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Donal Trump

Mourners march in Iran after Qassim Suleimani was killed in a U.S. airstrike. Photo from Iranian leader’s website

By David Luces and Kyle Barr

The assassination of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani in a U.S. airstrike in Iraq three days into the new year sent shock waves nationally and globally. In response, Iran has threatened to retaliate. 

For people on the North Shore, it has meant a period of uncertainty and anxiety. As the fallout from the attack continues to make headlines, locals are left wondering what will be the outcome to the posturing and threats from both the U.S. and Iran.

The U.S. military recruitment office in Selden. Photo from Google Maps

Bernard Firestone, a professor of Political Science at Hofstra University, said there has already been conflict between the two nations, including Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordering attacks on American military targets directly, rather than through allied militias, as it has done so in the past.

On Tuesday, Jan. 7, Iran launched missiles at two separate U.S. military bases in Iraq, though officials said there were no American or Iraqi casualties. National newspapers reported the Iranian foreign minister said they had “concluded” attacks on American forces, adding they would step back from escalating into a war.

That does not mean that tensions between the two nations have stabilized, nor that there is the possibility for further contention down the road. On Wednesday, President Donald Trump (R) called on other western countries, who have largely condemned the Iranian rocket attacks, to defy Iran, and announced his intent to install new sanctions on the country.

“Over the past two weeks the U.S. has responded more forcefully to attacks by Iraqi militia allied with Iran, including the killing of Soleimani,” Firestone said. “So, we are already in armed conflict with Iran.”

Paul Fritz, an associate professor of Political Science from Hofstra, said the missile strikes were a “somewhat surprising” escalation of hostilities, and appear to be a direct challenge to the U.S. military, and a further escalation of strong rhetoric.

“The Iranian regime can’t be seen as folding to an outside power with an attack like last week and decided it had to do something big to maintain legitimacy, given strong nationalistic feelings following the killing of Soleimani,” he said.

Fritz said there is always a chance, however small, that armed conflict can spark between the two countries, most likely through an unsanctioned expression of military force that escalates into a full-scale war. America’s past wars against Spain and its entrance into World War I started much in that way, specifically when Spain and Germany attacked ships, killing American civilians, though of course there are differences today.

“When the rhetoric is sometimes over the top, what that can do to the other side is the Iranian regime has to respond in kind,” Fritz said.

At home, planning also begun, but for potential attacks to the U.S., New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and city police announced they would be going on high alert Jan. 3 fearing any kind of retaliation from Iran.

The Suffolk County Police Department said in a statement that it has a robust and long-standing homeland security program, which now includes our SCPD Shield program in partnership with NYPD Shield. They also said there is currently no credible threat to Suffolk County. 

With the U.S. military at a state of readiness, local recruiting centers on the North Shore said they couldn’t comment to the media about whether they are seeing any change in recruitment numbers. 

‘We are already in armed conflict with Iran’

— Bernard Firestone

Lisa Ferguson, chief of media relations for the U.S. Army Recruiting Command, said they have not seen much of a difference.

“At this point we have not seen an impact on our ability to recruit, and too many variables exist to draw a comparison to previous situations,” she said. 

The days after the Iranian general’s death have been a roller coaster. Residents opinions are split over whether Suleimani’s killing was a necessary act, or a way of painting a target on America’s back.

“I think it was a necessary evil,” said Lake Grove resident Patrick Finnerty. “The man [Suleimani ] was threatening people, threatening us.”

During a 2019 Veterans Day ceremony in Greenlawn, Lenny Salvo, a Vietnam War veteran had one message he wanted the public to know: “Stop war.”

“For me it’s not about politics,” he said. “All I see is the harm that it is going to do to people.”

In the days that have now passed, with tensions escalating and Iran potentially returning to build nuclear bombs, Salvo said his position has changed. He said he’s supporting the president. 

“If there’s going to be a conflict, it’s better now [than when they have a nuclear weapon],” he said.

Groups nationwide are already planning
protests. On Jan. 9 at 3:30 p.m., the North Country Peace Group is planning a protest at the corner of Route 112 and Route 347 in Port Jefferson Station against any further war in the Middle East. 

If anything, the threat of attack to New York has stirred harrowing memories of 9/11. Almost 20 years later, the memory of that day’s events has filtered down into the blood of those who witnessed it.

Port Jefferson Village mayor, Margot Garant, shared memories of that fateful day at the village meeting Jan. 6. On Sept. 11, 2001, the trains were down, cars jammed the highways and the Bridgeport to Port Jefferson ferry was one of the very few means for people to get off the Island.

