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The Coming War with Iran

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The Coming War with Iran

It is more than a rumor that the United States is preparing to attack Iran. This would be a gross violation of International Law and all ethical and legal codes concerning war. First, we will review the evidence for the coming attack, and then proceed to agreed-upon ethical norms concerning such actions. Next we will examine some of the conceivable consequences of such an attack. Finally, we will examine international law. The coming assault on the sovereign state of Iran violates every moral and legal constraint on nations and every rational examination of the conceivable disastrous consequences of such an action.

There are three facts about Iran that corporate media has and will continue to ignore. The first fact is that Iran is a democracy in the sense that its leaders have all been elected by the people. This makes the Congressional passage of the "Iran Freedom Support Act" hypocritical in the extreme, since it imposes deeper sanctions on Iran and explicitly calls for bringing democracy there. This also gives lie to the alleged Bush doctrine of spreading democracy a reason for an attack.

The second fact is that nuclear experts worldwide are agreed that Iran is ten years or more away from developing a nuclear weapon, if that is their goal.

The third fact is that no one in the Bush White House or anywhere else has proffered evidence that Iran is attempting to build a nuclear weapon. Even the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) admitted that all the evidence it has accumulated so far on Iranian plutonium production is circumstantial. It is also important to note that the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) allows every signatory, of which Iran is one, to produce plutonium for peaceful purposes. Perhaps Christopher de Bellaigue, reporter for Harper's magazine, said it best: "In the absence of incontrovertible proof that Iran has developed a bomb, or seeks to do so, the crisis is about intentions, and no outsider knows Iran's intentions."

I. The Bush Plan

Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has presented the following evidence that Bush is planning on invading Iran:

1. The administration has admitted to increasing clandestine activities inside of Iran; 2. Bush has charged the Air Force with drawing up lists of targets for bombing Iran; 3. Bush has ordered teams of American combat troops into Iran to collect target information and support anti-government ethnic-minority groups.
4. American Naval tactical aircraft have been flying simulated nuclear-weapons delivery missions within range of Iranian coastal radars.
5. The U.S. is ignoring the International Atomic Energy Association and its recommendations, having told the world nuclear energy body to get out of its way as it makes its plans for Iran.
6. President Bush is now giving speeches about "bringing freedom for the Iranian people."
7. The U.S. has been flying unmanned aerial surveillance drones over Iran since 2004.

There are also eerie parallels of the current situation in Iran with the build-up to the invasion of Iraq. These include the following:

1. Iran is an oil-rich state;
2. The Bush administration is exaggerating the WMD threat that Iran poses;
3. The Bush administration has accused Iran, without evidence, of harboring Al Qaeda operatives and supporting terrorist groups. For just one example, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stated that Iran is the "central banker for terrorism" in the Middle East and is the single most dangerous threat to the United States today;
4. Bush is spending millions of dollars on propaganda efforts and alliances with dubious ethnic groups in Iran. This includes spending $85 million to support dissent groups in Iran;
5. U.S. officials are openly talking about bypassing the U.N. when it comes to attacking Iran. As John Bolton, Bush's appointed representative at the U.N., said: "If this is dï jï vu, then so be it. That is the course we are on."
6. The Bush administration is scrambling to make a connection between Iran and Hezbollah, something which should not be terribly difficult to do, although no concrete evidence has surfaced yet to make the connection.
7. There is open talk on the part of Bush administration officials, of the phrase "regime change."

II. Ethical Norms Concerning Attack

It is important to come to an understanding of the principles that underlie both domestic and international laws of war, as well as military training manuals. These principles have an extended history, and are universal and widely used. The laws of war and military manuals are instantiations of these principles. Each of the principles we will review has traditionally been said to be a necessary, not a sufficient condition for going to war with a country. That being the case, if any one of these criteria is unmet, the contemplated or performed action is unethical.

