January 17, 2005

Optimism Punished... Again

When, oh when, will I learn not to take seriously any impulse I may have, based on any evidence whatsoever, that the Bush administration will begin governing rationally? I was hopeful that in turning over to the Iranian government members of the terrorist Mujaheddin-e Khalq (MEK) and securing some payola for Halliburton with a contract to work on the world's largest natural gas field, that there wasn't much reason to worry about an attack on Iran.

But of course, this whole time, US forces are surveilling Iran for suitable air targets:

...A senior administration official involved in developing Iran policy rejected that argument. "It is not as simple as that," he told the Guardian at a recent foreign policy forum in Washington. "It is not a straightforward problem but at some point the costs of doing nothing may just become too high. In Iran you have the intersection of nuclear weapons and proven ties to terrorism. That is what we are looking at now." ...

Beautiful false dichotomy: We can do nothing, or we can release the hounds.

The risks of doing nothing do include possibly having to reckon with a nuclear Iran one day, except, not exactly. A significant majority of Iranians, about as many as despise the mullahs, want nuclear weapons. Many of their neighbors have them, their most powerful enemies have them, and they're seen as the ultimate deterrent. Whether Iran is friendly to us or not, attacked or not, they will want them. They have the money to just buy them from someone else, and probably would if they felt sufficiently threatened.

The real question is whether we could slow them down, or convince them that they could make better investments. In order to further discussion, I'll just ask this question: When in the history of the world has attacking someone convinced them that they need less weaponry?

We don't have the troops or werewithal to mount anything but an air campaign against Iran. Even if someone could make the argument that it's theoretically possible to take a country over and reform it (see Iraq, Afghanistan) as we would like, there's not the remotest possibility that this could be attempted in Iran. Air strikes will at most turn into a game of bear-baiting played with a bear that isn't chained to a post.

You see, unlike many of America's former targets, Iran actually has the power to hurt us badly with very little effort. They don't even need to use their missiles, risk their fighter jets, or expend their own troops. Not that I think they'd rule out a military response. They have, after all, had two very nearby examples of our military strategy in action, and I'm sure they've been paying close attention. But the point is that they can cause us pain either way.

Many Iraqi Shiites like Ayatollah Sistani were refugees in Iran for years, and thousands of them are still there. Right now, American troops are mainly dealing with Sunni insurgents, while major Shiite figures have in contrast been supporting elections and trying to play peacemaker with their more hotheaded cohorts. Is anyone stupid enough to believe that they're lying low because they're afraid of us?

It was suggested in this thread over at Steve Gilliard's site that the Arab-Persian divide would minimize Iranian influence. To reiterate what I said in response, Iran is a multiethnic society, and ethnic Persians only make up half the population. Virtually all of the -stan countries in the region were formerly part of Persia, and by formerly, I mean within the last 200 years. Even today, Iran proper contains Turkmens (as in, from Turkmenistan, and distinct from the Turks), Turks, Azeris, Armenians, Kurds, etc. People of Arabic descent make up about 10% (very rough guesstimate) of the population, but currently, the ruling Ayatollahs and militant islamists running the country come almost entirely from the Iranian Arab ethnic group.

It should be added that all of these non-Persian ethnic groups are by and large (though you never can tell about the Kurds, and who can blame them) loyal Iranian nationalists. Saddam Hussein bet that the ethnic Arabs would welcome his invasion and help him secure at least a breakaway province or so. They were the first to fight.

The main divide between Iran and the rest of the Arab world is their Shi'a version of Islam vs. the more prevalent Sunni version. This obviously isn't a problem for their relations with and influence on Iraqi Shiites, and didn't prevent Ahmed Chalabi fleeing there after doublecrossing the US. It also doesn't prevent them from coordinating with Syria, revving up Hezbollah, or supporting anti-US factions in Afghanistan.

Anyway, I'm not the only one who would rule out the likelihood that the Bush administration would avoid doing something because it was stupid. From the close of the Guardian article quoted above:

...A recent war-game carried out by retired military officers, intelligence officials and diplomats for the Atlantic Monthly, came to the conclusion that there were no feasible military options and if negotiations and the threat of sanctions fail, the US might have to accept Iran as a nuclear power.

However, Sam Gardiner, a retired air force colonel who led the war-game, acknowledged that the Bush administration might not come to the same conclusion.

"Everything you hear about the planning for Iraq suggests logic may not be the basis for the decision," he said.

Mr Gerecht, who took part in the war-game but dissented from the conclusion, believes the Bush White House, still mired in Iraq, has yet to make up its mind.

"The bureaucracy will come down on the side of doing nothing. The real issue is: will the president and the vice president disagree with them? If I were a betting man, I'd bet the US will not use pre-emptive force. However, I would not want to bet a lot."

Ultimately, the main thing that would be acheived by air strikes on Iran, or an ill-advised coup attempt via the hated MEK, would be to give the current government another twenty year free pass from the Iranian public. Being attacked by Hussein, who was being backed by most countries in the region as well as Europe and the US, unified the country and assured the public that at least their dictators would now be homegrown. While there is still a strong outside threat, Iranians will continue to tolerate the one political faction that's proven they can keep the bastards out.

But this is my guess: The Bush administration knows all of this and doesn't care. Enemies they may be, but American and Iranian hardliners have a great thing going, and neither of them want to ruin a good thing by chilling things out.

The Iranians will point to US threats, territorial violations, spying, sanctions, and any actual attack, and use it as a rallying point. They can say, 'See, we're right about the Great Satan. You need us to protect you.' US hardliners keep old grudges before the public eye, exaggerate threats, pretend that it's all about us (as though Iran had the Swiss for neighbors), and point to Iran whenever they run out of other boogeymen. Then they can say to the public, 'See, we're right about the world being full of enemies that only respond to force. Everyone's out to get us. And btw, we need another trillion dollars for military cost overruns.'

It's a perverse symbiosis, but it works for them. When enough people in both countries wake up and wonder if these parasites can really be considered loyal citizens, then there's a chance at some progress. The ordinary citizens of both countries, dare I say most countries, have a lot more in common with each other than with our selfish and reckless governments.

War means money that won't go to schools, where we might nourish the intellects that could think or invent, instead of bomb our way out of our myriad problems. War means money that doesn't house the elderly, clothe the poor, feed the starving, or treat the sick. It takes money away from affordable mass transit, which cuts the cost of living and raises quality of life dramatically. It diverts scientific resources from solving the problems of living sustainably into the questions of how to inflict death and destruction.

It's easy to destroy and hard to build, where 'it' stands for anything at all worth having. People have to wake up and stop accepting the ridiculous assertion that there are always and only two roads when resolving disputes, either 'doing nothing' or killing people. We must stop being afraid of pushing for peace, in which direction lies greater prosperity. We must begin insisting that instead of just planning for the next war, our government spend time planning for peace, and expanding our roster of friends.

Posted by natasha at January 17, 2005 10:37 PM | International | Technorati links |