17 January 2005
Let’s Attack Iran!
By Gwynne Dyer
Seymour Hersh’s “New Yorker” article about American forces carrying out reconnaissance missions in Iran to locate hidden Iranian nuclear facilities, presumably in order to be able to destroy them all in a surprise attack, may be “riddled with errors,” as the White House promptly alleged. It may be entirely true. And either way, it may have been deliberately leaked by the Bush administration to frighten Iran. But what was really revealing was the US media response to it.
There seems to be hardly anyone in the mainstream US media who is willing to question the assumption that Iranian nuclear weapons would be, say, ten times more dangerous than Chinese nuclear weapons. Yet China is a totalitarian Communist dictatorship while Iran is a partially democratic country struggling, so far unsuccessfully, to rid itself of the clique of deeply conservative mullahs who have dominated defence and foreign policy (together with much else) since 1979. Why is Iran seen as such a threat?
There was never an equivalent panic at the prospect of Chinese nuclear weapons. And it’s not just that China was too big to think of attacking, whereas Iran is just right: 70 million Iranians in a country three times the size of Iraq is a very big chunk to bite off militarily, especially since the US already has Iraq on its plate.
It’s not even as simple as the fact that Iran is Muslim, and that Americans have got really twitchy about Muslims with nuclear weapons since 9/11. They have, but there is no public anxiety in the United States about Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, let alone any agitation for some sort of “preemptive attack” to destroy them — and this despite the fact that a senior Pakistani nuclear scientist was caught selling nuclear weapons technology and knowledge to other Muslim countries, almost certainly with the complicity of some official circles in Islamabad.
Iran is not a “crazy state.” In the 25 years that the mullahs have been in power, they have not attacked any neighbouring state. When Iraq invaded Iran in the 1980s (with American encouragement and support), they fought a bitter eight-year war to repel the invasion but accepted a negotiated peace that simply restored the status quo.
They backed their fellow Shias in southern Lebanon in their long resistance to the Israeli occupation and continue to help them today — but if that is support for “terrorism,” it is only in the specific context of Arab resistance to Israeli military occupation. The only incident of international terrorism in which there was ever suspicion of Iranian involvement was the bombing of a American airliner over Lockerbie in Scotland in 1988, allegedly in retaliation for the shooting down of an Iranian airliner in the Gulf by a US warship — but the Lockerbie attack was eventually pinned on Libya instead.
As for the Iranian nuclear weapons programme, which almost certainly does exist in some form or other, its goal is presumably to create a deterrent to Israel’s hundreds of nuclear weapons. Since Israel has about a forty-year head-start in nuclear weapons production, Iran cannot realistically hope to achieve a first-strike capability against it, but even a few Iranian nuclear weapons that might survive to strike back would effectively remove a nuclear attack on Iran from Israel’s list of options.
Iran’s nuclear programme is not about the United States, and the notion that the Iranian government would give terrorists nuclear weapons to attack American targets is just paranoid fantasy. Besides, Iran doesn’t have any nuclear weapons yet, and if it sticks to the agreement it negotiated with the European contact group (Britain, France and Germany) late last year, it may never have them.
So why this apparent haste in the Bush administration to attack Iran now, and why the seeming enthusiasm for such a hare-brained project in wide sections of the US public (or at least of the media that claim to speak in their name)? Edward Luttwak, the military historian and strategic analyst who is renowned in Washington for his maverick views, recently described US foreign policy post-9/11 almost as an exercise in emotional physics. Never mind all the elaborate strategic plans and projects of the neo-conservatives, he implied; what really drives all this is just push-back.
After 9/11, there was an enormous need in the US to do something big, to smash stuff up and punish people for the hurt that had been done to Americans. Afghanistan was a logical and legitimate target of that anger, but it fell practically without a fight and left the national need for vengeance unassuaged. The invasion of Iraq was an emotional necessity if the rage was to be discharged, even though Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 and posed no threat to the United States.
In this interpretation, all the talk about attacking Iran is the last wave of this emotional binge running feebly up the beach, and it is unlikely to sweep everything away. The talk is still macho, but the performance is not there to back it up. What the US public gets for all the taxes it pays on defence — currently around $2,000 a year for every American man, woman and child — is armed forces that are barely capable of holding down one middle-sized Arab country.
There simply aren’t any American troops available to invade Iran, and air strikes will only annoy them. What would really tip the whole area into an acute crisis is a re-radicalised Iran that has concluded that it will never be secure until it has expelled the United States from the region.
To shortem to 725 words, omit paragraphs 3 and 4. (“There was…Islamabad”)