The January 2nd decision by President Trump to assassinate Iran’s top general, Qassim Suleimani, has taken a simmering conflict created by Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear agreement with Iran (JCPOA) and his re-imposition of economic sanctions and boiled it into a possible full-fledged disaster. He has undertaken these dangerous steps not only because he believes Iran represents a serious threat to American and regional interests, but also because for many years the American foreign-policy establishment has demonized the Islamic Republic as a danger using such epithets as the “leading sponsor of terrorism.”
Both Trump’s dangerous escalation of American differences with Iran and the long-time demonization of Iran represent costly miscalculations that may result in war. But any war would be disastrous for the region. Moreover, Iran does not represent any serious threat to the United States. President Trump must be compelled to back away from his dangerous policy of “maximum pressure” before disaster ensues.
The current crisis President Trump has created has arisen from what seems like an impetuous decision he made without adequate justification and without full, if any, vetting about the consequences of this move. The rationales offered for this escalation seem either phony or contrived. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has claimed that Trump took this action because American lives and interests in the Middle East confronted a serious imminent attack that Suleimani was implementing. But so far, no evidence of this alleged threat has been produced.
The administration has also claimed that that the assassination has made life safer for Americans in the region,but it has also ordered all non-essential Americans to leave Iraq, contradicting his assertion. The absence of any serious vetting also seems obvious. Instead of provoking reactions against Iran, the assassination has generated massive show f support for Iran both in Iran and Iraq. The Iraqi parliament has voted to have all American military forces leave Iraq and although this was not binding, it places the status of our forces there in limbo, endangering operations against ISIS. The Iranians have also announced that they will seek revenge against American interests. In response, President Trump has threatened major retaliation to any Iranian retaliation. And so the conflict begins to spin out of control. What is to be done?
President Trump Should Back Away From War-Hawking And Return To Negotiations
What are Trump’s bottom lines? Right now, this remains unclear to Iran, to the American public and our representatives. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has laid out 12 points Iran must agree to before negotiations can start. This includes not only a stronger nuclear agreement but also Iran’s withdrawal of aid to Shiite militias in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. But exactly what the Trump administration’s real goals are from this assassination remain unclear.
Trump’s dramatic escalation has created a volatile situation where it may be difficult to stop the cycle of increasingly serious tit-for-tat retaliations, but we must attempt to undo the dangerous situation. Only pressure from the public and from our elected representatives that can pressure Trump to step back from the precipice. Here are some immediate approaches that might keep the situation from falling into a complete disaster:
First, we may have to hope that the Iranian government does not lose its head and retaliate in some overly dramatic action. We know that the Iranians will have to retaliate in some manner in order to save face, but hopefully the manner and time of this retaliation will be carefully measured to prevent President Trump from using it as a clear justification for even greater escalation, such has bombing in Iran itself, especially on structures reflecting Iran’s cultural heritage. It is unfortunate that peace forces have to depend on the level-headedness of Iran, but that is part of the hand dealt to us;
Second, Congress must immediately pass legislation to prevent from President Trump from any further military actions against Iran without the Constitutionally mandated approval from Congress. While such legislation can pass in the Democratic-controlled House, it is questionable whether a Republican-controlled Senate would approve such legislation, but it is important for the long run to have Congress reassert its authority in matters of war and peace;
Third, when Iran retaliates, the public and our representatives should call for an end to tit-for-tat retaliations. While this may impose political risks, ending an ever-escalating scenario requires the courage to stop retaliations leading to war so that Iran and the United States can enter into productive negotiations to deescalate tensions;
Fourth, even before Iran retaliates, the public and our representatives should call for President Trump to back away from a policy of “maximum pressure”’ Either before or after any Iranian retaliation, the Trump administration should be encouraged to reach out to Iran or through a neutral third party like the United Nations, to begin negotiations.
Fifth, the public and our representatives should pressure the Trump administration to signal to Iran that the United States is prepared to negotiate without pre-conditions and will suspend economic sanctions as a sign of good faith to get negotiations started. In these negotiations, the United States should be prepared to tweak the JCPOA to strengthen some parts of it, but not to abandon it completely;
Sixth, the question of Iranian support for President Assad in Syria, for Shiite militias in Iraq and Syria, for the Houthis in Yemen, and for Hezbollah in Lebanon will present a more difficult negotiation. Iran considers this support as defensive, but some limitations on Iran’s support might be possible. For example, Iran could cease providing offensive weapons to Hezbollah, it could urge the Houthis to negotiate a power sharing arrangement in Yemen, and it could provide guarantees that any Iranian involvement in Syria and Iraq focuses on preventing the revival of ISIS or of Al-Qaeda but does not represent any offensive threat against Israel. Both Iran and the United States have an overriding interest in preventing a return of ISIS and in ensuring the defeat of Al-Qaeda in the region. These issues could be hashed out with give-and-take in negotiations.
The Danger Of War Is Imminent, The Need To Act Is Immediate
President Trump’s rash decision to assassinate Iran’s top general has created an imminent danger of a full-blown and unnecessary war with Iran. It is urgent that the public and our representatives use every peaceful and persuasive means at our disposal to prevent the current escalation of actions and tensions with Iran from bursting into a full-fledged disaster.
Adopted by the Board of the Peace Education Center on January 7, 2020.