The drums of war are beating in Washington again.
Just today we learned that the US came very close to striking targets inside Iran in response to the downing of a US drone in the Persian Gulf. Last week the White House announced that a 1,000 additional troops would be sent to the Middle East in response to an alleged Iranian attack on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. Last month, the New York Times reported that the Pentagon had presented a plan to the White House that envisions sending as many as 120,000 troops to the region to fight Iran.
We need to rethink our current approach. A war with Iran would be an absolute disaster. As former general Anthony Zinni has put it: “If you like Iraq and Afghanistan, you’ll love Iran.” If the US were to attack Iran, Iran could respond with attacks on US troops and on countries around the region. It would lead to the further destabilization of that region in a way that is unimaginable and would result in wars that would go on years and probably cost trillions of dollars.
Sixteen years ago, the US committed one of the worst foreign policy blunders in the history of our country by attacking Iraq. That war was sold to the American people based on a series of lies about weapons of mass destruction. One of the leading advocates for that war was John Bolton, who served as a member of the Bush administration and is now Donald Trump’s national security adviser. Incredibly, even today, Bolton is one of the few remaining people in the world who continues to believe that the Iraq war was a good idea.
That war led to the deaths of more than 4,400 American troops, with tens of thousands of American soldiers wounded, many severely, and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians killed. It unleashed a wave of radicalism and destabilization across the region that we will be dealing with for many years to come. It was the biggest foreign policy disaster in American history.
Trump campaigned on getting the US out of “endless wars”, but his administration is taking us down a path that has made war with Iran more and more likely.
First, there was the president’s reckless decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal with Iran a year ago and re-impose crushing sanctions on Iran. This was a move opposed by his own top security officials, including then secretary of defense James Mattis. Why? Because they knew, as do the vast majority of national security experts in the US, Europe and around the world, that the nuclear deal was effectively preventing Iran from moving forward with its nuclear program.
The Iran nuclear deal put Iran’s nuclear program under the most intense inspections regime in history. It got Iran to give up more than 98% of its stockpile of enriched uranium. Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign has reversed those gains. Iran recently announced that, in response to a year’s worth of increased US sanctions, it would increase its stockpile of enriched uranium beyond the limits imposed by the nuclear deal. Bizarrely, Trump is now warning Iran not to violate an agreement his administration violated over a year ago.
We need to take a more even-handed approach to the Middle East, and not simply support one side against another
While there is still much we need to know about the attack on the tankers and the shooting down of the drone, clearly the Trump administration’s rhetoric and increased sanctions are escalating tensions. The US and the international community have a shared interest in protecting international shipping lanes and airspace. We need to work multilaterally to do this. Unfortunately, the US is isolated from its most important allies right now because of Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal and campaign against Iran. Because of Trump’s constant lying, the word of the US is doubted by many around the world.
Voices of dissent went unheeded in the lead-up to the Iraq war. They must be heeded now.
Congress must do everything it can to prevent this war. The constitution is very clear: it is Congress, not the president, who decides when we go to war. It is imperative that Congress immediately make it clear to the president that taking us into hostilities with Iran without congressional authorization would be both unconstitutional and illegal.
Several months ago, we made history in Congress by passing, for the first time in 40 years, a War Powers Resolution to withdraw the US from an illegal and unauthorized war in Yemen. We did this with the strong support of a transpartisan grassroots coalition, with progressives and conservatives working together to bring sanity to our foreign policy. We need those same voices to make clear to the Congress and to the reflexively hawkish, interventionist foreign policy establishment here in Washington that we will not accept another American war in the Middle East. And this time we need to work together even harder to assemble a veto-proof majority in Congress.
I want to be clear on this: Iran pursues many bad policies. It violently represses its own population and supports extremist groups around the region. The same could be said of our longtime partner Saudi Arabia. We need to take a more even-handed approach to the Middle East, and not simply support one side against another in a regional conflict. The US is strong enough to deal with these issues diplomatically, working with allies around the world, and that is what we should be doing. We must not fight another unnecessary war.
Bernie Sanders is a US senator from Vermont and a candidate for president