Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Mad Mullahs of Washington

September 23, 2007

It is hard to believe that a country which is in the process of losing two wars would contemplate starting a third. But the Bush White House seems immune to logic or learning. The President takes his orders directly from God – I’m not being gratuitously nasty; I’m reporting what he says – and God apparently wants him to bomb the infidels to flinders, in case they might choose to bomb the US first.

And you thought the ayatollahs were fanatics.

One would think that the chaos in Afghanistan and the awful debacle of Iraq would keep this widely-despised, lame-duck administration busy enough not to blunder into an additional conflict with Iran. You might even think these bozos would have learned something from the bloody quagmires they’ve already created.

But every time I begin to relax, I hear another burst of bellicose rhetoric, or read about another donnybrook within the US administration over what to do about Iran. Sanctions? Negotiations, which Condoleeza Rice is said to favour? Or – Vice-President Cheney’s alleged preference – just bomb the hell out of them?

If you have an unsubtle mind, a hotline to the Divine, and an impatient nature, it’s tempting to think that you can solve complex problems with a straightforward resort to violence. Does Iran have nuclear ambitions? Yup. Very well, then: demolish their facilities, and your problem is solved.

If only. Flash back to 2003, to the “shock and awe” of the bombing of Baghdad. The Iraqi people – or peoples – were genuinely oppressed by Saddam Hussein. They were supposed to welcome the Americans as liberators – and at first, some did. But the liberators quickly dismantled the institutions of Iraqi society, and then discovered they had no real understanding of the country, and no way to maintain order.

They’ve been floundering ever since, killing and being killed. More Americans have died in Iraq than died in 9/11 – and the Iraqi death toll approaches 80,000, says iraqbodycount.org. Meanwhile the underlying tensions between Shia, Sunni and Kurd, once suppressed by the ruthlessness of Saddam Hussein, have mushroomed into an undeclared civil war.

So what about Iran? I recently gained some sense of life under Islamic theocracy from Azar Nafisi’s wonderful, courageous book, Reading Lolita in Tehran. If I were an Iranian, I would be desperate for relief from the unholy rule of the holy men. But that doesn’t mean I would welcome an invasion, any more than a dissident American would welcome an invasion from Russia to rid the White House of evangelical Christians.

Intelligence agencies agree that Iran can’t build actual nuclear weapons for several years, so there is time for negotiations. Meanwhile, we should recognize that the Iranian pursuit of nuclear weapons is a perfectly rational reaction to US policy. Remember Bush’s “axis of evil,” consisting of Iraq, Iran and North Korea? The US has since crushed Iraq, and North Korea once looked like the next major target. Then it got nuclear weapons, and suddenly it was able to negotiate successfully. The lesson for the Iranians – and perhaps the Syrians, the Venezuelans, the Cubans – is obvious: get your own nukes, and get ‘em fast.

To prevent that, writes Chris Hedges, former New York Times Middle East correspondent, the Pentagon “has reportedly drawn up plans for a series of air strikes against 1,200 targets in Iran.” The strikes would destroy Iran’s military power and nuclear installations in just three days. Shock and awe 2.0.

“But what then?” asks Hedges. The US military is already overtaxed by its commitments in Iraq. It couldn’t occupy Iran successfully. Meanwhile, enough Iranian missiles and coastal batteries would survive to hit Israeli cities, Saudi oil wells, and US troop concentrations in Iraq. And Iran could easily close the Strait of Hormuz, through which 20% of the world’s oil passes.

Israel might well respond to Iranian missiles by counter-attacking Iran, and also hitting Syria and Lebanon – and Israel does have nuclear weapons. So does Pakistan, where a huge Shiite population could overthrow President Musharraf, an uneasy ally of the US, in favour of a radical Islamic government sympathetic to Iran. How would India – another nuclear power – react to such a government? How would China and Russia respond to such nuclear wildfire on their doorsteps?

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have already destabilized the region. An attack on Iran could create a nuclear firestorm – and the conflict could easily spread beyond the region. Only a daft fanatic could contemplate tossing a match into such a heap of gunpowder. Only a fool could look at the Iraqi insurgency and the recrudescence of the Taliban and still believe that you can win people’s affections by bombing them.

The obvious lunacy of the idea should make it unthinkable. Alas, for the mad mullahs of Washington, its apocalyptic lunacy almost seems to be part of its appeal.

No comments: