It’s The United States, Not Iran, That’s Created Hell In The Greater Middle East
President Donald Trump addressed Americans on January 8 following Iran’s overnight missile attack against two United States military bases. No casualties resulted from Iran’s attack, and it was a response to the assassination of Iranian General Qassim Soleimani, which Trump authorized.
“For far too long, all the way back to 1979, to be exact, nations have tolerated Iran’s destructive and destabilizing behavior in the Middle East and beyond,” Trump declared. “Those days are over. Iran has been the leading sponsor of terrorism, and their pursuit of nuclear weapons threatens the civilized world. We will never let that happen.”
Trump later claimed, “Iran’s hostilities substantially increased after the foolish Iran nuclear deal was signed in 2013, and they were given $150 billion, not to mention $1.8 billion in cash. Instead of saying, ‘Thank you,’ to the United States, they chanted, ‘Death to America.’”
“In fact, they chanted ‘Death to America’ the day the agreement was signed. Then Iran went on a terror spree funded by the money from the deal and created hell in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Iraq.”
Given Iran’s “aggression,” Trump announced “additional punishing economic sanctions on the Iranian regime,” which would remain until Iran changed its behavior.
What Trump expressed reflects an imperial version of world history favored by neoconservatives within the administration. There is no evidence that Iran was chanting, “Death to America!” as they inked the nuclear deal, but that does not matter to the Trump administration. They concoct nightmares to further their goal of regime change.
In fact, a January 2015 assessment [PDF] from the U.S. Defense Department concluded, “Iran’s military doctrine is primarily defensive. It exists to insulate Iran from the consequence of Tehran’s more aggressive policies, such as use of covert action and terrorism, rather than as a means to project Iranian power.”
“It is designed to deter an attack, survive an initial strike, and retaliate against an aggressor to force a diplomatic solution to hostilities while avoiding any concessions that challenge its core interests,” the assessment added.
Let’s flip the narrative. For far too long, all the way back to at least the 1953 coup in Iran, nations have tolerated the United States’ destructive and destabilizing behavior in the Middle East and beyond. The U.S. has backed terrorist groups to further its agenda, and their pursuit of nuclear weapons has threatened the safety and security of the civilized world.
The U.S., especially since the September 11th attacks, has created hell in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Iraq, as well as Libya and Palestine.
A Coup, Chemical Attacks, And Crippling Sanctions
Over the course of four days in August 1953,” as NPR highlighted in 2019, “The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) overthrew Iran’s elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh.” Two attempts were carried out to destabilize the government of Iran, as an effort to nationalize Iran’s oil reserves unfolded. Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, the Shah, was restored to power.
In 1968, Iran signed a nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT), and by 1975, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Iranian Finance Minister Hushang Ansary signed a major economic agreement that Kissinger described as “the largest agreement of this kind that has been signed by any two countries.” The trade deal included plans to spend $7 billion on the construction of nuclear power plants.
The Shah was in power until protests and strikes grew in Iran. President Jimmy Carter’s administration sensed Pahlavi was losing control and helped thwart an Iranian military coup so that Sayyid Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini, or Ayatollah Khomeini, could return to Iran from exile and take over the country in 1979.
Iraq President Saddam Hussein invaded Iran in 1980. During 1982, President Ronald Reagan decided the U.S. would not let Iraq lose the war. CIA director William Casey led the effort to arm Iraqi forces with weapons, ammunition, and vehicles to achieve victory.
CIA files indicate in 1988 the U.S. learned Iran was about to “gain a major strategic advantage by exploiting a hole in Iraqi defenses.” The location of Iranian troops was passed on to Iraq, with the knowledge that the Iraqi military would use chemical weapons.
“The Iraqis used mustard gas and sarin prior to four major offensives in early 1988 that relied on U.S. satellite imagery, maps, and other intelligence,” Foreign Policy reported. “These attacks helped to tilt the war in Iraq’s favor and bring Iran to the negotiating table, and they ensured that the Reagan administration’s long-standing policy of securing an Iraqi victory would succeed.”
While pursuing an official policy to help Iraq win the Iran-Iraq War, the U.S. allowed Israel to sell arms to Iran. The New York Times reported, “Iran at that time was in dire need of arms and spare parts for its American-made arsenal to defend itself against Iraq, which had attacked it in September 1980.” Israel had an interest in keeping both Iran and Iraq embroiled in war. Secret arms shipments were sent to Iran with an “arms-for-hostages” cover story developed in case the shipments were discovered.
Also, as Newsweek summarized, “On July 3, 1988, Aegis-armed guided-missile cruiser USS Vincennes opened fire at what its crew would later claim [was] an attacking Iranian F-14 fighter jet. Instead, the aircraft was Iran Air Flight 655, a Dubai-bound civilian Airbus A300 with 290 people on board — all of whom were killed.”
