The US Cannot Retaliate Against Iran’s Strikes in Iraq

There is only one morally justifiable response to tonight’s attack on US military bases, no matter what: the United States cannot escalate the conflict with Iran.

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 4: A demonstrator holds a sign during a protest against war in Iraq and Iran outside the White House. Alex Edelman / Getty Images

Just hours ago, Iran attacked two US bases in Iraq. The strikes occurred at 1:20 am local time, the same time that Iranian general and Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani was killed by a US drone last week. Iran’s armed forces announced that their “fierce revenge” for Soleimani’s assasination had begun.

It seems that we are on the precipice of another decades-long war — a war that could be even bloodier and more unwinnable as the last, and just as unjustified.

The Trump administration, Republicans, military officials, pundits, and plenty of Democrats will now say that our nation’s hand has been forced, that we must respond to the provocation with another attack of our own. GOP leaders and right-wing think tank goons will be giddy, electrified as always by the prospect of spilling fresh blood. Democrats will speak of retaliation somberly, perhaps “with a heavy heart.” But both will make the same argument: “We must respond.”

As if our attack will not be taken as further provocation. As if a single military response could ever cow Iran into submission rather than stoke the flames of animus and plunge us into another interminable conflict in which thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, maybe more will needlessly lose their homes, their limbs, their loved ones, and their lives.

And for what?

After September 11, 2001, Washington waged unjust war in Iraq and Afghanistan. In those countries, more than 250,000 civilians have been killed in direct fighting. And that number doesn’t even account for those who have died from illness and malnutrition caused by destabilization throughout the region. War with Iran promises more of the same.

Some will say that, if American soldiers were killed in today’s strike, we have no choice but to respond. Ask them to estimate how many American soldiers are likely to die in a war between Iran and the United States. In Iraq and Afghanistan, 6,870 American soldiers have died since the war began. A war on Iran promises to be far bloodier.

A true gesture of respect for the lives of US soldiers would be to withdraw out of Iraq, as the Iraqi parliament demanded we do over the weekend, and out of the many bases across the Middle East that encircle Iran, once and for all.

The total cost of life in America’s post-9/11 war zones is pushing one million. War with Iran will carry it over the finish line. We have a responsibility to unequivocally say no. These grueling, meaningless, brutal wars must end.

It’s unlikely that the Trump administration will heed such advice. He ran an isolationist campaign in 2016, but then again he also campaigned on a promise of universal health care. We can’t place bets that he’ll back off from the path of escalation he’s started us down.

But any Democrat who claims to oppose forever wars needs to prove it right now. The Democratic Party presidential candidates need to bring to the situation a clarity that none of them — save Bernie Sanders — has shown in the past few days.

Several Democratic presidential candidates’ statements on the assasination of Soleimani emphasized process concerns, as if the escalation could have been legitimized and justified with some dotted I’s and crossed T’s. The candidates also bemoaned the lack of strategy or foresight, implying that if an attack on Iran had been better planned, it would be defensible. With that, the candidates left themselves wiggle-room to justify future attacks against Iran should they be deemed shrewd or well-outlined.

The truth is that there is no good reason or way to provoke war with Iran. Any Democratic politician or pundit tonight, tomorrow, or the next day who says we have to respond to Iran’s attack with military force will be rationalizing war, capitulating to Trump’s attempt to drag us into yet another bloody imperialist quagmire. And they will have blood on their hands.

There is only one morally justifiable response to tonight’s attack on a US base, no matter what: the US cannot escalate its military response.