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Iran Attack Not a Problem, Say War Wonks

06.25.2008 | POLITICS

Earlier this month, more than a hundred Israeli fighter pilots strutted their right stuff back and forth over the eastern Mediterranean. "There is no way," Helena Cobban reminds us at Just World News, that this exercise wasn't either condoned by the US or a "US-supported or US-funded exercise, carried out by Israeli pilots in planes given to Israel by the US."

Meanwhile, an Israeli official had no qualms about designating it "a dress rehearsal." For what? A theatrical production of "Apocalypse Now"?

But, said International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamad ElBaradei, "If a military strike is carried out against Iran at this time. . . it would make me unable to continue my work." Talk about your hollow threats: Should he follow through, the Bush administration and Israel would jump for joy.

Like Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar, ElBaradei is a Nobel Laureate who gets no respect (though at least he's not under house arrest like she is). His outburst, however, may just have been a spontaneous expression of frustration. When it comes to Iran, the administration never seems to run out of tricks.

Like this one -- even if it does read like something from the late Weekly World News -- as posted by the esteemed Juan Cole at Informed Comment. It seems that a conservative Iranian newspaper reported that, "Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is alleging that the US had planned to abduct him when he visited Baghdad in March, but that the plan was foiled."

In response, a commenter tagged BF noted: "The news in Persian further states that according to Mr Ahmadinejad, the US had intended to blackmail Iran for the release of him. [Thus illustrating] the illusion that Mr Ahmadinejad must entertain" about Iranians' love for him. Still, as we all know, there are few depths to which Bush & Co. won't stoop. Besides, the task could have been delegated to Iraqi proxies.

Meanwhile, the US, Russia, Britain, France, and China (the P5 + 1 -- Germany) offered economic incentives to persuade Tehran to halt uranium enrichment. In response, Reuters reported Thursday, Ahmadinejad called the six nations "the bullying powers."

Also Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki informed the US that since it's "currently testing a fifth-generation nuclear bomb. . . . America is not in the position to be happy or unhappy with our peaceful nuclear activities." Still, he notified the P5+1 countries of Iran's readiness to negotiate.

But what if the administration finally wears down the Pentagon and gets it to agree to attack Iran? No big deal. Those who think it might kill untold numbers of Iranians, expose us to large-scale blowback, and disrupt the oil markets are just Chicken Littles.

At least that's what a recent report from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy would have us believe. As David Isenberg explains at Asia Times Online, WINEP, founded by an AIPAC research director who later became ambassador to Israel, is regarded as integral to the pro-Israel lobby.

To be fair, Patrick Clawson and Michael Eisenstadt, the authors of the report, entitled "The Last Resort: Consequences of Preventive Military Action against Iran," don't exactly advocate military action against Iran. At least not yet: "The time is not right. . . diplomacy continues to offer at least a modest prospect of success."

But, they maintain, "the time is right to assess the possible consequences" of an attack. First, though, especially because the administration has a credibility problem after invading Iraq under false pretenses, they insist on consensus. Then, should push come to shove, Clawson and Eisenstadt have a novel idea. The most effective strikes, "may not necessarily be against nuclear facilities. Iran is extraordinarily vulnerable to attacks on its oil export infrastructure."

Iran can get by without oil export revenues for a year, they explain. But "the political shock of losing the oil income could cause Iran to rethink its nuclear stance -- in ways that attacks on its nuclear infrastructure might not."

But what about our economy? If "the choice is between higher oil prices" and a nuclear Iran, they lecture us, higher oil prices "are not clearly the greater evil."

Clawson and Eisenstadt do warn that after a strike, Iran might conclude that its nuclear program "should be pursued with greater urgency." In the short term, though, they seem to think that retaliation on the part of Iran might pose but a minor inconvenience.

For example, regarding fears that Iran's navy could stop the shipment of oil through the Persian Gulf, they write: "Large tankers are very difficult to sink. . . Mines can be swept. . . sea lanes cleared."

Even more comforting, the "Strait of Hormuz is sufficiently broad and deep to enable tankers to bypass the hulks of wrecked or sunken ships." When it comes to a good cause, what's a lost ship or three and the bloated bodies of a few hundred US naval personnel bobbing on the surface of the Persian Gulf?

Clawson and Eisenstadt also make a perfunctory nod to concerns about enemy casualties. "Anecdotal reporting from recent wars in the Balkans and Iraq featuring precision strikes [sic] indicates that after a few days of bombing, civilians realized that as long as they stayed away from military facilities or potential strategic targets, they could go about their business reasonably safely, even during air raids." We're sure that, in the same situation, the authors' families would have just as little trouble adjusting.

Besides, Clawson and Eisenstadt write, a conflict would likely "settle down after several weeks. . . into a protracted, low-intensity conflict, involving terrorist attacks by Iranian agents or surrogates against U.S. interests around the world, and U.S. retaliatory actions." You can see why Ms. Cobban called the report the "Cakewalk paper."

Soft-pedaling the horror of a massive air attack after what we've wrought in Iraq is bad enough. But think tanks like WINEP and the neocon American Enterprise Institute leapfrog over exactly why they've got it in for Iran.

In other words, they make no mention of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty's fourth amendment, which provides signees to the pact with the right to nuclear energy. As for nuclear weapons, think-tankers -- most of Washington, in fact -- and the US public seem incapable of seeing the issue from the viewpoint of the Persian and Arab street.

How come their countries can't have nuclear weapons when their neighbor Israel has not only developed them, but, like North Korea and Pakistan, failed to even sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty? Not to mention that the US flagrantly disregards its commitment to the NPT to disarm in a timely fashion.

"We're all grown-ups here," Washington tells itself. "Sure, we're making ElBaradei's life miserable and giving little more than lip service to the NPT. But, come on. Iran is mad. Its president is apoplectic, its religion apocalyptic."

The irony, of course, is that this applies at least as much to the US as Iran. But Iran has an own irony of its own to contend with. At, David Andelman reviewed a book published in France last year titled Iran, Le Choix des Armes by Francois Heisbourg, a former French government official.

Without a nuclear weapon, Andelman writes, Iran "is well placed to claim leadership" of the Middle East. Yet "if armed with a nuclear weapon, its advantage evaporates, as a nuclear arms race in the region would find a host of other neighboring states buying their way into the nuclear arms club."

Meanwhile, the American public isn't putting up much in the way of obstacles before the administration. We allowed it to attack Iraq because its reasons, however false, made sense to us. Now we're allowing it to attack Iran because it makes no sense to us.

Perhaps because common sense enjoys the status of an eleventh commandment in America, we fail to appreciate the lack of it on the part of the administration, even after Iraq and Katrina. Also, for better or worse, we're constitutionally incapable of summoning up sufficient cynicism to imagine the moral depravity required to start another war.

About the Author
Russ Wellen is an editor at Freezerbox who specializes in foreign affairs and nuclear deproliferation.
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