Though regret and a $200,000 settlement was later offered, the U.S. military has never admitted fault for killing hundreds of Iranian civilians.
President Bill Clinton imposed economic sanctions against Iran in 1995 that prohibited trade between the U.S. and Iran, and banned investment in Iran’s petroleum industry. The following year the U.S. blamed Iran for an attack on a U.S. Air Force facility in Khobar, Saudi Arabia, but much like Trump, Clinton was reluctant to ignite an all-out war. (Some sanctions were relaxed for specific goods at the end of his second term.)
After the September 11th attacks, Iran was designated by President George W. Bush’s administration as a member of the “Axis of Evil,” along with Iraq and North Korea, even though Iran was not involved in providing support to any of the 9/11 hijackers. (Then-Undersecretary of State John Bolton added Cuba, Libya, and Syria to the “Axis.”)
Vice President Dick Cheney and other officials in the Bush administration had a dozen ideas to provoke a war with Iran. Journalist Seymour Hersh reported that officials held a meeting, where they discussed a plan for a false flag attack. They considered building “four or five boats that look[ed] like Iranian PT boats.” They proposed putting Navy SEALs on them “with a lot of arms,” and the next time a U.S. ship went to the Strait of Hormuz it would “start a shoot-up.”
Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003, according to the New York Times. Nonetheless, neoconservatives have consistently fabricated claims about the nuclear threat posed by Iran to justify a policy of regime change.
The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — more commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal — put the U.S. and Iran on a modest path toward peace, especially since it re-established channels for diplomacy that had not existed for decades. But Trump withdrew certification of the deal in 2017 and formally withdrew the U.S. in 2018.
Crippling sanctions were imposed, an act of economic warfare, and throughout 2019, thousands of U.S. troops were deployed to parts of the Middle East to increase military pressure against Iran.
The Iraq War Has Had A Destabilizing Impact On All Of Iraq’s Neighbors
The notion that Iran is responsible for creating hell in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Iraq is a barbaric absurdity, particularly given what has unfolded between 2001 and 2020.
Patrick Cockburn, a longtime Middle East correspondent, wrote in The Age Of Jihad that the U.S. invasion and occupation “destroyed Iraq as a united country, and nobody has been able to put it back together again.”
Cockburn continued, “It opened up a period when Iraq’s three great communities — Shia, Sunni, and Kurds — are in a permanent state of confrontation, a situation that has had a deeply destabilizing impact on all of Iraq’s neighbors.”
As David Kilcullen, a former adviser to General David Petraeus and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, told Channel 4 News in March 2016, “We have to recognize that a lot of the problem is of our own making. There, undeniably, would be no ISIS if we hadn’t invaded Iraq.”
The Intercept’s Mehdi Hasan outlined three key ways the U.S. fueled the rise of Islamic State. Shootings, torture, and general chaos caused by the occupation drove the minority Sunni Community to join al Qaida in Iraq, which is recognized as a precursor to the Islamic State.
Following the invasion, the Bush administration broke up the Iraqi army, which left “more than a half million well-armed and well-trained Iraqi troops unemployed,” and, “Many of the top commanders in ISIS have been identified as former senior officers in Saddam Hussein’s army.”
Thousands of Iraqis were detained and tortured at Camp Bucca in southern Iraq. It was a detention camp, where the radicalization of potential recruits unfolded. Compound Commander James Skylar Gerrond described it as a “pressure cooker for extremism,” and one former Bucca detainee, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, went on to proclaim himself the leader of the Islamic State.
Iraqis suffer from grotesque and terrifying birth defects as a result of depleted uranium weapons used by the U.S. military. In Fallujah, a courageous woman, Dr. Samira Alani, described how babies are born with immune system problems, “massive central nervous system problems, massive heart problems, and skeletal disorders.” They’re “born with two heads” or “half of their internal organs outside of their bodies.” Doctors have even seen “cyclops babies literally with one eye.”
In the “war on terrorism,” as of 2019, Brown University’s Costs of War Project found, “More than 480,000 people have been killed by direct war violence in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.” The number of people wounded or sick is much higher, as is “the number of civilians who have died indirectly as a result of the destruction of hospitals and infrastructure and environmental contamination, among other war-related problems.”
“The vast majority of people killed are Afghan, Pakistani, and Iraqi civilians. At least 244,000 civilians have been killed in the fighting,” according to the Costs Of War Project. “Over 8.4 million Afghans, Pakistanis, and Iraqis are living as war refugees in other countries or are displaced from their homes. An additional 12.6 million Syrians are displaced, many as a result of the U.S. war against the Islamic State in Syria.”
“We Created The Monster Of All Monsters”
The U.S. strategy of arming “rebel” groups to fight in Syria had a horrible impact. Militias armed by the Pentagon fought brigades armed by the CIA. A report from Amnesty International released in 2015 showed a lot of the Islamic State’s equipment and weapons came from stockpiles that the group captured from the Iraqi military and Syrian opposition forces.
