Nearly a decade and a half ago I became an activist. For two years I led weekly peace marches protesting the Occupation of Iraq.
But the first anti-war protest I led wasn’t about Iraq. It was about Iran.
On January 11th, 2007, the US raided the Iranian Liaison Office in Ebid. The day after the news broke I talked to one of my friends and that Sunday we were leading a peace march protesting what we thought was a war on the horizon. The US seemed intent on provoking Iran into giving Bush an excuse to invade – rhetoric had turned into a flagrant violation of sovereignty and another war seemed to loom on the horizon.
This story probably sounds familiar if you have seen the news about the US assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in a Baghdad airport.
On January 2nd, 2020, the US government confirmed it had killed Major General Qassem Soleimani. The General was the leader of Iran’s Quds Force (an elite special operations branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard), a popular military figure in Iran, and one of the architects of Iran’s foreign policy. Several others were killed in the airstrike, including several members of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces—a state sponsored umbrella organization for numerous Iraqi militias. This comes on the heels of a series of airstrikes in Iraq and Syria conducted by the US Government against Kata’ib Hezbollah; it is worth noting these airstrikes sparked violent protests at the US embassy in Baghdad. The day after the assassination, it is being reported that 3,000 troops are being deployed to the Middle East. These events obviously did not come out of nowhere. Iran has been goading the US for months and successfully forced President Trump into a corner – in part because his policy since assuming office has been to escalate (Rational Security provides a nice summary of the topic).
The US is being greeted with familiar platitudes. Senator Tom Cotton said the war would take “Two strikes, the first strike and the last strike,” which is notably faster than Donald Rumsfeld’s 2002 prediction for Iraq of “Five days or five weeks or five months, but it certainly isn’t going to last any longer than that.” Senator Lindsay Graham called the attack “a pre-emptive defensive strike,” a succinct newspeak summary of the core of The Bush Doctrine. Meanwhile Mike Pompeo, the man who beat Lindsay Graham for Secretary of State, told CNN that he expects the Iranian People to “view the American action last night as giving them freedom,” a nice callback to Dick Cheney’s infamous “we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators” quote. Not to be outdone, Mike Pence is truly resurrecting the march to war with Iraq by claiming that Iran helped orchestrate 9/11.
This rhetoric is nothing new, and I am sure the parallels will only grow as time goes on. That said, unlike the invasion of Iraq, there is serious pushback coming from within the US political system. The Democratic Party appears united in opposition to the threat of war and Nancy Pelosi’s ability to rally her majority in the House of Representatives should not be underestimated. War is, in my estimation, unlikely; I think there is only a 15% chance of a conflict that kills over 500 US soldiers (so an “expected value” of ~75 US soldiers and who knows how many civilians dead for…something).
If the world is lucky, this will turn into just another partisan battle in the US. Of course the damage won’t end there. The US Congress won’t punish Trump for this violation of the War Powers Clause (90% confidence), it probably won’t even react, reinforcing the President’s ability to use the military however (s)he wants. The US’s relation with Iraq has been seriously harmed and this will only embolden the pro-Iranian voices within the Iraqi government. Meanwhile, this not only confirms everything hardliner anti-US politicians in Iran have been saying for decades, but it gives them a martyr around whom to rally. If Iran, or China, or Russia, or any other actor the US opposes kills a high ranking US official in an airstrike what will we say; “Hey that’s wrong, unless we do it”?
My older friends with clear memories of a time when the US wasn’t at war. I hope to experience that someday.