In March 2015, John Bolton argued in the pages of the New York Times, “to stop Iran’s bombs, bomb Iran.” In April 2018, Donald Trump appointed Bolton as the US National Security Advisor. “A notorious hawk who advocates the unilateral wielding of US might, Bolton is dismissive of international diplomacy, and has called for the bombing of both Iran and North Korea,” The Guardian reported at the time. Within weeks of Bolton assuming his position, the United States withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a comprehensive agreement between Iran, the United States, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom in which Iran agreed to limit its nuclear program and to allow international inspections in exchange for sanctions relief. Soon afterward, the United States imposed another round of stringent sanctions. Even as the US administration argued that their intention was to pressure the Iranian government to negotiate “a better deal,” commentators recalled that Bolton has repeatedly called for regime change in Iran. On 13 May, the New York Times ran a headline stating “White House Reviews Military Plans Against Iran, in Echoes of Iraq War,” reporting that the United States was preparing plans to send 120,000 troops to the region. Some fear the United States may be inching towards a war on Iran.
This is not the first time I have written on the prospects of a looming US war on Iran. When President George W. Bush inched towards a war with Iran in 2006, I called for cooler heads to prevail. When President Barack Obama engaged in war talk on Iran in 2012, I detailed the history of hostilities between the United States and Iran. The “military option” has been on the table for every American administration since fall 1979, when the American embassy in Iran was seized by revolutionaries and dozens of US diplomats were held hostage for 444 days. Every American president since Jimmy Carter has considered declaring war on Iran at some point.
This time, though, is different. For several months, the United States has had only an Acting Secretary of Defense, strengthening Bolton’s post at the NSA. Meanwhile, his proxies have infiltrated the airwaves and Twitter with their jingoism. Senator Tom Cotton told a reporter that the United States could win a war on Iran with “two strikes . . . The first strike and the last strike.” The hawks seem to be conveying war as inevitable, necessary, and winnable.
Over the past few days, many have cautioned against a rash war on Iran, with some of these calls emanating from unexpected sources. Fox News’ Tucker Carlson started his segment on war with Iran saying, “More than anything, John Bolton would like to have a war with Iran. It would be like Christmas, Thanksgiving, and his birthday wrapped into one.” Carlson then asked, “How is a war with Iran in America’s interest in any way?” His guest, a retired US colonel said this was “a manufactured crisis.” Another Fox Host, Laura Ingram tweeted, “War with Iran is one of the few almost certain paths for @realDonaldTrump to harm his re-election prospects.” The conservative National Review, which even still defends the Iraq War as “a just war,” detailed “the many downsides of war with Iran.” Soon after, reports emerged that the President himself had told the acting defense secretary that he did not want to go to war with Iran.
This is small comfort. The current US administration’s posture towards Iran has been consistently hostile; its approach to foreign policy erratic, haphazard, and dangerous. The American public and our allies must remain vigilant and resist this drift towards another war. After all, there is an entire generation that has come of age in the shadow of endless wars that have killed millions, damaged the environment, devastated infrastructures, wasted resources, and shattered so many lives beyond repair. Today, I write to this younger generation and ask that you raise your voices, resist this jingoistic clanking that makes war seem inevitable, and stand for peace.
I am a scholar of cultural history because I believe that is where our hope for greater understanding and deeper change lies: with artists, filmmakers, poets, musicians, and writers. Today, I am reaching out to our creative community and asking that you do your part to uphold peace, to ensure that our global challenges are resolved through diplomacy.
Sing your songs. Tweet your hashtags. Make your art. Write your essays. Use your power to make a difference. Raise your voice to create a peaceable flood that washes over the droning sound of the hawks calling for bombs to be dropped. Do the right thing and say “no” to war.
“Sing, Gypsy, sing.
In homage to being,
you must sing . . .
Gypsy, to stay alive,
you must slay silence.
I mean to pay homage to being,
you must sing.”
- Simin Behbehani, trans. Farzaneh Milani