Secretary of State John Kerry said during a 2016 meeting with Syrian regime change activists, “Nusra makes it hard. Nusra and Daesh [ISIS] both make it hard, because you have this extreme element out there and unfortunately some of the opposition has kind of chosen to work with them.” (Nusra is Jabhat al-Nusra, an al Qaida-linked group in Syria.)
Kerry revealed that the U.S. watched Islamic State forces grow in strength because they believed they could “manage” the threat, and it would hopefully force Syrian President Bashar Assad to negotiate an end to his administration in Syria.
“We were watching. We saw that Daesh was growing in strength, and we thought Assad was threatened. We thought, however, we could probably manage, that Assad would then negotiate. Instead of negotiating, he got [Russian President Vladimir] Putin to support him.”
In 2014, former Vice President Joe Biden was forced by the foreign policy establishment to go on an apology tour after he spoke candidly about Syria after a speech at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
“Our allies in the region were our biggest problem in Syria,” Biden remarked. The Turks, the Saudi, the Emiratis, “They were so determined to take down Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war, what did they do? They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of tons of weapons into anyone that would fight against Assad.”
“Except that the people who were being supplied were al Nusra and al Qaida and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world.”
The U.S. supported a coalition led by Saudi Arabia, which has waged war in Yemen since 2016. Forces were given cover to decimate schools, homes, hospitals, and areas of commerce in Yemen, which was already one of the poorest countries in the world. UNICEF condemned the targeting of “vital and lifesaving water systems.”
War spurred a famine that has impacted millions of Yemenis. Save The Children reported in 2018 that at least 85,000 children have died. A separate study estimates the conflict resulted in 100,000-plus deaths, the majority due to airstrikes from the U.S.-backed coalition. (That quantity does not include deaths from famine or the cholera outbreak that plagued Yemen.)
The war in Libya, launched while Barack Obama was president, led to the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi. As journalist Vijay Prashad summarized in 2015, “Gaddafi [was] lynched on the street outside his hometown of Sirte and the various fractions of the rebels [took] the spoils without concern for the well-being of the nation.”
“Regional powers pushed forward their own proxies, who then took charge of parts of the country. Oil flowed. Europe smiled. That Libya now has two recognized governments, as well as the Islamic State group, is no surprise. It was written into the way the NATO war functioned,” according to Prashad.
With sectarian factions fueling violence in ways similar to the aftermath of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the United Nations’ human rights office reported in 2018, “Armed groups execute and torture civilians in Libya in almost complete impunity seven years after the revolution that toppled Muammar Gaddafi.”
“Open slave markets” sprouted, where captured migrants are bought and sold. Libyans and migrants are held “incommunicado in arbitrary detention in appalling conditions.”
The U.S. war in Afghanistan has raged for nearly two decades. Afghan warlords were empowered and have committed countless atrocities. Afghans suffer from a breakdown in public health, security, and infrastructure. They also must watch out for U.S. cluster bombs and unexploded ordnance from past conflicts.
“Prior wars and civil conflict in the country have made Afghan society extremely vulnerable to the indirect effects of the current war,” according to the Costs Of War Project. “Those war effects include elevated rates of disease due to lack of clean drinking water, malnutrition, and reduced access to health care. Nearly every factor associated with premature death — poverty, malnutrition, poor sanitation, lack of access to health care, environmental degradation — is exacerbated by the current war.”
Those “prior wars” include the war in the 1980s, where the CIA armed and funded mujahideen fighters in Afghanistan to fight the Soviet Union.
As detailed in journalist Max Blumenthal’s book The Management Of Savagery, in the final years before the CIA and Soviet Union ended arms shipments, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, an Afghan warlord known as the “Butcher of Kabul,” received “unprecedented amounts of cash and weapons” from the CIA.” A guerrilla rival, Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was favored by the State Department, also received an “almost equal” amount of support.
“[When] Kabul fell, a collection of warlords took control, each with an array of foreign backers, often in competition with one another, and none with any interest in maintaining a semblance of functional government,” Blumenthal wrote. “The country remained a magnet for foreign jihadists while droves of women empowered by communist rule were forced to flee for their lives, their worst fears realized thanks in no small part to the freedom-loving United States.”
Former Senate Foreign Relations Committee investigative counsel Jack Blum told Blumenthal, “By creating a motley assortment of volunteers and bringing them to Afghanistan, we created the monster of all monsters. And nobody seemed to care. It was not only a disposal problem. They were totally abandoned. It went well beyond disposal. They all went home and went to work doing what we trained them to do. And nobody, I mean nobody, has been held accountable for this.”
The “civilized world,” as the Trump administration likes to say, should send a clear and unified message that the United States’ agenda of waging empire has unleashed enough terror, mayhem, and murder in the Middle East and beyond. This agenda should not be allowed to go forward any longer, especially while Trump is president.