Why do Iran and the US hate each other?
President Trump tweeted his support in Farsi for the Iranian protesters who thronged to the streets against their government’s reckless downing of a passenger airliner within its borders. Trump demanded that Iran allow protests to continue.
“To the brave and suffering Iranian people: I have stood with you since the beginning of my presidency and my government will continue to stand with you. We are following your protests closely. Your courage is inspiring,”
Of course if he were really behind the Iranian people like he says he wouldn’t have threatened bombing sites of cultural importance to Iranians. And perhaps his memory is too short to remember that just days ago Iranians thronged the streets to mourn the US assassination of Qasem Suleimani. Protests continue on.
Pundits have mused over what motivated Trump to take such provocative action against Iran and why now, whether it was to distract from the looming impeachment investigation, or to rally supporters around the flag ahead of the looming 2020 elections. Recent polling paints a pretty muddy picture of whether Americans support or oppose the assassination and Trump’s handling of the situation. While many Americans agreed in principle with the strike on Suleimani, there was not a lot of confidence in Trump’s decision to do it. There is clear opposition to going to war with Iran. A sizable portion of Americans, however, haven’t made up their minds what to think of the killing.
If the purpose was to rally American’s to the flag with a shared military goal, like after the 9/11 attacks, it has not quieted Trump’s opposition. Much of Trump’s opposition shares a distaste for another war in the Middle East with much of Trump’s base, including Tucker Carlson. Something to agree on! Squelching any rare bipartisan agreement is probably why Trump wants to tweet so much about Iranian protests. For anyone who has spent anytime watching this president, it is laughable that he suggests he had the Iranian public’s best interest in mind. Trump only cares about how you can help Trump, as a foil or as a distraction from problems at home. Trump does not care to rally around the flag, he only knows division and how to capitalize on it.
Regardless of how self-serving Trump’s inane tweets are, Iranians and Americans are on the streets for the same reason, to shake their respective countries out of war footing that would benefit no one. Iran has a long history of mistrust of the US going all the way back to the 1958 CIA orchestrated coup overthrowing the democratically elected Prime Minister. Since then, the leadership of Iran has been weary of all foreign interference in the region always anxious of regime change just around the corner. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei stresses freedom from foreign interference for Iran above all else. The Iranian people, however, are younger than most of the leadership, with a median age of 31 years old. They are too young to remember the Iranian Revolution or the Iranian hostage crisis it precipitated. The Iranian people do know America for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars at their borders and of the crippling sanctions placed on them.
Americans are sick of Middle East wars. Trump called the Iraq war the “single worst decision ever made.” Trump ran on pulling troops out of the Middle East. Despite that language though, his supporters would be surprised to find out that Trump has committed an estimated 55–85,000 military personnel to the region, an increase from Obama’s term. Today, if you asked Americans to come up with a reason why we continue to have such a large military presence in the Middle East particularly concerning Iran, they might cite nuclear weapons, and regional stability.
While most Americans oppose war with Iran, polls show war becomes popular if it would prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. However this is contingent on diplomacy and economic sanctions failing. Trump keeps chirping about how the nuclear deal JCPOA signed under Obama was a failure, however three years after walking away from the deal and imposing sanctions we have tried it Trumps way and Obama’s deal worked better and could still work (with much diminished trust) going forward.
Iran has fueled much of the civil unrest in the region. The Afghanistan war to its east and Iraq war to its west left power vacuums that Iran was more than willing to fill. As much as Trump and his generals loathe to admit it though, Iran has an advantage that no amount of American military outposts can remedy. They live there. Americans will leave eventually. Americans will not fight “forever wars” as Trump calls them. So what are the specific goals that America can achieve?
For America’s generals, when they think about Iran the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis looms large. The Iran backed 1973 OPEC oil embargo, was the most effective and had as widespread attack on the American economy in the modern day. Like Iranians many Americans are also too young to remember these crises. That might be the saving grace for our two countries. Why do Iran and America hate each other? It is mostly old generals holding onto grudges that their people don’t even recall. That and the feckless leadership has brought us to the brink of another meaningless war. The citizens can walk it back.