by Ken Sehested
Worried about increasing US-Iran tensions? You should be. The stakes are high, Trump is recklessly impulsive and currently in need of a public distraction from the Mueller investigation. It’s not likely to be an all-out war, but some limited strike—maybe backing Israel to do so, as it did in 2007—that would further escalate belligerence.
(Remember: This year is the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I which began with one assassination, in a country few US citizens had heard of, igniting what was then the deadliest war in history, due to a complex web of international alliances, planting the seeds of World War II, then the Cold War, and on and on.)
Hatred—as e.e. cummings said—bounces.
The US has legitimate policy grievances against Iran. What few here know, though, is that Iran has legitimate grievances against the US. Here are but three egregious examples.
1. Those include the fact that in 1953 the CIA, in coordination with Britain, overthrew the democratically-elected government of Iran and installed a dictator whose brutal reign lasted until the Shah’s overthrow in 1979. (We remember the US hostages taken, but not the triggering cause.)
2. During the 1980s war between Iraq and Iran, the US removed Iraq from its “state sponsors of terrorism” list in order to expedite weapons transfers to the country—then our preferred ally in the region—as well as providing crucial military intelligence to Saddam Hussein. Among the weapons sold to Iraq were ingredients for Hussein’s chemical weapons which he used against Iran and then on his own Kurdish minority population. The US offered not even a whisper of complaint afterwards—until a decade later, when Iraq resumed its rogue-state status in America’s shifting Middle East crosshairs.
3. In 1988 the US Navy shot down an Iranian passenger plane, flying in Iranian airspace, killing all 290 passengers. President Reagan admitted “regrets,” saying the Navy ship’s commander thought it was an Iranian military jet. Defending the action, US Admiral William Crowe, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “emphasized from the outset that committing military units to the Persian Gulf mission would involve risks and uncertainties.''
In other words: Sh*t happens, and we’re OK as long as we say sorry.
On top of these, imagine yourself as an Iranian, knowing that the US has more than two dozen (that we know of) military bases in 10 countries surrounding your country, plus two carrier groups in the Persian Gulf region.
“. . . The [US] rationale is embarrassingly circular—we must remain in the Middle East to protect against terrorists who hate America because we are in the Middle East.” —Jeff Faux, “Why Are We in the Middle East?”
What to do? Pay attention. While the mainstream media is not, as our president claims, “fake,” it is terribly myopic. Find alternate sources of news of current events. Dig for a little historical context. Register your concerns with congressional leaders. Find and/or create opportunities for conversation about these matters in your congregation and your larger community. Begin thinking now—don’t wait ‘til events spin out of control—about what you, personally, are willing to risk in response. If there’s nothing at stake in your choices—inconvenience, at least—there’s nothing of significance.
Finally, there are serious theological issues at stake and not just competing Democratic vs. Republican visions of foreign policy. As a starting point for this conversation, see this statement (“We say NO, again: Baiting Iran toward a dangerous collision”) unanimously approved by my own congregation—from 2007, in a period of similar tensions, then updated and reissued five years later in a subsequent round of US sabre rattling. We’re hauling it out yet again.
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