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Middle East scholars: An American attack on Iran would be an unmitigated disaster for the US, Iran, and the world

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Statement by leading Middle East/Islamic studies scholars, June 22, 2019

We, the undersigned scholars of the Middle East and North Africa and broader Muslim world, call on President Trump immediately to pull back from the brink of a war with the Islamic Republic of Iran. It is clear to us that the human, diplomatic, legal, political, and economic costs to both countries, the Persian Gulf and larger Middle East, the global economy and the global system of international humanitarian law of a US attack would be even more devastating than was the US invasion of Iraq sixteen years ago. We call upon the political leadership of the country, with a sense of urgency, not only to refrain from any further threats and uses of force against Iran, but also to put forward a new American diplomacy that takes steps to achieve a sustainable peace between our two countries and within the larger region.

We bring to the public’s attention the following points:

– The US-led Iraqi invasion, whose financial toll has exceeded $2 trillion in the US and at least that much in its adverse economic impact on the affected countries, led to the deaths of over 600,000 Iraqis, largely destroyed the Iraqi state and much of the country’s infrastructure, produced devastating immediate and long-term impact on the health of Iraqis and the environment, directly contributed to the rise of the Islamic State and its conquest and occupation and destruction of a huge swath of Iraq and neighboring countries (especially Syria), and produced a series of governments in the region which, even when there is a veneer of democracy, are incredibly corrupt and unable effectively to govern fractured societies, while continuing routinely to commit large scale human rights violations against their citizens.

– Like the Iraqi invasion before it, an attack on Iran under the present circumstances would be a clear violation of international law–a crime against peace, which is an international crime of the highest order, and delineated as such in the Nuremberg Judgement. Indeed, absent a valid claim of self-defense any attack on Iran, never mind a full-scale invasion and occupation by the United States, would violate the core articles of the UN Charter (Articles 2(4), 33, 39 & 51) as well as the legal imperative to seek a peaceful settlement of all international disputes. Such “breaches of the peace” are the most serious violations of international law a country can commit, and the US doing so again less than a generation after the Iraqi invasion would situate it outside the community of nations, making it widely regarded as a dangerous and destabilizing rogue actor whose behavior is the very opposite of the self-understanding and justifications of the Trump Administration for its actions. In this regard the recent array of threats, sanctions, and provocations are themselves flagrant violations of international law even without any direct recourse to force; only self defense against a prior armed attack across as international border legally justifies a claim of self-defense. Absent this, all threats, as well as uses of force, are considered severe violations of international law.

Particularly in the context of the United States’ unilateral withdrawal from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which verifiably halted the potential for Iran to pursue a nuclear weapons program, and the imposition of crippling economic sanctions against the government and people of Iran without a UN Security Council mandate, the present policy of increasing pressure on Iran and irresponsibly raising risks violent confrontation that could quickly escalate to an all-out war, coupled with the inflammatory discourse of regime change championed by National Security Advisor John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, constitute clear interference with Iranian sovereignty rights as well as with the inalienable right of self-determination enjoyed by the Iranian people. As such, these policies are violations of international law and of the UN Charter, inherently destabilizing, and themselves pose unacceptable threat to peace.

Recent events have alarmed us, demonstrating how ill-defined policy goals, bellicose rhetoric, policies and brinkmanship, and operating outside the well-defined framework of international law can easily bring countries to the brink of mutual disaster. The ongoing global impact of the Iraqi invasion (from the rise of ISIS to the aborted Arab Spring, greater support for authoritarian rulers, and the civil wars in Libya, Syria and Yemen and the massive wave of refugees these dynamics have caused) reminds us that the Middle East, and the world at large, cannot afford another major war in the region. Such a conflict would undoubtedly lead to a horrific toll of dead and injured, major environmental destruction, large scale forced migration, world-wide recession, as well as producing other equally dangerous and unintended consequences.

Finally, we note here that the Trump Administration’s bellicose policies towards Iran are inseparable from its uncritical and unrestrained support of authoritarian and repressive policies across the region, from the ever-deepening Israeli occupation to the Saudi and UAE war in Yemen, the destruction of democracy in Egypt and the frustration of democratic aspirations of citizens across the Middle East and North Africa, all of which contribute to the immiseration and increasingly forced migration of millions of people across the region and the unjustified repression of their legitimate aspirations for freedom, justice, democracy and sustainable development.

We therefore call upon President Trump, first, to pull back from any thought of an unsanctioned attack; second, to rejoin and implement the 2015 nuclear agreement; third, to terminate the enhanced sanctions he continues to impose on Iran; and fourth, to enter into immediate and good faith negotiations towards a normalization of relations with the Islamic Republic. Along with these immediate steps, we call for an honest appraisal of the costs of historic and current American policies in the Middle East and North Africa, and their reorientation towards support for freedom and democracy.

In the absence of these steps, we call on the US Congress to act swiftly and decisively to prevent the President from leading the United States into war, and call on our fellow academics, policymakers, diplomats, military officials, elected representatives, and concerned citizens to assert whatever pressure necessary to prevent the Administration from engaging in any kind of attack on Iran, or any other country, outside the bounds of international law and without the clear and explicit authorization of the UN Security Council.

