“Trump has long promised to get out of endless wars – but his latest Syria move may not achieve that”

My Quotes in The Independent: “Pouya Alimagham, a historian of the Middle East at MIT, says that Mr Trump’s framing of the troop withdrawal from Syria is far from reality. ‘Syria was never our war while Afghanistan was, and the Afghan war continues unabated. Furthermore, we have maintained our bases across the Middle East, and have increased our troop presence in Saudi Arabia’ he added.

Mr Alimagham believes that the US military presence across the Middle East has not helped stabilise the region but in fact added to its volatility in a dramatic way. ‘I am a critic of the US military presence in the Middle East based on the recent history of US interventions in the region, from the ill-fated invasion and occupation of Iraq, the reverberations of which continue until today, and the military support for human rights violating regimes such as in Egypt, to enabling the Saudi war in Yemen and our sabre-rattling with Iran,’ he told The Independent.

In his statement today, President Trump said that it was not possible to halt the Turkish incursion into northern Syria without deploying tens of thousands of US troops to that area. Critics however see the sudden US withdrawal as a ‘green light’ to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to move across the border and invade northern Syria. ‘In fact, it is a rare occasion for a US ally in the Middle East to commence a military operation without a US green light,’ Mr Alimagham said.”

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“Trump’s impeachment will embolden Iran to stand its ground over diplomatic crisis”

My quotes in The Independent: “Pouya Alimagham, historian of Middle Eastern at MIT, thinks Rouhani and his foreign minister Javad Zarif have risked their entire political careers on this nuclear agreement. He says the Iranian electorate voted for Rouhani in 2013 on the promise with engagement with the world, and again in 2017 on the promise that they will enjoy the economic relief promised under the 2015 nuclear agreement. Alimagham told The Independent: ‘All the while, Iranian conservatives had been saying that the nuclear agreement is a fool’s errand – that the US government’s signature is not worth the paper on which its written. With President Trump subverting the agreement, the conservatives feel vindicated, and Rouhani and Zarif have been undermined.’

He added that for Rouhani to now reward Trump by giving him what he wants, a photo-op, without the promise of anything tangible in return, is for them to further undermine themselves.

Trump wants a strong foreign policy victory ahead of the 2020 election. But the Iranians have every reason to distrust him and do not want to give him a victory without anything in return.

Alimagham says ‘confidence-building measures, especially with the power that holds almost all the leverage, is necessary. The US can reinstate the waivers so that Iran can sell some of its oil and not obstruct the French offer of $15 billion credit line.’ Since Trump was the one who scrapped the nuclear deal and imposed unilateral, crippling sanctions on Iran, the goodwill should also begin with him.”

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“U.S. Ally Japan Is Not Joining Donald Trump’s Fight with Iran, So Can It Bring Peace?”

My quotes in Newsweek: “Pouya Alimagham, a historian at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, also told Newsweek that ‘Japan can indeed play a constructive role in mediating between Iran and the U.S. It has longstanding ties with both Iran and the U.S. Iranians in general view Japan in a very favorable light,’ alluding to Japan’s 1905 victory over czarist Russia, which had long intervened in Persian affairs.

Like Azizi, Alimagham explained that ‘there’s more than just friendly relations or history that drives relations’ between the two.

‘Japan imports Iranian oil and does extensive business with Iran, and U.S. sanctions are hurting those endeavors,” he told Newsweek. “Consequently, Japanese businesses have been pressuring their government to resume oil imports and to put in place protections in support of companies wanting to return to Iran.’

Still, there were major challenges ahead, even with an ambitious diplomatic effort on Japan’s part. Alimagham said that ‘the departure of Bolton helps make de-escalation more likely, but many barriers exist,’ such as Pompeo, who readily blamed Iran for Saturday’s attacks and appeared enthusiastic to paint the Islamic Republic as a rogue actor, and regional U.S. partners such as Saudi Arabia, which was also building a case against Iran.

‘That said, and despite the bluster, neither Trump nor the Iranians want a conflict to break out between the two countries, so there’s room for hope,’ he added. ‘Japan, along with France and others, can use their ties with both countries to find common ground.’”

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“How drone attacks on Saudi Aramco might blow up US-Iran tensions”

My quote in Al Jazeera: “Firing war hawks like John Bolton is a step in the right direction, but if the Trump administration is interested in de-escalation, it needs to stop pursuing hawkish policies and pressure campaigns that ultimately force Iran to choose between submission and confrontation,’ Pouya Alimagham, a historian of the modern Middle East at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), told Al Jazeera. ‘After all, it is not hard to imagine what path a nation with a modern history of resistance to western intervention would take under such circumstances.’”

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Don’t Underestimate Iran’s Ability to Fight a Bloody War

My latest in The American Conservative: On July 29, President Trump tweeted: “Just remember, Iranians never won a war, but never lost a negotiation.” In just 12 words, Trump leveled a multi-layered, ahistorical insult against both his predecessor, Barack Obama, and Iran.

More importantly, the remarks betray a dangerously ignorant understanding of Iran that could result in another careless Middle East war of choice.

The tweet invokes a clichéd, colonial-era stereotype that Iranians, like other Middle Eastern peoples, are wily swindlers—rapacious, greedy bazaar merchants who aim to take advantage of honest and unsuspecting Westerners. Trump is hardly the first American leader to dabble in such denigrating stereotypes. Wendy Sherman, a senior State Department official and former lead negotiator who helped forge the Iran nuclear deal in 2015, infamously quipped that Iranians could not be trusted because they have “deception in their DNA.”

