The Big Issue of 2014: Iran

Will it be peace – or will it be war?

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There’s no question what the big foreign policy issue for the Obama administration is going to be in 2014: Iran. How the US navigates the small space between war and peace in the volatile Middle East is going to determine the fate of our overextended and nearly bankrupt empire, and Tehran – the epicenter of yet another ginned up“crisis” – is ground zero.

This drama has been playing out over the course of the past decade, starting with the Bush administration’s weird relations with the mullahs – a relationship that was openly hostile and covertly something else altogether.

Team Bush regularly denounced Tehran as the main generator of terrorism in the region, and routinely threatened them, but these were mere words. In practice, US foreign policy actually favored the Iranians: the invasion of Iraq, engineered with the help of Iranian agent Ahmed Chalabi, eliminated their old enemy Saddam and opened up a whole new sphere of influence. The anti-Saddam groups that took power after the invasion and the much vaunted elections had long been headquartered and succored in Tehran, and when they reentered Iraq in the wake of the Americans’ short-lived “victory” the long arm of the mullahs reached all the way to the southern border with Saudi Arabia. Iraq today is an Iranian ally, albeit one that is still asking the US government for aid to fight the Sunnis and keep Kurdistan from hiving off.

This covert US-Iranian collaboration ended, however, with Israeli demands that their American patrons “do something” about the alleged Iranian nuclear threat. No sooner had we declared “mission accomplished” in Iraq then Tehran became the next targetin America’s ongoing Middle Eastern regime change operation. Sanctions, a propaganda war, a covert military campaign utilizing Sunni terrorist outfits like Jundullah in Iranian Baluchistan, and a sustained cyber-attack on Iran’s energy infrastructure soon followed.

The end of the Bush era did not signal any real change in US policy: the Obama administration not only continued and increased the economic sanctions, but there’s some question about whether the US is still supporting groups like Jundullah and the Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEK), which have conducted attacks on Iranian soil. However, the election of Barack Obama signaled a sea change in the American polity: a war weariness engendered by a decade of constant military action, which was in large par tresponsible for propelling Obama into the White House.

Yet the American ship of state doesn’t turn so easily: once it is set on its course, it is very difficult to turn around. We had been headed for war with Iran since the early part of the decade, and the War Party did not relent in its well-funded efforts to drag us into yet another Middle Eastern quagmire. As the Syrian “crisis” reached a dramatic climax with the chemical attack allegedly carried out by the forces of Bashar al-Assad, the cry went up: Intervene! All was set in place and the day when the bombs would fall on Syria approached – but it was not to be.

Everyone has a tipping point, a moment when the anxieties, the frustrations, the craziness is just too much: Americans experienced just such a collective tipping point when their President told them he was about to bomb Syria. The congressional switchboards lit up: seemingly with one voice the American people said: “No!” The lobbying efforts of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the powerhouse pro-Israel pressure group, were – for once – for naught. One by one members of Congress announced they would vote “No” on the authorization to use force. That authorization, by the way, was made possible by the President’s sudden – and surprising – decision that he would ask Congress for approval before the bombs began to fall. While denying he had a legal and constitutional obligation to go to Congress, the President is no fool: he understood he and his party would pay a political price for bowing to the Israeli lobby. It just wasn’t clear how high that price would be.

Once the price tag became apparent, and the number of defectors from his own party made the situation look all but hopeless, the administration was quick to fold. But the War Party had more cards up its sleeve – and they’ll be playing them in 2014.

Their biggest card is what has always been the War Party’s trump card: Israel, and its American amen corner. While AIPAC failed in its efforts to stem the rising tide of peace-mongering, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had several hands left to play.

Netanyahu has been openly threatening to attack Iran on his own, without an American green light, for years, and in the wake of the War Party’s defeat in the US he ratcheted up the bellicose rhetoric. After arming and subsidizing the Israeli war machine for decades, turning the Jewish state into the Sparta of the Middle East, the Americans suddenly have to deal with the possibility that their treasured “ally,” with whom they enjoy a “special relationship,” might go rogue.

With American troops spread out all across the region, from Iraq to the sheikdoms of the Persian Gulf and the wilds of Afghanistan, an Israeli attack on Iran would put thousands of American lives at risk. Furthermore, it would wreck the American economy with a single blow, driving up oil prices beyond the ability of the world economy to absorb the sudden shock – and, perhaps, sparking a global economic meltdown.

With a trump card like that, Bibi doesn’t have much to worry about. The Frankenstein monster we created can – and perhaps will – turn on us the moment the Israelis realize their game is up. And the Israelis have yet more cards to play: the “peace process” is limping along, as Netanyahu builds “settlements” and seizes more Palestinian land, making a two-state solution next to impossible without significant Israeli concessions. Would Kerry agree to overlook Israeli aggression on the ground in Palestine to prevent Israeli aggression against Iran? I’d bet the farm on it.

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