The Iranians just dont get it. What theyre supposed to do in response to the superheated rhetoric coming out of Washington and the full-scale dress rehearsals for a bombing raid on their country coming out of Israel is cower, downplay their own military prowess, and hope for the best. But no. Instead, Tehran is puffing up its chest, issuing hair-raising threats of its own and even Photoshopping its military arsenal to make it look more fearsome.
This last is really indicative of just how much of a real “threat” the Iranians pose. Here they are, testing medium and long-range Shahab missiles, and releasing photos of the launch except that only three out of the four missiles shown taking off are real. The fourth has been superimposed on the original photo using Photoshop, a computer program that manipulates digital images.
Are we really supposed to take the alleged Iranian “threat” which Barack Obama deems “the greatest strategic challenge to the United States in the region in a generation” seriously? Not unless Photoshop is reclassified as a “weapon of mass destruction.”
The brouhaha surrounding the Iran issue has been taken up several notches on account of this missile launch, but lets look at how much of a real danger it really poses.
We also need to look at it in context: dont forget that this launch came in the wake of a massive Israeli military exercise involving more than 100 F15 and F16 fighters which simulated a bombing campaign against Iran. Israeli helicopters and tankers (bought and paid for by the US taxpayers) traveled 900 miles westward from bases in Israel, about the same distance as that between Israel and Iran’s suspected nuclear sites. This display of military capability was meant to underscore months of rhetorical firepower directed at Tehran by Israeli politicians and public officials such as Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz, who openly declared that war with Iran is “inevitable.”
What was the reaction to this Israeli war dance in the West? It was merely noted: nowhere was this massive and quite impressive dress rehearsal for war described as a provocation, except perhaps in the Arab media.
On top of that, Israel has been openly urging the US to attack Iran, with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert making a special trip to Washington for the express purpose of warmongering, and the powerful Israel lobby pushing for a naval blockade of Iran that would surely end in war. Yet none of this is considered at all provocative, at least by the American news media, while Irans Photoshopped military assets are deemed a deadly threat.
Naturally, John McCain took advantage of the Iranian missile show to display his own bellicosity, stating that “Iran’s most recent missile tests demonstrate again the dangers it poses to its neighbors and to the wider region, especially Israel,” and reiterating his support for the “missile defense” systems that we have sold to the Poles and the Czechs about the last countries on earth likely to suffer an attack from the Iranians.
Obama, for his part, repeated his call for “aggressive diplomacy” and stepped up economic sanctions, while falling for the Iran “threat” hoax, intoning: “The threat from Iran’s nuclear program is real and it is grave.” Yes, the threat is real except when its Photoshop.
The Bush administration, for its part, reacted far less belligerently than the two presidential campaigns, playing down the scope and seriousness of the Iranian display by disputing the Iranian claim that there were two tests. “A senior Pentagon official said news reports that there were two rounds of tests were incorrect,” reported the Washington Post, “because all eight missiles were fired on the same day, within hours of one another.” Defense secretary Robert Gates characterized the recent flurry of activity by Iran and Israel as “a lot of signaling going on,” just as Undersecretary of State William J. Burns went before Congress and testified that “While deeply troubling, Iran’s real nuclear progress has been less than the sum of its boasts.”
If that doesnt undermine the case for war, then nothing will. In any case, whats interesting here is that the Obama campaign is more belligerent and concerned with putting the Iranians in their place than the Bush administration. While divided on Iraq, the bipartisan Washington consensus on Iran is clear enough: Tehran must be brought to heel, either by “coercive diplomacy” or pure coercion bereft of diplomatic pretense.
Irans sin isnt harboring “weapons of mass destruction” our own National Intelligence Estimate says they gave up all efforts to build nuclear weapons years ago. Our own CIA denigrates the “intelligence” provided by the Israelis, and the wacko dissidents of the Peoples Mujahideen an Iranian neo-Marxist cult that supposedly has Tehran about ready to deploy.
Nor is Irans real sin providing weapons and training to insurgent groups fighting and killing US troops in Iraq, in spite of the administrations rhetoric. Every time the Pentagon has been challenged to actually produce evidence of Iranian military aid to the so-called special groups, which supposedly are being sent by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards across the border into Iraq, they always come up short.
As for the charge that the Iranians have trained our Iraqi enemies the truth is that they trained (and armed) our alleged friends, the Shiite militias of the ruling parties who support the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. However, its far too late to do anything about that. This training, you see, took place during the years of Saddams reign, when Tehran succored and gave sanctuary to underground Shiite resistance groups fighting Baathist rule. Thanks to us, the leaders of these groups are now the rulers of Iraq.
No, Irans real transgression is to oppose Americas will: that is the unforgivable sin for which it must be punished without hesitation or mercy. In the court of American elite opinion, defiance is a capital offense. Iran must be made an example of and, in spite of the moderating influence of Gates and the “realists” within the administration, it most likely will be. The point of going to war with Iran is identical to that which motivated the invasion and occupation of Iraq: to show the world what happens when a mid-level regional power stands up to the global hegemon.
That is what being the worlds last remaining superpower a “hyperpower,” as the French would have it is all about: confronting various regional troublemakers, and bullying them back into their respective corners. Once one such aspiring challenger is allowed to get away with defying the hegemon, then others will soon follow suit until the US loses its preeminence on account of its inability to confront multiple challenges on every front.
In contemplating the course of American foreign policy since the end of the Second World War and especially since 9/11 I find myself drawn back on more than one occasion to the penultimate chapter of Garet Garretts 1956 book, The American Story, which opens like this:
“How now, thou American, frustrated crusader, do you know where you are?
“Is it security you want? There is no security at the top of the world.
“To thine own self a liberator, to the world an alarming portent, do you know where you are going from here?”
Those words were written half a century ago, but they are truer today than on the day the prolific and prescient Garrett set them to paper. The bigger and more powerful we become, the less secure we are: its the imperial paradox, a conundrum that wont be solved until its far too late to do anything about it.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
Speaking of Iran, here I am in Takis Magazine writing about that weirdo Ahmadinejad, along with some reflections on the fourth of July. Oh, and speaking of threats, you wont want to miss my piece on the threat posed by gay marriage to my own perpetual bachelor-hood.