Reneging on Agreements is a Good Way to Start A War


          Donald Trump has pulled out of the Iran Nuclear Agreement negotiated by President Obama, Russia, France, China, and Britain in 2015 and reimposed sanctions.


            Iran has retaliated by seizing a British tanker and destroying Saudi oil installations. Iran's message is unmistakable ‒ if the United States strangles Iran's economy, Iran will respond by trying to raise the price of oil to the west.


            Trump and his cohorts claim that withdrawing from the agreement and reimposing sanctions is designed to force Iran to the bargaining table to negotiate a better deal. The United States wants to curb Iran's non-nuclear arsenal and their involvement in regional conflicts in addition to eliminating their alleged nuclear arms program.


            This same approach was taken by Lyndon Johnson in 1965 when he tried to bomb North Vietnam to the bargaining table after refusing to entertain any discussion of the Four Points presented by the French on behalf of the communists. Bombing North Vietnam did not bring the communists to the bargaining table; it only stiffened their resolve. Not until the United States limited the bombing did the North Vietnamese come to the table. The agreement United States secured in 1973 was equal to or substantially worse than what they could have had through negotiations eight years before.


            Iran is currently demanding an end to sanctions before it will agree to talk.


            The crucial question is, why are the US and Israel so afraid of Iran which does not have nuclear arms, while America and Israel do have them. The answer is that possession of nuclear arms endangers the possessor.


            When Al-Queda attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 9/11, I thought that they were trying to mess with America's mind. They chose targets that would garner a lot of media attention. Had they been interested in destroying America, they would have crashed their planes into three or four nuclear power plants, thereby destroying entire swaths of the country forever.


            The United States and Israel are worried that the Iranians, in case of war, will attack the Israeli nuclear complex at Dimona with conventional weapons and turn the Negev into another Chernobyl.


            The United States is a unique country. Americans have no common ethnicity. It is adherence to a set of beliefs, embodied in the Constitution and Declaration of Independence, that make someone a citizen. Like all nations, we often do not live up to our promise (see Native Americans, slaves, and Blacks), but the goal of individual equality and freedom is something even our enemies admire, in contrast to their own stratified, race-based centuries or millennia-old feudal histories. Even a communist like Ho Chi Minh, in a bid for support, mimicked the American Declaration of Independence in the Vietnamese Declaration of Independence from the French in 1945.


            I recently finished reading The Long Road Home: U.S. Prisoner of War Policy and Planning in Southeast Asia by Vernon E. Davis. After serving as a combat infrantryman in World War II, Davis was a member of the Historical Division of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1946 to 1977 where he was historian, deputy chief and editor.


            In The Long Road Home, Davis tells how immediately after North Vietnam started capturing American pilots, it announced that they would be tried and executed as war criminals and not given rights and privileges as prisoners of war under the Geneva Convention. The Geneva Convention on Prisoners of War is an international humanitarian agreement designed to protect the lives and health of soldiers in war. They impose certain requirements on the captors and captives alike.


            The Vietnamese refused to acknowledge downed American pilots' right to prisoner of war status because the United States had not declared war. The Vietnamese woke up one morning to find the bombs falling. Many Americans were objecting to the bombing on the same grounds; there had been no declaration of war.


            The American prisoners were never treated very well by the Vietnamese, although the threatened trials never happened, they did gain a few meager mail privileges as the years passed. On the other hand, the United States violated the accords by handing its prisoners over to the South Vietnamese. Hence, the war continued.


            Almost every conflict since World War I was caused by someone violating a prior agreement.


            Incompatible promises to Jews and Arabs during World War I sowed the seeds of the current Middle East conflict.


            After the Munich Conference, where France and Britain agreed to support Germany's claim to a portion of Czechoslovakia, Hitler broke his promises and, within a year, invaded Poland, triggering World War II.


            In June 1950, North Korea violated the armistice line by invading South Korea, triggering the Korean War.


            The United States' withdrawal of its promise to finance the Aswan High Dam contributed to the climate of anti-Egyptian hostility that precipitated the 1956 Suez War.


            The American refusal to continue abiding by the 1954 Geneva Accords that ended the French War in Vietnam started the United States on its ill-fated foray into Southeast Asia.


            American troops remaining in Saudi Arabia after the First Gulf War when Dick Cheney had promised their removal was the proximate cause of the split between Osama bin Laden and the Saudi government that led to the establishment of Al-Queda and 9/11.


            The redeeming grace of President Trump is that his wars are economic rather than military, thus far.


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Contact: Joshua Leinsdorf