A number of Middle East and Islamic Studies scholars in the United States have signed this open letter below, calling on US President Donald Trump to pull back from war with Iran.
We, the undersigned scholars of the Middle East and North Africa and broader Muslim world, call on President Trump to immediately 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 the US invasion of Iraq 16 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 use 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 invasion of Iraq, 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 more than 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 neighbouring 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 invasion of Iraq 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-defence 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 invasion of Iraq would situate it outside the community of nations, making it widely regarded as a dangerous and destabilising rogue actor whose behaviour 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 defence against a prior armed attack across as international border legally justifies a claim of self-defence. Absent this, all threats, as well as the use 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 of 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 destabilising, 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 Iraq 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, worldwide 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 Emirati 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 normalisation 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 authorisation of the UN Security Council.
Signed (partial list, as of June 21),
Beth Baron, Distinguished Professor, Director, Middle East and Middle Eastern American Centre, Graduate Centre, 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
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
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
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 Centre 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
Ahmad Sadri, Gorter Chair of Islamic World Studies, Professor of Sociology, Lake Forest College.
June 22, 2019.