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By Bernard Weiner, The Crisis Papers
The question is not whether Iran will be attacked, but by whom and whether the bombing will commence within the next several months or shortly after the November election.
The U.S. for many months has made bellicose noises about thwarting Iran's nuclear ambitions with force -- complete with a virtual repeat of its pre-war propaganda campaign prior to "shock&awe" against Iraq. Israel is reported to have just carried out a military exercise practicing for an attack on Iran. Iran is letting it be known how destructive and unconventional its retaliation would be if it is bombed. What is going on?
Though one can decry it, at least one can understand why Israel, just a short missile flight from Iran, might want to take "pre-emptive" action against that country were it to possess nuclear-weapons capabilities. But what's driving the neocons in the White House to push so insistently for an attack on Iran?
It seems clear that Cheney and Bush want Iran's nascent civilian nuclear program taken out now before it could become operational in a military sense five or ten years down the road. If this is true, why would the Administration have wanted to attack Iraq?
For decades, you may remember, Iraq was the buffer between an ambitious, strengthening Iran and the West's strategic interests in the Middle East, and for that reason the U.S. under Reagan helped Saddam in his war against his country's Iranian neighbor. But with Iraq sinking into military/economic irrelevance after what Cheney and Bush have done to ruin that country, Iran not suprisingly is filling the political and military vacuum in that Islamic region of the Greater Middle East.
The neocons argue that if Iran is not stopped now, America will lose all hopes of future influence and control in the oil-rich region. Iran would become one of the most powerful, and likely anti-U.S., players in the Greater Middle East, with all the military, economic and oil-based implications that such hegemonic power brings with it. In short, say the neocons, it's vital to stop Iran in its tracks now while the stopping is still possible. Once Iran has operational nuclear-tipped missiles -- which could be a mere ten years down the line, or less -- the entire equation would change.
THE HAWKS PREPARE
The neocons believe that if Iran is attacked by the U.S. and/or Israel, it could retaliate with missiles and asymmetrical warfare, but, given the firepower of U.S. and Israeli forces, its long-range military strength would be severely diminished for at least a decade or two, with little ability to successfully exercise its political authority in the region. Syria, another possible competitor for top-dog influence in the region, might try to fill the bill or, more likely, might well back off, seeing what its enemies did to both Iraq and Iran.
In short, from the neo-con hawk perspective, now is the perfect time to launch a "pre-emptive" air-attack on Iran. This is the case even though CheneyBush cannot produce any conclusive evidence that Iran is working on military uses of nuclear energy; that may be in their long-range plan but, by and large, the U.S. is basing its antagonism on speculation and future fears. In short, there does not appear to be any kind of imminent Iranian threat to the U.S. or to other countries in the region. (Absent an imminent threat, an attack on a sovereign nation is regarded as illegal under international law, perhaps even a war crime.)
The Republicans also note that along with the quagmire in Iraq, a war with Iran would ensure that the new American President would find himself hogtied in Iran and to a diplomatic/military/economic policy in the Greater Middle East from which it would be difficult to disentangle. Also, both presidential candidates are firm supporters of Israel and have indicated they'd be open to taking military action against Iran to stop it from obtaining nuclear weapons, the difference being that McCain is more amenable to going forthrightly into a shootin' match, while Obama is willing to try diplomacy first without taking a possible attack off the table.
In short, given the complexities of what's at stake in the region, and how Bush&Co. is trying to lead the new Administration into highly dangerous waters, the new President might fail badly, making it easier for a Republican victory in the 2010 Congressional elections and the 2112 presidential contest.
A GAME OF HIGH-STAKES "CHICKEN"?
So, there's that possible take on what is going on with regard to Iran. But what if it's all a high-stakes, all-in game of "chicken" being played out? Each side blustering, threatening an attack, but done with great restraint -- a lot of chest-beating, saber-rattling, insulting, etc., but no battles, just maneuvering to break the will of the other guy? Iran would want America to back off and let it go its own way in its own neighborhood, and the U.S. would want Iran to drop its plans for weapons-grade uranium enrichment.
