War is Undesirable, but we Can't Take Anything off the Table
Though the immediate risk of a direct war appears to have fallen in recent days, and the world war three tweets are (finally) disappearing from my feed, Iran is an issue that will not go away.
On the assassination, the Prime Minister is right: Soleimani had the blood of British Troops on his hands, and it is with that fact (and the thousands of other deaths that fall at his door
) that the world will be a better place without Soleimani. But, this in mind, we must remember that it was not the assassination of Soleimani that began this latest crisis - rather the attack (by militias backed by Tehran) on the US embassy in Baghdad, an indisputable act of war.
In the many discussions I have had with people on this matter, it has been suggested that a war with Iran would ‘be another Iraq’, this, I fear, would not be the case. To begin with, when we invaded Iraq in 2003, we did so not in response to an explicit action such as an attack on our ally’s embassy, but because Hussein’s regime was supposedly in possession of weapons of mass destruction. Therefore the legality of any potential war with Iran would be clear (a war being legal is not, on its own, a reason to enter one).
But, and this is key, the 2003 war was fought within the borders of Iraq. It seems unimaginable that any potential conflict with Iran would be contained within their borders; just today we saw Iran’s revolutionary guard commander pose in front of no less than five flags other than that of Iran, one of which being that of (Corbyn’s “friends”) Hamas, and another being a flag representing the Houthis - a party to the horrific war in Yemen.
These puppet groups are part of why war is desirable for no one. It would not be a simple war, of America and their Allies against Iran, but one that would be fought across the middle east. More worryingly, a victory would not necessarily be assured, with Iran boasting over half a million troops and economic backing from Moscow. Even if this hypothetical war is won, we would likely be witness to a conflict more protracted than Iraq (which it could be argued this current situation is an extension/consequence of).
On the topic of Iraq, our leaders have to be careful what they wish for and keep all options on the table. Part of Blair’s problem was that he had already ordered military action in Sierra Leone and Kosovo, and Afghanistan showed only embryonic signs of protraction. This led an arrogant Blair to support the conflict, presumably assuming that it would be as straightforward as previous interventions. Yet, leaders can not avoid war purely because of past mistakes.
One common case that many have made for war is Iran’s shambolic record on Human rights, with “political dissidents” one of the dozens of crimes punishable by death. In fact, Iran is second only to China in handing down the death sentence. Moreover, LGBT rights are practically non-existent, with campaigners believing that between four and six thousand gay people have been executed.
Women too are oppressed, with veiling mandated by Iranian law. In addition, women were first allowed into football games, a right enjoyed by thousands of women every weekend in the UK, this year.
The Iranian Government is an evil regime, but this alone isn’t the case for war. These are issues of social views across the middle east, and not one that a change in government will solve. To those who disagree, I ask, what rights do women have in Afghanistan? Where the vast majority of murders of women (in so-called ‘honour killings’) go unpunished.
We’ve established that an Iraq style intervention in Iran will lead to a more damaging, and more protracted conflict than what Bush and Blair started in Iraq. We’ve established that a war is not the best approach for regime change. But, we cannot take military action against Iran off the table.
I began my piece stating that Iran is a problem that will not go away, we must not forget the episode of last summer, where Iran seized western ships (including a British flagged one) traveling through the straight of Hormuz. What the assassination may have shown Iran, is that the west is ready and willing to strike against them. This demonstration of strength may be enough to keep Iran in check.
Either way, the previous approach was not working Iran was violating the nuclear agreement yet basking in the relief of economic sanctions. For evidence, look no further than when Iran announced that it had decided it was no longer party to the deal: it was barely even a story, so clear was it that the agreement was being violated.
While at this stage, there appears not to be a strong case for war, evidence that Iran downed the Ukrainian passenger plane is both disturbing and mounting. Justin Trudeau confirmed that the plane (which had three Britons and sixty-three of our Canadian friends onboard) was struck with an Iranian missile, while the New York Times was able to authenticate a video of the plane being hit by the missile. The question is now one of not if the plane was downed, but of whether there was a deliberate attack on a civilian plane. In which case, there must be a response.
That having been said, War is in nobody’s interest. Right now, there is a window for de-escalation: Trump appeared to be willing to draw a line under the attacks on US bases (remember there were no American casualties) and Iran can claim that they have responded.
In spite of this, it is a matter of when and not if tensions with Iran rise again.
If there is to be a repetition of an attack such as the one on the Ukrainian plane, is it not the case that a Government’s first duty is to protect its citizens? All options must remain on the table.
To rule out conflict, is to send a message to Iran, the kind of message that we have been sending them for too long.
Adam Roberts is a supporter of Blue Beyond.