Well, it seems we are truly slouching — stumbling drunkenly, actually — toward war with Iran. While I’ve hemmed and hawed on the subject, it seems at this point that Team Bush will, sometime before the fall (and possibly as soon as the summer), attack Iran. It appears as inevitable as the coming of spring or the raising of the federal debt limit.
The war, if it comes, will not be fought because Iran is trying to create a euro-denominated spot and futures market for oil. Nor will it come because Iran is allegedly pursuing nuclear weapons, though that will be the excuse given at forums in New York, in salons across Europe, and at angry, hectoring press conferences here in Mordor-on-the-Potomac. No, the real reason the United States will wage war on Iran is because the Bush Jong Il régime will decide the only way to save face and withdraw from Iraq with some "dignity" in fact is to bomb Iran.
And the Democrats, worthless "opposition" that they are, have made Iran the centerpiece of a ridiculous strategy of being to the "right" of Republicans on matters of national security (sic), of becoming more hawkish than thou in order to never be on the "wrong" side of another American war ever again.
I see the following "strategy" arising to deal with the clear and present defeat of American arms in Iraq (and by defeat, I mean this — that force was employed in pursuit of an unachievable political goal, that being the "duh-mocratizing" of the Arab Middle East) — Team Bush is going to decide, soon, that sponsoring Shia-majority government in Iraq was a very bad idea, that Iraq’s Shia (or anyone else’s Shia) should not be allowed anywhere near a ballot box, mainly because they vote for all the wrong people (dour men with turbans, who will never again be allowed on ballots in proper, well-managed duh-mocracies). And the only way out of the mess that has been made is to find some Sunnis willing to play nice with Uncle Sam, with the Kurds and with the well-shaved men and uncovered women of the country, and then back them to hilt. I don’t think this decision has been made yet, but it will be made soon. In fact, if (when?) Iraq slips into open sectarian war, this choice will become the only real logical choice for the idiots at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. and their equally incompetent counterparts in the various sub-basements of the Pentagon. The goal will be to create and install a "Saddam With a Human Face," a dictator who can rule with a firm hand but without all the monument building, invading his neighbors and threatening Israel.
Assuming that régime survives (it may survive as long as Najibullah survived the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, a venture our Iraq sojourn is resembling more and more every day), post-Amreekee Iraq is not going to look much different than pre-Amreekee Iraq. Well, okay, it will be a lot shabbier, and there will be a lot more Iraqi graves, and Iraqis may swear eternal vengeance on the ignorant and cruel people who tore their country and their lives to shreds for the last three years (expect that anyway). But, for those of us sitting elsewhere, it will be a net wash. Maybe the mustache on the dictator will change. But that’s about all.
At the same time this is all happening, it will be decided that the reason the whole duh-mocracy in Iraq thing failed was because Iran meddled. It’s all Teheran’s fault. The bombing of Iran’s nuclear sites, its governmental installations, the infiltration of commandos to commit acts of terrorism by blowing stuff up and killing people, will all be part of a general war against the Shia of the Middle East. There may also be joint Israeli-American attacks on Hizbullah in Lebanon. The air campaign against Iran will last anywhere from four days to two weeks, and it will go well (from a Pentagon standpoint, not an Iranian or human one). The US Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps will lose few planes, and no one will really care how many Iranians get killed. (Europe is learning not to care about the welfare or even shared humanity of Muslims — funny how valuable all this nonsense about a handful of dumb cartoons may end up being). After all, about the only things Americans can really do well anymore is bomb stuff from the air. Over and over again, for the last nearly 40 years, we have shown just how well we’ve mastered this economically worthless skill. So well, in fact, that we are a nation mainly of bombers or wanna-be-bombers, a tiny few perched in actual cockpits while many dream and practice at computers of actually doing the evil deed. (And that makes us different from the Muslims we condemn exactly how? Because we don’t blow ourselves up while we do it? Because we’ve leveraged very expensive high technology to do it?)
