By John Robertson, War in Context, July 11, 2011
Once again, from one of those worthies privileged to call themselves “fellows” of the Council on Foreign Relations, a call for America to suck it up, be strong, hammer those bad guys into submission (and not a word about how much it costs, or how little the US can afford it).
Days ago, it was Max Boot, pounding on the guilt button of America’s supposed humiliation in Somalia, and imploring Obama to steer our military and economy more deeply into the black hole that is nation-building in Iraq and Afghanistan. (For my take on that, I invite you to read this.) Now we have Elliot Abrams, another “expert” hailing from the so-called mainstream of the public diplomacy establishment, who is shocked – SHOCKED – by the deaths of US soldiers at the hands of Shii militias in Iraq, and intent on shaming Obama into doing something about it – by killing Iranians, those nefarious evil-doing people who surely are behind it all.
Here’s his historical context:
There must be very few times in American history when a foreign government is accused of killing American troops, and absolutely nothing is done about it.
Every school kid used to learn lines like “Perdicaris Alive or Raisuli Dead,” or “Millions for defense but not one cent for tribute.” The War of 1812 was fought in large part due to the “impressment” of American sailors by the British, a similar example of denial of freedom that fell far short of actually killing American sailors.
Are you serious, Mr. Abrams? For those who don’t know, Mrs. Perdicaris and children were, in perspective, a minor incident; they were held captive by a local sheikh in northern Africa and were rescued, unharmed, when Teddy Roosevelt sent in a small force. There was no danger of instigating a horrific war. British impressment of American sailors did contribute to starting the War of 1812, which soon entailed a British invasion of US territory and a real threat to the American republic.
The deaths of a few US soldiers in Iraq at the hands of Shii militias with ties to – and supplied by – Iran is deplorable, but it bears absolutely no real comparison to either of these two incidents. Abrams would have us believe that any Iranian involvement in the killing of US soldiers in Iraq is unprovoked. You want to cite history, Mr. Abrams? Try this out:
- Even as US forces were rolling into Baghdad in 2003, the word among the neocon set was that “real men go to Tehran.” This, after the Khatami government had cooperated with the US post-9/11 and had been reaching out to the US during the Clinton administration – only to be rewarded with the idiocy of Bush’s “axis of evil” SoU address in 2002.
- Between 1980 and 1988, the US provided huge support to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq after his unprovoked invasion of Iran. The war cost as many as 1 million Iranian lives, and featured attacks by the US navy on Iranian oil installations and naval forces in the Persian Gulf. It also featured Iraqi use of poison gas against Iranian troops – a horrific violation of international law, at which the Reagan administration essentially winked and looked the other way. And, it also featured the incident of a US warship (the USS Vincennes) launching anti-aircraft rockets that destroyed an Iranian passenger plane, killing 200 passengers – an incident the Iranian government commemorated only a few days ago.
- Speaking of the Reagan administration, and history – under Reagan, the US secretly facilitated the illegal sale of weapons to Iran and then (again, illegally) funneled the profits to anti-communist CONTRA movement in Nicaragua. When it was discovered, this bit of chicanery brought us the Iran-CONTRA scandal, which came close to trashing the Reagan administration and led to the censure and convicting of some Reagan officials, including . . .
- Elliot Abrams! Gee, you don’t remember that, Elliot? You don’t remember that there was once a time when you were up to your neck in unseemly dealings with Iran?
Outraged by Iran now, Abrams is calling for retaliation. Want some more historical context for that?
- An article at the time of Iran-CONTRA also noted that on his office wall, Abrams proudly featured a Likud Party poster.
- Anyone who reads Abrams’ stuff over the last several years knows that he is one of Israeli hard-right’s most ardent defenders in the press as well as the foreign-policy mainstream. He completely backs Netanyahu/Lieberman on the issue of West Bank settlements (i.e., Israel should keep them all, and anyone who raises the issue of settlements is simply trying to distract us from the issues of Palestinian/Islamist/Iranian perfidy).
- He would love nothing better than to see the US either back Israel’s play in a proposed military strike against Iran or launch its own such strike.
So now, Abrams conjures up the ghosts of 1812 and Teddy Roosevelt to bang the war-drum for retaliation against Iran. He says, it’s to salvage American honor.
I betcha that Bibi – that great promoter of American honor – is smiling.
John Robertson is a professor of Middle East history at Central Michigan University and has his own blog, Chippshots.