Since the assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, some have asked, how would we react if an American was killed by an Iranian drone? A good question, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. The better question is, how would we react to seventy years of Iranian interference?
On Jan. 4, one day after Soleimani’s assassination, Donald Trump tweeted, “If Iran strikes any Americans, or American assets, we have… targeted 52 Iranian sites [representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago].” The Iran Hostage Crisis he alludes to is seen in the U.S. as the catalyst of deteriorating relations with Iran. In a recent Time article, Jamie Joyce answered the question, “Why don’t the U.S. and Iran get along?” with, “In 1979, Iran took 52 American diplomats and citizens hostage.” This ignores 25 years of American meddling prior.
In 2013, the CIA admitted to Operation Ajax, the U.S. planned and funded coup that overthrew the democratically elected leader of Iran, Mohammad Mosaddegh, in 1953. Just before, Mosaddegh nationalized the Iranian oil industry. According to declassified documents, the CIA worked with “tribal leaders in southern Iran to establish a clandestine safe-haven base from which guerrilla and intelligence operations could be conducted.” The coup reinstated the shah of Iran, who reprivatized Iranian oil, giving what is now BP and five American oil companies full access.
The CIA helped the shah establish Iran’s Organization of National Intelligence and Security, which committed grave human rights violations. Western estimates of extra-judicial killings reach as high as tens of thousands, while many Iranians claim the count to be 100,000. Despite this, in 1977, Jimmy Carter called the shah’s Iran, “an island of stability in one of the most troubled areas of the world.” According to political scientist, Stephen McGlinchey, “By 1968… Iran was America’s largest single arms customer, purchasing approximately 150 million dollars’ worth of arms per annum.”
After the shah’s overthrow and the hostage crisis, the U.S. relationship with Iran soured. Saddam Hussein received 200 million dollars-worth of American weapons for his war with Iran. The CIA covertly assisted Iraq with intelligence while 90 military advisors were present throughout the course of the war. Some 750,000 Iranians died.
Iran’s accidental downing of an Ukrainian airliner, while appalling, should be met with humility from Americans. In 1988, Iran Air 655 was shot down by an American ship in the Persian Gulf monitoring the war, killing 290 people including 66 children. George H. W. Bush reacted to the news saying, “I’ll never apologize for the United States of America. Not ever. I don’t care what the facts are.” The U.S. gave the captain of the ship that launched the missile a Medal of Honor.
Tensions between the U.S. and Iran escalated after the U.S. invasion of Iraq as Iranian-backed Shia militias organized. The Pentagon alleges Soleimani was responsible for the deaths of “hundreds of American and coalition service members.” If true, this took place during the Iraq war, not recently as this administration has made it seem. As for the lives imminently at risk, no evidence is presented. According to Trump, an attack, “probably would’ve been [against] four embassies,” though Secretary of State Pompeo conceded later that the location of an attack was unknown. It has since been revealed that preparations for Soleimani’s killing began months ago.
The Obama administration imposed harsh sanctions, while the media stoked up fear of a nuclear Iran. The New York Times said in August 2012, “Iran’s nuclear ambitions are clearly dangerous to the region…” The assumption that Iran was building a weapon is erroneous according to Defense Secretary Panetta, who told Face the Nation earlier that year, “Are they trying to develop a nuclear weapon? No. But… they’re trying to develop a nuclear capability and that’s what concerns us.” In 2017, after Trump pulled out of Obama’s Iran Deal, the sanctions he imposed were Obama-era sanctions.
According to Philip Godon and Ariane Tabatabai in a New York Times op-ed this year, “If Iran resumes some or all of the activities it gave up… the Trump administration could find itself facing a choice between allowing Iran to get nuclear weapons or to bomb Iran.” These narrow options must be questioned. In the Pentagon’s words, Iran’s “willingness to keep open the possibility of developing nuclear weapons is a central part of its deterrent strategy.” The deterrent would be against the U.S. and Israel, currently the only nuclear power in the Middle East. As former Secretary of State Colin Powell stated in a leaked email, “Iranians can’t use [a nuclear weapon] if they finally make one. The boys in Tehran know Israel has 200, all targeted on Tehran, and we have thousands.”
Since Trump took office, a pattern has developed—without evidence, Iran is accused of violence, which they deny and tensions build. This was the case with the oil-tanker bombings in the region as well as with the killing of the American contractor in Iraq. In February 2018, Israel shot down an Iranian drone they alleged flew into Israeli airspace, something Iran disputed. The Israeli Air Force then targeted the Iranian base in Syria they believed the drone had launched from. Later, when Iran shot down an American drone Iran alleged flew into Iranian airspace, Trump tweeted, “Iran made a very big mistake.” The Soleimani assassination followed.
While Twitter and the media announce world war three has been averted, the threat of further confrontation is high. The U.S. has increased sanctions and continues its occupation of Iraq. Aggressive actions by the U.S. and Israel in Syria and Yemen, continue to stir the pot. If there were ever a time that war with Iran was on the horizon, it is now and it is the product of 70 years of American interference. Iran has more than double the population of Iraq and a far greater military capacity. The consequences of an American invasion would be devastating.