Don’t Worry Folks, We’re Not Going to War with Iran (I Think)Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Politics Features Iran
For those of you who do the right thing and refuse to let Twitter rot your brain, let me catch you up on why this column needs to be written.
To Iranian President Rouhani: NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE. WE ARE NO LONGER A COUNTRY THAT WILL STAND FOR YOUR DEMENTED WORDS OF VIOLENCE & DEATH. BE CAUTIOUS!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 23, 2018
Yes, that’s a real tweet from the President of the United States. I know that it looks like one sent by a pissed-off 10-year-old boy who just lost at Fortnite, but I promise that it’s 100% realDonaldTrump. If you’re wondering what could lead the most powerful man in the world to launch an all-caps late-night tirade, well, it’s this fairly boilerplate quote from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in response to the ongoing “Iran Deal” dispute:
“Mr Trump, don’t play with the lion’s tail, this would only lead to regret. America should know that peace with Iran is the mother of all peace, and war with Iran is the mother of all wars. You are not in a position to incite the Iranian nation against Iran’s security and interests.”
Iranian Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, decided to have a little fun at our president’s expense yesterday—mocking Trump’s formatting while echoing the threatening, yet ultimately peaceful message behind Rouhani’s quote.
COLOR US UNIMPRESSED: The world heard even harsher bluster a few months ago. And Iranians have heard them —albeit more civilized ones—for 40 yrs. We’ve been around for millennia & seen fall of empires, incl our own, which lasted more than the life of some countries. BE CAUTIOUS!
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) July 23, 2018
If Trump’s tweet implicating the total nuclear annihilation of Iran has you scared, don’t be. It’s almost certainly just bluster from the Bluster-in-Chief, and let me explain why.
Middle East Wars Are Over Oil
Quick question: why did we invade Libya when Muammar Kaddafi threatened a massacre, yet did not do the same in Syria when Bashar al-Assad committed mass war crimes? Sure, the strong Iranian and Russian presence in Syria is an inescapable and central part of the problem, but we have been fighting a proxy war with both of them in Syria for quite some time. One of the main reasons that Libya got special treatment while Syria did not is the fact that Libya produces over three times the amount of oil that Syria does. Libya isn’t in the Middle East, but from an American foreign policy perspective, any country with a ton of oil is eligible to get wrapped up in our Middle East-style fiascoes.
So that logic would mean that Iran is directly in the crosshairs of the American military, right? After all, they’re the 4th largest oil producer in the world, and we already invaded the 5th largest oil producer earlier this century. However, Iran is not Iraq, and the lessons of George W. Bush’s disastrous Iraq War should inform our present dispute with Iran. Not to mention, the relative strength of the Saddam Hussein government versus the Iranian Revolutionary Guard is basically the difference between checkers and chess.
Another reason Iran is not Iraq? Iran is not surrounded by staunch American allies.
In Iraq, we had all the logistical support we needed flowing through Saudi Arabia and Turkey (and a short flight away in Israel). Iran is surrounded by the sea, small countries under Russian influence like Azerbaijan, the Iranian-fueled chaos that is Iraq, and the dual clusterfuck of Afghanistan and Pakistan. There are no easy supply routes for American troops into Iran.
Plus, war with Iran means disrupting the most important oil trade route in the world. In Iraq, we could logically assert that knocking over Saddam Hussein and pressing the reset button on all of Iraq’s oil contracts could benefit global oil markets. With Iran, it’s a far more delicate situation, thanks to their control over the Strait of Hormuz.
One-third of all sea-borne oil passes through that chokepoint every single day. The shipping lane is only two miles wide in each direction, and it transports oil coming to and from Saudi Arabia, Iran, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Iraq. Invading Iran “for the oil” is FAR more complicated than invading Iraq over oil. It’s impossible to invade Iran and keep the global supply of oil steady (In 2011, the U.S. Energy Information Administration calculated that shutting down the Strait of Hormuz would reduce the global oil supply by at least 20%).
In fact, war with Iran would be counter-productive to our war with Iran, as we would cut off a major route that we desperately need to keep our army properly supplied. It’s not hyperbolic to say that if Iran were to shut down the strait (something the Iranian Revolutionary Guard threatens whenever they’re provoked) it would eventually lead to a collapse of the global economy.
Which is why President Obama felt it was worthwhile to come to an agreement with Iran to bring them into the international order. Their economic interests are our economic interests. Their pursuit of nuclear weapons is about ensuring their sovereignty far more than it’s about threatening war (although their Ayatollah’s ideological belief that Israel shouldn’t exist cannot be ignored in this context).
As tough as America’s adversaries like to act towards the openly incompetent Trump administration, every one of them understands not to go crazy pushing the envelope thanks to the fact that going a step too far would put them up against the most well-funded military force in history. No rational actor wants all-out war with the United States. Not Russia. Not Iran. No one.
And Iran is a rational actor. The bigger question is whether America will act in its own interests with war-hawk John Bolton at the helm of Trump’s foreign policy team (but even Bolton has demonstrated the difficulty of invading Iran by recently shifting his rhetoric from air strikes to aid to protesters trying to overthrow the regime). Iran is a rich country (whose government spends much of their wealth on funding terrorism across the globe) who wants to get richer and more powerful. That means joining the international order (which would also mean decreasing their terrorist operations). As Trump’s tariffs are demonstrating, trade wars benefit no one. An actual war with Iran would also function as a de facto trade war over the globe’s most important commodity: oil.
So breathe, folks—this bluster is almost certainly just about shoring up popular support in two countries run by insecure strongmen. This kind of madness is what happens when propaganda supersedes reality in domestic politics, and our psychosis is not too dissimilar from the web of lies constructed by the Iranian government through their state television apparatus (I’m talking about you, Fox News—not to mention the contingent of mainstream media who gets uncontrollably giddy at the mere mention of war). The Earth’s True Rulers would undoubtedly be economically crippled in an Iranian-American war, and given the way that our oligarchic world works, that provides me with enough reason to sleep easy at night.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.