I don’t expect many US troops to actually cross Iranian borders. In fact, the attack on Iran may be part of a general evacuation of American troops from Iraq, part of the "Iraqization" process and how Team Bush "helps" the Iraqi military cope with the civil war. The goal will not be to unseat the Iranian government. It won’t even be to really eradicate Iran’s nuclear program. It will simply be to show the world that the US of A is still strong, still mighty, still matters, that no one f**ks with the United States of America, that we can still beat up on people who make us mad. That various American administrations have to try to keep "teaching" that lesson time and again to the world at large pretty well means it isn’t really true and that most everyone in the world who isn’t an American (along with a few Americans) knows this.
After all, do truly strong and confident people — or communities of people — need to go around beating up on others all the time?
But I’m fairly convinced that, for political reasons, an attack on Iran will be for the Bush people what the invasions of Laos and Cambodia were for the Nixon people — an expansion of the war as political eyewash to cover the defeat and justify a withdrawal. It will still be a murderous, foolish and pointless expansion, but it will be in aid of a general retreat, and not part of any "new phase" of "The Long War." The whole point of the never-ending war on whatever to begin with was to create and sustain permanent Republican rule, and it has more or less blown up in Karl Rove’s and George W. Bush’s faces. I think the rank-and-file GOP recognize a loss when they see it, and are maybe fearing for their political futures. But nationalism and militarism, in this context, are Republican problems at least back to the 1950s and possibly all the way back to the 1890s (and maybe even the 1850s and 1860s). Republicans have never learned to square the circle of their mistrust of government power to set minimum wages and hand out groceries to the poor with their confused mishmash of love of country, love of executive power and love of the military (and whatever war it is waging at the time). In the era of the Cold War and beyond, American nationalism and militarism became a kind of mystical religion for the GOP. However, like any form of idolatry, it offers peace and comfort for the soul but fails utterly to deliver, while the molech at the center of all its demonic practices — the executive presidency — angrily demands more young victims, more burnt offerings, and more treasure to feed its insatiable appetite. As pointless as the invasion and occupation of Iraq has been, I don’t expect the GOP faith in their idol to change much, though dreams of world conquest and management will likely be tempered, at least for a while. (That’s my hope, anyway.)
At some point, you would think enough Americans — even the dumb ones who, like trained animals, salivate thoughtlessly at the sight of a fluttering flag — will begin to balk at it all. One can only feed a hungry, demanding idol for so long.
But where we go I do not know, for the Democrats also long ago gave themselves over to false gods made of stone, steel, and bad ideas. While most of the base of the party may have grown opposed to war — and the permanent warfare state — in most of its incarnations, senior Democrats have clearly decided that a little war (or a whole lot) is not necessarily a bad thing for either the state or society. Since William Jennings Bryan and Woodrow Wilson (each in their own awful ways) turned the Democrats into the party of paternalistic government, Democrats have had few problems with government action of any kind, domestic or foreign. And the beauty of duh-mocracy is that leaders need never listen to the rank-and-file. Or voters, for that matter.
Democrats have their own reasons for supporting an attack on Iran, most of which have nothing to do with covering a retreat from Iraq (because most senior Democrats don’t want a retreat). There is the desire by the party’s New York and Washington policy elite that war must be maintained as a policy option, for those Democrats have not (and likely will never) abandon their Social Democratic dreams of world management and world governance. But the party’s brightest lights (sic) also want to make sure they are never on the wrong side of an American war ever again, never burning flags or draft cards, never making impassioned speeches against intervention, never tossing medals and ribbons into bonfires. I always found it interesting that most of the anti-Iraq invasion talking heads on teevee and radio couched their opposition to the war in terms of Bush Jong Il not being serious about real threats — Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, even Saudi Arabia. They weren’t so much against the war; they were merely opposed to Bush’s war.
