The Iran Debate – Will He or Won’t He?

War with Iran: Probable (& Disastrous)
Ervand Abrahamian – October 9th, 2007

The U.S and Iran have been moving towards a head-on collision for the last seven years. The expected collision will most probably take place in the final months of the Bush administration. The course has been set by two irreconcilable goals. Iran is adamant about gaining full mastery over nuclear technology — especially uranium enrichment. The U.S. is equally adamant that Iran should not be allowed this mastery on the grounds that the latter’s real intentions are not to use such knowledge for peaceful purposes — as Iran claims — but for weaponry.

President Bush has also assured the Israeli Prime Minister that he intends to resolve the “Iranian problem” before leaving the White House. Since he has shown little interest in pursuing a diplomatic route, one can conclude that he is aiming to resolve the issue through the military one. In 2003, he turned down in no uncertain terms an Iranian offer for a “grand bargain.” He also turned down an offer made by El-Baradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, to explore ways to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program does not expand into a military one. In fact, the administration curtly told El-Baradei to keep out of politics.

Instead on exploring the diplomatic route, the administration has increased its naval and air capabilities in the Gulf and accused Iran of killing Americans by supplying lethal weapons to insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan. It has also taken hostage a number of Iranian diplomats in Iraqi Kurdestan and ordered the military to hunt down suspected Iranians in Iraq. Close colleagues of the Vice President have gone so far as to claim that the U.S. is already in the midst of a hot war with Iran — describing it as a new World War on par with World War I and II. For its part, Iran has accused the U.S. of harboring Mojahedin guerrillas — whom the U.S. State Department itself has categorized as a “terrorist organization.” It has also accused the U.S. of trying to stir up ethnic animosities in Iranian Kurdestan, Baluchestan, and Azerbaijan. Not surprisingly, many suspect that the Bush administration’s real concern in Iran as in Iraq is not weapons of mass destruction but regime change.

Three major reasons are often given to argue that the Bush administration will shy away from military action. One, that the US military is already over stretched in Iraq. Two, that the U.S. public does not have the stomach to enter another war. Third, that military action will neither end the nuclear program nor bring about regime change. These same arguments have led some Iranian leaders — but not all — to dismiss the threat of military action as mere “psychological warfare.” The Iranian President has consistently insisted that “no man in his right senses would think of attacking Iran.”

Such conclusions would be warranted if politics had anything to do with reason and real substance. Unfortunately, politics has more to do with short-term image and public perceptions than with reason and long-range interest. The U.S public could very well find itself in the midst of a new war as a result of another Tonkin Bay incident — in other words, in a military confrontation presented to the world as initiated by the other side. American people would never be offered the choice of going or not going to war. The U.S. air force and navy, unlike the army and marines, are by no means overstretched in Iraq. They do have the capability to do considerable damage to the nuclear installations. What is more, the Bush administration could present to the American public impressive front-page pictures of these installations lying in ruins. It could then leave office claiming “Mission Accomplished.” It would work — in the short term.

The chickens would come to roast in the following months. Such military action would delay — not scuttle — the nuclear program. Iran would withdraw from the Non-Proliferation Treaty and openly strive for nuclear weapons. The regime would not fall — rather it would be strengthened since it would use national emergency to silence all opposition. What is more, air strikes would not close a chapter but would open up a new disaster — on the titanic scale of the Thirty Years’ War. Iran would retaliate where the U.S. is weakest — in Iraq and Afghanistan. It would give the green light to local forces itching to take on the U.S. For the last few years, it has used all its influence to restrain the same forces in these two countries.

The change in Iranian policy would be a disaster for the U.S. — but a problem for the next President and future generations of American. The outgoing one could always claim that he left office having solved the problem. He would also claim that future problems were due to mistakes made by his predecessor. The Iraqi experience leads one to believe that Bush would get away with it. After all, how many critics of the Iraqi disaster blame the whole disaster on the initial invasion? Most blame the so-called “mistakes” on actions after the invasion. Since the American public seems to have lost the capacity to link cause and effect, politicians can get away with such disastrous wars.

Welcome to the 21st century and the end of history.


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