We are supposed to believe that adult supervision has returned to the White House. Our adolescent president – who for the last six years has been throwing tantrums, frightening the neighbors, and breaking the windows of houses on the other side of town – has now made it out of his terrible teens. He is showing his statesmanship in Africa and making nice with North Korea. He is listening to his realist minders. Dick Cheney has been locked away in the attic of the Executive Office Building.
Or so the media pundits have suggested. But when it comes to Iran, all bets seem to be off.
One year ago, our greatest fear was that the president, still unable to master his hormones, would try to go mano a mano with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Pentagon had contingency plans for massive air strikes on the country. Two aircraft carrier attack forces were in the Persian Gulf; rationales for war were being prepared.
But then along came the December 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), which seemed to take the rug out from under the hawks by clearly stating that Iran halted its nuclear weapons development program in 2003. “In the face of this NIE, a possibility that had once seemed remote – that the uniformed military might resist carrying out an order for a self-destructive attack on Iran – is suddenly more plausible,” wrote James Fallows in The Atlantic. “On what rational grounds could a president or vice president now order a strike?”
But as Tina Turner might say, “What’s rationality got to do with it?”
As FPIF contributor Phyllis Bennis writes in the new myth-busting primer Iran in the Crosshairs, the Bush administration still considers Iran a major threat to the United States and Israel, is still playing up Iran’s “interference” in Iraq, and has largely ignored the NIE findings in order to insist that the country is fomenting nuclear proliferation. “Despite the NIE, the possibility of a U.S. military strike on Iran remains a very real threat,” Bennis writes. “Neither operative intelligence estimates nor actual facts on the ground would have much sway over the ideologues in the Bush White House.”
The president has reiterated his belief that talking with certain countries sends the wrong signals, namely that a sane leader is in the White House rather than an angry adolescent capable of doing pretty much anything (a variation of the “madman theory” that Richard Nixon used against North Vietnam). The UN is readying another round of sanctions because of Iran’s continued uranium enrichment program. Although Iran claims this program is for peaceful purposes, the Bush administration still sees a bomb-making enterprise that could warrant an attack. As Robert Dreyfuss points out in The Nation, the Bush administration is out of its depth in the multi-tiered chessboard of the Middle East. Administration hawks could precipitate a war by launching an attack on Iran’s supply lines into Iraq, even though the United States has been in a de facto alliance with Iran’s chief ally in Iraq, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and its Badr Corps militia. Israel could launch a preemptive attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, after getting a green light from Washington, and matters could deteriorate from there.
War with Iran is not inevitable. The American public doesn’t want it, the U.S. military is skeptical and overstretched, most allies are dead-set against it, and the administration’s credit cards are already maxed out. But war remains a possibility. After all, adolescents are unpredictable and can act out even when their minders have reportedly grounded them.
To learn more about Iran, read the full Iran primer, check out the final stops on the Folly of Attacking Iran speaking tour with author Stephen Kinzer organized by Just Foreign Policy, and sign the No War with Iran petition from Peace Action.
U.S. military strategy is changing. Military bases are still a key component of the full-spectrum dominance that the Pentagon would like to maintain. But the traditional basing structure can be a tad confining in this era of rapid response, asymmetrical threats, and high-tech information wars. Also, bases are where a military giant puts down its foot. They are therefore strategic opportunities for opponents of U.S. military expansion to mobilize public protest.
Consider the Philippines. The United States closed its military bases there in 1991, a major victory for anti-bases activists. Yet the U.S. military has managed to expand its military relationship with the Philippines. Explains FPIF contributor Herbert Docena in In The Dragon’s Lair, “The manner in which the United States has attempted to re-establish basing in the Philippines illustrates its attempts to radically overhaul its global offensive capabilities to become more agile and efficient while overcoming mounting domestic opposition to its presence around the world.”
Another traditional method of boosting U.S. military influence in a region is through arms sales. In 2005, the United States ended its arms embargo of Indonesia. Since then the flow of weapons, writes FPIF columnist Frida Berrigan in Indonesia’s Arms Appetite, has been virtually unchecked. “Washington hopes that by bulking up Indonesia’s military capacities it can help the nation counter terrorism and emerge as a regional leader able to thwart North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and deter China’s aggressive military build-up,” she writes. “That’s what Secretary Gates means when he talks about the ‘role that Indonesia may be able to play more broadly’ and that’s why Washington is so threatened by the way Russian President Putin has reached out to Jakarta. So, Washington dangles F-16s to make its sweeping vision of Indonesia’s strategic importance a reality.”
Also, check out the TomDispatch piece that Berrigan wrote with Tom Engelhardt on “two recipes for disaster” around the Iraq War. It’s not for the faint of stomach.
I penned a short Postcard from…Brussels, where anti-war activists are protesting the latest Belgian decision to send more troops and combat planes to Afghanistan. As prominent Belgian intellectual Jean Bricmont puts it, “we can’t solve our problems here in Belgium, but we are sending troops to Afghanistan to solve the problems there?”
Water, Water, Not Everywhere
Gas is heading toward $4 a gallon. The global thermometer is heading toward catastrophe. And water? It seems to be everywhere – in plastic bottles at convenience stores, in office coolers, coming out the tap. Don’t be fooled.
“The three water crises – dwindling freshwater supplies, inequitable access to water and the corporate control of water – pose the greatest threat of our time to the planet and to our survival,” writes FPIF contributor Maude Barlow in an excerpt from her new book Blue Covenant. “Together with impending climate change from fossil fuel emissions, the water crises impose some life-or-death decisions on us all. Unless we collectively change our behavior, we are heading toward a world of deepening conflict and potential wars over the dwindling supplies of freshwater – between nations, between rich and poor, between the public and the private interest, between rural and urban populations, and between the competing needs of the natural world and industrialized humans.”
Kosovo and India
FPIF contributors Ian Williams and Stephen Zunes pick up where they left off last week in Strategic Dialogue: Kosovo.
The U.S. decision to recognize Kosovo was a bungle, Zunes argues. “Most of the Serbs governing in Belgrade today, while strongly nationalistic, were not responsible for and in most cases were strongly opposed to Milosevic’s brutal repression of Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority,” he writes. “Indeed, they supported – and, in some cases, participated in – the nonviolent democratic revolution in October of 2000 that ousted Milosevic. With Kosovo’s secession having been recognized by the United States and other key Western states on their watch, however, these democrats will likely get the blame for having “lost” Kosovo. This will thereby create the conditions for a comeback by some of the hard-line Serbian nationalists responsible for the innumerable war crimes of the 1990s.”
“Negotiation is fine, but there comes a point when it is delaying the inevitable and keeping the wound open,” writes Ian Williams. “That point was reached last year. Russia could make a precedent out of it for its various adventures in the near-abroad, in Moldova and Georgia, but it would be very foolish to do so. Chechnya and many other autonomous republics inside the Russian Federation would be delighted to cite it right back at them.”
Finally, Washington is twisting arms in New Delhi to get a nuclear cooperation deal signed before the end of the year. In Flogging a Dead Agreement, FPIF contributor Ninan Koshy explains that the Bush administration’s efforts to push through the deal with India, supported by key congressional allies on both sides of the aisle, speak more to desperation than optimism. “Indian Prime Minister Singh is caught between mounting pressure from Washington and opposition from leftist parties,” Koshy writes. “The nuclear deal will likely fall between the cracks. The culprit will seem to be an overly ambitious timetable that India can’t meet. But the real reason will be Indian opposition to U.S. attempts to control both its domestic energy policy and its strategic military policy.”
FPIF, March 3, 2008