The case against war with Iran

On the public radio program 1A this morning Vali Nasr, Dean of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, discussed what the shooting down of a US surveillance drone by Iran might lead to and it is well worth listening to. He made the point that Iran might just be fed up with the US essentially trying to strangle that nation’s economy with its sanctions policy. He argues that the deal that was signed between Iran on one hand and the US, Russia, China, France, UK, and Germany on the other required that the earlier sanctions should be eased in return for commitments made by Iran regarding its nuclear program. He said that while Iran has kept its end of the bargain, the other nations have not and the promised sanctions relief has not come about.

The last straw for Iran may have been the US walking away from the deal and then even increasing sanctions in an effort to reduce Iran’s oil exports to zero. He thinks that Iran has decided that the US is seeking regime change and to crush them and that their own restraint has only made the US more aggressive. They have simply had enough and are now pushing back, and with this action that country is saying that they can and will fight back.

Iranian officials have said that the shooting down was a deliberate act and a success of the country’s security forces, but claimed that the aircraft was over Iranian territory.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) news website said the drone “was shot down when it entered Iran’s airspace near the Kouhmobarak district in the south”, referring to the area of Iranian coast facing the strait of Hormuz.

“The downing of the American drone was a clear message to America … our borders are Iran’s red line and we will react strongly against any aggression … Iran is not seeking war with any country, but we are fully prepared to defend Iran,” the IRGC commander, Hossein Salami, said, according to Iranian media. Iran has announced its intention to take the matter to the UN security council.

This is a very dangerous time. Two foreign policy establishment analysts David Aaron Miller and Richard Sokolsky write that starting a war with Iran would be a very bad move strategically.

Ever since World War II, wars have not been kind to American presidents. The United States didn’t achieve victory in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan, and the costs of these wars in human lives and dollars were staggering.

Should war occur, President Trump will wish he had stayed out. Given that he defines the world in terms of his political rather than the national interest, he would be wise to consider the following.

If the regime did collapse, it would likely be followed either by a period of instability or a government that is even more militantly anti-American.

In response to more limited U.S. military attacks, Iran has many options available to raise the cost for the U.S. and its friends in the region — including in Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan.

There is no reason to believe that Iran’s supreme leader is prepared to suffer the humiliation of returning to negotiations and caving to U.S. demands, especially since it was the Trump administration that walked away from an agreement with which the Iranians were complying.

At best, should the U.S. go to war against Iran, it will be able to muster the diplomatic and perhaps military support of four countries: the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Israel. Otherwise, the rest of the world has been completely put off by the Trump administration’s unilateralism, belligerent nationalism, its decision to leave the nuclear agreement without a compelling cause and actions that are clearly aimed at provoking a military confrontation with Iran.

But the main restraint on Trump starting a war may be that he campaigned and won on the promise that he would get America out of its endless wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria. He has failed completely to do so and starting yet another war would be to compound his failure. On the other hand, he and his advisors have made very bellicose statements that are hard to walk back from. Attacking Iran has long been the dream of Trump’s national security advisor John Bolton and other neoconservatives. But today Trump seemed to be looking for a way out, suggesting that maybe a “loose and stupid” lower-level Iranian military officer might have made the decision to shoot the drone without clearing it with the top leadership.

Nasr thinks that Donald Trump needs to quickly find an ‘exit off-ramp’ to avoid war and that other countries will have to intervene and act as intermediaries to reduce the tensions. He thinks that the European countries have little credibility with Iran and that Japan may be a better bet.


  1. says

    The US is lying through its teeth. That drone was absolutely over Iranian air space and the Iranians did not attack those two ships. Iran doesn’t want war and while it will do things like shoot down a drone in its air space, it’s not going to go and do it in international waters. A repressive theocracy? Yes. Stupid and suicidal? No.

  2. jrkrideau says

    He [Vali Nasr] thinks that Iran has decided that the US is seeking regime change

    What would make him think that, well except that Pompeo, Bolton and other current or former US administration staff have been screaming for regime change for years? Heck, the whole-hearted support and material assistance the US supplied in the Iran–Iraq War might even have been a hint.

