Trump and Iran: We all need to be Desmond Tutus
The Arch would say we have seen this movie before. After Syria and Iraq, another US-led disaster looms
Does the world never learn? Why is it, to rephrase the old saying, that we are condemned to repeat the horrific past even when we can see its effect right before our eyes?
In 2012 Archbishop Desmond Tutu boycotted a leadership conference in Sandton where former British prime minister Tony Blair gave a speech. Tutu said at the time that Blair and and former US president George W Bush should appear before the international criminal court for lying about the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq before going to war against that country in 2003.
Tutu was proved right by official inquiries on both sides of the Atlantic. In the UK the Chilcot Inquiry found that at the time of the 2003 invasion Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein “posed no imminent threat”.
“We have concluded that the UK chose to join the invasion of Iraq before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted. Military action at that time was not a last resort,” the report said.
In the US the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report said attempts by the Bush administration to link Iraq with the 9/11 attacks were “not substantiated by the intelligence”, adding that a number of CIA reports dismissed the claim that Iraq and al-Qaeda were co-operating partners – and that there was no intelligence information that supported administration statements that Iraq would provide weapons of mass destruction to al-Qaeda.
In a word, the two leaders launched an attack on Iraq without an iota of evidence that this was in any way justified. At least 150,000 Iraqis died and more than a million people were displaced by that war.
One can understand why Tutu, in rejecting the conference at which Blair appeared in 2012, said the 2003 invasion created the backdrop for the civil war in Syria and a possible wider Middle East conflict.
“The then leaders of the United States and Great Britain,” Tutu wrote in The Observer newspaper, “fabricated the grounds to behave like playground bullies and drive us further apart. They have driven us to the edge of a precipice where we now stand – with the spectre of Syria and Iran before us.”
Seven years later, we know where Syria is. The United Nations says the conflict has led to more than 5.6 million Syrians becoming refugees while an astonishing six million people have been internally displaced. Some estimates put the death toll of the war at nearly half a million people.
Iran? Well, it looks like Iran may be firmly on its way to becoming the Iraq of the 2010s. The US has started beating the war drums. Last week the New York Times reported that the US has updated plans that could send up to 120,000 troops to counter Iran if it attacked US forces.
US officials accused Iran of orchestrating “sabotage” attacks on Saudi tankers near the Persian Gulf. In retaliation, US President Donald Trump threatened Iran with a “bad problem”.
“It’s going to be a bad problem for Iran if something happens, I can tell you that,” he said. “They’re not going to be happy.”
Pressed about what a “bad problem” meant, Trump replied: “You can figure it out yourself. They know what I mean by it.”
Reports suggest that the White House is quietly building a case, very similar to the 2003 Iraqi case, to go to war against Iran. The broadcaster NBC News reported that, earlier this month, the US deployed an aircraft carrier strike group to the region.
“Three US officials told NBC that a surge in American forces in the region was a response in part to intelligence gathering suggesting that the Iranian regime had given proxies a green light to attack US personnel and assets in the region,” it said.
Sound familiar? That’s not all. NBC also pointed out that Trump officials have in recent weeks accused Iran of assisting al-Qaeda, designated an arm of the Iranian military as a foreign terrorist organisation, and accused Iran of being linked to a terrorist threat against the US embassy in Iraq.
It is disconcerting that the lead person in this campaign is Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton. Bolton famously wrote an article in 2015 headlined “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran”. He was an official and well-known hawk in the Bush administration that went to war against Iraq on questionable intelligence back in 2003.
We have seen this movie before. The script is all too familiar. The fact that Syria, Iraq and so many others have been totally destroyed by these war games doesn’t matter. Another humanitarian disaster is at the door.
We need more Desmond Tutus. All of us should be Desmond Tutus this time around.