Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The coming war with Iran

It's usually bad a idea to stick one's neck out like this, but the coming crisis with Iran requires it. There will be war involving Iran by the end of 2008. The next president's first crisis will be this, not Iraq. See here for the skinny (requires subscription). An immediate consequence will be the end of the nuclear non-proliferation regime in place since the late 1960s, with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, and others crowding in to get their nuclear weapons too. This is a certainty if the US can no longer demonstrate an ability to shield its "allies" (read: dependencies).

The latest idiocy on this issue emanates from the usual places and postulates a détente with Iran. Apparently, the chattering classes don't yet realize that détente with Iran has already come and gone - the faux-reformers of a few years ago are without influence in the era of Ahmadinejad. The original détente, with the Soviets in the 1970s, made a limited sense then; although in the long run, it was no more than an interlude. With the present Iran, it's loopy. The real problem is that by getting ourselves into Iraq with little preparation for the cost and consequences, we're now hobbled in dealing with a much more serious threat from Iran. The Iranian problem would have happened anyway, but the Iraq war has accelerated it. Bush has not used the Iraq war in any advantageous way against Iran. He clearly needs to be replaced by someone - of either party - who knows what he's doing.

What were the neocons thinking in the 90s? Some of them did correctly emphasize Iran, but that's not what got transmitted into policy. What got into policy instead was an undeserved obsession with a country - Iraq - effectively neutralized in 1991 and a lot of dubious, fuzzy ideas about how the Middle East was "ripe" for constructive, Western-style political change. Nothing could show more clearly how little connection neocon theorizing has with Israeli views than this. The Israeli political, military, and intelligence establishment shows rare unanimity when it comes to Iran: since the early 90s, they have viewed Iran's quest for nuclear weapons as their biggest threat. OTOH, they regarded Iraq as defanged, a spent force. And Israelis would have laughed themselves to death at the neocon fantasy of "democratic transformation" of the Arab world.

OTOH, the fantasy of "realism," as it's played itself out in the last year, largely consists of conventional wisdom recycled from 10, 20, or 30 years ago. They include myopic denunciations of American policy as being "too tough" on Iran - when in fact, it's more likely too little, too late. Here's a really real principle of realpolitik the chatterboxes in the news media might consider - if they're not distracted by Britney Spears' latest underwear malfunction: peacemaking negotiations are possible when there isn't a powerful player able to block peace. E.g., Sadat kicked the Soviets out of Egypt in 1974, moved towards the US, and was able to make peace with Israel. The end of the Soviet Union and the defeat of Iraq in 1991 made the Oslo process and the Israel-Jordan peace deal possible. When a hardline rejectionist state like Iran is on the ascent (helped by a large, sustained jump in crude oil prices), peacemaking becomes much harder. When Iran gets nuclear weapons, peacemaking will become history.

Iran's insistence on butting into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and using it as an inflammatory rallying cry for Islamic radicalism means that a new "warrant for genocide" is being assembled before our eyes - that was the real meaning of the Holocaust-denial conference in Tehran. While the academic liberals and leftists bellow on and on about "never again" - meaning, never again the Nazi Holocaust in 1940s Europe - the next one is being prepared. The left in particular has played a disgraceful role in paving the way for the next crisis - as apologists, rationalizers, and liars - just as the isolationists and Nazi fellow-travellers did in the 1930s. Along with Jim Baker and Lee Hamilton, they will be remembered - if they are remembered - as the Chamberlins and Halifaxes of this generation. The media will be remembered - if they're remembered either - as having helped the crisis happen - just as the media of the 1930s did.

And it's not just Iran that keeps dragging Israel into the region's problems - for some never-clear reason, so do a lot of other people. What the Shi'ite revival, the Iranian missile threat to the region or to Europe, or the near-destruction of Lebanon by Hizbollah, Syria, and Iran have to do with the Israel-Palestinian conflict is a mystery. Really, they have little to do with each other, except perhaps indirectly. In any case, how Israel is supposed to negotiate seriously with a Palestianian quasi-state now at war with itself is a further mystery. The fatal obstacles to the formation of a Palestinian state come from Arab governments and the Palestinians, not from Israel.

The Bush administration's expensive fiasco in Iraq also has nothing to do with Israel, except in the fervid imaginations of certain people. The driving impulse, as far as we know from the people who did it, came from the desire to finish the Persian Gulf war in a different and more decisive way. It would have been a good idea then, and you can thank Baker & company for that not happening. But, after the 9/11 attacks, this predominantly neoconservative view failed to see that the rising threat in the Middle East comes from radical Islam. After the Persian Gulf war and the end of the Cold War, secular nationalist tyrants like Saddam have become yesteryear's failed idols. Such men - starting with Nasser and proceeding to the late Assad père and Qaddafi - have clearly had their day. The new, rising, cutting-edge radicals who replaced them are the bin Ladens, the Ahmadinejads, the Nasrallahs, and so on, with a new ideology and a new base.

There is a grand irony in the fantasies of Israeli control of American foreign policy, and it is this: if the United States had been channeling Israeli thinking under either Clinton or Bush, it would have been paying attention to Iran, its radicalism, its terrorism, and its quest for nuclear weapons much sooner. Israeli judgment, even in regards their own self-interest, is not flawless: witness the Oslo process. But the Israelis grasped soon after 1991 that the future major threat to them would come from Tehran, a point that has taken 15 years to sink in over here. They rightly discounted the post-1991 threat from a contained and nearly-vanquished Iraq. We would be in a very different place today had this history played differently: we could be consistently rallying Americans and other countries against radical Islam, undiverted and unburdened by having to straighten out the remains of Saddam's mini-gulag. Of course, we'd still have the Sunni branch of radicalism (al Qaeda) to deal with - a largely Saudi-Egyptian-Pakistani creature. Not accidentally, all three countries are major US allies - we're their protector and sugar daddy and hence a target of those governments' radical malcontents. Some people say the Iraq war has diverted American attention from al Qaeda, and that may be. Nonetheless, the real negative legacy that Bush leaves will probably be, not Iraq, but the failure to do something about Iran.

And naturally, if the Bush and two preceding adminstrations had been on this wavelength, the 2003 Iraq war would not have happened.

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