The president deployed the stereotype of Iranian cunning to imply that they tricked a naïve president, Barack Obama, into signing a flawed nuclear deal. According to the world’s foremost nuclear security experts, however, the accord was ensuring Iran’s compliance, thereby preventing a nuclear weapons program—that is, until Trump subverted the agreement in 2018.

More importantly, Trump’s words underscore the idea that Iranians are cowardly and militarily ineffectual, but make up for such unflattering character flaws by swindling their foes during negotiations to achieve victory.

Iran’s last war, however, should dispel any notion of cowardice and military weakness—a history President Trump and anti-Iran hawks like National Security Adviser John Bolton must face with clear eyes if the United States is to avoid another needless, catastrophic war in the Middle East.

Iraq Invades Iran

In the aftermath of the Iranian Revolution in 1979, Iran faced one of its most vulnerable moments in modern times. During the revolutionary upheaval, many arms depots were raided and weapons were distributed to volunteers ready to deliver the monarchy its coup de grace.

After the watershed moment, the Revolutionary Council feared that, given the Anglo-American coup in 1953 through the Iranian military, Iran’s generals could not be trusted. The subsequent purge resulted in the decimation of the country’s military leadership. Moreover, political infighting between revolutionary factions also led to unrest. To make matters worse, militant students were fearful that the U.S. was planning to undermine the revolution through a coup—as it did the nationalist government of Mohammad Mossadeq in 1953—so they resolved to ward off any such attempts. Consequently, they seized the U.S. embassy and held its personnel hostage. The international community responded by isolating Iran for its blatant disregard for international norms.

Capitalizing on Iran’s internal post-revolutionary chaos, military disarray, and international isolation, Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein ordered the invasion of his neighboring rival on September 22, 1980. Shortly after, Iran’s internal power struggle between the various revolutionary factions erupted into open warfare.

So devastating was the power struggle that many of the leading personalities of the Iranian Revolution died in assassinations and bomb blasts, including Iran’s president and prime minister. Thus, the Iranian state was forced to fight on two battlefronts—internally against its challengers and externally against Iraqi invaders. The government did not, however, collapse under the weight of its domestic rivals and foreign aggressors. In fact, the war enlivened Charles Tilly’s timeless words: “War makes states.”

Iranian Resilience

The Iranian state harnessed a powerful ideology that intertwined nationalism with Islamic revolutionary zeal in order to prompt Iranians to close rank behind it, marshaling hundreds of thousands of soldiers to liberate Iranian territory occupied by the Iraqi military. By May 24, 1982, and after tens of thousands of deaths, Iran freed the border city of Khorramshahr after a brutal two-year siege.

Soon after Khorramshahr’s liberation, the invading Iraqis were on the defensive, and Saddam’s wartime financiers, namely Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, offered Iran a multi-billion dollar reparations package to end the war. Iran’s leader refused, declaring that the only way the war would end was with Saddam Hussein’s bloody demise. He then spearheaded the conflict onto Iraqi soil for the first time. Time captured the moment by phrasing the counter-invasion as “Iran on the march.”

Iran Versus the World

Iraq enjoyed the support of the United States, Soviet Union, Great Britain, West Germany, France, and the Arab League—with the exception of Syria and Libya—and even used chemical weapons on Iranian troops. Yet Iran persisted despite such horrible odds, and hundreds of thousands continued to go to the battlefront knowing it was possible that they, too, could fall victim to Iraq’s horrific chemical weapons.

The violence dragged on for eight bitter years, making it the longest conventional war of the 20th century—with an Iranian death toll estimated between half a million to a million. To put that staggering number into perspective, the conservative estimate exceeds the total American loss of life in World War II.

The war’s conclusion was a failure in Iranian eyes, as it did not end in Saddam Hussein’s overthrow and Iraqis and the region would continue to suffer at his hands. Two years later, he refused to demobilize his million-man army to a jobless future in a war-ravaged economy, and instead dispatched them across Iraq’s border again—this time to Kuwait.

Yet neither did Iran lose the war. In fact, it was the first conflict since the two 19th-century wars with Czarist Russia in which Iran did not lose any territory. Above all, the country survived a genocidal conflict—and survival was its own victory.

Iran Today

Today, Iran’s population is more than double what it was in 1980—estimated at roughly 83 million. After lacking military support from abroad during the Iran-Iraq War, Iran now has extensive domestic weapons manufacturing capabilities. Also unlike 1980, it has more allies in the region. In other words, if Iran fought so stubbornly under such dire circumstances during the ’80s, it will only fight more effectively today. It has already proven itself militarily by coordinating the fight alongside the U.S. to defeat ISIS in Iraq while simultaneously working with Russia to help the Syrian government win an unrelenting civil war.

The Iranian military budget may be a fraction of America’s, but the Trump administration—especially anti-Iran hawks John Bolton and Mike Pompeo—should consider this history and current reality objectively. If they don’t, if they continue to underestimate Iran the same way the Bush administration did with a far weaker Iraq in 2003, they risk another war of choice. Indeed, on the eve of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Vice President Dick Cheney infamously stated: “I think it will go relatively quickly…weeks rather than months.” To be sure, history has been unkind to his rosy assessment.

Thinking a war with Iran will be over before it begins—or that it will, as Senator Tom Cotton boasted, not require more than “two strikes, the first strike and the last strike”—is the first step towards another needless, ruinous war.

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