Signed (partial list of US-based signers, as of June 28),

Nadje al-Ali, Robert Family Professor of International Studies, Anthropology and Middle East Studies, Brown University

Beth Baron, Distinguished Professor, Director, Middle East and Middle Eastern American Center, Graduate Center, City University of New York, past President of the Middle East Studies Association

Joel Beinin, Donald J. McLachlan Professor of History and Professor of Middle East History, Emeritus Stanford University, past President of the Middle East Studies Association

Laurie A. Brand, Robert Grandford Wright Professor of International Relations and Middle East Studies University of Southern California, past President of the Middle East Studies Association

Edmund Burke III, Professor Emeritus, Department of History, UC Santa Barbara

Charles E. Butterworth, Emeritus Professor, Department of Government & Politics, University of Maryland

Juan R. Cole, Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan, past President of Middle East Studies Association

Hamid Dabashi, Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature, Columbia University

John Esposito, University Professor, Professor of Religion & International Affairs and Islamic Studies, Georgetown University, past President of the Middle East Studies Association and American Academy of Religion

Khaled Abou El Fadl, Omar and Azmeralda Alfi Distinguished Professor of Law, UCLA School of Law

Richard Falk, Professor of International Law Emeritus, Princeton University, former, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Occupied Territories

Nader Hashemi, Professor of Middle East and Islamic Politics, Josef Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver, Director of the Center for Middle East Studies

Suad Joseph, Professor of Anthropology and Women and Gender Studies at the University of California, Davis, past President of the Middle East Studies Association

Mark LeVine, Professor of History, UC Irvine, Chair, Program in Global Middle East Studies

Zachary Lockman, Professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, and History, past President of the Middle East Studies Association

Valentine M. Moghadam, Professor of Sociology and International Affairs, Northeastern University, past President of the Middle East Studies Association

Ismail Poonawala, Professor Emeritus, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, UCLA

Ahmad Sadri, Gorter Chair of Islamic World Studies, Professor of Sociology, Lake Forest College

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9 Responses

  1. lonely rico on June 25, 2019, 8:43 pm

    Counterpunch (June 25) –

    Instigators of a Persian Gulf Crisis/Rannie Amiri

    The states who would like to see a war between Iran and the U.S. unfold are no mystery. As recent Middle East history teaches, the conflicts which have caused the most destruction and devastation have been at the hands of those who wanted to swallow Palestinian land, subjugate Lebanon, topple the Syrian leadership, restore the old guard in Iraq and install a pliant government in Yemen.
    The instigators of the current Persian Gulf crisis, which if (it were) to get out of hand would lead to even greater tragedy, are one and the same.

    https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/06/25/instigators-of-a-persian-gulf-crisis/

  2. Misterioso on June 26, 2019, 9:53 am

    Meanwhile:

    https://news.antiwar.com/2019/06/24/poll-shows-strong-majority-of-americans-oppose-attacking-iran/

    “Poll Shows Strong Majority of Americans Oppose Attacking Iran ” – Antiwar.com, June 24/19, by Jason Ditz.

    “58% of voters want a non-military approach to Iran”

    “While officials have denied that there was any political component to the US not attacking Iran on Thursday, a newly released poll from Hill-HarrisX, taken over the weekend, shows that a strong majority of American voters oppose such an attack.

    “The poll showed 58 percent favored a non-military approach, with 48 percent calling for diplomacy and nine percent saying the US should take no action at all. By contrast, only 5 percent supported a war, and another 19 percent wanted ‘limited’ attacks.

    “A majority remained against an attack in all parties, and all age groups, with 67% of Democrats calling for non-military options, 54 percent of independents, and a slight majority of Republicans.

    “With overwhelmingly more people in every category imaginable opposed to the idea of a war with Iran, the perennial hawks who have been trying to foment an Iran war for generations clearly still have an uphill battle, and a public that still isn’t buying their push.”

    • LiberatePalestine on June 26, 2019, 4:17 pm

      → The poll showed 58 percent favored a non-military approach, with 48 percent calling for diplomacy and nine percent saying the US should take no action at all. By contrast, only 5 percent supported a war, and another 19 percent wanted ‘limited’ attacks.

      Approach to what? Diplomacy respecting what? What exactly is the issue? Do these people know?

      How exactly can «limited» attacks be waged? Even the US’s costly little stunt last week could very easily have led to a war.

      • Citizen on June 27, 2019, 5:44 am

        The issue is Israel, and, no, the public mostly does not know this. The government critters, of course do know this; they just don’t mention it or blur it speedily.

    • Kay24 on June 27, 2019, 4:36 am

      The non military approach was what we had with the Iran Nuclear deal, until Vindictive Don destroyed it, and we now find ourselves in what might be the brink of war.
      Trump’s policies which started with tearing down everything that had the Obama stamp on it, is beginning to backfire and hurt the people.

  3. Citizen on June 26, 2019, 11:14 am

    Donald will never read this letter.

    • Kay24 on June 27, 2019, 4:37 am

      He never reads anything anyway, even his daily briefings. He gets direction, and misinformation, by watching Faux News. America’s policies are fashioned by Faux News.

  4. genesto on June 26, 2019, 1:53 pm

    Good to know that a majority of the people are opposed to a war with Iran. But, when was the last time our ‘leaders’ listened to a majority of the people? We even have a President that wasn’t elected by a majority of the VOTERS, let alone a majority of the people!

    These criminal listen to their military industrial complex masters, certainly. The rest of us can go to hell for all they care!

  5. marklevine on June 28, 2019, 7:18 am

    As one of the drafters of this statement I would like to point out that at present there are over 275 signatories, and only a small fraction of the first group of signers are mentioned in this version. Those interested in a complete list of signatories, including other senior scholars, can contact me at [email protected].
    Mark LeVine
    Dept. of History, UC Irvine

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