The Early Days of a Better Nation

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Another coalition of the willing

A few weeks ago, we were told that Israeli forces had been ordered to be ready by the end of March 2006 for an attack on Iran. Yesterday, it was reported that Israeli chief of staff General Dan Halutz had insisted that no such attack was necessary in the short term; that the time for Israel to worry about Iranian nuclear weapons was if and when Iran actually had any; and that by then, perhaps five years from now, more powers than Israel would have an interest in deterring any aggressive use of nuclear weapons by Iran.

Today, UPI reports that some mainstream German media have backed up an earlier Turkish media claim that top US officials have been trying to get Ankara and other allies and clients on board for 'a possible military strike against suspected nuclear sites in Iran in the New Year'. Kurt Nimmo (via Gary Leupp, who has more) highlights the negligible impact of the Turkish story in the US.

For some months now Jorge Hirsch, a nuclear physicist, has been warning that a US attack on Iran is imminent. The attack would be mainly from the air, with some involvement of special forces and local proxies on the ground. It would include the use of at least tactical nuclear weapons. Hirsch argues that such a use of nukes is a major object of the exercise: to demonstrate US willingness to pre-emptively go nuclear, and thus put beyond doubt its nuclear credibility.

Professor Hirsch's fellow columnist, Gordon Prather, has been running a longer track of articles arguing that the US and EU case that Iran is in any kind of serious breach of the NPT is a bum rap, and that Iran is being set up. On the evidence presented, maybe - but Israel, India and Pakistan all developed nuclear weapons in secret, as former CIA analysts Bill and Kathleen Christison point out, arguing that the anti-war case should in no way rest on the proposition that Iran isn't doing the same. They also urge:
"The peace movements of the entire world should be in crisis mode right now, working non-stop to prevent the U.S. and Israel from starting a war against Iran."
Needless to say, the peace movements are in no such crisis mode. One reason may that, learning from past mistakes, the US and UK haven't advertised any forthcoming attack on Iran. Instead, it has been stealth marketed. The assumptions and justifications that will be widely used after the fact have already been insinuated into public consciousness: Iran is in breach of the NPT, Iranian nuclear weapons are a threat to Israel and the West, Iran is aiding terrorists, etc. (Hirsch is good on this.) Another reason is that everyone's first response to the suggestion is that 'They're not that crazy! And don't they have their hands full already in Iraq?'

One answer to that objection was argued last September (i.e. before the recent Iraqi elections, which seem only to bear out its assessment of the US/UK predicament in Iraq, and also before the current trickle of revelations and speculations) by Mike Macnair, a British Marxist, in the middle of a long and complicated think-piece on antiwar movement strategy:
It may seem insane for the US to rattle sabres at Iran when the US's current allies in Iraq are the pro-Iranian islamist parties. But the internal logic of the situation in Iraq means precisely that the US needs to reduce the political autonomy of these parties in order to get a deal which will not look like a US defeat and a jihadi or islamic-revolutionary victory: and this means bringing Iran itself under control.

It may also seem insane for the US to rattle sabres at Iran when 140,000 US troops are 'bogged down' in Iraq. But the nature of the threat seems to be radically different to the threats and ultimate invasion of Iraq. The US is not threatening to invade Iran. Through indirect means (and perhaps also in private diplomatic communications), the US administration is threatening to use nuclear weapons against Iran.

It was leaked in July to a US conservative website that "The Pentagon, acting under instructions from vice-president Dick Cheney’s office, has tasked the United States Strategic Command (STRATCOM) with drawing up a contingency plan to be employed in response to another 9/11-type terrorist attack on the United States. The plan includes a large-scale air assault on Iran employing both conventional and tactical nuclear weapons" (The American Conservative, August 1). The claim has not been denied. More recently, there was a leak of a draft Pentagon document containing a more general account of plans for first use of nuclear weapons in a pre-emptive strike - not merely in response to a terrorist attack, but to 'threats' like the Iranian nuclear fuel enrichment programme (see New York Times September 11). The document has been confirmed as genuine.

From the point of view of the interests of the human species, for the US to nuke Iran would be almost the ultimate insanity. From the point of view of the Bush administration, however, the threat and if necessary use of nuclear weapons against Iran looks like a win-win strategy.

Iraq is beginning to look like a disaster not merely for the neocons' policy but also for the global authority of the US military. It is the global authority of the US military which backs the status of the dollar as the ultimate reserve currency and hence the elaborate financial manipulations of neoliberal 'globalisation'. There are thus very big stakes in the question as to whether a US pull-back from Iraq looks like a US defeat.

If the threat to nuke Iran produces an Iranian back-down and a diplomatic deal, that deal could extend to leverage over the Iraqi shia islamist parties, which would allow a form of withdrawal from Iraq which looked less like US defeat.

If the Iranians do not back down and the US actually drops the bomb on Iran, a moral and political line will be crossed which has held since 1945. The US will be able to hold the threat of nuclear attack over every country which does not already have strategic nuclear weapons targeted on the US. The authority of the US military will be reasserted, and what happens in Iraq will become unimportant to world politics.

As a relative incidental, the administration might calculate that dropping the bomb on Iran - or even making a credible threat to do so - might precipitate the overthrow of the clerical regime in some sort of coup. In this case, too, the Iraqi shia islamist parties would be deprived of their backer.

A serious and believable threat to make a nuclear attack on Iran, with a real willingness to do so if the Iranian regime does not back down, is therefore rational politics from the point of view of the US administration and potentially of the US state. It would be a gamble: maybe dropping the bomb on Iran would provoke not fear but a global backlash against the US. But the Bush administration has already, in Iraq, shown itself willing to gamble on a large scale, and Bush is no longer seeking re-election.

If Bush leaves office as the president who got the US into an Iraqi quagmire which was seen in the end as a US defeat, his memory will be damned on all sides. If he leaves office as the president who 'freed America’s hands' to use nuclear blackmail, and 'dealt with Iran', US big capital and its supporters may adopt the old motto,
oderint, dum metuant: 'Let them hate me, so long as they fear me.' He would then certainly have left his mark on history.
If the US and its allies had been successful in their plan to remake Iraq as a neoliberal regime, its neighbours would have been targeted next. The occupation has in fact led to an ongoing and destructive guerrilla war. But military victory in the invasion and threatened political defeat in the occupation is also leading to new threats: right now to bomb Iran. The best way to stop US-British aggression is for it to be politically defeated at home. If it is not politically defeated at home, it will go on until it eventually creates a coalition of major powers willing to fight the US in a general world war.
Cheerful cove, that Mike, eh? Always was. (I knew him, Horatio.)

Happy New Year.


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