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WITHIN a few days of a new year and a new decade, Donald Trump sent the world a message that it certainly is not going to be peaceful.
His illegal and reckless acts threaten to plunge the Middle East into even worse wars than have been seen up to now. And yet again, politicians around the world – not least in Britain – are refusing to learn the lessons of past wars, and denigrate and abuse anyone who tells them differently.
The assassination of Qassem Soleimani last week has made the world a more dangerous place. That is the only conclusion one can draw from the further threats by Trump to attack Iran sites, including cultural ones, and now the retaliation by Iran with missile strikes on US bases.
We do not know what further escalation there may be but we do know that any war in the Middle East will have a deadly impact on the ordinary people there.
Trump’s behaviour has frightened even many of those close to him, but it is clear from the response of Boris Johnson that the British government is also terrified of offending Trump.
We can therefore expect Johnson to follow the line, as when he justified keeping British troops in Iraq.
The ludicrous claim that Iraq relies on Britain pretends that 400 British troops make any difference to the situation there, apart from perpetuating the myth that Britain is somehow playing a peacekeeping role.
We are a month on from a bitter election defeat for Labour, where Johnson won an 80-0seat majority and where Jeremy Corbyn announced he would stand down this spring. Yet it is Corbyn who has played an important political role in the past few days, demanding that the British government oppose Trump’s action and calling for peace not war.
Johnson in contrast, when he eventually stirred himself from his lengthy beach holiday in Mustique, could only respond with uncritical support for Trump mixed in with gratuitous insults aimed at Corbyn.
This may play well with the Sun but it isn’t serious politics, nor is it remotely capable of dealing with a situation which has escalated and which — whatever the events of the next few days — is inherently unstable and is likely to result in further conflict not too far down the line.
None of this can be understood without looking at history.
The British involvement in the coup against the Iranian prime minister Mossadegh in 1953, the US and British support for Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in the 1980s Iran-Iraq war, the shooting down of the Iranian airliner by a US ship at the end of that war, as well as the present economic and political warfare, all weigh heavily on the Iranians, who are outraged at the killing of Soleimani.
Whatever their attitude to their own government, they will see the US as a greater threat. The same goes for Iraqis, who have seen initial support for Saddam from the west turn into its opposite, with wars from 1990, punitive sanctions, then further war, invasion and occupation in 2003.
The devastation that followed saw more than one million dead and a country ruined.
Ruled like a neo-colony from Baghdad’s Green Zone, the Iraqis have repeatedly resisted. Now their parliament has voted for the troops to leave, Trump is threatening to penalise them financially and the narrative here is they can’t survive without their occupiers.
The problem for Trump and the US more generally is that they cannot repeat the 2003 ground invasion — indeed it’s hard to see how they could invade any major country. They rely on their wealth and military might but this is diminishing.
Drone strikes, sanctions, targeted assassinations and of course proxy wars are the order of the day. But these tend to lead to greater sorts of instability and to opposition often in the form of asymmetrical warfare.
This allows the media and government in the west to characterise their opponents as “terrorists,” “fanatics” and the like and to try to dehumanise them.
It is vital that those of us who oppose imperialism — and who predicted many of these outcomes nearly 20 years ago when the “war on terror” began — argue that their strategy has not diminished terrorism but increased it; that people who want to run their own society have an absolute right to do so, and that it is only the people of the Middle East who are able to deal with their own governments, and decide who rules them.
The demonstration in London today and those taking place up and down the country are important steps in winning this argument.
They are also vital in rejecting our government’s policy and in asserting opposition to yet another disastrous intervention in the Middle East. Johnson may have a majority in parliament but he has no majority on this question.
Lindsey German is convenor of the Stop the War Coalition.
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