Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.
The neo-cons, theo-cons and other clowns who helped generate the Iraq fiasco are back with a vengeance. This time the target has shifted east to a country with five times the population. The world will be a better place without Iran’s loathsome regime. It dispensed with its veneer of popular support and democracy by rigging the presidential election three years ago. It has cheerfully backed entities such as Hezbollah. And the nuclear program is a cause for concern and could start a nuclear domino effect in an unstable neighborhood.
Yet the clamor for war is profoundly misguided. Iran is a third rate military power with a crumbling economy. The recent round of sanctions have all but brought its economy to its knees and almost made it impossible for Iran to conduct foreign exchange transactions. Iran’s mullahs may speak in apocalyptic terms but have never displayed suicidal instincts. Ayatollah Khomeini wrote an open letter in 1986 to the present Supreme Leader (who was at the time the president of the Islamic Republic) asserting that if the survival of the Islamic regime was at stake, even the basic tenets of the religion could be shut down to protect the Islamic system from destruction. Like tyrants everywhere the ayatollahs have a fine sense of self-preservation.
Almost no military expert has asserted that a surgical strike like Israel’s 1981 attack on the Osirak reactor in Iraq and its 2007 attack on a Syrian nuclear project would stop Iran’s nuclear program. The distances are too great, the sites are too spread out (and many are buried deep underground beyond the reach of Israeli bombs) and Israel may not have the military capacity to pull off such an assault. The result of such a strike would probably simply delay the Iranian march to the bomb (a popular policy goal that has been an Iranian dream since the reign of the last Shah) and convince the regime that only a nuclear device will protect it from future assaults (a lesson that the North Koreans appear to have taken from Saddam Hussein’s demise). Eliminating the current nuclear program would probably require a sustained bombing campaign (which would require American help), lead to far greater civilian casualties and further rile anti-American sentiment in the Arab world. And then there is the added economic shock of spiking oil prices and Iran unleashing its proxies in the region.
Finally the American army needs a break. The United States army was trained to fight the Red Army tank divisions in the plains of Central Europe. Yet for the last decade it has been fighting two draining counter-insurgency campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even the best trained army in the world can only take so much. It is a factor that must be considered before the chickenhawks send the army into yet another poorly thought out war.
There has been a tendency in the past decade to compare every nasty regime to Hitler. Hitler ruled the most populous and industrialized state in Europe whose industrial regions (unlike France) had not been damaged by World War I. He had an extremely well trained army and the industrial complex to support rearmament and conquest. Saddam, Gaddafi, Assad and the Iranian mullahs do not come close to measuring up. The Iranian army has never recovered from the purges after the fall of the Shah. Iran’s domestic politics force the regime to shower goodies on the revolutionary guard at the expense of the army at large. Barring the rally around the flag effect from a foreign attack, Iran’s youth despises its regime. With much of the world rallied around the United States in enforcing sanctions against Iran, a war makes no sense at this time.
The loudest cheerleader for war has been Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu – over the advice of many of his own military advisers. This blogger’s inner cynic notes that banging the war drums has allowed Netanyahu to avoid tough decisions on illegal settlement expansion in the West Bank that is slowly strangling what remains of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. At present the Iranian regime is on its knees, the Syrian regime is struggling to survive, Hezbollah’s enthusiastic embrace of Assad is destroying its domestic support base and Hamas appears to have lost its Syrian support. A far sighted statesman would seize the favorable strategic environment to finalize a deal with the Palestinians (who do need to come to terms with the fact that the right of return is simply not happening). But then other than his enablers in the United States and the irredentist wing in Israel, nobody has accused Mr. Netanyahu of visionary statesmanship.
Barack Obama has held off the war cries for the last three years. Here’s hoping he holds strong in the face of a media campaign from people whose credibility should have been shot after Iraq.