On this Memorial Day, as we honor those who died while serving in the armed forces, we will be reflecting as well on the foolishness of rushing into unnecessary wars.
And, yes, we are thinking about the bellicosity in the Trump White House when it comes to Iran.
On Monday, even as we put out our flags, visit cemeteries and set up lawn chairs for parades that commemorate those who served in conflicts of the past, our nation is moving closer to possible new bloodshed, to yet more young American men and women in uniform losing their lives.
Politicians who turn to military solutions as a first resort, not a last, never sell a war on that point — the dead American boys and girls sure to come. Had they done so with respect to the war in Iraq, a conflict sold on lies, we might not — as of the most recent count — have suffered 36,367 casualties there.
On Friday, the Trump administration announced it will deploy an additional 1,500 troops to the Middle East to counter Iran, continuing precisely the kind of military buildup on the basis of questionable intelligence that led to the Iraq war in 2003. In a further ratcheting up of tensions, the administration also has approved billions of dollars in weapons sales to Arab allies aligned against Iran — Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.
As of yet, the administration has failed make a single good argument for going to war in Iran. Yet we worry that military hardliners such as John R. Bolton, President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, are doing an excellent job of ginning up any old excuse.
On Friday, the administration said it is “highly likely” that Iran was behind an attack on four tankers in the Gulf of Oman last weekend, but let’s see the proof. We remember all too well those warnings of “weapons of mass destruction” used to justify the war in Iraq — weapons that did not exist. Bolton loved that war, too.
Trump has insisted he has no desire to go to war. And maybe, for once, he’s telling the truth. He has, however, surrounded himself with war-happy advisers like Bolton, and the Trump administration has done nothing but escalate tensions since pulling the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal last year.
The administration has designated the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps a terrorist organization. The president has signed an executive order banning the purchase of Iranian iron, steel, aluminum and copper. Administration officials have claimed, and emphasized, that Iran fully controls various Mideast militias, setting the stage for going to war if one of those undisciplined militias crosses a line.
The United States has sent an carrier strike force and bomber task force to the region and removed non-emergency personnel from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
Meanwhile, Iran’s semi-official news agencies last week reported Iran is quadrupling its production of low-enriched uranium — though not the more significant high-level enrichment — now that the United States has abandoned the nuclear treaty.
Iran is four times bigger and far more militarily advanced than Iraq. A war with Iran could lead to casualties that dwarf the tens of thousands suffered so far in Iraq and Afghanistan. And America likely would be going it alone, having walked away from its NATO allies when it dropped out of the Iran nuclear deal.
When Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo last week asked representatives of European nations meeting in Brussels to put maximum pressure on Iran, they instead counseled for maximum restraint. Earlier this month, Spain removed a frigate on training exercises from a U.S. combat fleet that was approaching the Persian Gulf.
Bolton, the author of a rash 2015 op-ed calling for bombing Iran, unfortunately is not one for maximum restraint. And he seems to be doing an excellent job of maneuvering an intellectually lazy president into a corner in which war becomes inevitable.
Democrats in Congress, and even many Republicans, are skeptical.
“I think that the members feel that Bolton is up to his old tricks,” U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., told us. “Let’s engage in a war on a unilateral basis based on questionable, politicized intelligence, and one you really don’t have the authority [to wage].”
Quigley, we should note, sits on the House Intelligence Committee, which allows him a particularly well informed perspective on when the administration is blowing smoke.
No one has explained how Iran poses such an imminent threat that war is justified. No one has articulated a clear goal or plausible positive outcome.
No one has explained how such a war would not split Europe and NATO from the United States — a Russian foreign policy dream. No one has explained why such a war would not benefit China, which has expanded its global influence even as America has been enmeshed in costly conflicts for decades.
We will be busy enough as it is on this Memorial Day, honoring all those millions of beloved men and women who have died in so many American wars, some necessary and others not.
We honor them most when we go to war only when we must.
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