Shootout Is Inevitable
by Leon Hadar
Would US President
George W. Bush and Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad run into
each other by chance during their opening session of the United
Nations General Assembly this week? That seemed to be the major
concern occupying US officials. It seems White House aides were
doing their best to avoid a run-in between Mr. Bush and Mr. Ahmadinejad
in the hallways of the UN building in Manhattan; for example, the
Iranian leader "ambushing" Mr. Bush as he tries to enter
the lavatory, igniting a Clash of Civilizations in front of the
did not happen. Instead, the US and Iranian presidents engaged in
diplomatic histrionics, clashing at the UN on Tuesday during the
opening debate in the General Assembly. Mr. Bush made a direct appeal
to the Iranian people stressing that Washington has "no objection
to Iran's pursuit of a truly peaceful nuclear power program,"
while Mr. Ahmadinejad stressed several hours later that his government
was pursuing such a peaceful nuclear power program.
And if Mr.
Bush was arguing that the US confrontation with Iran was part of
a US-led campaign to establish democracy in the Middle East, his
Iranian nemesis contended that his proud nation was standing up
against US hegemonic ambitions in the Middle East and worldwide.
It is difficult
to figure out who had "won" this latest battle in the
arena of public theater. But the "narrative" that it helped
create seemed to play into the hands of Mr. Ahmadinejad whose interest
was to assert his nation's status as a Middle Eastern and global
power. Indeed, even the New York Times carried on its front
page on Wednesday the pictures side by side of Presidents Bush and
Ahmadinejad addressing the General Assembly with quotes from their
respective speeches, recalling the Cold War era when the newspaper
would apply similar editorial choices to cover UN speeches by the
US and Soviet leaders.
conventional wisdom in Washington is that Mr. Bush's address reflected
a more accommodative approach towards Iran. After all, even Mr.
Bush's insistence that his administration does not object to a "truly
peaceful" Iranian nuclear power program could be considered
a reversal from an earlier US policy that rejected any Iranian effort
to develop nuclear power.
At the same
time, all indications are that the Bush administration is continuing
to support the negotiations between the European Union members and
Iran that could lead to a peaceful diplomatic resolution of the
nuclear crisis with Teheran. Even Mr. Bush in his address expressed
his hopes that the United States and Iran one day will "be
good friends and close partners in the cause of peace."
that Washington may be pursuing a more accommodative approach towards
Teheran seemed to be creating a certain hysteria among the ranks
of the neoconservative intellectuals in Washington for whom diplomatic
"accommodation" is almost always equated with "appeasement."
speech marked "the final fizzling out of his Iran policy of
the past three years" David Frum, one of the leading neoconservative
ideologues (who as a former speech writer to Mr. Bush coined the
term "Axis of Evil"), argued this week. "The tough
talk of the 'axis of evil' speech of 2002 faded into the background,"
wrote Mr. Frum, a fellow with the American Enterprise Institute,
a neoconservative think-tank in Washington.
challenge the Iranian bomb program before the world?" he asked.
"He did not. He said nothing about it. There will be no UN
action, no Security Council sanctions, nothing." And Mr. Frum
concluded: "America's dwindling list of Iran options has dwindled
further to just two: unilateral military action without any semblance
of international approval to pre-empt the Iranian bomb program –
or acquiescence in that program."
seem to be based on fears – on the part of the neocons who are urging
the administration to do a "regime change" in Teheran,
and on wishful thinking – on the part of those in Washington who
are calling for pursuing a diplomatic détente towards Teheran.
journalist Seymour Hersh and other analysts have reported that President
Bush and his aides have already ordered the US military to prepare
for operations against Iran's nuclear military sites and have also
been providing assistance to Iranian exile groups. Indeed, retired
Air Force colonel Sam Gardiner, interviewed on CNN, said the Bush
administration had already given a "go ahead" to US military
operation against Iran.
we've probably been executing military operations inside Iran for
at least 18 months," Col. Gardner said. "The evidence
There are several
important reasons that are being advanced to claim that US would
not take a military action against Iran.
US military is overstretched in Iran and Afghanistan and does not
have the manpower that will be required for widening ground troops
operations in Iran.
is doubtful that the Americans could win the backing from the UN
Security Council for using military force against Iran. Russia and
China will probably veto such a move, while France and Britain will
probably not support it.
unilateral US attack on Iran could produce powerful anti-American
reactions among the Shi'ites in Iraq (that control the government),
in Lebanon (which could trigger a military confrontation with Israel)
and in other parts of the Middle East. Iran could also succeed in
rallying support for its cause in the entire Middle East and the
Muslim world, threatening pro-US regimes there.
a military confrontation between the US and Iran could force the
global price of oil into the stratosphere and devastate the American
and global economy.
But this line
of thinking, which assumes that Iran is now in a position to threaten
US interests in the Middle East and around the world and thus deter
the Americans from using their military power, also explains why
the Bush administration will probably end up doing exactly that
– taking military action against Iran. In a way, the Bush administration's
policies have created the conditions in which such an American move
becomes almost inevitable.
ousting of the Ba'athist regime in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan
enhanced Iran's position in the Persian Gulf by removing two strategic
threats to Iran.
coming to power in Baghdad of Shi'ite religious parties with strong
ties to the Shi'ite mullahs in Teheran has strengthened the political
power of Iran and Shi'ite communities around the Middle East, threatening
the interest of the pro-American Arab-Sunni regimes in Saudi Arabia,
Jordan and Egypt.
green light that Washington had given to Israel to attack the Hezbollah
guerillas in Lebanon has strengthened the political power of that
Shi'ite group and its leading ally, Iran, increasing the long-term
threats to America's ally, Israel.
the acquisition of nuclear military power by Iran will formalize
its position as the main regional hegemon in the Persian Gulf, and
make it likely that Saudi Arabia and other governments will try
to appease it. At the same time, a nuclear military stalemate between
Israel and Iran could weaken the strategic position of Israel and
by extension that of the US in the Middle East.
As the Bushies
see it, they need to "do something" to "correct"
the current balance of power which has been shifting in favor of
Iran (thanks to US policies, that is). While the diplomatic, military
and economic costs of a unilateral US military action against Iran
could be high, even if they involve only "surgical" attacks
against that country's nuclear military sites, it is important to
remember that in the aftermath of the mid-term Congressional elections
in November, President Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney will
be free to pursue even very politically costly moves since neither
of them will be running for office in 2008.
are now in the process of writing their historical legacy which
will center on their policies in the Middle East. Leaving office
with Iraq in ruins and Iran emerging as the military hegemon the
Persian Gulf – equipped with nuclear military power! – would damage
whatever remains of the Bush-Cheney "legacy."
While the possibility
of the Democrats taking over the House of Representatives and even
the Senate could make it difficult for the administration to deploy
more troops in Iraq, it will not face major opposition from the
mostly pro-Israeli Democrats on Capitol Hill if and when it decides
to take military action against Iran.
course, there is another way for Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney to deal
with the challenges they are facing in the Middle East: a diplomatic
dialogue with Iran (and Syria) combined with an effort to revive
the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. But for an administration
that has portrayed the Iranian regime as a member of the axis of
evil and has placed itself squarely behind Israel, such a move would
be out of character.
Hadar [send him mail] is
Washington correspondent for the Business
Times of Singapore and the author of Sandstorm:
Policy Failure in the Middle East (Palgrave Macmillan). Visit
© 2006 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. All rights reserved. Reprinted
with permission of the author.