The Iranians are contemplating two developments. First, to create a new oil exchange in March 2006, which will sell Iranian oil for euros. Second, to develop the nation’s nuclear technology capabilities, possibly for producing nuclear weapons, but officially for the generation of electricity.
Officially, the Bush Administration is deeply concerned about the second development. I have no doubt that it is deeply concerned in a surrogate sort of way, because politicians in the State of Israel are deeply concerned. They resent the fact that an Islamic country that is a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (1970) is taking steps that might conceivably lead to a deliberate violation of that treaty — a treaty that the State of Israel never signed, so as not to interfere with the production of hundreds of nuclear weapons.
In contrast to its official concern over Iran’s nuclear developments, the Bush Administration says not a word publicly about the first development, strictly peaceful, which would create new international demand for euros in place of dollars. This could break apart the lock-step decision of OPEC governments to accept payment only in dollars, a possibility welcomed by the Islamic press.
In an era when the dollar is the world’s reserve currency, held by central banks as a legal reserve for their nations’ domestic currencies, central bankers inflate their domestic currencies in order to purchase dollar-denominated, low-return investment assets. This is part of the mercantilism of central banking: an indirect subsidy to the domestic export sectors at the expense of monetary stability and also consumer sovereignty at home.
The introduction of a new oil market transacted in euros is a significant symbolic challenge to U.S. economic leadership. Symbols are important, which is why political leaders adopt them. After all, President Bush did not have to be flown in a naval jet from San Diego’s Naval Air Station to the Abraham Lincoln, which was floating just far enough away from San Diego to make a helicopter flight plausibly unacceptable. The carrier could have come a few miles closer to shore on the day before the famous “Mission Accomplished” photo-op and speech, which remains on the White House website: President Bush Announces Major Combat Operations in Iraq Have Ended. But, as the title of that speech reveals, symbols are not a politically safe substitute for reality.
How safe is Iran? To answer this crucial question, consider how it might be answered by Iran’s President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
THE DOCTOR IS IN!
The President of Iran holds a Ph.D. in engineering. Presumably, he has a working concept of cause and effect.
He rules in a Shi’ite-dominated nation that is sitting on top of what are the second-largest oil reserves in the world: 126 billion barrels. Iraq, commonly cited as number two, is probably number three, and given its present pipeline infrastructure and delivery problems, not a major factor.
He has replaced rule by the mullahs, who have been unable to persuade Iran’s youth to give up Western fashions, music, and dreams of economic prosperity. Yet toned-down attacks on Khomeini’s “Great Satan” still have a political market.
The President regards himself as what the American political tradition designates as a populist. He still lives in a small house in a working class neighborhood. Symbols do count for something.
From what we can tell from his language, he is a certifiable apocalyptic. He has said publicly that his work must prepare the way for the return of the Mahdi, Islam’s long-expected messianic deliverer.
In December 2005, after the crash of an ancient C-130 military plane in which 108 people died, he made this comment: “But what is important is that they have shown the way to martyrdom which we must follow.” This was a calculated political statement that was aimed at the hearts of tens of millions of Shi’ite voters. He who assumes otherwise does not understand the rhetoric of successful politicians. They know their market.
Why would this man fear an air attack by the United States? What has he got to lose?
HEADS, HE WINS
Consider his situation. He presides over a country whose majority regards Iran as a working political and spiritual model for the rest of Islam. Iran has oil. It is modernizing. It is Shi’ite. Shi’ites have now seen the defeat of their long-time Sunni enemy, Iraq. The elected government in Iraq is predominantly Shi’ite.
He has positioned himself as the Middle East’s preeminent nose-tweaker of the United States. In his November 17, 2005 speech before the United Nations General Assembly, he challenged the moral authority of the United States government to oppose Iran’s development of nuclear power. He did not mention the United States by name. He did not need to. His audience understood.
Thousands of nuclear warheads that are stockpiled in various locations coupled with programs to further develop these inhuman weapons have created a new atmosphere of repression and the rule of the machines of war, threatening the international community and even the citizens of the countries that possess them.
