Yesterday’s drone strike in Iraq by the US against a top Iranian military commander won’t lead to war. It is war. More precisely, it is an escalation of the US war on Iran that started within months of Trump’s inauguration.
In his prepared remarks today, Trump said, “We took action last night to stop a war. We did not take action to start a war.” That’s a lie. Last night’s action was a ramping-up of an ongoing war.
The media tend to focus only on immediate events when reporting a breaking story like a military strike. We would do well to take a step back, remove the chronological blinders, and keep an eye on the larger historical context. When you do that in regard to US-Iran relations, it is clear that the US is the side that “started it”.
When Donald Trump took office in January 2017, the nuclear agreement between Iran and six world powers had been in effect for a little over a year. Iran was in full compliance with all the elements of the accord. It had eliminated its stockpile of medium-enriched uranium (even though it was not suitable to build a bomb), had destroyed its advanced centrifuges in favor of an older generation of the machinery, and was allowing inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) unfettered access to its facilities throughout the country.
Nine months later, in October 2017, with Iran still in full compliance per the IAEA inspectors, Trump announced he would not certify that compliance to Congress, a requirement under US law. This refusal in effect put the ball in Congress’ court. The administration hoped that the Republican-controlled Congress would re-institute sanctions. Stopping short of a full renunciation of the deal at the time, Trump did lay down a marker: if Iran did not agree to renegotiate the entire pact, the US would walk away.
Despite this provocation, Iran remained in compliance with the agreement. That was the status when Trump announced in May of 2018 that the US was withdrawing from the deal and unilaterally restoring sanctions against Iran. US sanctions kicked back in during November of that year. The renewal of US sanctions, along with US insistence that its own trading partners comply or else, amounted to an economic blockade of Iran. Blockades are recognized under international law as acts of aggressive war.
And still Iran remained in compliance with the agreement.
It wasn’t until after April of this year that Iran shifted its strategy from one of “strategic patience” — they would just wait out Trump’s presidency — to a strategy of resistance and retaliation. What prompted this shift in Iran’s strategy after all this time? It was done in response to yet another US escalation of its aggression when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced a global embargo of Iran oil sales, an economic assault of the first order.
Only then, after two and a half years of Trump’s belligerence, did the Iranians turn to active measures. First, they amped up their enrichment of uranium, a symbolic violation of the nuclear accord. They then struck out at a few oil tankers in the Persian Gulf, followed by the shooting down of an American drone. They hit Saudi oil fields with their own drone strikes. Only recently did they begin to lob missiles toward Iraqi bases that also housed US troops.
Our country is not on the verge of a major war because a US contractor was killed this past week. Three years of ever-increasing US aggression brought us to where we are today.