Make no mistake. The current posture and policy of the Bush administration is leading our nation inexorably toward a ruinously self-defeating conflict with Iran, a conflict that will have grave consequences for the Middle East, the United States and the world. And once again, everyone is busily pretending that it is not happening.
As we've learned - or have we not? - with Iraq, the Bush administration makes great pretense of serving up diplomacy as its first course of war. What is different and more ominous this time is that in its planning for this war, the White House is contemplating the first-use of nuclear weapons, in the form of earth-penetrating, "bunker-busting" bombs.
The new "National Security Strategy of the United States of America", which Bush unveiled in March, for the first time discusses the use of nuclear weapons in an offensive way. "Our deterrence strategy no longer rests primarily on the grim premise of inflicting devastating consequences on potential foes," it states. "Both offenses and defenses are necessary"Safe, credible, and reliable nuclear forces continue to play a role."
Do not be fooled by their word, "safe". Bunker-busters are not fallout-proof, this according to a 2005 study by the National Academy of Sciences. The report's authors cautioned that there was no way of containing these bombs' nuclear burst, and warned that widespread nuclear radiation and fallout must be expected. Civilian casualties would run in the tens if not hundreds of thousands.
If this all sounds crazy, if you cannot believe you're reading this, believe it. Surely, a reasonable person would say, the Bush administration isn't seriously considering what it is considering? But we've all said that before, and look where we are.
Neoconservatives within and outside the administration are widely reported to be calling for military action this year to halt Iran's purported march to develop nuclear weaponry. Covert military ground incursions into Iran are widely known to have been occurring for more than a year. As Seymour Hersh reports in shocking detail in this week's issue of the New Yorker (www.NewYorker.com) , the Pentagon has moved beyond contingency planning and is in active operational planning mode, readying for air strikes against Iran's over fifty nuclear facilities as well as its air defenses and retaliatory machinery. Hersh is serious to point out that no presidential order has been issued to launch air strikes, but that the White House wants the Pentagon t o be ready if and when one is.
The collateral damage of American air strikes against Iran, not only in casualties but in military and political backlash, would be immense. This would be no simple raid, but a major military operation taking several weeks. Iran is not Iraq, but a nation four times larger in terms of size and three times in population. We would be attacking a nation the combined size of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California, and one with a military far more modernized and a population far more unified than Iraq in 2003. And look how well things are going there.
The idea of air strikes against Iran is preposterous - they will only serve to strengthen the current regime immensely. And what would all this gain? At best, air strikes would slow Iranian nuclear projects by a few years, unless the U.S. were willing to follow an air campaign with a land invasion and occupation. Short of that, the cost of buying time with air strikes would likely be a redoubling of Iran's determination to get a bomb - and an exponential increase in its bitterness towards the United States and its strongest ally in the region, Israel.
An attack would destabilize an already unstable Middle East. Terrorism against U.S interests around the world would increase dramatically. One could forget any hopes of stemming the global jihadi terror threat - Bin Laden and others would rouse the world's 1.2 billion Muslims with cries that the United States was seeking to destroy Islam. And any hopes of political reform in Iran would be doomed.
Our young men and women in Iraq would be sitting ducks for retaliation - the fanatical Iraqi Shiite cleric, Moqtada Al-Sadr, has already declared that his forces would attack American troops in Iraq in the event that Bush bombs Iran. Given that the Shiites in Iraq have so far functioned as expedient allies of the U.S occupation, and that we've lost nearly 2400 troops in three years at the hands of the Sunni minority in only a small part of Iraq, it is chilling to think of the consequences if the majority Shiites get involved.
An attack would greatly compromise the world's oil supply. The price of oil, already now at its highest ever level at just under $70 a barrel, would soar to between $100-200 per barrel. Americans would find the price at the pump at least doubling. The global economy would be crippled. At best, a global recession would follow; at worst, a second Great Depression.
And yet the single thing that can be guaranteed about any air assault on Iran is that, however well laid out the plans beforehand, events will quickly spin out of control. The Bush government, blinded by arrogance, consumed by power, delusional in its divine mission, ridiculously sure of themselves, fearless of other people's lives, and still ignorant of its mistakes with regard to Iraq, will once again be stunned and unprepared to deal with them.
The result will be disaster for us all.
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