Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Iran - sorry Seymour i'm still not convinced

Following Seymour Hersch’s recent piece in the New Yorker I wondered whether my own scepticism about the likelihood of a US attack on Iran was becoming an increasingly lonely position to hold. Especially having marched through London with maybe 30000 peace activists many of whom carrying placards giving testimony to their fears of an imminent US or Israeli bombing campaign against Iran.

However, I am still far from convinced that the USA has the political ambition or military capability to take out Iran’s dispersed nuclear development programme, without incurring a backlash that even the most hawkish pentagon planner would be able to see coming.

It seems some others still agree with me, and they are people better qualified and informed than I am. In Pakistan recently Tariq Ali said that he thought an attack on Iran unlikely, although I haven’t been able to find anything from him in writing about this subject.
The very well informed, and shrewd commentator, Rahul Mahajan, who writes the Empire Notes blog, is also sceptical.

In a very well argued piece, Mahajan points out that the same predictions were made by Seymour Hersch a year ago, and “all that has changed since then is that Bush has recklessly spent down his political capital, at home and abroad. There is more cooperation with Europe, but Europe doesn’t want military action.

“Some would say that this is also an exact repeat of the leadup to the Iraq war, complete with statements that Iran has a chance to resolve this diplomatically, or the U.S. will go to war. The difference, of course, is that the Iraq war was undertaken in an era of expansive military triumphalism, when nearly all informed opinion thought the Vietnam syndrome had been kicked forever; a mere three years later, we live in an era of stark pessimism about the ability of the United States to transform the world by violence.

“So I think what we are seeing is what military analyst Fred Kaplan calls a game of “nuclear chicken.” The United States and Iran are locking themselves into a collision course, each saying that it will not back down under any circumstances. The threat of military strikes against Iran shows not the likelihood of military action but the desperation of the United States, which seems to have exhausted all its cards and can only hope to scare the Iranians into negotiating.

After all, you would hardly expect the US government to make an anouncement like: "We are worried about Iran getting Nukes, but we have bitten off more than we can chew in Iraq and Afghanistan, and used up all our good will with our allies, so we are just going to have to let them do what they want"


badmatthew said...

The post is right to pose all the difficulties and weaknesses that make an attack on Iran unlikely. However it remains a possibility and seems to be a long-term ambition for the American Empire as currently managed. I've described the US approach to Iran as 'coercive diplomacy' for sometime and still think the exact balance of policy reflects that, but there are always dangers that coercive diplomacy can lead to war.

The key argument has to be about what line the anti-war movement should take. On balance it is better to warn against the possibility and the intentions, based on the lessons of Iraq, than it is to say there isn't a chance and there isn't anything to worry about. The best contribution that the movement could make to helping war come about would be to just ignore the issue! Of course there is a tendency to exaggeration: I remember Galloway saying in early 2005 that people ought to come on the March 2005 demonstration to stop war in Iran. It wasn't convincing, but it comes down to the way we phrase our arguments.

AN said...

I know there is danger that I am becoming a bore on the subject, but my worry is that we cannot apply what mathew describes as "the lessons of Iraq", becasue the current state of the anti-war movement is such that we don't know what the lessons of Iraq are.

For one thing, despite everything else we achieved we didn't stop the war on Iraq - and my concern about the "It's Iran next" argument, is that it is being used as a mechanism in some quarters for simply keeping the Stop the War waggon rolling.

My belief is that we need a measured appreciation of the real likelihood of an attack in iran, because part of such an analysis is the requirement to try to understand the dynamics of the American Empire's curent involvement in Iraq.

And if we are indeed in the preparatory phase of conditioning the political frameowrk for war, then we need to have a sober analysis of why we actually failed to stop the Iraq war. The triumpalism for exmaple of German/Murrays book would lead you to think we had won the objectives of the campaign.

I fear that the unthinking presumption that war with iran is an actual decided American policy is coming from the same source as the unwillingness to discuss what happened to the anti-war movement, That in much of the country is dormant and directionless, despite the fact that the war has never been less popular.

badmatthew said...

This isn't boring. It is one of the crucial political questions of the period and needs constant attention for reasons that include assessing the future of the most important mass movement we have seen in this country for sometime, a mass movement with an important international resonance. I agree with much that AN is saying, including criticisms of triumphalism in the movement and rejecting all 'unthinking presumption'. But an attack on Iran remains a possibility and is part of the agenda of the people running the US state aparatus. The factors that stand in the way of such an attack are important and shouldn't be considered. But I go also go back to the best orientation for the movement: yes it needs a proper accounting of what has been achieved and perhaps we should do something more about starting that accounting, however there is a route between the dangers of triumphalism and passivity.

Jim Jay said...

"go back to the best orientation for the movement"

Hmmm... I've been thinking about this and I guess I disagree with its implication (which may have been unintentional I'm not sure)

I think we need to make an assessment of "where now for imperialism" free of our own immediate desires and needs.

In the short term an analyis that says this is the breaking point is more likely to mobilise people, but in the medium to long term if this perspective turns out to be a tool for mobilising the troops without any basis in fact its worse for the movement, not better.

In the long run it is better to be measured and correct than zealous but wrong. Of course inactivity and passivity are bad - but I'd argue that these are actually the outcomes of the enthusiasm or death model (I'm not implying you are saying this here)

I think this is why there are a number of anti-war voices who are concerned that the demonstrations, vigils, actions, etc that we have seen over the last period have been less about the issues and more about the needs of the left. Or more precisely in the interests of certain sections of the left, regardless of what the implications might be for the movement.

It is very bad that we are in a position where there is a growing divergence between those who I'll unfairly characterise as "auto-demonstrators" and those who maintain their anti-war position but are increasingly holding the organised anti-war movement at arms length.

That's very damaging I think and the discussion over Iran is part of this.

I agree that USA and co are ratcheting up the tension and have nefarious plans up their sleeves - but I don't trust the sloganised analysis of the official anti-war movement because I know they'd tell me the threat is real whether that was true or not.

Those who say an attack on Iran is immanent and/or likely may be right, but the legacy of their previous behaviour is a distrust that may well be unwarranted, but is very real for a number of valuable activists.

Jim Jay said...

Things I know

i) the US government has been a long term enemy of the Iranian state since the revolution of '79 and would see the regime changed.

ii) the USA and its friendly helpers around the world are comfortable with the use of murder on a massive level to achieve their ends. Or any other method they find expedient.

iii) the strategy of tension is a tried and tested method of increasing the pressure on a regime that you do not like. Making them believe you might attack them can be a strategy in and of itself.

Things I don't know

i) whether the USA is seriously considering an attack on Iran.

ii) whether the USA, or possibly Israel, would use limited military strikes on specific installations.

iii) whether an invasion and regime change of Iran is even possible due to the breadth and depth of the opposition (of many kinds) this would provoke.

iv) whether the USA et al believe that an invasion is possible.

Maybe, maybe, maybe... while we're all watching Iran... South America? Palestine? Afghanistan?