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Friday, September 01, 2006

Thoughts on Iran

Within a few months, my prediction is that the U.S., Israel, or both with be dropping bombs on Iran. This offensive will not take place until the groundwork for the military strikes has been carefully laid out day after day, night after night in the American and Canadian media. Before the military offensive comes the P.R. offensive. The first battle in the war to win hearts and minds is fought against us; against the natural inclination of everyday people to just live their lives.

Whenever the U.S. starts beating the war drum, I'm always reminded of the words of Herman Goering at the Nuremberg trials:

"Of course the people don't want war. But after all, it's the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it's always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it's a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger."

When it comes to Iran, I seem to part ways with many people who share my skepticism. After all, they say, Iran is run by religious extremists who have denied the right of Israel to exist, and their leader has said that Israel should be wiped off the face of the earth. In principle, I agree with you, Steve, but in the real world, we have to get people like this before they get us.

That's how the conversation goes. Because our perceived enemies are relgious fanatics dead-set on doing us harm and incapable of being reasoned with, we have no alternative but to wage war.

But what if that's not the case? Matthew Iglesias asks some pertinent questions that could slow down the manufacting of consent to another war:

"The Iran debate has really become rather surreal. You have the "Islamofascist" locution jumping from the fever swamps of rightwing punditry into the mouth of the President of the United States. You have the Secretary of Defense issuing dire warnings of another Munich. These things are being done by the exact same people who, four years ago, were utterly dismissive of claims that invading Iraq was likely to serve Iranian interests better than American ones. Indeed, you have the exact same people who two years ago were assuring us that it made sense to commit American blood and treasure to fight Sunni insurgents on behalf of Iranian-backed Shiite militias now saying we need to commit more blood and treasure in Iraq to stop . . . Iranian-backed Shiite militias.

You have Richard Cohen, who backed the Iraq War and came to regret it, turning around and saying it's time to party like it's 1938. Meanwhile, this entire view of the world has, as best I can tell, no relationship whatsoever to reality.

Via Kevin Drum, David Ignatius is in Iran and reports that though "you might expect that Tehran would feel like a garrison town" it's actually surprisingly relaxed. But why might you expect that Teheran would feel like a garrison town? Well, you would if you've been following the media's dubious, highly-spun coverage of the issue. But you wouldn't if you asked yourself some basic questions. For example, if Iran is preparing to mount a Hitler-style bid for world domination they must be engaged in a big military build-up, right? But there is no such build up. Maybe there's no need for a build-up because the Iranian military is already so vast and mighty? Well, no. Iran has a defense budget of about $6 billion a year.

The United States spends over 50 times more than that. But perhaps comparisons to the USA are misleading. Lets compare our would-be regional hegemon to its neighbors. Well, Israel spends $9.6 billion and Saudi Arabia spends $25.2 billion. Pakistan, immediately adjacent to Iran and nuclear armed, actually has engaged in a recent defense buildup. What kind of quest for hegemony is Iran supposed to be on? Ignorant American pundits and television personalities may be unaware of these facts, but surely Iranian military and intelligence officials have noticed that Iran has no capacity whatsoever to conquer the region.

Meanwhile, the freaky and unpredictable Iranian regime has actually been in power for a very long time. Since before I was born. The regime is not only long-entrenched, but quite corrupt. Mightn't this lead you think it's being run by reasonably comfortable men who enjoy the fruits of power, intend to stay in power, and know a thing or two about maintaining their power rather than by irrational lunatics who've been waiting in the wings for 27 years preparing to spring their bid for world domination upon us without first having acquired so much as a single modern tank?

And then there's the small matter that our purported would-be Hitlers in Teheran were trying to reach a comprehensive peace agreement with the United States as recently as 2003. Their proposal was rejected by the Bush administration. Not rejected, I remind you, because the Bushies found the details of the proposal inadequate and Teheran refused to compromise further. No! It was rejected without any effort at negotiation because, at the time, the administration was busy threatening to overthrow the government of Iran as the second or third item in an ambitious plan to overthrow every government in the region.

So, here's Iran. Outgunned by its two leading religio-ideological antagonists, Israel and Saudi Arabia, in the region. One immediate neighbor is Pakistan, with a larger population base and a nuclear arsenal. Another immediate neighbor, Afghanistan, is occupied by soldiers under the command of an American president who has spurned peace offers and threatened to overthrow the Iranian government. A second immediate neighbor, Iraq, is occupied by a larger number of soldiers from the same country. The Iranian military's equipment is outdated and essentially incapable of mounting offensive operations. So Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons and missiles to deliver them. Under the circumstances, wouldn't you? Don't you think a little deterrence capability would serve the country well under those circumstances?

I'm sorry to have gone on at such great length here, and a little nervous about stepping outside the "sensible" zone with my commentary on this topic, but somebody needs to call bull$#*t on the prevailing elite consensus about Iran. Of course it would be better to find a way to persuade, cajole, whatever Iran out of going nuclear -- the spread of nuclear weapons is, as such, bad for the USA. But there's no need -- absolutely no need -- for this atmosphere of panic and paranoia".

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