With all eyes focused on Iowa, what is happening in the Persian Gulf escapes most everyone’s notice. The babble of competing voices – the nattering nabobs of the mainstream media, the “spin”-doctors, the lobbyists and special interests currently inundating the airwaves with propaganda – drowns out everything else. Nothing short of a major terrorist attack could possibly compete with the Iowa story – and yet what happens in the Gulf, or doesn’t happen, will reshape the American political landscape and may well determine the course of the presidential election.
“I recommend and emphasize to the American carrier not to return to the Persian Gulf. I advise, recommend and warn them (the Americans) over the return of this carrier to the Persian Gulf because we are not in the habit of warning more than once.”
Bold words, backed up by very little. It turns out those supposedly “long range” missiles they test-fired to top off their recent military exercises couldn’t even reach Bahrain, let alone Israel – and were entirely the creation of Photoshop. This posturing is for domestic consumption: as the sanctions continue to bite, the regime seeks to divert popular anger over the country’s worsening economic crisis and put the full blame on the Americans (and, as always, the Brits).
The war of words also serves the purposes of our domestic demagogues. US presidential candidate Rick Santorum responded to the Iranians’ meaningless chest-beating with practiced cluelessness, announcing he wouldn’t hesitate to bomb Iran for fear of rendering America a “paper tiger.” The Pentagon, for its part, had a more measured response, as Ha’aretz reports:
“Asked later Tuesday if the U.S. intends to send naval reinforcements to the Gulf in response to Iranian talk of closing the Strait of Hormuz, Pentagon spokesperson George Little did not answer directly but said, ‘No one in this government seeks confrontation over the Strait of Hormuz. It’s important to lower the temperature.’”
A significant faction within the US military is opposed to the War Party’s latest crusade: you’ll recall Admiral William Fallon’s very public dissent from the bomb-bomb-bomb-Iran crowd in 2008, leading to his resignation as chief of the US Central Command. Among the top officer corps, Fallon is far from alone.
This dissent, however, comes a little too late, since we are already at war with Iran: the economic sanctions we’ve imposed are in themselves acts of war, and the latest version – sanctions on banks that do business with Iran – are already having their effect: a drop in the value of Iranian currency.
It is rank hypocrisy for the US to point to the Iranian threat to close the Strait of Hormuz when Washington is seeking to block commerce traversing the Strait by imposing sanctions on Iranian oil. The Iranians know very well that the sanctions cannot be enforced without a military blockade – and that is the next logical step on the road to war.
By all means, enjoy the Iowa circus: I certainly am having fun with it. What makes it a Circus Macabre, however, is that it takes place in the shadow of a looming catastrophe: the advent of World War III, and the onset of a second Great Depression.
Santorum’s fear that the US will be considered a “paper tiger” is entirely rational, albeit not in the sense he means it. The “paper tiger” isn’t our lack of military prowess, but rather our paper money we are degrading to the point of utter worthlessness. As the mountain of debt grows higher, our real national security interests are being subverted by militarists of Santorum’s stripe who don’t understand a simple fact: we’re bankrupt.
Bankrupt empires are prone to sudden collapse: witness the fate of the Soviet Union. Neither our think tank “experts” nor the intelligence community had a clue prior to the downing of the Berlin Wall that the mighty Kremlin was on the verge of imploding – and it looks like the same cluelessness is at work as their own empire reaches the meltdown point.
Imperialism is a luxury we can no longer afford, and yet long after the empire has been foreclosed our rulers will continue to strut about on the international stage as if the United States mattered. Even as we descend into the economic abyss, we’ll be hearing from the Santorums, the Bachmanns, the Gingriches, and the Romneys about the glories of “American exceptionalism” and our duty to police the world – and they’ll find a substantial audience in some quarters. Major changes take a long time to register in the public mind: that’s why the rulers of a declining empire are likely to act with the same overweening arrogance years after the underlying reality no longer lends credence to their empty posturing.
We are at a particularly dangerous
juncture. War with Iran would destroy, with one stroke, the spotty economic
“recovery” and plunge world markets into chaos. Yet this grim prospect
– which was the official rationale for the biggest
bailout in history – doesn’t deter our warmongers in the least.
The economic case against war with Iran should be enough to convince
any rational person that peaceful engagement with Tehran is the only
The problem is that economics takes a back seat to politics: that is what’s driving us into an open conflict with Iran. While the IAEA report contains no new information about Iran’s alleged nuclear arms program, and while our own intelligence assessment says they stopped all work on nukes in 2003 [.pdf], war serves the political interests of several major factions within the US elite. First and foremost is the powerful Israel lobby, which exerts a major influence on both political parties: they long ago targeted Iran for destruction, echoing the laughable assertions of Israeli officials that Iran represents an “existential threat” to the Jewish state’s very existence. Secondly, the neoconservative faction of the GOP, which has glommed onto the Romney campaign, and has its voice in Fox News and the Murdoch media empire: that crowd welcomes any and all wars as an expression of “national greatness.” Thirdly, the powerful pro-Israel faction of the Democratic party, which wields a lot of influence among the top donors: centered in Hillary’s State Department, this powerful pressure group has kept the US from pursuing a more evenhanded policy in the Middle East.
To reiterate the central insight of what I call “libertarian realism”: foreign policy is all about domestic politics. It doesn’t matter if war with Iran would have devastating consequences for ordinary Americans: as long as war serves the political interests of our governing elite, then war we shall have.