The drums of war are beating furiously across old empires. Once more it is the terrified emperors, led by self-proclaimed, sanctimonious protectors, who are exercising a penchant for confrontation. Their favoured occupation of war mongering has taken precedence yet again over sustainable engagement, containment and change through dialogue.
Last Friday Israeli Transport Minister ShaulMofaz suggested an armed attack on the Islamic Republic of Iran looked ‘unavoidable’ given the apparent failure of UN sanctions in denying Tehran technology with bomb-making potential. Others in the Israeli and US cabinets are insisting that a pre-emptive strike on Iran is ‘inevitable.
Israel, you may recall, widely believed to have the Middle East's only atomic arsenal, bombed an Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981. An Israeli air raid on Syria last September razed what the US claimed was a nascent reactor built with North Korean help. Syria denied having any such facility.
Iranian Defence Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar has warned Israel of a ‘very painful’ retort should a military strike be launched over Iran’s disputed nuclear program. Meanwhile the Russians are scrambling to finish an upgrade of Iran’s air defences - which is making the Israelis even more nervous (and trigger happy) of course.
So where is the great and trusted Emperor Bush in all of this tussle? He is in Europe, busy mustering support for deeper sanctions against Iran. In his absence several US senators have been briefed on the possibility of an impending attack.
What scandalous failure of leadership is this? Could the dogs of war be unleashed yet again by an egotistical despot who has only a few months left in office and who lost all sense of integrity after September 11th 2001? I wouldn’t put it past him for one minute. How can that possibly be?
Over the past few months, several moves by the White House strongly suggest the Bush administration is gearing up to attack Iran sometime in the near future. The US wouldn’t be foolish enough to put troops on the ground. Notwithstanding the current covert war (mostly destabilisation in the form of assassinations and abductions) being conducted at a cost of $400 million, the mostly likely scenario is an air attack targeting the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) garrisons and known nuclear facilities.
Now I must admit a strange disconnect becomes apparent - one that I cannot immediately reconcile. But then I am thinking logically and humanely! December's National Intelligence Estimate (the consensus view of all sixteen US intelligence agencies) concluded that Iran had actually abandoned its intentions to build a nuclear weapon. At the time, the report seemed to defer any possibility of war with Iran.
Shortly after the intelligence estimate on Iran was released, however, an influential group comprising Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates set out to undermine it. They drew on the Kyl-Lieberman Sense of the Senate resolution to vindicate their challenge, which was aired publicly.
Last September, the Kyl-Lieberman amendment ratcheted up confrontation with Iran by calling for the designation of its Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization responsible for killing US troops. The resolution was passed overwhelmingly 76 votes to 22.
In March the White House quietly extended an executive order stating that Iran represented an ‘ongoing threat’ to US national security. The administration claims that the 2002 resolution that led to the war in Iraq gives it the right to strike at ‘terrorists’ wherever they happen to be.
On April 21st Robert Gates proclaimed Iran was hell-bent on acquiring nuclear weapons, and that, while he was not advocating war with Iran, the military option should be kept on the table. In these none too subtle ways the Bush administration continues to increase its rhetorical attacks on Iran.
This communications strategy is disturbingly reminiscent of the campaign which led to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Take one such charge, levelled by General David Petraeus (head of US Central Command) that the Quds Force is arming anti-American groups in Iraq and providing them with high-tech roadside bombs and sophisticated rockets. Petraeus told the Senate Committee on Armed Services that ‘special groups’ are ‘funded, trained, armed and directed by Iran's Quds Force. It was these groups that launched Iranian rockets and mortar rounds at Iraq's seat of government’ in the Green Zone, he concluded. Patraeus incidentally, replaced Admiral William Fallon, who had openly opposed a military confrontation with Iran.
As in 2003 the intentions are clear. And, as before, there is a complete lack of evidence to support the increasingly belligerent assertions. The lack of evidence, however, has not deterred the likes of Cheney and Gates. In fact it has not attenuated the strident rhetoric emanating from the White House one iota.
