September 19, 2020

Too High a Price

By Stephen Tuttle | July 6, 2019

We haven't much gotten along with Iran since they had their revolution, sent our buddy the shah scurrying into exile, and kidnapped 52 Americans, all in 1979. 
Their nonstop, hateful rhetoric toward Israel and their war with Iraq — we were on Iraq's side that time — haven't much helped. When it became clear they might be trying to enrich uranium, the situation worsened again.
So, the United States along with the United Kingdom, China, Russia, France, Germany and the rest of the European Union made an agreement with the clerics who now run Iran. In exchange for discontinuing uranium enrichment, countries would lift the various economic sanctions in place, and we would return Iranian assets we had frozen since 1979.  Essentially: Stop with the nukes, and we'll give you back your money and start some trade, again. 
According to international inspectors and our own intelligence community, Iran was abiding by the terms of the agreement. President Trump, without specifics, called it a “terrible deal” and pulled out of the agreement. As a result, Iran recently said they will begin enriching uranium again.  
The president now tries to resolve, with his usual inconsistencies and bluster, the flashpoint he created. When the Iranians shot down one of our spy drones, Trumps chose not to respond militarily because it would have likely killed up to 150 people, so wasn't proportional. Just 24 hours later he was talking about the “total obliteration” of Iran. 
Involving ourselves in what is essentially the byproduct of an endless sectarian squabble between Iran and Saudi Arabia would be costly and foolish. The Middle East is already a big enough mess.
There is war involving 17 different religious and militia factions in Syria. There is war in Yemen involving the Saudis. We're still in Iraq and Afghanistan. Libya is a chaos. The entire region is an active or potential war zone.
And it's been that way for a very, very long time. The first war of which there is a record took place about 2700 BCE in what is now Iraq. There hasn't been more than about 15 minutes of peace ever since. 
What used to be tribal and familial wars for control of land morphed into religious conflict when Islam split into Sunni and Shi'a factions following the death of the prophet Muhammed in 632. Nearly every conflict there since has been sectarian.
Saudi Arabia is now 85 percent Sunni Muslim, while Iran is 90 percent Shi'a Muslim.
In Yemen, the Houthi Movement of mostly Shi'a Muslims is revolting against the Sunnis in power so, of course, the Saudis support the government and use U.S. weapons, killing thousands of Yemeni civilians in the process. And on and on it goes.   
There are plenty of good reasons for us to stay out of it.
As a starter, Iran is very big — one and a half times bigger than its neighbors Iraq and Afghanistan combined. Its population is larger than those two countries combined, too.
We don't have such a great track record in the region. We've been stuck in Afghanistan for 18 years and Iraq for 17, with no end in sight. Another entanglement just promises more of the same.
Nobody else has much of a track record there, either. The British, the French, the Soviet Union, the Crusaders — it's a long list of those who have come, failed and gone. Even Alexander the Great did not enjoy his brief stay in what is now Afghanistan.
Iran does not pose an existential threat to the security and safety of the United States, militarily or economically. They are a big problem for our only real allies in the region, but the Israelis have a way of taking care of themselves.
The Iranian boss, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenai, isn't much of a dealmaker unless he gets plenty in return. Acquiescing to “the Great Satan,” as he likes to call us, would undercut his standing and authority.
We've never seemed to understand these are almost always internecine sectarian wars in which the outcome is never really decided because the conflict never ends. There is a saying in that part of the world: “We will sacrifice space for time.” The next conflict is just a matter of time. 
The beloved oil in the area is no longer a concern for us. We import only 9 percent of our fossil fuels from the Middle East. Europe and Japan are more vulnerable, but they should resolve their own issues.
President Trump, despite his cartoonish bluster, has twice refused to react with force against Iran. His instincts were correct. Another Middle East entanglement will only cost more blood and treasure — theirs and ours. It is too high a price for little return.
The previous agreement was working. The president should find a way to reinstate it and declare a great new agreement. 


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