September 17, 2019

War with Iran could be Far More Devastating than Iraq.



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When drones struck several Saudi oil refineries, cutting oil production in half, and causing a massive spike in global oil prices, Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed responsibility, but the Trump administration claimed it was Iran.

The two states have long been carrying out a proxy war in Yemen and Syria, decimating civilian populations in both countries, so an Iranian attack would not have been out of the question. Yet it would have been just another instantiation of a long-standing war between the two states, of which we should not trust the Trump administration to provide an honest account. American presidents have often taken us to the brink of war with Iran, but none have come so close as Trump, and none seem so oblivious as to its likely costs.

A war in Iran would probably be vastly more devastating than the war in Iraq.

The population of Iran is three times that of Iraq. It is better integrated and more ethnically homogeneous. It is better educated and more prosperous. It is bound by a revolutionary regime and limited democracy. Its borders have been stable for hundreds of years, and it is an ancient civilization, which can call on myth and religion to bind its people together. Iran can field a far larger and better funded army than Iraq. They can cause a global recession through mining the Persian Gulf. And they can wreak havoc in the region by calling on militias in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, and Yemen.

War with Iran would almost immediately go global.

Israel can be expected to join in, as they have been provoking the war for decades. And if they do, they may use it as a pretext to bomb Iranian nuclear facilities with their own nuclear arsenal, thereby killing millions. They may wage a preemptive attack on Lebanon, where their enemy Hezbollah is beholden to Iran and more powerful than the national army. And they may use it as a pretext to commit genocide in Gaza, where they have blocked all points of entry and are slowly starving it of food and medicine. There is really no telling what they might do, because their national politics is increasingly driven by a racism and hate to which the Trump administration has almost wholly turned a blind eye.

Meanwhile, the Saudis could use it as a pretext to intensify their attack on Yemen, where if the fighting intensifies, 18 million people who have long been on the brink of starvation could begin dying off in droves. If the war lasts long, both the Saudis and Iranians can be expected to go nuclear. But if either attempts it, we should prepare for the other to do so as well. And if Iran and the Saudis go nuclear, so might Turkey; and if Turkey does, so might Hungary; and such a race could easily pull in the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Qatar, who would all be threatened by nuclear neighbors. But if the whole region goes nuclear, the nuclear genie would be out of the box, and countries the world over might press the limits of nuclear treaties in an effort to beat their neighbors to the punch.

This sort of nuclear arms race has long been a dangerous possibility, which has been kept in check only by a world order where no one has wanted to see it happen, and most everyone was willing to punish those who pressed its limits. But that order is crumbling under the pressures of a hostile Trump, an aggressive Putin, a fragmenting Europe, and an expanding China, most of which would like to weaken it for its own reasons.

If Trump loses in the upcoming election, he could use the war as an excuse to nullify it. He might nullify it because a change of leadership would threaten national security, or he might simply call it off altogether claiming the need for continuity of leadership in times of war. If the past is any indication of the future, we should expect him to do whatever he can get away with and then some.

Meanwhile, the chaos of war and the threat of more terrorism and refugees could strengthen fascists and nationalists the world over.

War with Iran was always the greatest likely threat of a Trump presidency. It would increase the risk of authoritarianism at home and genocide abroad; and it would trigger all the same impulses that led to fascism in the first place. It would be a quantum leap into the unknown from which the global order, and with it the biosphere, might never recover. For it would bog us down in a conflagration vastly worse than Iraq from which our country and the world order is still yet to recover. And it would be the sole fault of the Trump administration, which tore up the nuclear agreement, while making countless pointless threats against Iran.

It is easy to become inured to crisis under a president like Trump, but this is the threat we have all been waiting for, and it is unlikely to be stopped without our resistance. You can resist by thinking through the likely consequences, feeling into what it will mean to the lives of real people living in Yemen and Iran, and making the consequences real to others. Indeed, it was only when the likely consequences were made real to Trump the last time around that the strikes were called off within minutes of bombing Iran.


~ Theo Horesh is the author of The Holocausts We All Deny.


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