Preparations for war, on the other hand, seem to be far more than just rhetorical. Cheney's trip to the Middle East in March was seen in the region as a possible harbinger of war since cooperation would be needed by all four countries he visited - Oman, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Turkey.
There has also been a steady build-up of naval and air power in the region. A new aircraft carrier battle group has been assigned to the area, Patriot anti-missile missiles have been deployed, and US Naval forces in the Eastern Mediterranean have been strengthened.
So what would be most likely to happen if the United States did elect to attack Iran?
At home the Bush administration may see this as a last chance gambit to hold on to the White House. On the surface at least one would think such a strategy would wreck McCain’s chance of winning the election. On the other hand the Republicans know they are going to lose seats in the House and in the Senate and at this stage the race for the presidency is still very tight. Might a new war against the demonized Iranians encourage voters to vote for war hero John McCain against the untried Obama? Possibly.
However, it is also feasible that another blatantly illegal attack on a smaller nation would be considered grounds for impeachment. But Bush has only a few months left to rule. He is deluded enough to believe that he can get away with it.
Militarily of course there is little Tehran could do in response to an attack by the world’s mightiest military force. Nor could Iran rely on support from the militias in Iraq and Hezbollah who will inevitably act on the basis of what is in their own interests.
The Iranian army is smaller than it was during the Iran-Iraq war. The air force is also small and chronically out-of-date. The navy lacks larger craft of any kind, although it is most unlikely the Iranians would attempt to blockade the Gulf as the current regime depends on the sale of gas and oil to bolster its fragile economy.
There has been some speculation that Iran might target Israel, especially after the recent controversial rantings by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has threatened to wipe Israel off the map on more than one occasion. The Israelis, however, have made it clear that any such attack would be met with a massive retaliation, probably nuclear. In any case, it is far more likely that Israel would attack Iran.
On a more global scale any premeditated attack by US forces would be sure to further isolate the United States in the Middle East – especially as such an action would run counter to diplomatic initiatives by other nations in the Gulf region aimed at establishing a détente with Tehran. While the US seeks to defend the Arabs from Iran, the Arabs are increasingly trying to defend themselves from US efforts to defend them against Iran!
There is an open and growing sympathy on the part of many Gulf nations for Iran and this is accompanied by increasing scepticism about US efforts to isolate the country. Furthermore another US-led war would deeply divide Europe and might even lead to a German withdrawal from Afghanistan. What responses might emanate from Russia, China and India remain uncertain.
All this talk of war, of course, could be sheer bluff – belligerence and sabre rattling signifying absolutely nothing. It could also be the precursor to another futile conflict - possibly one sparked by a manufactured incident of some kind. Or then again, perhaps I’ve just been watching too many movies like Wag the Dog!
Once unleashed, however, no one controls the prosecution of a war. US foreign policy on Iraq was fatally flawed. Although Saddam Hussein was a tyrant he did at least preside over a secular state. He had been installed by the US we should remember.
But if the initial strategy was flawed, its execution since has been a public declaration of incompetence; an unmitigated political, humanitarian and military disaster. Young American soldiers have become socialised into committing atrocities while politicians continue to speak in heroic terms, justifying their ill-conceived brutality in terms of ridding the world of tyrants.
They should look more closely at themselves. Self-awareness can be humbling. Those who kill large numbers of people invariably claim it as a virtue. God is on their side - or so they believe. The campaign to vanquish terror is expressed within the confines of this rhetoric, as if once all terrorists are destroyed evil itself will vanish. This is pure myth.
The reality is starkly different. As difficult as it is to imagine, a US-initiated war with Iran could easily exceed the Iraq War as a foreign policy blunder of disastrous proportions. It would certainly serve to embolden terrorist aspirations in organisations like al-Qaeda - severely weakened if one puts aside their activities in Iraq. It might also precipitate a decline in the fortunes and confidence of the US empire from which it would be almost impossible to recover.
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