    He thinks that the European countries have little credibility with Iran and that Japan may be a better bet.

    I was just reading an interview with someone? , forget who, who suggested that Putin might be a better choice. He knows the players and he has a vested interest in calming thing down. It might, also, make him look good and increases Russian prestige.

    Have a look at a map. While there are no shared land borders it is not very far from Iran to Russia. Putin does not want a war followed, if the US actually can do anything, by a failed state, mobs of refugees, and terrorists on his southern flank. He, reportedly was horrified at the Libyan debacle.

    I have always held that was the major ( only?) reason Russia went into Syria. For a long time, I could not understand the US’s policy in Syria, assuming that they had a coherent one, but I finally have come to the conclusion that the US wanted to turn Syria into a failed state,à la Libya.

    Another thing is, that one suspects the idiots like Pompeo and Bolton think that attacking Iran would just be another Iraq and that is crazy.

    If the Wiki is correct, it looks like Iran has a bit over half a million in the military and can expand it quickly to one million. It also is a very modern and generally well-equipped military. Their missile defences look particularly strong and they have a very modern submarine fleet, especially designed for use in the Persian Gulf. I suspect the Pentagon is shuddering thinking about the possibility of tangling with Iran.

    I enjoy some of the NPR programmes but their international knowledge seems a bit lacking.

  3. jrkrideau says

    @ 1 Tabby Lavalamp
    The US is lying through its teeth
    Well, their lips were moving.

    A repressive theocracy
    Yes, but they are some kind a half-assed democracy as well. It is very strange but it allows opposition parties, competing party platforms, etc. I am not sure but there may not even be serious discrimination against non-shia.

    If I recall, they even have a small number of women in parliament Ah yes, the CNN story says 17. Not exactly great, but compared to Saudi Arabia which is a despotic repressive theocracy where women just got the right to drive a year or so ago,it is better than nothing and may be a sign of a little progress.
    You have to see Saudi Arabia to believe it and even then it is difficult to believe your eyes. As a friend of mine said as he was returning to Ireland, “Nobody will believe my stories”.

  4. Owlmirror says

    I am not sure but there may not even be serious discrimination against non-shia.

    I was curious, and looked up information about the Iranian Parliament.

    Currently, there are 290 members of Parliament, fourteen of whom represent non-Muslim religious minorities (4.8%),


    There are 5 reserved seats in the Iranian Parliament for the religious minorities. After the Persian Constitutional Revolution, the Constitution of 1906 provided for reserved Parliamentary seats granted to the recognized religious minorities, a provision maintained after the 1979 Iranian Revolution. There are 2 seats for Armenians and one for each other minority: Assyrians, Jews and Zoroastrians. Given that the Bahá’í Faith is not recognized, they do not have seats in the parliament. Sunni Muslims have no specific reserved seats, but can take part in the ordinary election process at all constitutional levels. Sunni members of parliament are mostly from areas with strong Sunni ethnic minorities like Baluchistan.

    There is some conflict between the claim that there are fourteen non-Muslims, and the fact that there are only five minority seats, and all other candidates must be practicing Muslims.

  5. KG says

    There have been reports (a) that Trump initially ordered strikes on military targets in Iran after the downing of the drone and (b) that Tucker Carlson persuaded him to cancel them. That we should have to rely on Tucker Carlson to prevent a disastrous war beggars belief!

  6. blf says

    KG@8, There are also reports aircraft were in the air when an order to stand down was received; fortunately, if true, no missiles had yet been fired (Donald Trump ‘cancelled Iran strikes with planes in the air’).

    As an aside, when checking the Tucker Carlson claim, the first site which showed was RT, who are notoriously unreliable. However, several reliable sites confirm hair furor is indeed thought to have spoken to Carlson (e.g., Trump fudges his red line as Iran takes out a US drone and Tucker Carlson Tells Trump in Private: No War With Iran), albeit it’s not clear they spoke directly about the drone shootdown.

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