Is the U.S. selling another war?

Lately, Iran is being discussed by certain members of the Trump administration in the same manner Iraq was mentioned by the Bush administration back in 2002 and recently, some unanticipated events in the Strait of Hormuz have provided the US with casus belli. The US is going to sell Iran war this time. Here’s how it will go. Trump administration has a real and an official reason to attack another country in a different gulf. Real reason is something hardheaded, logical and covetous and that is resources; primarily oil, geo-strategic location and political benefit; sometimes to win the election at home.  However, the official reasons would target prevalent and popular emotion, seemingly noble but actually indispensable: retaliation, integrity, fear and the rogue behavior. It’s not really needed that people believe the official reason but it should be rational enough for them to pretend to accept it. Because underneath both the logical and emotional reasons, lies a primeval reason: People like war. Humans are violent animals who rejoice in killing. Human sacrifice is still being practiced, only with modern justifications.

The US citizens will hear stories about Iran’s atrocities, its oppressive regime, its torture, and how it’s harboring terrorism. The World will hear about Iran’s aims of attacking US, its (secret) nuclear weapons and its preparation for war, almost ready now. A sense of appalling urgency will prevail that every day’s reluctance is dangerous. To invade Iraq, the Bush administration made hue and cry of the threat possessed by Saddam Hussein’s ‘weapons of mass destruction.’ Turned out, there weren’t any. Same is the case with Iran now. Americans dread for nuclear weapons usually goes far beyond the logic, which as suspected is the projection of guilt at being the only country to use these catastrophic weapons. The talking point: ‘We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud’ was narrated by a Bush official to invoke fear in Americans to garner their support. The current administration will definitely use the same narrative to invoke the same threat, of Iran using nuclear weapons against America, or against Israel, or any of its allies.

Obviously, the typical gung-hos will extend their support for war- the usual percentage from population who will support any war the government wants to wage against people who aren’t Americans. But what is disturbingly surprising here is how the apparently well-educated lot will support this notion of government. Editorialists, columnists, commentators, anchors and academics will try to sound reasonable in making arguments for supporting this heinous act. Some of them will be eloquent enough to convince the masses. Turns out smart people can be just as stupid as stupid peopleif scared enough. Hermann Göring, who was once the designated successor to Hitler, after the gig was up, game over, quite candidly described how to get ordinary people go to war for you. “All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger.” So it’s already established that those publicly opposing war will be accused of cowardice, of supporting oppression, totalitarianism, and terrorism. Whereas, war mongers will posture as practical, rational, calculating specialists of realpolitik, as they offer up sacrificial children to the god of death.

Eventually, there happens a triggering incident, perceived as a kind of attack on America or its allies. The incident can be real or made-up but that does not matter. Consider Vietnam War. The Gulf of Tonkin (also known as USS Maddox) incident provided Lyndon Johnson, the then President of the US, the congressional authority to escalate the conflict. By the time facts came up, which showed that the incident caused no causalities and was just a bullet in the hull in one, millions of Vietnamese lives and approx. fifty thousand American lives had already been sacrificed. Just last week, John Bolton, national security advisor of the US, accused Iran of targeting its oil tankers and pipelines in the Persian Gulf. Well, different gulf, same story, Neither Johnson nor Bolton happened to have any solid evidence regarding the incidents in the gulf but they both appeared rather confident because they, despite the fact that their claims may or may not be true, know that people would not be able to refute or challenge them until it’s too late.

The government’s spokesperson will assure the citizens that it will be a swift victory with few causalities and a very limited cost. All of this was said and assured by the Bush administration but the aftermath of Iraq war was sectarian violence, civil war, collapse throughout the Middle Eastern region, birth of the militant organization; ISIS, loss of as many as 4000 American soldiers and nearly half a million Iraqi civilians and the cost was more than a trillion dollars. However, years later, it will become obvious that, in remembrance, that those opposing war were right all along about everything and that war mongers were liars. But it will be subjected to debate by then because the war will be lost, money wasted, and the dead forgotten.

Humanity, as a class, is a slow learner, partly because every new generation is starting over from total ignorance. Writing and history can, in theory, improve the learning curve. And there are some indications that Americans might be haltingly learning some lessons. A recent poll by the Hill shows that very few Americans would support a preemptive invasion of Iran. However, nine out of ten would support a military response only if Iran attacks first, and as evident from Gulf of Tonkin incident, such an attack can be easily arranged.  It is pretty obvious that some people in the Trump administration very much favor a war with Iran for different motives but interestingly and surprisingly, among them is not Donald Trump.  Trump seems to have gotten tired of the wars by the US and he has a very little stomach for a new war. But, of course, his views on new war by the US might change if his poll numbers are worrisome or impeachment seems likely as he does like setting records.

A very popular slogan by Carl Sandburg was used in the Vietnam War: “What if they gave a war and nobody came?”Let’s just hope that the Americans inch their way toward a momentous point where the governments and leaders keep on repeating the same narrative—the propaganda campaign, fake casus belli, the threat of a foreign enemy and doubting of war opponents, the forced triggering event — but the populace doesn’t buy it.

Komal Ali Shah
Komal Ali Shah
Research Intern at the Strategic Vision Institute Islamabad