For months perhaps even a couple of years I have been downplaying the likelihood that Bush would be so foolish as to start a war with Iran, especially in light of how much more difficult such a war would be than the war on Iraq and how thinly the military is stretched. It’s not that I don’t think the neocons want such a war or that Bush isn’t just irresponsible enough to do it. I have figured that the military would point out the logistical problems and simply let him know in no uncertain terms that it can’t be done. And I still think that’s a possibility, perhaps even likelihood.
Over the last few weeks, however, I have to admit I’ve become a bit less certain. The leaking of a tentative decision to declare Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, the country’s 125,000-strong elite military branch, as a “specially designated global terrorist” group is an important indicator. It turns out that like China’s army, the IRGC has business interests, some of them overseas, and so such a designation could have an impact on them. The step, if taken, would be the first time an official arm of a standing government has been labeled a terrorist group by the U.S., so it is purposely provocative.
Robert Baer, the former CIA operative, writes, “Officials I talk to in Washington vote for a hit on the IRGC, maybe within the next six months. And they think that as long as we have bombers and missiles in the air, we will hit Iran’s nuclear facilities. An awe and shock campaign lite, if you will. But frankly, they’re guessing; after Iraq, the White House trusts no one, especially the bureaucracy.” Baer notes that “the military suspects but cannot prove that the IRGC is the main supplier of sophisticated improvised explosive devices killing our forces ion Iraq and Afghanistan.” But the case is still circumstantial. However, the case that Iraq had WMD before the U.S. invaded was less than circumstantial.
Baer also thinks that various neocons in and out of the White House believe that the Revolutionary Guard is the only institution keeping the mullahs in power, and that if it is seriously weakened the regime will fall of its own weight. That is undoubtedly fantasy, but anyone who doubts the capacity of neocons and the president to convince themselves of what they prefer to believe may also be living in a fantasy world. After all, these people still seem to believe that the Iraq war is, if not a roaring success just yet, right on the verge of being one.
Then there’s Arnaud de Borchgrave, former editor of the Washington Times, now editor at large for UPI and a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. I know he works part of the time for the Moonies, but I’ve met him, talked extensively with him on several occasions, and believe he’s more independent than you might think. The fact that I like and respect him may skew my judgment, but I do know he has good contacts and sources around the world. So when he reports that French president Nicholas Sarkozy “came away [from the visit at Kennebunkport] convinced his U.S. counterpart is serious about bombing Iran’s secret nuclear facilities. That’s the reading as it filtered back to Europe’s foreign ministries,” I take it somewhat seriously.
If you want a really frightening scenario laid out and have the patience to read a fairly long and involved post, check this out at Arthur Silber’s Once Upon a Time. He points out that “The Senate approved by a vote of 97 to nothing an amendment that accuses Iran of committing acts of war against the United States. Thus, if we were to attack Iran, we would purportedly only be acting defensively, and in response to what Iran has already done.” Both the 2001 post-9/11 congressional authorization to go after terrorists and the 2002 authorization to attack Iraq could thus be stretched to cover an attack on Iran. Silber thinks that if Congress is serious about deterring a war on Iran it should rescind both resolutions. But that’s unlikely to happen. Every Democrat in the Senate voted for the provocative Lieberman-led resolution, so “when the wider war begins, they will have no serious basis on which to object.”
“Democrats don’t object and they completely fail to mount serious opposition to our inevitable course toward widening war and an attack on Iran, not because they are cowards, not because they’re afraid of being portrayed as ‘weak’ in the fight against terrorism, and not because of any of the other excuses that are regularly offered by their defenders. They don’t object because they don’t object. That is: they agree they agree that the United States is the ‘indispensable’ nation, that we have the ‘right’ to tell every other country how it is ‘permitted’ to act, that we must pursuer a policy of aggressive interventionism [see Barack Obama on Pakistan] supported by an empire of military bases. They agree about all of it; moreover, in most critical respects, they devised these policies in the first instance, and they implemented and defended them more vigorously and more consistently than Republicans, with the exception of the criminal now residing in the White House.”
Then there’s Sarkozy saying he’s not quite for a military attack but France won’t stand for Iran getting a bomb. De Borchgrave writes that “a ranking Swiss official, speaking privately, said ‘Anyone with a modicum of experience in the Middle East knows that any bombing of Iran would touch off at the very least regional instability and what could be an unmitigated disaster for Western interests.'” But given the way they’ve cherry-picked the evidence on Iraq post-invasion, Bush and the neocons would undoubtedly interpret the worst imaginable disaster as a solid step toward freedom and democracy.
It would be almost clinically insane to start a war with Iran, but I’m more worried than I have been that it could happen.
The circumstances militating against it still obtain. Iran is bigger than Iraq and has a better military. It could blockade the Strait of Hormuz and otherwise disrupt oil shipping through the Persian Gulf. It could easily come to dominate the Shia portion of Iraq, at least. It could finance and help more attacks against Israel by Hamas, Hezbollah, and other forces arrayed against Israel and Lebanon. It has the capacity, more than Iraq ever did, to train, finance, and equip people to carry out terrorist attacks in Europe and the United States. It’s doubtful that it has nuclear-weapons capability, but it could launch rockets and missiles that just might reach Israel. Chaos and war could spread across the globe and leave the United States even more isolated than it is now.
But superficial military thinkers have been thinking ever since Gen. Billy Mitchell, despite all the experience militating against the notion, that air power alone can bring a nation to its knees. I have little doubt that people are filling Bush’s ears even now with scenarios in which aerial bombing and naval bombardment bring the mullahs’ regime down and lead to the triumph of democracy and enlightenment, not to mention more oil. I’m afraid he might believe it.