Senator Bernie Sanders may have hoped to portray President Donald Trump as another “warmonger” in preparation for the presidential campaign. But Trump seems determined to cast himself as a president of peace, even if that risks sending wrong signals to adversaries. Even Mohammad Javad Zarif, the man who plays the role of Iran’s Foreign Minister, has praised Trump as a man of peace. (Photo by Koji Sasahara – Pool/Getty Images)
“No war with Iran!” The shop-worn slogan, in circulation for four decades, is back in vogue as self-styled peaceniks in the West seek a fig-leaf to hide their shameless support for a regime rejected by its people. In Britain, the neo-Marxists who control the Labour Party bandy the slogan around on airwaves and meetings of militants. In France, the pro-Putin “France Unbowed” outfit led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon makes similar noises. And in the US, we have Senator Bernie Sanders, currently the front-runner to become the Democrat Party’s nominee in the next presidential election, donning the mantle of supreme peacemaker, in effect offering himself as a human shield for the Islamic Republic.
“Recently I’ve been criticized … because of my opposition to war,” Sanders says in a video message. “So let me be very clear: I make no apologies to anybody, that when I was a young man before I was elected to anything, I opposed the war in Vietnam. And I know what that war did to my generation.”
He adds “I’m going to do everything that I can to prevent a war with Iran because if you think the war in Iraq was a disaster, my guess is that war in Iran would be even worse.”
In a sense Sanders is right. No one should apologize for opposing war in general. However, the truth is that war has been, is and is likely to remain, a part of our human story, the tragic undertone of which we would ignore at our peril. The important point is what war one talks about, when, where and against which adversaries. The bland assertion “I oppose war against X or Y” is a sign of intellectual laziness if not of moral bankruptcy.
Sanders says he opposed the war in Vietnam. But he does not say when and which part of the war he opposed. The Vietnam war started in 1950 as Communist guerrillas, backed by Maoist China, tried to capture a niche in French Indochina. That dragged the French into a war which morphed into a forlorn attempt at protecting the southern part of what was to become Vietnam from the “Red virus.” The Americans became seriously involved from 1963 onwards after betraying their erstwhile ally Ngo Dinh Diem, killed in a putsch by his own military.
There is no evidence that Sanders, a young man at the time, opposed that war in any of its initial phases. Had he done so, he would have had to support one side against another. Which side would he have supported? He could say that he was only opposed to US involvement. In that case, he cannot cast himself as an “anti-war” paragon.
Sanders says he opposed the war in Iraq.
However, again he forgets that war has at least two sides. His real position, which he does not dare admit, is that he would have preferred to see Saddam Hussein rule Iraq, ignore 14 unanimous UN Security Council resolutions, invade and/or threaten neighbours and America’s allies, rather than see the US apply what turned out to be homeopathic dose of force, compared to major wars, to give the Iraqi people a chance to seek a different future.
Sanders also forgets that Iraqis were, in fact, co-liberators of their country if only because they chose not to fight for Saddam.
In that context, Sanders never tells us which side he would have supported: Saddam Hussein or a majority of the Iraqi people? One may justly infer that he is opposed to wars only where the US is fighting real or imagined enemies.
During the two-decades-long Vietnam war saga in its various phases, many other wars erupted. The Korean War, triggered by the Communists in the North invading the southern part of the Peninsula was one such war. Soviet invasions of Poland, Hungary and later Czechoslovakia to crush popular revolts were others. There were also the Arab-Israel wars which Sanders never talks about. Whose side would Sanders have taken in those wars?
Sanders is wrong in pretending that Iraq was a “disaster”. Since 2003, Iraq has gone through many ordeals, paying a heavy price. And yet, today no one could deny that most Iraqis enjoy freedoms they never thought possible under the dictatorship. By most measurements such as economic growth rate, frequency and freedom of elections, the scope for social and political self-expression and power-sharing across ethnic and religious divides, post-Saddam Iraq is far from the disaster Sanders claims.
Sanders is also wrong on Iran.
No one wants or preaches military action against Iran. But the fact is that Iran has been at war against the US for more than 40 years, the initial casus belli coming with the capture by Khomeinist thugs of the US Embassy in Tehran and the holding of its diplomats as hostages. The killing of hundreds of US diplomatic and military personnel in Lebanon, Iraq and Saudi Arabia by terrorists remote-controlled from Tehran form other parts of this tragic back-story. The only military action the Americans took in this long war was in 1988, when the US Navy attacked Islamic Revolutionary Guard land and sea assets along Iran’s southern coastline.
Sanders may have hoped to portray President Donald Trump as another “warmonger” in preparation for the presidential campaign. But Trump seems determined to cast himself as a president of peace, even if that risks sending wrong signals to adversaries.
This is what Trump said in his inaugural speech in 2019: “As a candidate for president, I loudly pledged a new approach. Great nations do not fight endless wars.”
Could that mean he intends to end the “endless war’ with the Islamic Republic that started in 1979? Perhaps, he hopes that by deploying America’s economic, trade, diplomatic and military power in the context of specific demands he might be able to do so without an actual shooting war.
I am not sure that such a strategy will produce the desired results. But what matters in the context of this article is that Trump isn’t a warmonger, as Sanders implies.
At the same time, Khomeinist leaders also insist that there is no prospect of a war with the US.
“Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei whistles that tune at every opportunity. And Mohammad Javad Zarif, the man who plays the role of Foreign Minister, has praised Trump as a man of peace.
So, what is Sanders worried about?
Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987.
This article was originally published by Asharq al-Awsat and is reprinted by kind permission of the author.