Garant said she remembered cars backed up all the way up East Broadway and beyond for days. At the meeting, she said she will speak with code enforcement and the fire department in case any such crisis should happen again.

“It could be a chemical weapon, it could be a bomb, so many things could happen,” the mayor said. “If I’m not thinking about that, I would be negligent … you have a number of people saying they want to take revenge — that’s not normal — you’ve got to be prepared.”

The fear of home terrorism isn’t unfounded, though the experts said any kind of terrorism linked directly to Iran could provoke a full-scale war, something they don’t want. Firestone said that if there were to be terrorist-type attacks, it will more likely be launched at allied or American targets in the home region.

‘The Iranian regime can’t be seen as folding to an outside power with an attack like last week and decided it had to do something big to maintain legitimacy.’

— Paul Fritz

Though statistics say one is more likely to get struck by lightning than be involved in a terrorist attack, people from New York City and Long Islanders have a unique view and anxiety about any such attack.

After the birth of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, the western world saw a slew of what was considered “lone wolf” terrorists, or people who conduct violence without the direct support and resources of any one group. 

These, Fritz said, are less likely in this case, since there is no one specific ideology such as seen with ISIS calling for such attacks.

Much depends on what Iran’s next step will be, experts said, and though a full-scale conflict is unlikely, Fritz said it begets people to be informed and to ask questions of one’s local elected representatives.

“Stay informed, but don’t turn this into something all-consuming,” he said. 

Leah Chiappino, Rita J. Egan and Donna Deedy all contributed reporting.

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baroness and former leader of the British House of Lords, Margaret Jay, came to Stony Brook University to speak to us about “The new populism in America and Britain: What has happened to our politics?” The talk, which was open to the public and well attended, drew parallels between Trumpism and the Brexit movement in Britain and served as one way to understand our preelection frenzy.

Populism, as a political ideology, views virtuous citizens as mistreated by small circles of elites to be overthrown. In Britain, where jobs are drying up and wages have been stagnant for those 31-59 years of age for decades, migrants have been pouring into the country — some 330,000 in the last year, looking for jobs and a good life. Citizens are angry. The landscape has changed and a common cry is, “I don’t recognize the town I grew up in,” as a result of the changes. As a member of the European Union, Britain had open borders for laborers throughout the 28-member countries even as British workers could in turn move anywhere within the EU from Britain.

Baroness Jay of Paddington, daughter of former Prime Minister James Callaghan, told us that there are four times as many Brits collecting unemployment insurance in Germany as there are Germans collecting unemployment in Britain. Nonetheless, the “elites” and the politicians are seen by the British middle class as being unresponsive and only self-serving, and there is a deep sense of insecurity in the country. In such an environment, the message, “Support Brexit to take back control,” resonates and sounds not dissimilar to “Make America great again.” These slogans would seem to pit the common people against the top 1 percent.

Leaders of populist movements have certain characteristics in common, as the baroness pointed out. They tend to be blunt to the point of crude. The media loves them for their irresistible sound bites and the attention they draw from the public, and offers them a platform. Interestingly in this comparison of Britain and the United States, those who would speak “for the people” are not actually “of the people.” They feel none of the economic insecurities but seek to identify with the millions of citizens. That is certainly the case with “billionaire” Trump and also the leaders of the Brexit campaign, who are from the upper classes.

Populism is spreading in Europe. Will it spread here? That is the question Margaret Jay poses for us.

For the United Kingdom, there are other serious issues. Will the four parts of the country stay together? Scotland and Northern Ireland resoundingly voted to stay in the EU, while Wales and England voted to leave. Also there is what the baroness described as an “unpleasant divide” between foreign workers, who are increasingly viewed as taking away jobs, benefits and even lifestyle, and the citizens. The Brexit vote seems to have given legitimacy to the antagonisms. Then there are the matters of making separate trade agreements with 27 other countries, and the pound sterling exchange rate.

Meanwhile what has Brexit done to the rest of the EU? Other countries, with similar movements, are stirring. There is even the thought that the Brexit vote may have caused matters to improve elsewhere, as politicians heed the message sent by the voters.

The solution, proposed by Baroness Jay, lies in rebuilding the center. We must not become fortresses of isolation, she warns, either in trade or of xenophobia. Pluralism and diversity are the way of the future, and in the U.S. these ideas are baked into our democracy. To rebuild the center involves a role for education. Tellingly some 75 percent of the more educated in Britain voted to stay in the EU, while about the same number, 75 percent of the less educated, voted to leave. The latter are those for whom the present system is not working. And while this picture of current politics, is specific to Britain at the moment, the dark and unpleasant nature of this past Sunday’s presidential debate here would urge us to pay further attention to the people whose needs are not being met.