How Racism Could Drive Support for War With Iran
Over the past several months, the likelihood of the United States’ engaging in military conflict with Iran has increased dramatically. President Donald Trump declared that he would pull of of the Iran deal, despite full compliance from Iran. Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, one of the key supporters of the Iran deal within his cabinet, and ultra-hawk John Bolton will become the president’s new national-security adviser on Monday.
But can Trump actually build public support for another bloody and costly war? Maybe not broadly, but our new research indicates there is a receptive audience for armed conflict with Iran: Americans who are most accepting of racism, and most hostile toward Muslims. Fifteen years after the United States invaded Iraq, there is still limited understanding of the ways that comfort with systemic racial inequalities and racist attitudes toward people of color translate to public support for the war.
The most prominent supporters of the Iraq war, and other interventions in the Middle East have often let their mask slip. Thomas Friedman, for instance, explained that the purpose of the Iraq war was to tell the Arab world to “suck on this.” Christopher Hitchens spent the later years of his life defending the Iraq War on right-wing media and claiming that the term “Islamophobia” was designed to “promote criticism of Islam to the gallery of special offences associated with racism.” In popular culture, an early anthem for the Iraq war came from country musician Clint Black, who sang in “I Raq and I Roll” that “our troops take out the garbage for the good old USA.” Franklin Graham, who swore George W. Bush into office at his first inauguration, denounced Islam as “a very evil and wicked religion” in the wake of the September 11 attacks.
That approach lives on today, and there are many reasons to believe that racial animus underpins the right’s imperialist designs. Bolton, who has openly advocated for war with Iran, also chairs the Gatestone Institute, which falsely claims that Muslims have established “no-go” zones into which non-Muslims cannot enter. Just a few years after maintaining that “Iran Will Cheat on the Nuclear Deal,” National Review is now calling for Trump to do it himself, and unilaterally pull out of the deal. As it happens, National Review is also a frequent promoter of anti-Muslim writing, hypingimaginary “no-go zones,” warning of “sharia supremacism,” and questioning whether religious liberty should even apply to Muslims.
While these pundits and politicians might claim that perpetuating racial hierarchies has nothing to do with their hawkish views, our research disputes this. A new Data For Progress working paper explores how racial attitudes affect attitudes about when our country should send troops abroad. To explore these attitudes, the paper uses an acceptance-of-racism scale, which measures how much a respondent agrees or disagrees with statements like “white people in the United States have certain advantages” and that “racial problems in the United States are rare isolated situations.”