The invasion of Iraq was widely and roundly condemned as unethical by the vast majority of ethical scholars in the U.S., so it stands to reason that the unprovoked bombing of Iran would be unethical in the extreme. Here's why. (It is worth noting that the principles, laws, and consequences we are about to cover would be quite applicable to the Israeli attack on Lebanon of the past week. But that would take us too far afield from the current issue, Iran.)

The first criterion that ethicists have for centuries demanded of a political collective that seeks military action against another is that the action have a "just cause." This is usually defined as self-defense. In other words, the country considering a military attack against another must either be under attack from that country, or must be in danger of an imminent attack. In our current case with Iran, Iran must present an imminent danger of attack to the U.S. However, when one takes account of four critical facts, the notion of "imminent danger" evaporates. First, Iran has never targeted the United States. This alone is sufficient to refute any charge that they are an imminent danger. Second, there is no evidence to indicate that they are preparing to do so at this time. Third, the general consensus of the experts is that Iran is a decade away from producing nuclear weapons. Fourth, in mid-July of this year, Iranian officials disclosed that the largest of Iran's nuclear facilities, and the one that seems to be the main concern of the Bush administration, the plant at Natanz, has encountered severe technical difficulties in the form of poor quality control and impurities in the uranium gas produced. The failure rate was said by an informant to be at about 50%. If confirmed, this is a severe setback for Iranian nuclear plans, and nearly negates any case the U.S. wants to make for attacking Iran.

A second principle by which to judge the morality of a planned military exercise against another country is that the war produce at least as much good as destruction. Since the future holds no certainties, this principle must be exercised by a probabilistic calculus, weighing the benefits and costs of a war. Because this principle is inherently utilitarian in design, I will present the deeply troubling potential outcomes of an invasion of Iran in point IV, below. For now, it will suffice to list the conceivable positive outcomes of a military strike against Tehran. First, it is conceivable that if the alleged connections between Iran and Hezbollah are true, it is possible that a fundamental source of terrorism will have been cut by a U.S. bombing of Iran. Second, this could result in a decrease in terrorism in the future, if the main players are out of the picture. Third, it is plausible that the Mideast will be rid of a possible nuclear state in Iran, deterring potential Armageddon. If this is to be averted entirely, it would have to be applied to disarming Israel as well, of course. Fourth, a new regime in Iran, should it come to that, could be much friendlier to American interests and also provide us with more stability in oil supplies and prices. Fifth, it might be an important step to American hegemony in the region. It must be noted this last conceivable outcome, although clearly a neoconservative goal, is in direct violation of international laws and other ethical principles, as we will see. Further, in my judgment, these potential positive outcomes of an attack on Iran are far outweighed by the possible catastrophic consequences, as I will argue below (in section IV).

Another criterion requires that planned military action cannot ethically be engaged without attempting and exhausting all reasonable peaceful alternatives. The key term here is "reasonable," or else this principle becomes self-defeating, in that there are always logically possible alternatives available instead of military action. So far the Bush administration has a priori rejected any possible dialogue with Iran, starting the refusal to respond to the letter to Mr. Bush from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Even more importantly, in 2003 Iran had requested, through the Swiss ambassador to Tehran, direct negotiations with the United States about the nuclear issue. According to Colin Powell's former chief of staff, General Lawrence Wilkerson, the response of the Bush regime to this gesture was to flatly rejected any negotiation with Iran. Mr. Bush himself has taken the line that no negotiations with Iran are possible until "the Iranian regime fully and verifiably suspends its uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities." This requirement is the very point on which the negotiations should be centered, but the Bush team wants Iran to concede the point (and its right under NPT) before talking to them, putting the Iranian leadership into an impossible position. But unless there are negotiation attempts of some sort on the part of the U.S., a military excursion into Iran could never be ethically justifiable.

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Dr. Robert Abele is a professor of philosophy and political science at Yuba College in Marysville, California, and the author of the book "A User's Guide to the USA PATRIOT Act." He presents regular commentaries on KVMR FM radio in Nevada City, (more...)
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The Coming War with Iran

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