My thoughts on the Iran conflict

January 7, 2020
For almost four years, Americans have witnessed the boasts, the lies, and the delusions of Donald Trump with amusement, frustration, and outrage.
The decision to assassinate Qasem Soleimani has put the worst characteristics of Trump in sharp relief. Soleimani is an evil presence in a country whose complexities have completely eluded this president. This is an area I have written, studied, and discussed with Iranian experts, including many leaders of the Iranian community in Portland.
Most Iranians have an affinity for the United States, dating back to the constitutional revolution of 1905. America was respected, revered, and appreciated. But it was the United States that chose to side with the British in overthrowing a popularly elected government in Iran in 1953 in order to restore British control over Iranian oil. We were partners in restoring the Shah to the throne, replacing their democracy and ushering in an era of repression. The United States helped foster the Iranian revolution where we were perceived as being their enemy. There was a reason Iranian crowds chanted “death to America.”
Throughout all of the sad history and record of American missteps in relation to Iran, when the tragedy occurred on 9/11, while there was celebration in some Arab capitals, there were candlelight vigils in Iran in sympathy for America’s loss. It was because of these complexities and angled history that it was clear there was a basis to negotiate an agreement with Iran to limit its nuclear capacity. The treaty was opposed by hard-liners in Iran and in the United States. It made sense, it was worth taking a risk for peace, and it commanded the support, not just of President Obama’s administration, but an unprecedented partnership with the great powers in Europe, including our closest allies like Britain, France, and Germany, in addition to those with whom we have conflicts and disagreements, like China and Russia. The Iran nuclear agreement was not perfect and not without risk, but was well worth taking.
It’s worth noting that another foolish, ill-considered initiative of Donald Trump was to cozy up to one of the worst people on the face of the planet, Kim Jong Un, the murderous dictator of North Korea. There was some hope of trying to convince him not to further develop nuclear weapons and rocketry. He wasted American time, prestige, and potential leverage with the North Koreans while making a fool of himself pretending Kim was a great man and strong leader. Trump was so impressed that he was so respected by his people, somehow failing to note the irony that he got that respect not by deed and merit, by dent of positive performance, but by torture, murder, starvation, ruthless treatment of his own people and some of his closest confidants and even family members.
If Trump’s delusions about North Korea were ever to be realized with an agreement, what message did he send to Kim and his regime when we broke and withdrew from a treaty that limited access to nuclear weapons for Iran, one that they had actually abided by?
Trump’s assassination of a foreign military leader, a powerful and popular figure in Iran, has exposed all of Trump’s weaknesses. He acted impulsively against the advice of his senior military advisers, it appears. There was, after all, a reason why two other presidents have neglected to assassinate Soleimani. Not because he wasn’t a malign force, but because the consequences of his assassination could unleash a torrent of related disasters. The fractious Irani political equation is now united against the United States.
Iran is a young country with more than half the population under thirty. Presumably, they hold a different world view, allowing for the prospect for a generational change of feeling toward the United States. But with one mindless, reckless act, Trump has swept those opportunities aside for the foreseeable future, perhaps decades.
The man who dismissed his generals because he was “smarter” than they were, who ignored evidence from our own intelligence community and his administration because they were part of the deep state, this man without a plan has taken the worst of his behaviors and instincts into the realm of military and diplomatic affairs. For all the damage he is doing to our national security and the relationships with potential allies and partners in fighting the climate crisis, in the midst of impeachment, he will have the most profound and lasting impact long after he is just a reviled footnote in history and a symbol of arrogance and failure. These effects will linger and make our job so much more difficult.
While I was alarmed and disappointed by everything he didn’t do: listen to experts, consult with congressional leaders, marshal allies internationally, and think about a true strategy after understanding the consequences, I am hopeful that this will make it easier for those in Congress to find a backbone, and for an ever-growing percentage of Americans to understand the risks and dangers associated with Trump occupying the White House.
We all have our work cut out for us as we enter a decade of decision and an election with profound effects and consequences. I hope this ushers in a new era of awareness, involvement, and action.