following the announcement of still more crippling sanctions on Iran, President Trump added fuel to the fire with a few tweets: "Any attack by Iran on anything American will be met with great and overwhelming force. In some areas, overwhelming will mean obliteration." He added that a war wouldn't "last very long."

U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton was asked in May whether the U.S. could win a war with Iran. He said yes, adding: "Two strikes. The first strike and the last strike." He explained that "If Iran tries to start a war with us, we have infinitely more power than do they to stop that war in its tracks."

Contrary to Trump's and Cotton's dismissive bravado, James Pardew, a Jonesboro native, former Army officer and former ambassador under Presidents Clinton and Bush, wrote more realistically in the Democrat-Gazette on Jan. 9 that "the U.S. is not tiptoeing into a Middle Eastern quagmire. It is waist-deep and sinking."

A "great and overwhelming" U.S. attack on Iran would be the beginning of another endless war that would make Iraq look like child's play. Iran has three times Iraq's population and four times Iraq's land area. Unlike Iraq, it has a highly unified, 90 percent Shiite population. It can mobilize 1.5 million para-military personnel in addition to half a million active-duty troops and would employ sophisticated weaponry mixed with unconventional guerrilla tactics. European nations would not join us. Like Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, this war would not end well for us.

A Washington Post article published Jan. 12 in this newspaper bore the headline "Always at war. Why do we keep saying we are a peaceful nation?" Why, indeed?

Our assassination of Gen. Qasem Soleimani, Iran's top military commander and the second-most powerful member of Iran's government, ratcheted up the dangers and was an act of war. It's already spawned an Iranian rocket attack injuring 11 U.S. troops, and the shoot-down of a Ukrainian air liner by Iranian gunners in a tragic "fog of war" accident that cost 176 lives. This is a mirror image of the U.S. mistaken shoot-down of an Iranian passenger airliner in July 1988 during the Iran-Iraq war by a surface-to-air missile fired from the USS Vincennes, a U.S. Navy warship. The Airbus was destroyed and all 290 aboard died. Thus do innocents suffer the consequences of humankind's greatest folly: wars against our own species.

The threat of large-scale war with Iran is great and increasing. This is the foreseeable result of Trump's May 2018 decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear agreement and impose devastating sanctions. We hoped to force Iran to agree to a broader deal that restricted conventional weaponry, but achieved only a more perilous world. Our withdrawal from this very good deal was America's most dangerous international mistake since Vietnam. The agreement, a crowning achievement of the Obama administration, was working to everybody's benefit. It helped protect the planet from one of its greatest threats: nuclear weapons. It was a self-absorbed pipe dream to suppose we could force Iran to add its conventional armaments to the agreement's carefully constructed prohibitions against certain nuclear activities. It's always a mistake to mix nuclear arms talks with conventional arms talks, because the two kinds of weapons are used for entirely different purposes: deterrence versus fighting.

Escalation of this mistake was inevitable. Ever since May 2019, Iran has taken one additional step every 60 days to decrease compliance with the agreement. These steps include raising uranium enrichment above 4 percent, increasing uranium supplies to over 300 pounds, modernizing and expanding their centrifuges, and re-opening the Arak plutonium-producing reactor. Where all this will end is anybody's guess.

There is only one civilized way out of the box we have put ourselves in. The United States must return to the agreement and drop the sanctions. This will not happen under Trump, who hates all things Obama and surrounds himself with hawkish advisers. The only solution short of war is for citizens to insist, via all possible legal means including demonstrations in the streets of every state and every village including Fayetteville, that we cease our current aggression against Iran. Above all, it's imperative to defeat this disastrous president in 2020. Hopefully, we can muddle through until then without blundering into a war that we will everlastingly regret.

•••

To promote democratic engagement, I send out occasional (less than one per week) email messages about local environmental and peace activities. If you want to receive such messages, email me at [email protected]uark.edu.

Commentary on 01/28/2020

Print Headline: Blundering into a new war

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