Europe is Right to Show Restraint on Iran
They remember well the failures of the Iraq war and aren't cowed by Mike Pompeo's disapproval.
Following the killing of Qasem Soleimani by American forces in Iraq, Washington and Tehran have spent days saber-rattling. Recent explosions in front of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad have intensified hostilities—President Trump is making direct threats against Iran on Twitter, while “death to America” echoes through the halls of the Iranian parliament. Now Iran appears to have added cyber-attacks to its arsenal, as the Department of Homeland Security briefly depicted a doctored image of President Trump bleeding from the mouth whilst being hit in the face by an individual clad in Islamic Revolutionary Guard attire. It seems that a war between the United States and Iran is closer than ever before.
In Europe, the response has been, for the most part, uniform. The European Union’s foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell has urged all sides to show maximum restraint in order to avoid escalation. French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab have all sounded comparable calls for de-escalation. In a slight divergence, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has sounded more supportive of the U.S. strike—he noted that his country “will not lament” the death of Soleimani, though he did call for calmed tensions between America and Iran.
Johnson’s sentiment is not baseless. Soleimani was the face of Iranian aggression—his continuous interventions in Iraq and Syria showed that Tehran was doing the precise thing it is accusing the United States of doing, namely meddling in the internal politics of other countries. Soleimani’s Quds Force operates all over the Middle East, from Iraq and Afghanistan to Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen. In its effort to bring “death to America,” this terrorist organization has targeted U.S. forces and allied operations in the region. The Quds Force was central in establishing and supporting Lebanese Hezbollah, which is one of the great threats to the state of Israel. In its efforts to export its Shia revolution abroad, Iran has on occasion been on the same side as the West, but never for the right reasons. One can criticize the American foreign policy debacle that is the Middle East, while not shedding a single tear for Soleimani.
Johnson’s words thus reflect an interesting nuance in the European landscape, one you would be hard-pressed to find in Paris or Berlin. As the UK is leaving the EU, it has seemed to align itself closer to America on foreign policy, while careful not to fall back into the Bush-Blair aggression that cost the British left decades of credibility.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is no fan of these European party poopers. Reacting to his own consultations with foreign leaders on Fox News, Pompeo expressed his disappointment, stressing that the Europeans could be more helpful.
Iran is a dictatorship that behaves thuggishly. It respects none of its people’s individual rights or the sovereignty of its neighbors, and is vehemently defending inhumane religious fundamentalism. Opposing the terrorists that represent the Iranian regime should come naturally. That said, Europe is right to refuse an entangling alliance and yet another war in the Middle East.
Unlike Iraq, Iran has a well-organized military dead-set on fighting to the end to destroy Americans. The Islamic Republic is three and a half times the size of Iraq, with better intelligence, military equipment, and a vast array of terrorist organizations that owe it favors. A war with Iran would be long, devastating, expensive, and ill-advised for just about everyone in the region. Iran remains too large a force to be wiped off the planet, or intimidated by the destruction of cultural sites, as President Trump seems to believe. If the United States wants Iran to change for the better, it needs to aim for its population with positive soft-power influence, which has always been a winning strategy. War and destruction would only further alienate the Iranian population from freedom and democracy.
We shouldn’t forget how widespread European opposition kept most of the old continent from participating in the war in Iraq. The current U.S. president was elected in part on a similar basis, yet does not seem to draw the same conclusions when it comes to Iran. Europe is right to show restraint—war is and should remain a last resort.
Bill Wirtz comments on European politics and policy in English, French, and German. His work has appeared in Newsweek, the Washington Examiner, CityAM, Le Monde, Le Figaro, and Die Welt.