BU Professor On Iran Strike, War Fears, And 'Escalatory Spiral'

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Protesters carry posters with the image of top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani, who was killed in a US airstrike in Iraq, during a demonstration in Islamabad, Pakistan on Friday. (Getty Images)

by Catherine Ann Buckler

BOSTON (WBZ NewsRadio) — The United States killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in a drone strike Thursday night, heightening already tense relations between the U.S. and Iran.

Following the attack, the U.S. Embassy sent a travel advisory for all American citizens to flee Iraq immediately, according to Reuters. Although Tehran announced three days of mourning following Gen. Soleimani's death, Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned anti-U.S. resistance would increase, saying, "the jihad of resistance will continue with a doubled motivation, and a definite victory awaits the fighters in the holy war."

Dr. Neta C. Crawford is the Department Chair of Boston University's Department of Political Science. Crawford has studied war for over 40 years, is the co-director of the study group Costs of War, and is the author of "Accountability for Killing: Moral Responsibility for Collateral Damage in America's Post-9/11 Wars." Crawford spoke with WBZ NewsRadio's Kevin Coleman about the fallout from the strike that killed Soleimani, her predictions on what happens next, and more.

"We're in the middle of an escalatory spiral that started ostensibly in the last 10 days or so, but it's been going on for the last two years," Crawford said. "This tension between the United States and Iran has been building, it's ongoing since 1979 when the Iranians took over the embassy in Tehran, but it has waxxed and waned. We were, until May 2018, on a downward escalation, and we've been going up since the United States got out of the JCPOA, which is the agreement to keep Iran's nuclear material from turning into nuclear weapons.

Crawford said it could be hard to to predict where or when Iran's vow of a "harsh" response against the United States could come to be.

"I think that, because the Iranians have actually said that they're encouraging retaliation, this could happen anywhere," she said. "People could self-radicalize, there could be retaliation anywhere."

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President Donald Trump. (Getty Images)

Though much of the focus has been on Iran, Crawford noted that there is an added threat of increased violence from Iraqis angered by the strike.

"The United States not only attacked an Iranian leader, they attacked an Iraqi militia leader, and they attacked this person in Baghdad at the airport," she said. "Iraqis are seeing this as a violation of their sovereignty, and they've condemned the attack on Soleimani."

Crawford is dubious of a third world war resulting from the killing, but she does say that any use of military force can have unexpected outcomes, and maintains that the choice to assassinate Soleimani will have a long-term negative impact on the way the U.S. is viewed internationally.

"This decreases the United States' leverage in Europe, especially with the potential here to further fraction NATO allies," she said. "We haven't seen all the reactions from European allies yet, but there's a sense that this was unwise. It's certainly seen as illegal, because a drone strike against a person who's not an active threat is illegal—it's an assassination that violates international law. Some of U.S. allies and adversaries will be against this because it's in violation of international law, not to mention the fact that it's a provocation."

Although reactions to the strike online have included people searching for information about Selective Service, avoiding a draft, and the trending of the phrase "World War III," Dr. Crawford cautioned against fear at a time like this:

I don't think that that is the way to be focused right now. I remember after the 9/11 attacks, where everybody was shocked. So shocked and afraid that they immediately rallied around President Bush, and he was given a blank check to go attack not just Al Qaida, but the Taliban in Afghanistan, and they began a war to re-make Afghanistan. That war is growing, it's not diminishing. More people are killed in Afghanistan, civilians and in fact pro-government forces, than in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, et cetera. War's not the answer. It doesn't make us any safer. There are more Taliban now than there were in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005. This isn't the way to go, war doesn't work. The same thing in Iraq. We can be afraid, but the response shouldn't be to lash out.
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Getty Images)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has since shown his support for the killing of Soleimani.

"These are two leaders, Trump and Netanyahu, [who] are in foreign-domestic political trouble," Crawford said. "Netanyahu does have a sort of long tradition of being bellicose in the region, and I wouldn't expect anything different from him than to support a strike against any Muslim, Arab, or Persian."

This comes as both loyalty in the U.S. to Israel has grown as a point of contention and as antisemitism has seen an uptick in the country. Last week, there was practically an attack every day against Jewish New Yorkers.

"The United States does not have to be this provocative at this moment," Crawford said. "I'm hoping that people can separate [Israel and the Jewish community in the U.S.]."

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Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. (Getty Images)

The legality of what President Trump did is being called into question by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who is now asking for more details on the strike as the impeachment process has come to a pause. There is some speculation that President Trump is encouraging a war to gain favor before the 2020 elections. There is a well-documented trend for wartime presidents to win reelection.

Though President Trump accused President Barack Obama of wanting war with Iran to boost his approval ratings years ago, Crawford said she isn't sure if Trump authorized the strike with popularity in mind.

"I think in the short run, it could boost his stature in some quarters," she said. "In other quarters, I think it will be seen as provocative and ill-considered, and perhaps anti-democratic, in the sense that he did not consult Congress."

There is also a belief that going to war boosts the economy. Although this may be true in the short-term, going to war will cost the U.S. money it does not have, according to Crawford. The cost of war in this case could come from many angles, even less-thought of ones such as the Veterans Affairs system.

We're borrowing to pay for these wars, there's enough money in the budget, but that's because we're borrowing to pay for it ... Because the United States had more than four million people in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere since 9/11, there are millions of veterans who, as they move through the VA system, will cost hundreds of millions of dollars to take care of, perhaps ultimately trillions of dollars to take care of," she said. "War doesn't end when it ends. If the United States keeps its activities up ... then we'll be paying for these conflicts for a very long time.
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Gen. Qassem Soleimani, leader of the elite Iranian Quds Force, who was killed in a U.S. airstrike Thursday night. (Getty Images)

One thing is for sure, Crawford said: tensions between Iran and the U.S. will not go down any time soon.

"No country, when attacked, ever rolls over and plays dead," she said. "I don't expect Iran to do that. I don't expect the United States to do that. I don't expect Iraqis to roll over and play dead because of the use of force. There is an opportunity here to de-escalate. The question is, will the United States take that opportunity? I'm not optimistic."

WBZ's interview with Crawford began at 12 p.m. At 12:25 p.m., CNBC reported 3,500 U.S. soldiers would be deployed to Iraq, Kuwait, 'and other parts of the region.'

Listen to the full interview with Dr. Crawford below.

WBZ NewsRadio's Kevin Coleman (@KevinColemanWBZ) reports

 
 

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