If two bullies taunt each other for long enough, there’s going to be a fight. It seems that a small minority of insane people in Iran and the United States are nudging both countries in that direction. And when the shooting starts, it’s not going to matter who fired the first shot. It’s only going to matter how many body bags we’re going to need for the dead.
Neo-conservatives in the United States have been trying to maneuver the country into war with Iran for decades. They wanted to attack Iraq, and they finally found a way to trick the public into supporting that war 10 years ago. The country hadn’t attacked us and the shaky evidence that was used to justify the attack turned out to be a combination of lies and bad information. Still, the war hawks had their way. U.S. taxpayers spent trillions of dollars over the last decade, and many people on both sides were killed and maimed. And for what? As most U.S. troops pull out, the place is still a violent political basketcase that could fall into civil war at any time.
But the Iraqi misadventure hasn’t taught the neo-conservative war hawks anything, so now they want to attack Iran. They’ll use any excuse. They just want to overthrow the Iranian government, ignoring the evidence that external nation-building doesn’t work.
There’s a hardline element inside Iran, of course, that’s just as bad. To them, it’s a religious struggle, and they’re eager to fight “the Great Satan.” The Iranian military is in the midst of a war games exercise in international waters that has the possibility of setting off a war, either accidentally or intentionally. The Iranians have spent years building their military and pursing nuclear weapons, in large part because they’ll always be at the mercy of countries such as the United States unless they join the “nuclear club.”
So why is Iranian resentment toward the United States so high? In addition to the obvious religious radicalism — which is all most people ever hear about — the Iranians have legitimate issues with the U.S. government. Most people here don’t realize that it was the United States that propped up the hated Iranian dictator who was finally overthrown in 1979. The U.S. government put the brutal and dictatorial Shah of Iran into power and kept him there. When he was finally overthrown by a religious revolution, the people welcomed the Islamic republic, because they believed anything would be better than they had been living with.
Then there’s the fact that the U.S. government has shown utter disregard for the Iranians over the years. Let’s look at a 1988 incident and decide how it should affect relations between two countries, but let’s make it hypothetical at first. Let’s assume this takes place today.
For our story, we’re going to assume that an American Airlines flight takes off from Miami heading to a Caribbean destination. It’s a regularly scheduled flight and it travels its normal route. The plane is an Airbus A300, one of the most typical planes around the world. It carries 274 passengers and a crew of 16. Let’s assume that the Chinese navy has ships stationed just off the U.S. coast just to watch over international shipping, even though Americans are irritated with Chinese warships so close to our cities.
Now, let’s say that this American Airlines flight takes off from Miami and is in U.S. territorial waters, but the Chinese naval vessels decide that it’s an attacking aircraft. So they shoot it down — killing all 290 people on board. How do you think Americans would react to this? And how quickly would the U.S. military be firing back at the Chinese?
This exact story happened in 1988, but it was the U.S. Navy that shot down an Iranian Airbus A300 in Iranian territory while it was on a regularly schedule flight, using the same flight path it used all the time. All 290 people were really killed. The Navy admitted that it made a mistake, saying that the captain of the guided missile cruiser USS Vincennes thought the plane was an attacking F-14 (a plane which the U.S. had sold to Iran).
Then-Vice President George H.W. Bush said the United States had no reason to apologize for the attack, saying, “I’ll never apologize for the United States of America. Ever. I don’t care what the facts are.” Can you imagine the American response if another country’s official said something this arrogant after his country’s military had just killed 290 American civilians? Can you understand why the Iranians have many reasons to hold the U.S. government in poor regard?
Every government teaches its citizens a warped and distorted version of world affairs and of history. The Iranian government is a terrible offender about this, but there are some points — such as their long suffering at the hands of a dictator and the deaths of the people on that plane — on which they have very good grievances against the U.S. government. They don’t “hate us for our freedom.” They hate us because we’ve done things to them — and then their government has spent years making it even worse with its lies.
Unless we understand the root of the animosity between Iran and the United States, it’s hard to realize how to back off and reduce tensions. Neither side is faultless, to put it mildly.
The United States has taken an attitude toward Iran that it will dictate what the Iranians are to do — and the Iranians are to obey what Uncle Sam says. That’s not a productive attitude, and the U.S. government needs to back down from its insistence that we have any right to dictate to Iran. On the other hand, Iran has a history of using the United States as an all-purpose bogeyman for propaganda purposes. Its regular belligerent statements don’t help the situation, either.
Sane people need to find a reasonable way the back down from the ledge onto which we’ve all been dragged by this conflict. War wouldn’t be good for anybody. It wouldn’t solve anything. It would only make two groups happy — the war hawks in the United States who want to kill Iranians and war hawks in Tehran who want to send their men off to battle the Great Satan. I don’t want to make either of those insane groups happy.