Brewing Up a Fool's War in the Gulf
Recently by Eric Margolis: A Gentle Voice of Reason for America
The United States and Iran are playing an increasingly dangerous game of chicken in the Gulf. Threats and counter-threats are flying fast and furious. War could be only an accidental ship collision or aircraft intrusion away.
Nations often blunder into war due to miscalculation, arrogance, or wrong intelligence. One need only recall August, 1914, when joyous throngs of French or Germans cried out, "on to Berlin!" and "On to Paris!" and "Home for Christmas."
The current confrontation between the US/Israel on one side and Iran on the other is about more than Tehran's UN-inspected nuclear power program that some claim is a front for developing nuclear weapons.
With Iraq defanged and Syria in turmoil, Iran is the last major Mideast state that refuses to be part of the US sphere of influence — what I call the American Raj.
As Iran's noisy defiance grows, Washington fears its influence and prestige will suffer unless it brings the annoying mullahs to heel. The so-called "Arab spring" has a confused Washington ready to lash out, as Libya showed. A crisis in the Gulf could derail US plans to reassert its influence over the Mideast.
Iran's nuclear program has become the symbol of that nation's fiery nationalism. Iranian leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, insists the West is determined to keep the Muslim world technologically backward. Iran's nuclear program is a great technological leap forward for all Muslims, asserts the ayatollah.
Embarrassingly for Washington's hawks, two recent US national intelligence estimates so far support the ayatollah's assertions that Iran's nuclear program is strictly for power generation.
However, US allies on the UN's Atomic Energy Agency continue to raise questions as to the intent of the Iranian program, without producing any hard proof of warlike intent.
Israel is straining every muscle to push the US into war against Iran, as it did in 2002-2003 with Iraq, thus sparing itself the difficult task. The recent string of murders of Iranian scientists appears designed to provoke Iran into a retaliation that would set in motion a full-scale war. So far, Iran has refrained from any retaliation.
The powerful US pro-Israel lobby and its Christian fundamentalist allies (now 44% of all Republican voters) have gotten Congress to impose new sanctions aimed at sharply curtailing Iran's oil exports — in effect, economic all-out warfare that could spark a shooting war. A war, like Afghanistan and Iraq, that the US bankrupt government will finance through borrowed money, not taxes.
Israel's rightwing Likud Party is using the non-existent threat of Iranian nuclear attack to divert attention from the burning issue of Palestine, and from Israel's own internal economic problems and protests.
America's media is baying for Iran's blood. We just saw Republican presidential candidates — Ron Paul and John Huntsmen excepted — vying to sound the most bloodthirsty over Iran.
Candidate Newt Gingrich got $5 million of indirect support from an American casino mogul who is a major financial backer of Israel's West Bank settlers and expansionist Likud Party.
My assessment is that America's military does not want war with Iran. Muscle-flexing yes to back up muscular diplomacy, but not a full-scale conflict involving repeated air and naval strikes against a minimum of 3,200 Iranian military and civilian targets, according to US Navy senior sources.
America's warplanes are aging or nearly worn out after Afghanistan and Iraq. Falling military budgets will make aircraft, missiles, bombs and ships harder and harder to replace.
The US has been at war about every five years or so since the 1950's. With 1,000 bases around the globe and 11 aircraft carrier battle groups, the Pentagon can no longer afford to project global power just as it's getting involved into East and West Africa, now America's leading source of non-North American oil. US military spending already accounts for almost half the global total.
All wars are unpredictable; all carefully laid plans break down after the first shot is fired. The Pentagon rightly fears it will get sucked into a wider war against Iran — including ground operations in which Iran could effectively fight back against US forces.
The vulnerability to attack by Iranian special forces of US bases in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and even Central Asia is of great concern to the Pentagon's Central Command.
Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became a celebrated hero in the war against Iraq for leading deep penetration raids into enemy territory.
For its part, Iran seems to be foolishly going out of its way to goad and challenge the US and its allies. Last week, Tehran trumpeted that it was producing more 20% enriched uranium at a new underground plant at Fordow.
Few westerners understand anything about nuclear technology, never mind making weapons. To them, the Iranian announcement translated into "Iranian Nuclear Weapons!" Iran's foes were delighted.
Iranian hardliners have told me they welcome war with the US. "The Americans will break their teeth on Iran!"
Brave words, but we heard similar foolhardy boasts from Iraqis in 2003.
Hot air, posturing and national egos can lead to disastrous real war — one that neither side wants, Israel excepted.
Fortunately, some wiser heads in Tehran — where figuring out who is really in charge is always a challenge — are letting in a new bunch of UN nuclear inspectors at month end and talking about more talks.
The Obama administration, showing more mettle than usual, has reportedly told Israel not to attack Iran without prior US approval.
A war over Iran is totally unnecessary and would be a major disaster for all concerned. But it could happen any day.
Eric Margolis [send him mail] is the author of War at the Top of the World and the new book, American Raj: Liberation or Domination?: Resolving the Conflict Between the West and the Muslim World. See his website.