I don’t know whether it is creeping up on us, or hurtling towards us, but it currently seems that war between Iran and the US is an increasingly likely prospect. Donald Trump’s gung-ho attitude towards incriminating Iran in the attack on two oil tankers in Oman has understandably ruffled feathers at the highest level of the Iranian state, leading to a series of escalating threats which culminated in the shooting down of a US military drone over the Strait of Hormuz.
Iran denies Trump’s accusations regarding the Oman attacks, and the video ‘evidence’ which the US claims proves Iran’s culpability has largely been deemed inconclusive by the international community.
And yet, UK foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt has sided with the Trump administration, arguing that Iran was ‘almost certainly’ behind the attacks in Oman. In insisting on the truth of his viewpoint, Hunt has also branded Jeremy Corbyn ‘pathetic and predictable’ for urging caution with regards to levelling accusations at Iran.
British intelligence has independently concluded that Iran is the culprit in this case, and Iran certainly has a motivation for carrying out the attacks, aggrieved as it has been by US sanctions which particularly affect its own oil exports.
But even if Iran is behind the attacks, and although the conflict has escalated recently, the UK should be wary about backing up a US foreign policy that is typically characterised by semantically dubious jingoism. From North Korea to Iran, the Trump administration continues to make statements that are reckless in their bellicosity.
Now, Iran is not a country that will simply take the US’s remarks lying down. In fact, if countries can at all be classified as moral entities, I’d go as far as to say that Iran is a rather unpleasant country itself. It has adopted a repressive theocratic regime which persecutes gay people and religious minorities. It shuts down protesters by violating their human rights. And just as it takes a harsh line with its own citizens, Iran has the potential to be very dangerous to foreign powers.
And this ought to make the UK very cautious.
Because as shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry implied, a war between the US and Iran would undoubtedly be frightening in scale. It does not matter that Iran may be a ‘bad’ country. As Owen Jones notes, if western superpowers genuinely considered human rights violations to be a justification for waging war on a country, they would be firing missiles at Saudi Arabia right now instead of cosying up to it. We must remember that Iran is a country embroiled in a precarious political situation with its geographical neighbours; it is a country which fears that it is being denied international opportunity – in short, it is a country that is being driven to retaliatory action.
I do not feel any sympathy with Iran or its autocratic government, and I wholeheartedly condemn many of its actions. But the adage tells us that fire cannot be fought with fire. Iran is a dangerous country, prone to militaristic response. And instead of calming the instinct for war, international superpowers are fanning the flames and failing to engage in any sort of dialogue with the country.
There is little appetite for war either in the UK or the US. War-zones in the world today reveal the devastation caused by chemical warfare, ideological brutalisation and cyber propaganda. The UK knows how deadly foreign interventions can be. If we blindly follow the US, and retrace the path that we took with Iraq, the UK will be committing itself only to destruction and loss, rather than the betterment of global society. We know it, because we have seen all too clearly where violence and warfare lead.
Jeremy Corbyn may have traditionally been too sympathetic towards the Iranian regime, drawn as he is to any country which expresses anti-American sentiment. But his warning must be heeded. Entering into modern-day warfare must be seen as a last resort, rather than as a productive solution to international disputes. Iran may be an unreasonable country in terms of both its domestic and foreign policy, but this is why it is necessary to attempt to reason with it. Because if an erratic world power is met with similar volatility, then the whole world might just go up in smoke.