The short answer: no, but it’s complicated.
Last year, this newspaper published an article detailing soaring tensions between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran following controversy over an Obama-era treaty which put a damper on Iran’s nuclear proliferation. Iran, arguably the US’ most powerful adversary in the Middle East, had suffered crushing economic sanctions from fellow nations and found solace in President Obama’s nuclear deal in exchange for a moratorium on Iran’s ability to develop weapons of mass destruction. With the change in administration in the United States came a shift in strategy regarding Iran, with the newly-elected President Trump expressing distaste for the deal. After both countries announced they would be taking steps to distance themselves from the agreement, paranoia concerning a military conflict was widespread. Iran is situated on the Persian Gulf, a body of water which is fundamental in the global petroleum market. Between Iran’s immense military strength and a war’s potential to affect the world’s economy, tensions left many bracing for impact. However, nerves calmed and cooler heads prevailed as relations plateaued for several months – until an earth-shattering decision at the hands of the President shook our relationship with Iran to its core.
Just days after Americans celebrated the new year, millions woke up to the news of a military strike in Baghdad which killed high-ranking Iranian official Qassem Soleimani. Soleimani, an influential military officer, was instrumental in Iran’s policy and strategy, wielding his command against American presence in the Middle East. Following violent protests at the American embassy in Iraq, President Trump allegedly abruptly called the attack which killed Soleimani. Response was swift and divided, with some praising the President’s actions and others condemning the strike as a reckless assassination. The attack was seen by many as one of the most irresponsible foreign policy actions in recent memory, while Trump’s supporters rallied to highlight Soleimani’s role in undermining American military efforts.
Immediately following news of Soleimani’s death, the Iranian government vowed revenge against the United States, sending Americans into a widespread panic. Fears of another war in the Middle East – yet another conflict high in economic and human costs – were brought to a height unlike any in recent years. An enormous funeral for General Soleimani was held in Tehran, with a burial ceremony in his home city of Kerman turning deadly due to a stampede of mourners. Throughout the ordeal, the message from Iran was clear: the United States had made a fatal mistake in killing the General, and would pay the ultimate price.
Back in the US, the assassination commanded the attention of the populace. A certain paranoia – a brewing storm – engulfed news with renewed anxieties over a potential ‘World War III.’ Millions of young Americans were faced with the prospect of military conscription, an idea perpetuated by panic on social media. The official Selective Service website even crashed due to increased traffic from worried citizens. The draft, last used in the Vietnam War, has been inactive since 1972. Yet, all men ages eight ten through twenty-five are required to register for selective military service as a contingency plan by the government. As of now, the US military is entirely made up of volunteers. For that to change would require an extraordinary sequence of events, with an act of legislation having to pass through both chambers of Congress, one of which is Democrat-controlled, and then be signed by the President. Strategically, with an election on the horizon, it would be politically irresponsible for either party to support a draft considering the idea’s unpopularity among Americans and the general lack of favorability for an Iran War in the populace. Some estimates say that even a full-fledged military conflict with Iran would not require the reinstatement of the draft, with the United States wielding an already-massive volunteer military armed with an astronomical budget. In short, the draft will likely not see the light of day in our tussle with Iran.
The aforementioned ‘price’ promised by the Iranian government materialized in a missile strike on a base in Iraq which housed American soldiers. Initial reports from the Middle East alleged the attack killed upwards of thirty troops. It seemed at that moment that US-Iran relations had reached a tipping point, one from which there was no return. Tensions cooled, however, when it was determined that there were just a few injuries and no American fatalities in the strike. It became clear that the attack was something of a passive-aggressive move by Iran; they yearned for a symbolic revenge for the General’s assassination but recognized the wrath of the United States. Pragmatically, a war with Iran would be beneficial for nobody, the least of which Iran. The episode could have met its end there, with a relatively clear playing field – but just hours later, a commercial airplane outside of Tehran was gunned down, killing the 176 passengers on board, including 57 Canadians. Iran claimed responsibility for the tragedy, calling it a result of “human error.” As it stands now, it is unclear how the world will respond to this development in the story. This leaves tense relations between the United States and Iran to simmer – with the perpetual risk of boiling over.
Originally published in the Silent Noise in January of 2020.