Is America At War With Iran?

Is America At War With Iran?


Leonard Zwelling

Given the large and diffuse deployment of American military forces all over the world, and especially in the Middle East, we must be at war with someone. After the drone strike killing of Quds Force leader Qassim Soleimani on January 2, it is likely that the United States is functionally at war with Iran, although I am really not sure what the end game looks like for either country. How will we know when someone wins?

Iran was sitting comfortably in an Obama-generated non-nuclear box since 2015 in exchange for a lifting of sanctions. When Mr. Trump took office there was relative quiet between the two countries on January 20, 2017. I think we can surmise that Mr. Trump’s ripping up of the Iran Agreement, his squeezing of Iran economically, and his killing of the number two man in the country constitute acts of war on the part of the United States.

Make no mistake about it, Soleimani was a bad guy with the blood of many Americans on his hands. No one in the west is upset with his demise. The Trump White House said an attack led by him was imminent. The documentation of that fact is confidential and don’t wait to see it. There will be no revelation from Trump.

But my reading suggests that other U.S. presidents had shots at Suleimani, but elected to forego that opportunity thinking that whatever the situation was with Iran, it was better than an all out war. The Obama deal suggested that Iran could be dealt with, but that it would take a lot of patience and the understanding that regime change was not going to be acceptable to anyone in Iran with meaningful power, at least not any time soon. And then there was Iranian support for terrorism around the world.

Mr. Trump obviously disagrees. Not only did he tear up the deal with Iran and Tweet it to the ground, he has done everything he can to sanction Iran and bring it to its knees economically. Make no mistake, the Iranian people are suffering due to the sanctions of the U.S. Now Trump has killed the second most revered man in the country. It is not likely that Iran will take that lightly. Retaliation against Americans, anywhere in the region or the world is likely. Did this drone strike really advance American strategic interests?

That really depends upon what the American government wants out of Iran. There is no doubt that the Iranians are mischief- makers in the Middle East. The Iranian government backs anti-American militias in Iraq, Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Each of these groups is a military force that could occupy American forces and work against Mr. Trump’s professed goal of leaving the region. What could have been the point of killing Soleimani when we were not (as yet) at war with Iran?

Mr. Trump is testing whether or not his strategy of maximum economic pressure on a country will get that country to do what he wants it to do. In this case, I guess, it is staying out of the politics of other countries in the region—Iraq, Syria, Israel, etc. This does not seem to be working and since World War II, American adventurism has been woefully ineffective in bringing peace to the world.

This may be one of those cases where Mr. Trump’s lack of experience and lack of good advisors and judgment have left him in a precarious predicament out of which he may not be able to extract himself. Iran is in its own backyard. If it wants to sink a few oil tankers in the Straits of Hormuz, or stir up trouble in Lebanon, not to mention closer to Israel, Iran can do that. Americans in Europe may also be new targets and don’t think for a moment that Iran won’t try something on American soil or even a cyber attack on our energy grid.

I was against the original Obama Iran deal. Nonetheless, once it was implemented, it was better than nothing and certainly seemed to be keeping Iran in the good (or at least better) behavior column. Now all of that has been destroyed. Just as the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq belonged to Bush 43, anything that happens now in Iran or with it, belongs to Mr. Trump.

It is not often that elections are based on foreign affairs, but if we get into a shooting war with Iran (if we are not already there) and that war goes badly, Mr. Trump will own it and the Democrats may have their first real opening. That no congressional Democrats were aware of Mr. Trump’s drone strike before it occurred is really going to stir up his opponents on the Hill.

Another round of hearings? Why the heck not?

If the goal of the American government is to rid Iran of its current leadership or to get the citizenry of Iran to revolt, I think that it is poor strategic thinking to kill such a powerful figure.

We were actually on the right track with the Obama agreement, even as I opposed it then. Now we are three steps back and heading toward war—another one in the Middle East with no end in sight and no strategic goals.

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