March 19th 2003, US forces in coalition with the United Kingdom and others initiate war on Iraq in a conquest to overthrow the ruthless dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. During this time President George W. Bush famously announced, “At this hour, American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger.” The Bush administration had built practically one hundred per cent of their case for war on the premise that Saddam Hussein was keeping “weapons of mass destruction” and was ready to use them. But soon after, it became imminent that the origins of these claims were baseless.
Soon after the initial invasion of Baghdad, coalition forces were able to swiftly topple Hussein’s regime and capture Iraq’s major cities in the span of just 3 weeks whilst sustaining only minor casualties. At this stage, all seemed well after President Bush declared the end of major combat operations on May 1st 2003. But despite this victory, instead of immediately pulling US troops out of Iraq, Bush attempted something that up until then was anathema to Republicans – nation building. Most Americans at this time recognised that the US had stabilised the Middle East and would then ensure a peaceful transition to a new democratically elected government and free society.
But this would end in unequivocal failure after a growing insurgency prolonged 8 years of intense guerrilla warfare, which according to the BBC resulted in 4487 US personnel killed, over 100,000 Iraqi civilian deaths and US financial costs projected anywhere between $802 billion all the way to possibly as high as $3 trillion when additional impacts on the US budget and economy are considered.
So what did all of this turmoil and devastation achieve? Well instead of achieving the primary goal of regime change in Iraq, it achieved many thousands of deaths of Iraqi troops/civilians and coalition forces, the loss of trillions of taxpayer dollars, destabilization of the Middle East and no so-called weapons of mass destruction were found after searches and interrogation of Saddam Hussein following his capture on December 16th 2003. But most notably, in the years since leaving Iraq, the resurgence of al Qaeda – which was on the ropes after the surge has led to a substantial increase in ethno-sectarian terrorism making it seem as if all of our efforts were ultimately futile.
Despite this utter tragedy of a War, some still believe to this day that it was the right decision. Take it from national security advisor for the Trump administration John Bolton; “I don’t think that there is any doubt that the decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein was the correct decision.”
Bolton, who also served as Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Organization of Affairs under the Bush administration continues to champion the war In Iraq and is also pushing for in his own words “regime change in Iran… There is a viable opposition to the rule of the Ayatollahs, the only option is to change the regime itself.” Bolton along with other war hawks such as Mike Pompeo and Nikki Haley pushed hard for war in Iraq; and based off of their rhetoric alone could drive the US on the verge of conflict with Iran. But how feasible is this in actuality?
Now, although history never repeats itself, sometimes it rhymes and these rhymes can help us to understand the present. One of the first steps toward war in Iraq began with economic sanctionsin order to hinder the progress of lethal arms programs, such as the development of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. And the similarities between what occurred then and what is occurring now are striking.
Over the last month, the Trump administration has applied what could be deemed as smothering force, by ending sanctions waivers to any country, meaning that all countries who do not end their imports of Iranian oil will be subject to sanctions. The aim, of course, is to drive Iranian oil exports down to essentially zero. This coupled with the classifying of the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist organization and the deployment of ships and bombers to the Persian Gulf is all a consolidated effort to throttle Iran into submission. Although this appears to have not achieved its intended purpose.
Instead, it appears to have only stiffened Iran’s resolve, shifting it from wary patience to calibrated confrontation against an enemy it has long mistrusted. According to analysts, Iran’s leaders will not capitulate to what they view as economic and physiological warfare, nor will they negotiate under duress.
Make no mistake, this is the first palatable step toward regime change in Iran. Increased US pressure has had a pernicious and dangerous effect on the Iranian people, more specifically far-right Shia Islamists who have been further emboldened by these economic sanctions. Even the more moderate Hassan Rouhani (President of Iran) has shifted his tone stating that he would begin to walk away from the 2015 restrictions imposed by the Iran nuclear deal. But instead of treading lightly, the US responded with further sanctions on Tehran, reviving a crisis that had been previously contained for the past 4 years.
On Friday, Trump announced that the US will be sending 1500 troops to the Middle East in order to provide protection for existing troops in the region amid heightened tensions with Tehran. This, of course, was all triggered by US sanctions on Tehran in the first place and, as of now, the Shia Islamists in Iran who have long warned against placing any trust in the US are becoming more emboldened and gaining ever-more momentum and validity, further escalating us toward direct conflict.
In short, this all seems like a pre-planned effort to initiate regime change in Iran. In Trump’s own words after ending the Iran nuclear deal, “The country is devastated… I never knew it would be this strong.” But if Iran is pressured enough into ignoring restrictions and commencing development of nuclear weapons, the US will then have a seemingly viable reason to launch a war on Iran and the neo-cons would then be granted their so-called puppet state in the Middle East. Increasing pressure on Iran is just the beginning.
In essence, this all seems far too similar to Iraq whereby President Bush used the fallacy that Saddam Hussein was keeping weapons of mass destruction in order to lure the American people to his side, but could we really witness a direct repeat here?
Well, it all depends on the amount of influence that Bolton, Pompeo and other war hawks have on the President’s decisions, but thus far that influence appears to be insurmountable. We can still recall during the 2016 Republican Presidential debates when Trump argued that “we should’ve never been in Iraq… we have destabilized the middle east.” Although the President still aligns with those views, tweets such as ” If Iran wants to fight that will be the official end of Iran. Never Threaten the United States again!” certainly won’t go far to comfort you. In spite of that, I think it’s safe to assume that most people have grown accustomed to such outlandish behaviour by now.
Instead, we should be observing action over words. Most recently, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee rejected a Democratic proposal to require congressional approval before the U.S. can take military action against Iran. Without congressional approval, Trump could now potentially spiral the US into further endless conflict in the Middle East.
Acting Defense Secretary Shanahan attempted to dampen down concerns over the situation telling reporters, “We have deterred attacks based on our re-posturing of assets, deterred attacks against American forces. Our biggest focus at this point is to prevent Iranian miscalculation. We do not want the situation to escalate. This is about deterrence, not about war.” Regardless of how you stand on the situation with Iran, one thing is for certain; a war in Iran would be far more costly, far more devastating and far more deadly than we could have ever imagined in Iraq.
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