Now Is the Time to De-Escalate War with IranTags War and Foreign Policy
On January 3, Iraqi prime minister Adel Abdul Mahdi condemned the US's killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, calling the airstrike a "massive breach of sovereignty." Abdul Mahdi warned that the air strike was "a dangerous escalation that will light the fuse of a destructive war in Iraq, the region, and the world."
The same day, leaders of rival Shi'ite groups "in an unusual show of unity among factions," called for the expulsion of US troops from Iraq. Sunday, the Iraqi parliament voted to expel all foreign troops from Iraq.
The US claimed that the attack on Soleimani and al-Muhanidis at the Baghdad International Airport was triggered by a recent attack on the US embassy by Iraqi Shi'ite militiamen. Though largely carried out by Iraqis, the US alleged that the attack was part of a wider campaign against the US by the Iranian state. Nonetheless, this "targeted strike" was an attack carried out in Iraq, not Iran.
Whatever one may think of Soleimani, the Iranian state or Iraqi Shi'ites, the response from members of the Iraqi parliament suggests that an escalation of the ongoing US-Iran conflict would not be as simple as pro-war factions of the US regime would like it to be. The US strike against Iran is being interpreted as a strike against Iraq as well. (Obviously, the US's war to turn Iraq into a pro-US puppet state has failed.) Moreover, the administration's airstrike has de-stabilized the fragile coalition of the US, Iran, and Iraq and other which had been fighting ISIS in Iraq. Now, that coalition has been crippled. ISIS will benefit from this latest escalation.
Fortunately, it is not clear that the US's most recent attack on Iraq — in the name of attacking Iran — must lead to a larger conflict with either Iraq or Iran. As shown by Daniel McCarthy at The Spectator, it is not at all a given that the Iranian regime will seek to force a larger war with the US in retaliation for the death of Soleimani. McCarthy correctly notes that most regimes are primarily concerned with preserving their own existence. The Iranian regime is no different, and any full-scale war with the US would likely lead to the end of that regime.
That, of course, would not necessarily be a victory for the US. As Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya have shown, the dreams of "regime change" advocates have been repeatedly shown to be very wrong. When the US destroys "rogue" regimes, far worse collections of radicalized and chaotic groups arise as a result.
Since Iran is far larger than Iraq — and since the international order is far less favorable to unilateral US military action now than during the days of the Afghanistan and Iraq invasions — the situation in a postwar Iran would likely prove far more problematic than anything seen in Iraq or Libya.
Not that a history of repeated and abject failure in the region will discourage the war party from yet another war. Unfortunately, many Americans remain under the impression that advocates for war need not make the case for their cause, or provide evidence that their new war can succeed. Rather, bizarrely, it is the opponents to war who are expected to show that there shouldn't be a war. This, of course, is an inversion of what would exist in a functional political system. Whether we're talking about healthcare or war, the burden of proof is on those who want to use the violence of the state to tax Americans, and then use that money for yet another government program, war, or initiative. Yet, in America today, the attitude is often "it's on you to prove why the government shouldn't do this thing." The righteousness of endless government meddling is just assumed.
Last weeks' airstrike, as imprudent as it was, cannot be undone, and now is the time for Trump to de-escalate this ongoing conflict with Iran and declare that a major victory has been struck — whether true or not — with the death of Soleimani. Given Iran's limited resources, and the fact it poses no existential threat to the US whatsoever, now is the time for the US regime to pull back from its ongoing threats of additional sanctions, bombings, and military occupation of Iranian territory.
Now too is the time for the US to eliminate its 5,000-troop presence in Iraq and begin preparations to end what Iraqi policymakers are increasingly willing to call violations of Iraqi sovereignty.
In spite of his rhetoric, Donald Trump may yet prove to be an obstacle to full-scale war. Trump has during his administration shown reluctance to escalate conflicts beyond air strikes and belligerent talk. Yes, these airstrikes — including last week's — have indeed been violations of both international law and natural law. But intermittent airstrikes are preferable to full-scale escalations. Trump's apparent lack of enthusiasm for wider wars has been demonstrated twice before. In April 2018 (with Syria) and again in June 2019 (with Iran), war advocates in the US spoke hopefully of wider conflict. In both cases, the administration refused to follow up initial bellicosity with invasions, occupations, or large-scale mobilizations.
One can only hope something similar happens this time. But there's no reason to be satisfied with a mere continuation of ongoing threats and warlike stances toward a variety of foreign states. Having gotten their airstrike against Soleimani — the alleged mastermind of Iranian aggression region-wide — it's time to force the other end of the bargain on the foreign-policy interventionists: reduce foreign troop deployments, cut military budgets, and pursue a wider policy of restraint, diplomacy, and nonintervention worldwide.