Opinion: Whom should we blame for the war in Gaza?

Photo/Yousef Masoud/The New York Times / People inspect the site of an Israeli strike in Khan Younis, Gaza, on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023.

Inflation is slowing, the GDP is up, gas prices are down and last week The Associated Press reported a 14% drop in illegal border crossings in October. Yet my MAGA friends give President Joe Biden no credit.

Conversely, when these numbers go in the wrong direction, they blame Biden. In fact, they blame Biden for just about everything that goes wrong.

So, evidently, does conservative University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson, who said on the Bill Maher show recently that "you could lay a fair bit of what happened in Israel on Biden's plate."

Peterson's rationale for blaming Biden? He has "more than a sneaking suspicion" that Biden wouldn't let Saudi Arabia into the Abraham Accords because "it would have meant giving Trump credit for something that happened during his term."

So Biden gets blamed based on a suspicion, as if seven decades of hatred and violence on top of millennia of cultural and religious animosity weren't enough to provoke a war.

My MAGA friends and Peterson are following the lead of former President Donald Trump, who, predictably and without a feasible rationale, is also blaming Biden for the war in Gaza.

Wars, however, always have a larger context than the catalysts that provoke them. The conflict in Gaza is widely seen as a proxy war, with Israel and Hamas standing in for the U.S. and Iran. This way of thinking highlights one of the great tragedies of the Middle East: For decades the United States has been more likely to make common cause with Saudi Arabia, a repressive monarchy currently led by a murderer, than with Iran, an ancient civilization with a history of powerful and persistent inclinations toward democracy.

Between 1905 and 1911 Iran experienced a constitutional revolution that arose out of a nationalist revolt against a corrupt shah who had sold off Iranian resources to foreign powers such as Russia and Britain.

In the wake of the revolution, a parliament was established in Tehran, and the hallmarks of a modern, liberal society began to develop. But Iran's aspirations toward democracy and self-governance fell into chaos during World War I. In 1925 the Pahlavi dynasty was established and Reza Shah installed on the throne, propped up by Russia and Britain Democracy and independence didn't stand a chance.

By 1953, Reza Shah's son, Muhammad Reza Shah, was in charge. His corrupt reign was threatened by Prime Minister Muhammad Mossadeq, who wished to reclaim more of Iran's oil wealth for Iranians. With the acquiescence of President Dwight Eisenhower, CIA director Allen Dulles and Teddy Roosevelt's grandson, Kermit Roosevelt, orchestrated a coup that ousted Mossadeq and firmly established the shah's dominance of Iran.

The shah's tyranny and corruption were supported by SAVAK, a much-hated security force that imprisoned, tortured and executed thousands of dissidents. By 1979, Iran's Islamic revolution was almost inevitable.

Unfortunately, every president before 1979 enabled and supported the shah. American policy since the revolution has generally served to isolate Iran. The tragedy of Iran's isolation is that its population is young, and it has shown significant inclinations toward modernity, moderation and the West.

Unfortunately, the West's policies toward Iran provide the oppressive theocratic mullahs with the one essential element that every authoritarian regime needs to stay in power: An external existential threat, as represented by Israel and the United States.

It's always tempting to exploit a crisis for political purposes, as Trump and Peterson are doing. But blaming Biden for the war in Gaza makes as much sense as blaming climate change on the driver of the SUV that burns the last gallon of gasoline left in the world.