Editorial: No more gunboat diplomacy

IssueAugust - September 2019
Comment by Milan Rai

It was the strength of the US anti-war movement that helped us to avoid US military action against Iran on 20 June.

A lot has happened since Iran shot down a US surveillance drone that day (including the seizure of an Iranian tanker by British warships), but it's worth remembering that US president Donald Trump called off a retaliatory air strike that he had approved hours earlier.

Various reasons have been given for Trump's U-turn.

Journalist Alex Ward reported on Vox that a US official told him that 'Trump worried an attack might set off an oil shock and hurt the American economy.'

According to the New York Times, 'a senior Trump administration official said there was concern inside the United States government about whether the drone, or another American surveillance aircraft, or even the P-8A manned aircraft flown by a military aircrew, actually did violate Iranian airspace at some point'. The unnamed official 'said the doubt was one of the reasons Mr. Trump called off the strike.'

It's the election...

The NYT gave a lot of weight to the influence of one of Trump's favourite hosts on the right-wing TV channel, Fox News. Tucker Carlson apparently told Trump that if he got into a war with Iran, 'he could kiss his chances of re-election goodbye'.

The NYT reported: 'As Mr. Carlson and other skeptics have argued, a strike against Iran could easily spiral into a full-fledged war without easy victory. That, Mr. Trump was told, was everything he ran against.'

When he ran for president, Trump portrayed himself as an anti-interventionist candidate who had been against the Iraq war 'from the very beginning'.

An important part of his political base is the new right who are anti-foreign wars while also being very pro-military.

In other words, it is the strength of the anti-war movement in the US – coming out of the campaign against the Iraq War – that has helped to restrain the most irrational and unpredictable character ever to occupy the Oval Office.

The way out

This is not to say that the United States is not drifting closer to military confrontation with Iran. It is, because Trump's 'maximum pressure' strategy is not going to work with Iran.

Trump seems to believe that the 'sanctions-bloodcurdling threats-hugs' sequence that worked with North Korea will work with Iran. It won't.

Iranian officials told the Reuters news agency that on the night he ordered the airstrikes, 'Trump had warned Tehran via Oman that a U.S. attack was imminent, but had said he was against war and wanted talks.' The Iranians turned Trump down, but he called off the strikes anyway.

Unlike North Korea, Iran has not been desperately seeking a meeting with a US president to signal its legitimacy.

Progress with Iran will require relaxation of US sanctions, which Trump rejects as a personal humiliation.

Therefore tensions are likely to go on building and we will continue to run the risk of a spreading war.

What is needed is a US peace movement – and an international peace movement – strong enough to force an end to the economic war with Iran, not just to hold Trump back from an air strike.

In Britain, one priority will be ending gunboat diplomacy against Iran.

Topics: Iran
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