Look at the situation this way: The American military, and National Guard/Reserves, are not in any mood to accept another major war, as U.S. forces around the world already are stretched way too thin and are, because of the way the troops are abused, having problems meeting their recruitment quotas. Likewise, the Pentagon chiefs are not especially crazy about initiating another war, especially against Iran, given the lack of firm evidence to support such an attack. Defense Secretary Gates keeps pumping for diplomacy with Iran and plays down any saber-rattling; Admiral William Fallon -- before he was forced to resign -- was head of Central Command and was vehemently and publicly trying to block Cheney's near-compulsion for attacking Iran. ( www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/07/07/080707fa_fact_hersh )
In short, an attack on Iran would be almost totally a White House project with Cheney's hands all over it and is sure to engender even more retirements and then truth-telling from the resentful, angry military brass and perhaps an instantaneous upsurge of demands for impeachment of Cheney and Bush in the House.
ILLUSION OF POSITIVE "LEGACY"
And yet, even given that negative situation, I think Cheney and Bush are still salivating at the prospects of attacking Iran as a last spastic use of the power they've amassed for themselves. In addition, perhaps Cheney and Bush just might go for it in a final desperate attempt to establish their "legacy": They believe that eventually all Americans, and others, will realize that during their tenure they courageously and correctly began the process of bringing democracy and free-market capitalism to the "backward" Islamic countries in the Greater Middle East, even if at the point of a gun.
But what if the U.S. rulers miscalculate once again, a la Iraq -- some leading neocons blithely assume that the young, anti-mullah population of Iran will rise up following an attack and overthrow their religious rulers -- and the U.S. gets sucked into a no-win quagmire all over the Middle East? What then? Maybe CheneyBush don't give a rat's petunia; in the long run, as the solipsistic Bush has said about his "legacy," he'll be dead.
To gain their war, CheneyBush (along with Israel) are threatening and trying to provoke Iran into making a bad blunder in response that could be interpreted as a "hostile" act, requiring a retaliatory strike. According to Seymour Hersh, a former high-placed intelligence officer said that a secret meeting took place in Cheney's office where "the subject was how to create a casus belli between Tehran and Washington." ( www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/07/07/080707fa_fact_hersh )
At best, in Bush&Co. calculations, an air attack using "surgical" bombing runs and laser-guided missile attacks would quickly take out Iran's military/nuclear facilities, perhaps in a day or two, with little civilian "collateral" damage.
At worst, regardless of whether it's Israel or the U.S. initiating the attack, the result could lead to uncontrollable chaos and destruction -- and an oil-supply system badly wrecked, with all that implies for the economies of the U.S. and Europe -- and the clash of cultures that so many extremists, on both sides, seem almost to desire. (The U.N.'s chief nuclear official, Mohammed ElBaradei, said an attack on Iran would turn the region in a "ball of fire.") ( www.msnbc.msn.com/id/25298744 ) And the new President would be stuck with the catastrophe.
HOW CLOSE ARE WE TO WAR?
So how close are we to war against Iran? Former CIA official Ray McGovern ( www.consortiumnews.com/2008/061908c.html ) reports that upon emerging from a 90-minute White House meeting with President George W. Bush on June 4, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the two leaders were of one mind:
>> "'We reached agreement on the need to take care of the Iranian threat. I left with a lot less question marks [than] I had entered with regarding the means, the timetable restrictions, and American resoluteness to deal with the problem. George Bush understands the severity of the Iranian threat and the need to vanquish it, and intends to act on that matter before the end of his term in the White House."
McGovern also quotes a member of Olmert's delegation saying that the two countries had agreed to cooperate in case of an attack by Iran, and that "the meetings focused on 'operational matters' pertaining to the Iranian threat."
