Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Well, suppose this war does cripple us?/There'll always be Another

by Ken Houghton

The Economist is of Two Minds, both war-mongering

This is a late post, but I only just linked my print subscription to their website. (The article discussed appears to require a subscription. Those who have access to a library can find the print version in the May 6th issue, pp. 26-27)

The premise:
With the exception of Syria's, no government in the vicinity likes or trusts revolutionary Iran. And with the exception of Israel, no people in the region likes or trusts the Bush administration. As with Saddam Hussein's Iraq, most would love to see Iran's ambitions curtailed

Which is a difficult statement to rationalize in the context of
Iran is admired not merely for its defiance, but for its skill in first letting the superpower destroy its closest enemies--Baathist Iraq and Taliban Afghanistan [emphases mine]

Did Judith Miller write that "letting"? Certainly, Ahmad Chalabi is laughing all the way to the bank.

Strangely, the Economist concedes the worst-kept secret in the Middle East--that Israel has nuclear weapons. Is it any wonder then, that the question raised is a familiar one:
"What exactly is the Iranian threat to America, or to Israel for that matter?" asks a Saudi security consultant. "Even if they get an atom bomb, they can't use it without inviting their own destruction." Balancing Israel's local nuclear monopoly would not be bad for peace, he suggests. The only real danger he sees is of a nuclear accident inside earthquake-prone Iran spreading fall-out across the Gulf.

Never build a nuclear reactor on or near a fault line strikes me as Really Good Advice.

Juan Cole makes the point clearly by virtue of having looked at a map:
Moreover, Iran cannot fight Israel. It would be defeated in 72 hours, even if the US didn't come in, which it would (and rightly so if Israel were attacked). Iran is separated by several other countries from Israel. It has not attacked aggressively any other country militarily for over a century...It has only a weak, ineffective air force. [italics mine]

So Iran is not going to attack Israel, at least not Dick Cheney's lifetime. And there are several countries it would have to go through first.

There follow several paragraphs explaining how Iran is fiendishly clever, having trade and tourism relationships with its neighbors. And for having contingency plans in case it is attacked:
More ominously, [Saudi Arabia's leading broadsheet, Asharq Alawsat] has run stories, citing a senior source in the Iranian army, claiming that Iran has a plan, in the event of American military action, to stage suicide and rocket attacks, not only against Israel or Americans in Iraq, but also against Arab countries allied to America.

Imagine that! If at war, a country might consider attacking that aggressor's allies. Certainly no one would either consider such a thing or, Heaven forfend, plan for such a contingency!

The Economist's other history lesson is similarly enlightening:
Saudi Arabia has some experience of direct Iranian aggression. During the Iran-Iraq war, when the Saudis backed Saddam Hussein, they scrambled jet fighters to repulse Iranian aerial feints over their oilfields, while police in Mecca have often grappled with Iranian "pilgrims" [sic] using the haj as a chance for political agitation. Saudi Arabia's distrust also reflects its dislike for Iran's anti-monarchical model, and the opprobrium with which Wahhabist Sunnis regard Shias. [emphases mine]

Let's take those in order: (1) "direct Iranian aggression" means that their planes flew over your airspace (but did not attack) when you allied yourself with the aggressor against them; (2) the "political agitation" is caused in part because the Iranian model does not recognize hereditary monarchy but rather distributes power (another form of such distribution would be democracy--with which, certainly, the Iranian system should not be confused, but one might as well argue that Canadians are "anti-monarchical"); (3) Sunnis don't like Shi'ites.

This preponderance of common sense has a final sentence that must be seen to be, er, believed:
No wonder Saudi Arabia has close military ties with Pakistan, which may even extend to a (secretly promised) place beneath the Pakistani nuclear umbrella as well as the American one.

Yes, it is because of Iran--a country that didn't even attack when you supported its most bitter enemy, a country whose air force is ill-equipped and which has not been at war with anyone for over 15 years, or attacked in a century--that Saudi Arabia has been forced to align itself with Pakistan. Not even my old friend* Dafydd ab Hugh could create such a rationale from this cloth!

But the Economist is not content; it must make the case that Iran is responsible for All Evil in the World:
All America's Arab allies would like, for instance, to see Hamas sign the Saudi-sponsored initiative of 2002 that provides for the recognition of Israel. They would like to see stability in Lebanon, and resent the refusal of Iran-backed Hizbullah to tone down its militancy. Vocal support for Iran from the Muslim Brotherhood, which is the main opposition in many Arab countries, does not amuse the regimes it challenges.

Gosh, good thing no one in the region "destroy[ed] [Iran's] closest enemies--Baathist Iraq and Taliban Afghanistan," isn't it?

What do Iran's neighbors want?
"A strike against Iran would cause the whole region to explode," declared Jordan's King Abdullah recently. "Dialogue, patience and diplomacy are the only solution."

A reasonable English translation of that would be: "War would be stupid. They pose no threat. They can't even produce reactor grade nuclear fuel, let alone bomb-grade. They haven't attacked anyone. So attacking them would just radicalise their supporters in other countries--such as mine. Attacking Iran would cause uprisings that would de-stabilize the rest of the region."

The Economist, however, goes for war-mongering:
In other words, given the choice between eventual acceptance of a nuclear Iran and the more immediate danger of a vicious backlash, most of the region's regimes would opt for appeasement. [emphases mine]

No one with a knowledge of history--and certainly no Brit reading this newspaper, would take describing the opposition as practicing appeasement as anything but intentionally inflammatory. No matter that the "eventual"--and the matter that Iran has repeatedly reaffirmed its commitment to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty--belies any comparison to an Anschluss, let alone any imminent annexation of the Sudetenland.

The Economist is already resorting to Godwin's Law to buttress its arguments. Their thought process appears to mirror that of the King in the Stephen Schwartz-borrowed lyric that entitles to this post: leveraging the doctrine of pre-emptive war in an attempt to bring "democracy" to the Middle East has failed once, so let's try it again.

Hardly rational.
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