Once again, there’s a lot of serious attack-on-Iran talk going around. We’ve both been following this, admittedly with no deep expertise, for several years now. During that time a number of media/blogosphere storms declaring such an attack imminent have whirled up and then blown away. (Of course, we oughtn’t to forget that in the old children’s story, the wolf eventually does come and eat the shepherd boy who produced the false alarms.) So we decided to sketch out these few points.
1. No matter how much Bush and his coterie may want it, we give no more than 10% odds on an attack actually taking place, and that’s mainly just covering ourselves.
2. The furor is not a calculated bluff by the administration to put pressure on Iran. Neither is it a planned distraction to weaken opposition to the continued occupation of Iraq. It’s the public face of a tense struggle within US ruling circles, concentrated in the state apparatus. Among those pushing for an attack are Bush, who is looking for the Hail Mary pass that will redeem his presidency in the history books; Cheney and the neocons and open advocates of empire, who are certain that the US can by force of will and arms dominate the world; a minority in the Armed Forces, mostly notably in the Air Force which hasn’t been permitted to get their lethal jollies in the region; and the Israel lobby people, fronting for ruling class forces there who want to crush anything that might end Israel’s regional monopoly on nukes.
Arrayed against an assault on Iran are a whole range of powerful forces in the US and throughout the world. Articles like the well-publicized Seymour Hersh pieces in the New Yorker recently are salvos in that battle. We identify a few more below.
3. First and foremost, it is the majority in the military high command that is blocking any attack on Iran–as they have, unswervingly, for the last four years. They know full well that even an assault as limited as air bombardment of ‘suspected nuclear sites" would put US land and naval forces in the region in an untenable position, and they are nervous about the longer term damage it would do to US power, "soft" as well as military.
Just look at three key developments in the last week, hardly coincidences as the pounding of the war drums by attack advocates in and outside the administration supporters grew louder.
First, the Army’s Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth issued On Point II, the second volume in its ongoing history of the Iraq war–which focuses the lack of a follow-up plan for after the capture of Baghdad and victory over the regular Iraqi armed forces.
"The army, as the service primarily responsible for ground operations, should have insisted on better Phase IV planning and preparations through its voice on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The military means employed were sufficient to destroy the Saddam regime; they were not sufficient to replace it with the type of nation-state the United States wished to see in its place."
This was intended to underline the fact that there is no post-attack plan for Iran, nor any feasible way to develop one, to say nothing of the absence of a plan to deal with likely blowback in other parts of the region–the preparation hasn’t happened and the horses just aren’t there.
Second, to follow up, the Pentagon released a report on how things are going in Afghanistan, "its first assessment of conditions in Afghanistan since the invasion began in 2001" according to the Wall Street Journal. In short: Armed attacks up, US fatalities up, narcotics production up, corruption up, Taliban influence up, stability down, and worse to come.
Third, to cap it off, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen announced at a Pentagon press gathering that the US is currently in danger of losing in Afghanistan because there aren’t enough troops:
I don’t have troops I can reach for, brigades I can reach, to send into Afghanistan until I have a reduced requirement in Iraq. Afghanistan has been and remains an economy-of-force campaign, which by definition means we need more forces there.
Regarding Iran, Mullen added, evidently for those too dim to draw the obvious conclusion:
Opening up a third front right now would be extremely stressful for us. This is a very unstable part of the world, and I don’t need it to be more unstable.
Nor is this view limited to the Armed Forces’ uniformed commanders. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates late last year spoke to the Democratic caucus in the Senate. In his remarks, as reported by Hersh, Gates warned of the consequences if the Bush Administration staged a preemptive strike on Iran, saying, as the senator recalled, "We’ll create generations of jihadists, and our grandchildren will be battling our enemies here in America." Gates’ comments stunned the Democrats at the lunch, and another senator asked whether Gates was speaking for Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney. Gates’ answer, the senator told me, was "Let’s just say that I’m here speaking for myself."
4. The most valuable political ally the pro-attack faction has, despite Gates’ warning, is the national Democratic Party. Congress voted $400 million earlier this year to fund and operationalize a secret "Presidential Finding" signed by Bush. This Finding steps up incursions into Iran by CIA and elite military units and the passing of arms and intelligence to extremely sketchy "opposition" forces within Iran. The Democrats went right along with this transparently provocative effort to create an incident inside Iran which could be exploited as a casus belli.
Now before Congress we have House Resolution 362, which 102 House Democrats have joined 117 Republicans in sponsoring. Like its identical twin, Senate Resolution 580–introduced by Evan Bayh (Dem, IN)–it demands that Bush take steps "inter alia, prohibiting the export to Iran of all refined petroleum products; imposing stringent inspection requirements on all persons, vehicles, ships, planes, trains, and cargo entering or departing Iran." The basic idea of this non-binding resolution is that the US will take advantage of Iran’s refinery shortage by stopping the flow of much-needed gasoline into the oil-producing country.
