War with Iran (7): It’s Not Over Yet

The conventional wisdom has it that “for now,” the war with Iran is over. According to this supposed wisdom, Iran followed up our assassination of Suleimani with a lot of rhetorical bluster but an oddly anti-climactic and hapless missile strike on US bases in Iraq. The strike caused no casualties, and did no “serious” damage. Meanwhile, Trump, in his magnanimity, seems not to want to “escalate.” And so, war has been averted, and we can all emit a collective sigh of relief over everything’s having ended so well. I don’t claim to be an expert on military affairs, but to state my verdict on the conventional wisdom in a word: bullshit. The war isn’t over. It’s just begun. Continue reading

War with Iran (6): Geraldine Brooks on Iran Air Flight 655

This Op-Ed is a worthy antidote to the hubris, amnesia, hypocrisy, and brutality being offered up to rationalize war on Iran. Kudos to Geraldine Brooks for having written it, and to The New York Times for publishing it. To quote Motörhead:

Blood on all our hands, we cannot hope to wash them clean
History is mystery; do you know what it means?

Well, you do now.

War with Iran (5): Blogging My Way Back to Tulsi

OK, call me a sucker, but with sweet talk like this tweet below, I’ve decided to reconcile with Tulsi Gabbard after a mere three weeks’ estrangement from her. I haven’t changed my mind on her impeachment vote, but I’ve recently discovered the wonders of that strange and paradoxical virtue, “forgiveness.” As I’ve learned from a pioneering work of Biblical exegesis in a recent issue of Women’s Day,* forgiveness isn’t just kindness to others, but kindness to ourselves. And if kindness to oneself isn’t the essence of virtue, I don’t know (and don’t want to know) what is. Continue reading

War with Iran (4): The Target Package

Donald Trump has famously and idiotically tried to assuage fears of a war with Iran with the assertion that he had Qasem Suleimani killed not to start a war but to prevent one. Putting aside the ad hoc quality of his reliance on the distinction between the intended and the foreseen, this happens to be a classic case of its total irrelevance: it doesn’t much matter in this context whether Trump intended to start a war, or merely foresaw that he might start one, or just recklessly took his action without thinking too hard about what he was doing. Yes, there’s a distinction to be drawn between a war brought about by intention and a war brought about through extreme recklessness. But it’s a distinction without a difference in a case where the action leading to war initiates force and violates any plausible conception of prudential rationality to boot. It doesn’t help that the rationalization for it comes from a pathological liar. Continue reading

War with Iran (3): Antiwar Activism with Student-Soldiers

An excellent (and for me, live) question on Facebook care of Mark LeVine, Professor of Modern Middle Eastern History at UC Irvine:

So, fellow academics — The new quarter/semester starts, you get an active duty or reserve service member in your class who might be deployed because of this nightmare Trump is so gleefully creating for us. Do you reach out to her/him and advise/urge/suggest that s/he refuse to deploy for anything related to a war with Iran, explaining that such a war would be a crime against humanity? Or do you wait for them to come to you if they so choose?

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War with Iran (2): Moral Blackmail and Salvation by Faith

The moral blackmail regarding Iran has begun, and often enough, it sounds like this:

If you had certain intelligence of an imminent threat on American lives, would you or would you not use military force to stop the person responsible for it?

If you say that you wouldn’t, you sound like a callous traitor, willing to sacrifice American lives to the Iranian regime. If you say you would (or even “I would under these circumstances”), you’re effectively ratifying the Trump Administration’s decision to kill Qasem Suleimani, and by implication ratifying-in-advance whatever decision it ends up making about war. And that’s the whole game. Continue reading

War with Iran? (1)

Well, major escalation at any rate. The New York Times tries to walk it back in a pro forma attempt to identify the aggressor. They get an “A” for effort, but “How did the confrontation escalate?” is not an answer to “Who initiated the aggression?”or “Who, if anyone, is the aggressor?” I discussed that issue here a few months ago. It’s come up here as well. (And here: Vicente Medina’s response to me.) I’m inclined to think that we’re the aggressor.

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“Trump Approved the Turkish Invasion of Syria”

Truth, they say, is the first casualty of war. Here’s one:

On Oct. 6, the day President Trump spoke to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and gave tacit approval for a Turkish military invasion, the American military had around 1,000 troops in Syria.

Isn’t there a clear difference between acquiescence in an action and approval of it? I’ve acquiesced in the Trump presidency; it doesn’t follow, and isn’t true, that I “approve” of it, whether explicitly or tacitly. What is the evidence for the claim that Trump approved of, or “gave approval for,” the Turkish invasion of Syria? Continue reading

The Cloud Is Moving Nearer Still

Consider two countries, X and Y.

X and Y sign an agreement. X unilaterally pulls out of the agreement at will, then attacks Y through the imposition of sanctions. Y insists on complying with the original agreement.

X then imposes secondary sanctions on any countries that do business with Y. Y insists on complying with the original agreement.

Time passes. X attacks Y again with more sanctions. The sanctions begin to take their toll. Y still complies with the original agreement.

Eventually, Y, the weaker party, decides to attack a third party, Z, which X had (unilaterally) pledged to defend. Y’s rationale: in attacking this third party, Y pulls X into a conflict where it, Y, enjoys a certain advantage that it doesn’t enjoy in a direct, frontal attack on X, which Y cannot win. The attack creates physical damage but no human casualties. Continue reading