Ironically, those who have actually used nuclear weapons, continue to produce, stockpile and extensively test such weapons, have used depleted uranium bombs and bullets against tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, Kuwaitis, and even their own soldiers and those of their allies, afflicting them with incurable diseases, blatantly violate their obligations under the NPT, have refrained from signing the CTBT and have armed the Zionist occupation regime with WMDs, are not only refusing to remedy their past deeds, but in clear breech of the NPT, are trying to prevent other countries from acquiring the technology to produce peaceful nuclear energy.
All these problems emanate from the fact that justice and spirituality are missing in the way powerful governments conduct their affairs with other nations.
He was killing two birds with one rhetorical stone, linking the Great Satan with the Middle East’s universally hated nation, and then blaming the United States for that pariah nation’s nuclear weapons capabilities.
How could this speech hurt him back home? How could it hurt him in Islamic streets?
What if the United States drops assorted non-nuclear weapons on Iran before the bourse opens? The potential targets are many; the underground facilities will be hard to destroy. But what if all of them are taken out?
Iran instantly wins the legitimacy sweepstakes. Dr. Ahmadinejad becomes the first universally respected Shi’ite political leader in the Sunni- and Wahhabi-dominated Middle East. All across the Middle East, restive Muslims in the streets will start murmuring: “Where is our leader? Why doesn’t he stand up to the United States?” The answer is obvious: because he has long been bought off by the United States. Because, in the immortal words of Lyndon Johnson, the United States has his pecker in its pocket.
There will soon be a lot of newly exposed members at risk.
An unprovoked American attack on Iran will instantly and permanently de-legitimize every American client state in the Middle East. If the United States bombs Iran, the Bush Administration might as well send that “Mission Accomplished” banner to Al Qaeda headquarters.
The crucial issue here is political legitimacy of the nation-state. This is the supreme political issue of our day, as the great Israeli military historian Martin Van Creveld has argued in his book, The Rise and Decline of the State (Cambridge University Press, 1999). It is also the supreme strategic issue of fourth-generation warfare, the warfare of the rest of this century.
The day the bombs begin to fall, the mullahs will join ranks with teenagers in the streets of Tehran. Dr. Ahmadinejad will become as politically immune from public criticism as Mr. Bush was on September 12, 2001.
TAILS, WE LOSE
The day after the bombs begin to fall on Iran, clandestine weapons will begin to flow westward across the Iran-Iraq border. The Shi’ites in Iraq will instantly become the long-lost cousins of the Sunni resistance movement. There is an old Muslim saying,
“My brother and I against our cousin. We and our cousin against the world.”
The United States’ troops on the ground will discover the deadly power of that alliance. All co-operation from the Shi’ites will cease. There will be a unified anti-American front south of the Kurdish region.
The United States will be told to get out. If the government of Iraq does not issue this order immediately, its members had better be sure to renew their life insurance policies.
The Iraqi army will melt into the countryside. Anyone who stands up will be shot down.
HEAP BIG SMOKE, BUT NO FIRE
President Bush can issue warnings. The Administration can talk tough. But what is the point? The President of Iran can call the President of the United States’s bluff, if it is a bluff. He is doing this, day by day. He is not going to cooperate with the United Nations. There is no need to.
If it is not a bluff, and the bombs fall, the United States’ client regimes in the Middle East are as good as gone.
We will then be driven out of Iraq. This message will be fully understood by every Muslim in the street. The Great Satan can be whipped. No better reason exists to start looking for a local client to whip.
Iran cannot be occupied by U.S. troops. As retired four-star general and NBC commentator Barry McCaffrey said in mid-2005, the wheels are already close to coming off the Army’s machine in Iraq. So, the enforcement of any anti-nuclear technology development program is a bluff.
Iran’s program can be delayed a few years by bombing, but only at the price of solidifying Dr. Ahmadinejad’s rule in Iran and making him a regional symbol of Islamic defiance. In this non-elected office, he will replace Osama bin Laden. The difference is, Ahmadinejad is a legitimately elected President of a nation with a lot of oil.
This is about oil, political power, currencies, and above all, legitimacy. It is about the ability of the United States to change regimes its way and then preserve these new regimes from replacement by domestic enemies.
The United States and its client state regimes will be replaced in the Middle East. It is only a matter of time. If the United States bombs Iran, the timetable will speed up.
You may have heard of the catbird seat. Dr. Ahmadinejad is sitting in it.
January 25, 2006
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