Despite a clause at the beginning stating that the bills do not authorize military action, the fact is that no such blockade of shipping into and out of Iran could be conducted without force. To initiate a blockade without UN approval would be a declaration of war against Iran (and an act of aggression against any country peacefully trading with Iran).
Driven primarily by the politics of posing (The Democrats: Tough on Towelheads!) and placating (HR 362 and SR 580 are among AIPAC’s top legislative priorities according to the Zionist lobbying group’s website), the bills are actually very dangerous in two ways. First, they continue the ongoing demonization of Islam and of Iran and its people, and promote the idea that the US has the right to intervene wherever it wants on any pretext. To do this at a time when the invasion of Iraq has made the US population very wary of rhetoric about why "we" need to go to war is unforgivable.
Second, should Bush & Co. actually manage to conjure up a convincing Gulf of Tonkin-type incident, they could point to this resolution to justify starting an armed blockade–and a war!
Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, incidentally, blusters of Iran that the military option "is on the table" and that he will meet Iranian leaders only on his timetable and "if and only if it can advance the interest of the United States." He has not yet announced what he intends to do about SR 580, which, like HR 362, is expected to pass the Democratic-controlled Congress by a 2/3 majority under expedited voting rules very soon.
5. Overall, the signs indicate that the majority of the US ruling class really does not want an attack on Iran. One clear indication came with the release last fall of the National Intelligence Estimate, the consensus opinion of more than a dozen US intelligence agencies (some part of the Armed Forces, others, like the CIA, not), that Iran did not even have an active nuclear weapons program!
After being rolled by the Bushies in the Iraq WMD fiasco, these crucial institutions of capitalist rule are eager to prove their position "above politics" and their worth to their masters.
It is true that the US imperialists are already in a deep, deep hole in Iraq, with no good options–they can’t afford to stay (the growing budget deficit, the lack of troops, popular opposition to the occupation) and they believe that they cannot afford to leave (the damage to US interests and prestige, all that lovely petroleum). But at least most of them recognize the folk wisdom that when you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging.
To concentrate their minds, we have crude oil climbing to $145+ a barrel. Economists at major imperialist institutions globally, public and private, are warning of catastrophic outcomes if the trend continues. "Two-hundred-dollar oil would break the back of the global economy," is the blunt estimate of Deutsche Bank AG’s chief energy economist Adam Sieminski. Is it possible to imagine a major assault on Iran that wouldn’t drive oil prices much higher than that for an indefinite period?
6. Despite chit-chat by pundits, there is no easy way for the administration to finesse these contradictions by having Israel undertake the attack. Even under the extremely questionable assumption that the Israeli Defense Forces (a) have the capacity to devastate the very dispersed and hardened Iranian nuclear program without US participation and, (b) feel like going it alone in the teeth of international law and world public opinion, one brutal geographic fact stands in the way. Any IDF air and missile assault on Iran would have to pass through Iraqi airspace, which is controlled by the US occupation, and would constitute a US-approved and sponsored attack. Further, the al-Maliki regime in Iraq would have to denounce it as a violation of Iraqi sovereignty and turn hard against their own US sponsors or fall in the face of Shiite rage.
So what do we do? Journalists like Hersh are yelling like their hair is on fire, trying to forestall the attacks they predict. Activist experts like Robert Naiman of Just Foreign Policy work tirelessly to focus the attention of the left liberal blogosphere on Iran and promote options for negotiation. US Labor Against the War and others have called for a massive phone-in directed at Congress. The country’s largest anti-war coalition, United For Peace & Justice, has called for protest actions on July 19-21.
Though skeptical of the likelihood of an attack, we strongly support all of these initiatives. Still, the most important thing for us to be doing at this time is to continue building an independent movement focused on ending the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and on winning the 70% of our fellow Americans who are against the Iraq war to act against the war. The stronger that movement is, the more it serves to forestall further imperialist ventures in Iran or elsewhere. Check out the Iraq Moratorium.
And this holds true even if the two of us should prove wrong. An actual attack would mean that even the implacable opposition of the high command and deep concern in the ranks of the powers that be are not enough to forestall a spectacularly unpopular lame duck administration from launching a whole new war in its death throes. Supposing our gritty but fatigued anti-war movement could shift gears to make Iran its main focus, how much more weight would that throw on the scales? They know what we think already.
We have to continue to build on our strengths, to expand the movement and draw in the tens of millions we have helped persuade, over the last half decade, that the occupation is a slow-motion train wreck causing catastrophic destruction in Iraq and irreparable harm to our own country.
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is the executive editor of www.blackcommentator.com and a co-founder of the Center for Labor Renewal. Dennis O’Neil is on the national coordinating body of the Iraq Moratorium.