Is America headed for a war involving Iran?

May 25, 2019 by

I took this photo of a starving child on a visit to a malnutrition ward in Aden, Yemen, late last year.
I took this photo of a starving child on a visit to a malnutrition ward in Aden, Yemen, late last year. Nicholas Kristof

Is America headed for a war involving Iran? Actually, we’re already mired in one: the unconscionable war in Yemen. It is Saudi Arabia and the UAE that drop the bombs, but America makes the weaponry and supplies the intelligence, making us complicit in the deaths so far of almost a quarter million Yemenis, many of them children who have starved to death.The reason we are starving Yemeni kids? It’s because they are ruled by the Houthis, a militia with ties to Iran. That strikes me as a pretty poor excuse to support Saudi war crimes in Yemen. Hence today’s column! I have no illusions about Iran. I’ve been detained there and threatened with imprisonment for being a spy. Its repression of the Bahai, dissidents and others is disgraceful — but so is Saudi Arabia’s repression. MBS doesn’t seem to have learned his lesson after Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, for Saudi Arabia has now tried to threaten another Arab writer in exile, Iyad el-Baghdadi, with Norway whisking him to hiding after intercepting threats. Do we really want to be pals with MBS when he does these things?The truth is that both Iran and Saudi Arabia are repressive, misogynist and destabilizing. A pox on both their houses. And I argue that it’s shameful for our obsession with Iran to lead us to starve and bomb innocent Yemeni children. Please read! One force for change in these countries is educated women, which is probably why governments fear them. In Sudan, women helped lead huge popular demonstrations that toppled the genocidal president, Omar al-Bashir. As CNN notes in this excellent piece, the Sudanese army tried to break the women’s protests by raping them or photographing them naked, in hopes of shaming them into silence. Once released, they continued to protest; I’m in awe of their courage. But other military rulers — including Hemeti, the butcher of Darfur — are plotting to retain power, with the backing of Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The world must stand with these brave pro-democracy protesters rather than the genocidaires.President Trump presented his immigration plan the other day. It doesn’t even address DACA, which should be the No. 1 priority, and will go nowhere, so not much point discussing. But there’s one element that I think Trump is right about: We should move toward more immigration that is skill-based and less that is family-based. Canada and Australia both do very well with skill-based immigration, and human capital is so important to modern economies that we should try to lure the world’s highest achievers. So let’s not reflexively oppose a principle just because Trump endorses it.And now a few words about China. Nationalism is firing up both sides in what is looking like a trade war, so while a deal may happen soon — both sides would like a deal — it’s also possible that it will get uglier. China has now formally arrested on espionage charges two Canadian citizens, simply as retaliation for Canada’s quite lawful arrest of a Canadian telecommunications executive. And a Chinese scholar I know, Jin Canrong, has published a hawkish article outlining three more cards that Beijing can play: sales of U.S. Treasury bonds, a halt to exports to America of rare earth minerals, and a crackdown on American companies in China like McDonalds or Starbucks that depend on China for profits. As I wrote last year, my guess is that China will pursue the third and punish U.S. companies in hopes that they will press Trump to make a deal. In an increasingly tense environment, I also worry that trade frictions will cross into the security environment either in the South China Sea or vis-à-vis Taiwan.

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