Iran is also, for good, secular, progressive Democrats, the reddest red state in the world, a theocracy ruled by ignorant, angry men who hate and repress women, young people, ethnic minorities, homosexuals and Jews — all in the name of God. They may not be able to liberate backwards-looking Texas, or Utah, or Alabama from the tight clutches of pastors, bishops and televangelists (at least not yet), but they can bomb the bejeezus out of Qom, Teheran and Isfahan, and they can impose régime change (for unlike the Bush people, they want it) on far-away places in need of good, enlightened, secular, professional and modern management.
Lastly, some Democrats may simply hold a grudge against Iran, because it was its mad mullahs who unseated Jimmy Carter and made possible the long reign of the GOP. (Think about it: Ayatollah Khomeini may have saved us from an eventual Ted Kennedy presidency, so consider that next time you go to curse Iran.) And they may be seeking to settle the score. Carter himself may have a different opinion on the matter, but like yours and mine, his doesn’t matter to the current Democrat leadership either.
So the Democratic leadership will cheer the war on, all the while criticizing Bush Jong Il’s efforts as "half-hearted" and harping incessantly that it can be better waged — more, meaner, faster. What appeal that will have in a country increasingly weary of war, intervention and the costs in blood, security and treasure is beyond me. Eventually, if the likes of Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama keep it up, it could make the phrase "Democrat War" real currency again in parts of the country where it matters. It may even be possible — though such an outcome is almost certainly too much to hope for — that the long-mentioned GOP of the non-interventionists (at home and abroad) may be reborn. I’ve always believed that party was more myth than reality, but if it ever comes to pass, I might even support it.
I don’t expect the Iranians to sit still during an attack. Teheran and its allies have pretty well mastered the art of asymmetrical warfare, the roadside bomb and suicide attack, and I have no doubt they will do so again, especially against the dispersed and vulnerable US forces currently occupying Iraq. Depending on how extensive the Teheran-allied terror networks are, how well organized they are, that war could quickly come home in a way that could make us all nostalgic for September 11, 2001. Claude Mandil, the head of the Paris-based International Energy Agency, may say the world has enough crude oil on hand to cope with any disruption of Iran’s 2.5 million barrels-per-day of exports, but I don’t find that much comfort, especially since the oil terminals and refineries of the Arab Gulf are just so many shiny, easily combustible targets within range of Iranian conventional and unconventional weapons. A couple of successful attacks on the Gulf’s oil facilities and the resulting rise in crude oil prices could sink the world economy. Hizbullah and Hamas are the only militaries in the Arab world that have gone toe-to-toe with the Israeli Defense Forces and come out ahead, so they’re not that afraid of conventional armies. The Sunni and Shia of Iraq have learned a similar lesson over the last three years. There are certain advantages to fearing God more than either death or the United States of America.
And what if Teheran or those sympathetic to its cause manage to attack the US in response? Lost liberties would no longer be a mere phantom menacing the nation — they would truly be gone, swept up with Arabs, Iranians, Muslims, peace activists and maybe even dissident Internet columnists and other disloyal types. Or at least the government would try. Team Bush has shown — consistently and repeatedly — that it simply cannot make government really work. Even given as much taxed and borrowed money the Bush Jong Il régime spends, we ought to be thankful for that incompetence, because Democrats, at least the vocal ones wanting to become world controllers again, are going to argue, hector and demand more, meaner, faster. And Democrats, unfortunately, have a track record. They often times really can make government work better. None of us should want that. Ever.
If war with Iran comes — and I hope it is not the crazed, looming inevitability it appears to be right now — neither peace nor freedom will have many high-placed friends in this country. But at least maybe enough Americans will finally realize the truth — that we the people are not the government, that we have almost no say over anything it does, and that those who make its laws, craft its rules and carry them out care nary a whit for our welfare, security and well-being.
Charles H. Featherstone [send him mail] is a Washington, D.C.-based journalist specializing in energy, the Middle East, and Islam. He lives with his wife Jennifer in Alexandria, Virginia.