Friday, July 11, 2008
Belligerent rhetoric about Iran's global status is business as usual. Plans for an attack of some kind are a frequent feature of Israeli gasconade, and the propaganda machine is constantly churning out new intrigues - with confections about the scale of Iran's putative nuclear threat now on the agenda of many pro-Washington reporters, as they attempt to efface the memory of the calamitous NIE. Incidentally, an attempt by MediaLens to check one of the journalists involved in reproducing such guff, one Bronwen Maddox of The Times, resulted in an absurd legal threat from one of Murdoch's lawyers. There is, detectibly, an escalation in the war rhetoric. Ehud Barak has indicated that Israel is ready to do to Iran what it did to Iraq in 1981 (which would actually be very difficult because Iran's nuclear energy programme - not nuclear weapons programme - is far better protected than Saddam's weapons systems).
The US is now permitting Israeli planes to use Iraqi air space and American air bases in Iraq - they presumably don't have to ask Maliki what he thinks about it. And though it has sort of slipped into the recesses of media memory, the recent Iranian missile tests were preceded by Israeli military exercises in the Mediterranean. The US is already escalating its campaign of subversion and terrorism inside Iran. Every major contender in US politics, including Barack 'sweetie' Obama, has to pay lip service to the supposed threat from Iran - about which something must be done.
So, is it serious, or are they just paper tigers? Are the running dogs of imperialism all bark and no bite, as Tom Engelhardt suggests? I must admit that I don't find myself reassured by his answers. Yes, oil prices could soar catastrophically, but so far the Bush administration has not demonstrated much concern about high oil prices, in part because the energy sector that backs them so heavily is making a killing out of this. Yes, Iran could retaliate, but if they really want to whack Iran they would be willing to risk that. It's small beer compared to letting that punk Ahmadinejad run his mouth whenever he feels like it. One possible counterargument is that Iran is a stabilising factor in Iraq and Afghanistan, despite the protestations of the US government and its Israeli ally. But this all depends on a calculation about Iranian behaviour in the event of a short, sharp attack. If they calculate that the Iranian ruling class is divided and that a substantial enough sector would prefer a Modern Right president to Ahmadinejad's 'populist' administration, then they might see a bombing raid as a perfect catalyst to open those divisions and weaken the Iranian president. There may indeed be substantial opposition within the US ruling class and the state apparatus to such an attack, but this adventurist administration not only ruled out reality - we create our own reality, remember? - but sidelined sizeable dissidence from within the state. One can talk about Bush being a lame duck, but neither he nor his confederates show any sign of being chastened (Bush has recently shared one of his little 'jokes' which roughly resembles a large, bony middle-finger to the world). Certainly they have had to deal with political realities that override their urge to radically restructure the global order, as in the removal of North Korea from the 'Axis of Evil', but Iran is far more geopolitically central to US designs than North Korea, and actually doesn't have the nuclear weapons programmes that North Korea does have, and openly states it has. The causes for trepidation in the case of North Korea, and sensible bargaining, are not necessarily present to the same degree in Iran. And while they are no longer threatening North Korea, they are threatening Iran, big time. Besides, it would be nice to leave Bush's successor with a little parting gift.
And if the belligerents can't force the policy through at a national level, they can always egg Israel on. Israel may be susceptible to counter-attack. It may have been humiliated by Hezbollah when it tried to subsume Lebanon as the basis for a proxy strike on Iran and Syria. But it is hardly the sort of state to simply absorbe defeat and sit on its hands. It likes to be in charge, and its military leadership would probably like to deliver a punishment beating to its most vocal and potentially most powerful opponent in the region. It wouldn't have to be major, just enough to let the world know they still mean business. And the political culture inside an increasingly crazed and bunkered state is such that most Israelis would probably cheer it on, and reward the government with renewed popularity.
I'm not saying they're going to do it, because how the hell would I know, but can you really put it past them?