Friday, January 10, 2020

Thinking Comparatively About the Iranian Shootdown

Who is to blame for the Iranian shooting down of the Ukrainian plane with many Canadians on board?  Obviously, Iran is.  But folks have been wondering if Trump is to blame.  I said that he owns some of this, not a lot, but some.  How so?

Well, first, if the reports turn out to be true, and the video is pretty damning for the Iranians, then this tragedy will join a post World War list:
  • MH17 over eastern Ukraine, July 17th, 2014
  • Siberia 1812 over Ukraine, Oct 4th, 2001, entirely eclipsed by the post 9/11 stuff
  • Iran Air 655 over Strait of Hormuz, July 3rd,1988
  • KAL 007 over Soviet territory, Sept 1, 1983
  • Itavia 870, over Italy, July 27, 1980, unknown missile.
  • Air Rhodesian flights shot down by rebels, Sept 3, 1978, Feb 12, 1979
  • Libyan Arab Airline 114, Feb 21, 1973 over Sinai
  • El Al, over Bulgaria, July 27, 1955
  • Cathay Pacific Vr-HEU around Honk Kong, July 23, 1954
With two exceptions, the Itavia mystery and Siberia 1812, all of these took place in an environment of severe international tensions. Some seem more deliberate than others (Air Rhodesian flights, for instance).   But the common thread is of this stuff happening in quasi-wartime.  Not wartime, but not peacetime.  The KAL flight was at the peak of the renewed Cold War, the Vincennes shot down Iran Air 655 in the middle of the Iran-Iraq war where it was seeking to protect tankers that had been targeted, Libyan Arab Airlines was shot down in one of the hotter stages of Arab-Israel tensions, etc.

If this was an accidental shootdown by anti-aircraft missiles, how could this happen?  Most likely nervous, poorly trained personnel in a time of high alert.  Why the high alert?  Because Iran had just fired upon US/Iraqi bases and was worried about a response.  What were they responding to?  The drone strike on Suleimani.  Why did that happen?  Trump was responding to attacks on Americans in Iraq.  Why was that happening?  Lots of reasons but partly Iran amping things up.  Why?  Trump's supposed strategy of maximal pressure to get Iran to negotiate over .... damn near everything.

The Trump Administration wants Iran to stop doing everything that bothers the US, which is why the JCPOA (Iran nuke deal) was not sufficient--it didn't stop Iranian support of Hezbollah and other terrorist groups and so forth.  It is not clear why Iran would assent to a deal that would constrain it greatly, especially when it is not clear the US would take yes for an answer.  Regime change has long been at the heart of US ambitions towards Iran.  Anyhow, the point here is that Trump has increased the pressure on Iran, leading to a variety of incidents (nearly striking Iran last summer in response to their downing a drone, for instance).

This short history points to the joint responsibility of Iran and US for creating tensions in the region.  Combine that with the reality that all it takes is for one of many missile batteries to do something hasty/stupid, which is more likely when things are tense, we can see that the US under Trump has some responsibility for what happened.  The timing says as much as the pattern of shooting down of civilian airlines in the past.

The striking thing about yesterday's news to me was that the Prime Minister of Canada did not rule out American responsibility.  That says a lot about the state of US-Canadian relations.  Thanks, Obama ... Trump.

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