Who Started It?: A (Reverse) Timeline Of US/Iran Retaliations

Times being as dark as they are, let me indulge the blame-seekers, and do my best to trace the timeline of provocations and retaliations. Only, to keep it interesting – and because I think it more instructive – I’ll do so in reverse.

  • Since I don’t know when it will happen (perhaps before publication of this piece?), but am certain that it will, I’ll start with what will be Iran’s promised and likely bloody response attack on US personnel somewhere in the world. Americans will, across the spectrum, be shocked – just shocked!
  • But, Iran only responded to the American assassination of perhaps the second or third most powerful man in Tehran’s government.
  • Well, an Iranian-backed militias had “attacked” the US embassy in Baghdad – though this was, for the Americans, a bloodless event.
  • But, the US had killed some two dozen members of the militia in a series of airstrikes.
  • Well, this was in response to the group’s alleged responsibility for a rocket attack on a US base in Iraq that killed an American contractor.
  • But, Trump had been funneling extra US troops into Saudi Arabia – Iran’s sworn enemy – and de facto sanctioned numerous, illegal, Israeli airstrikes on Iranian personnel and Iraqi militias in both Syria and Iraq.
  • Well, in September, Yemeni Houthi rebels – loosely affiliated with Iran – claimed responsibility for a temporarily crippling attack on Saudi oil infrastructure.
  • But, the U.S.-backed Saudi coalition had been terror bombing Yemeni civilians for four years, causing the world’s worst man-made humanitarian disaster.
  • Well, in June, Iran shot down an American drone that was allegedly over international airspace.
  • But the Trump administration’s had labeled the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) – which Soleimani commanded – a foreign terrorist organization, for the first time in history. (Iran designated US Central Command – which has responsibility for the entire Middle East – a terrorist organization, in response, days later.)
  • Well, in May, Trump claimed that Iran was behind attacks on a few Saudi oil tankers.
  • But, a year earlier, Trump had unilaterally pulled out of a multinational Obama-era nuclear deal, in spite of clear evidence that Iran had followed its strictures. Furthermore, rhetoric in Washington – particularly from John Bolton – had grown increasingly pugnacious and later Bolton reportedly ordered the Pentagon to update plans to send 120,000 additional troops into the Persian Gulf.
  • Well, Iranian troops and friendly militias had long been “meddling” in Syria to back President Assad (though they were, unlike the US, invited, and partly combated the mutual enemy of ISIS)
  • But, Iran could (cogently) argue that the US had indirectly backed Al Qaeda elements in Syria and, through its ill-fated invasion of Iraq, set the conditions that created ISIS in the first place.
  • Well, according to the official Washington line, at least, Iran had backed the militias and provided the technology to kill hundreds of US troops in Iraq. (Though there is much evidence to the contrary, and much talk about the Iranian bogeyman in Iraq may be mythology.)
  • But, even so, the US had invaded both of Iran’s main neighbors – Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003) – surrounding the country with American military bases. Furthermore, Iran felt genuinely threatened, which was understandable given that Bush administration officials were itching for regime change in Iran. “Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran,” was a common trope around neocon circles in Washington. Heck, Bush had even included Iran in the “axis of evil” triumvirate in his speech.

Now, I could stop here, in 2003, and declare America the primary aggressor. That would be fair. But I won’t. Instead, let us take an ever so brief trip further down memory land.

  • Bush would argue his invasions and rhetoric were justified, since some Iranians had long chanted that the US was “the Great Satan,” and publicly burned the American flag. And, according to a USjudge, at least, Iran had been responsible for the Khobar Towers bombing in 1996 that had killed American servicemen. (There is still much debate on who was actually responsible)
  • But, during the eight-year Iran-Iraq War, which caused perhaps a million deaths, the US Navy waged an undeclared maritime war in the Persian Gulf. In the “Tanker War,” the US flew the stars and stripes on Kuwaiti vessels to protect them from attack, and, finally, in April 1988, overtly sank the majority of the Iranian Navy in a one-sided sea battle.
  • Well, during that existential war, Iran had attacked Iraqi and its allies’ tankers; furthermore, its Lebanese partner Hezbollah had taken several Americans hostage.
  • But, throughout the war (1980-88), which Iraq had started by invading Iran, the US openly backed the Saddam Hussein’s aggressive regime. The US provided key intelligence in the form of satellite photos to the Iraqi Army, and granted Baghdad over $1 billion in economic aid. President Reagan, in absurd twist of irony, sent a special envoy, Donald Rumsfeld, to meet with Saddam. Saddam regularly employed poison gas to attack Iranian formations. It is largely agreed that U.S.-supplied satellite imagery allowed Iraq to better calibrate these illegal, immoral, chemical attacks.
  • Well, in 1979, during Iran’s Islamic Revolution, dozens of American embassy personnel were taken hostage and held for more than a year.
  • But here’s the kicker: Back in 1941, though Tehran declared neutrality in the world war, Russia and Britain jointly invaded and occupied the country to secure control of its oil reserves. Then, in 1953, when a democratically elected prime minister – Mohammad Mossadegh – dared nationalize Iranian oil (which had been largely under Western corporate control) the CIA coordinated a coup with MI6 to overthrow the government. The dictatorial Shah was promptly put in power and ruled with an iron fist for the next 26 years. America had armed, funded, and backed this brutal regime for two and a half decades.

And that, folks, an aggressive, illegal, intervention to overthrow an elected government – one of the most intrusive sins in foreign affairs – amounts to checkmate in the blame-game: Uncle Sam started it!