My best guess right now is that CheneyBush, as always divorced from the real world, will go for an attack probably later this summer, or, if not then, between the November election and the inauguration of a new President in January. Whether CheneyBush will do so with the U.S. playing the central role is unknown at this time. My guess is that the U.S. will be helpful to Israel in getting them to do the deed. (Remember that Israel bombed Saddam Hussein's nuclear reactor at Osirak in 1981.) Already, a huge number of America's military brass, including the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Michael Mullen, have recently had mostly secret consultations with their Israeli counterparts. ( www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?apage=1&cid=1214492515999&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull )
Neo-con Bill Kristol ( http://thinkprogress.org/2008/06/22/kristol-bush-iran ) even suggests that if Bush thinks Obama is poised to win the presidency, he'll launch the attack either just prior to or right after the November election. In other words, better vote for McCain if you want to stop a widening war in the Greater Middle East. Political extortion of the first order.
BUILDING OF A "PERFECT STORM"
I would be happy to be proven wrong in all my speculations and to learn that what's happening in the Persian Gulf area is merely (!) a dangerous game of "chicken." If the latter, then someone with rational sense will veer away from the confrontation before it's too late and the region is plunged into full and total economic and military conflagration, with the spillover effect of a potential worldwide economic Depression and wars of choice throughout the region. In short, mixed in with an already-proceeding environmental collapse brought on by human-accelerated global warming, it's clear, as Hemingway might say, that there's a cataclysmic shitstorm coming. A perfect storm with untold, horrific consequences.
Finally, with Iran in the crosshairs, you would think that both Congress and the mainstream media would feel obliged to start paying some major investigative attention to the likelihood of such an attack, so that we won't wind up once again falling into war without a proper and lengthy debate about the wisdom of such a move. But once again, as was the case with the runup to the war against Iraq, Congress, this time controlled by the Democrats, remains inert and the corporate media remain mostly silent or act as cheerleaders for CheneyBush policy.
Prior to the "shock&awe" bombing of Iraq, those opposed to the coming attack put ten million dissenters into the streets around the globe. In contrast, today's so-called "antiwar movement" in the U.S. and elsewhere seems dormant in the face of the coming conflagration, with a lot of energy now siphoned off to the presidential campaign.
DO-NOTHING CONGRESS AND "MOVEMENT"
In sum, everything points to the likelihood of the coming attack with precious little countervailing power coming from the corporate media, anti-war forces, and the supposed "opposition" party, the Democrats, or the party's standard-bearer in the November election, Barack Obama. The U.S. economy already is teetering on the brink of a long-term recession, or worse, with ordinary citizens forced to work multiple jobs just to keep their families economically intact, with little extra time for political activism.
According to former U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter: ( www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL0806/S00383.htm )
>> "[Not only is Congress failing] to put any obstacles in the way of this policy but in fact Congress is actively facilitating this policy by refusing to enact legislation that would require the president to get the consent of Congress before going into Iran. The fact that Congress has opted out from tying the president's hands reinforces, at least in the Bush administration's mind, that Congress is legitimizing the potential of action.
>> "So when you put all of this together you start to see that there is not only a real risk of war but that those who would like to do it see that there aren't any obstacles being put in the way of their accomplishing this, which makes the likelihood of military action even greater. Everyday that goes by without Congressional action is another day that reinforces that there will be a military strike against Iran."
Is the situation reversible before Israel and/or CheneyBush initiate the bombing runs and Tomahawk-missile attacks on Iran? Reversal may be possible if the opposition mobilizes intensely in the next few months, but, at the moment, that does not appear likely. America's dogs of war are about to be unleashed in the Greater Middle East yet again, with everyone else, the world, seemingly immobilized and ready to be treated as mere "collateral damage." It's the numbness of too much trauma.
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D., has taught at Western Washington State, San Francisco State, and San Diego State Universities. He has worked as a writer/editor with the San Francisco Chronicle for two decades, and currently serves as co-editor of The Crisis Papers (www.crisispapers.org). For comment: firstname.lastname@example.org .
First published by The Crisis Papers and Democratic Underground 7/1/08.
Copyright 2008 by Bernard Weiner.
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D. in government & international relations, has taught at universities in California and Washington, worked for two decades as a writer-editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, and currently serves as co-editor of The Crisis Papers (more...)