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The Weakness of Warmongers

The Wall Street Journalrepeats one of the dumber hawkish talking points about Iran and the Abqaiq attack in their latest editorial:

But no one should expect Iran to stop its provocations, especially as it concludes there is little cost to escalating. The weekend aggression comes after Mr. Trump called off an airstrike in June to retaliate for the shooting down of a $130 million U.S. surveillance drone. On Twitter on Tuesday, Senator Lindsey Graham said the weekend attacks show that Iran sees Mr. Trump’s cancellation of the strike as “a sign of weakness.”

The President shot back that it was a sign of strength that “some people just don’t understand.” But the facts are on Mr. Graham’s side. Mr. Trump has loudly made clear he is reluctant to pursue the military option, and in the Middle East adversaries respect only strength.

Iran hawks want us to believe that things would be more stable now if Trump had shown “strength” by attacking Iran three months ago, but that’s absurd. Escalation then would have meant war for the last three months and for many more to come. Going to war over a downed drone would have been seen as an insane and irresponsible overreaction. The crude and false assumption that adversaries “respect only strength” is a terrible reason to support triggering a war that would claim thousands and perhaps tens of thousands of lives. There is nothing more weak and contemptible than starting a war when there is no reason for it. The only ones incapable of understanding anything but force are the warmongers that keep looking for pretexts to start a war with Iran.

There is every reason to think that U.S. attacks on Iranian territory in June would have triggered major retaliation by Iranian forces and allied groups elsewhere in the region. The same danger of starting a regional war exists today if the U.S. launches attacks on Iran. If Lindsey Graham, John Bolton, and the WSJ had had their way over the summer, the Persian Gulf would be on fire, the U.S. would be mired in an unnecessary war, and many thousands of people would likely now be dead. Instead of one attack on a single Saudi facility that killed no one, there would have been dozens and dozens of attacks on Saudi, Emirati, and other targets resulting in substantial loss of life. The president should never have approved an attack in June, but ultimately deciding against it was the only right call he has made on Iran policy in his entire presidency.

Hawks never think through the consequences of the wars they want to start, but they always wring their hands about the supposed “costs of inaction” that don’t exist. Attacking Iran in June would have guaranteed the start of a conflict that the U.S. can’t afford and doesn’t need, and choosing not to attack Iran isn’t the reason that the Abqaiq attack occurred. The attack in Saudi Arabia happened because of the war on Yemen and the economic war on Iran, and responding to it with military action will just provoke even more of the same. The only responsible way forward is to cut off all support the Saudi coalition, which we should have done years ago, and to end the economic war. Bruce Riedel has also called for halting U.S. support for the war on Yemen:

In any case, the administration should call for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire in Yemen and the withdrawal of all foreign troops and advisers. Military aid to the Saudis should be embargoed until they have abided by the ceasefire and withdrawn.

More escalation will beget further escalation, and the U.S. and the entire region will suffer as a result. It is high time for the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and the UAE to start working on extinguishing the fires that they have started over the last few years.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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