Friday, September 21, 2007

Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know

Iran, Nixon, Bush, and terminal idiocy

Tribune Column 21 September

Richard Nixon famously had the "Madman Strategy" to intimidate his enemies. But it was not really a strategy, it was more of a tactic. It is George W. Bush who has elevated lunacy or at least idiocy, to a strategy. And what is more, it appears the ailment is contagious, possibly even epidemic.

Of course it makes no sense to attack Iran… but all the signs are that that is what the White House coterie is up to. The rhetoric from all the usual suspects is uncannily similar to what we heard the run up to the Iraq invasion – along with the detachment from reality of the deluded proponents.

Just consider General Petraeus's evidence to Congress last week. He is a political general, appointed by Bush to tell the legislators what the White House wanted to hear. And he did. The legislators and the press, hypnotized by the uniform, took what he said as gospel; although some of the bolder souls did indeed point out that he has consistently seen silver linings in the clouds over Baghdad.

Petraeus's delivery elided Al-Qaeda, insurgents, Iran and the Shi'a militias as if they were a seamless whole, implying that Teheran is behind the deaths of Americans in Iraq, and by a few degrees of separation, sponsoring Osama Bin Laden.

Let us consider Iran. It is indeed governed by faith-based zealots who are enthusiastic practitioners of the death penalty. But unlike the US it has not invaded any of its neighbouring countries.

Indeed, Saddam Hussein, with American and British support invaded Iran and fought one of the longest and most bloody wars of aggression of the second half of the Twentieth Century. Ahmedinejad is, to put it kindly, not the brightest star in the diplomatic firmament, but on examination, a lot of what his detractors accuse him of saying is the subject of willful mistranslation, and he has consistently denied military nuclear ambitions.

The Non-Proliferation Treaty binds Iran. – unlike nuclear powers Indian and Pakistan, the former of which has been given the green light by the US in defiance of the treaty while the latter has military and security officers who have a proven record of favoring the Taliban. It is legitimate to ask why on earth an oil–rich country like Iran should embark on a perilous road to nuclear energy, but one could answer that the reasons may be similar to those which impelled a coal and oil rich country like Great Britain to be actively considering expansion of nuclear reactor capability.

But who do you trust on these issues? Nobel prize-winner Mohammed El Baradei of the IAEA, who was completely vindicated about Iraq's lack of a nuclear programme, or the recidivist liars and fabulists who hymned our way into the disastrous invasion?

As El Baradei said in Vienna this week, "There are rules on how to use force, and I would hope that everybody would have gotten the lesson after the Iraq situation, where 700,000 innocent civilians have lost their lives on the suspicion that a country has nuclear weapons."

He thinks he has pulled off a deal, but it is hardly surprising that the murderous clots who brought us the Iraq debacle are again attacking him furiously. Of course, they might be right, and Iran may indeed have nuclear ambitions. But the burden of proof really has to meet an even higher standard than normal because of their own proven predilection for telling political expedient whoppers.

Of course, some of the biggest proponents of an attack on Iran come from Israel. Israel has invaded its neighbour Lebanon over and over again, using modern weaponry supplied by the United States. It has nuclear weapons. It recently flew a provocative sortie into Syria, possibly alienating Turkey in the process. It is occupying parts of Syria, the West Bank and Gaza. So do we really take their word for it that Iran needs dealing with?

Luckily, there are some signs of inoculation against this pervasive insanity. It appears that British officers are demurring at being moved to the Iranian border in order to act as a trip wire if the Revolutionary Guards come swarming over the Iraqi border in retaliation for whatever the Israelis or Americans have done. But they hardly need to.

The Anglo-American invasion of Iraq handed over control of large swathes of the country to Shi'a groups and militia who, if you believe Petraeus, take orders from their coreligionists in Teheran. Even taking his conspiracist scripts with a hint of skepticism, one can assume that the Shi'a in Iraq will not take kindly to an attack on Iran whether by the US, or by Israel with tacit US backing.

There is no way that Israel would attack Iran in the teeth of US displeasure, and of course any Iranian retaliation would then trigger American support. I suppose it would then mean that US troops would be out of Iraq, dead or alive, but with the parlous state of the world economy, all it needs is Gulf Oil to be out of the markets to cause the mother of all crashes.

But surely the Democrats in Congress would oppose an attack? Don't bet on it. Mesmerized by talk of terrorism and attacks on GI's, whipped in by AIPAC, the Israel Lobby, most of the presidential contenders are sleepwalking to disaster- assisted it might be added by inept diplomacy. It's no way to run a world.

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