Cold War II
These are exciting days in Washington, as the government directs its energies
to the demanding task of “containing Iran” in what Washington Post correspondent
Robin Wright, joining others, calls “Cold War II.”
During Cold War I, the task was to contain two awesome forces. The lesser
and more moderate force was “an implacable enemy whose avowed objective
is world domination by whatever means and at whatever cost.” Hence “if
the United States is to survive,” it will have to adopt a “repugnant philosophy”
and reject “acceptable norms of human conduct” and the “long-standing American
concepts of ‘fair play’” that had been exhibited with such searing clarity
in the conquest of the national territory, the Philippines, Haiti, and
other beneficiaries of “the idealistic new world bent on ending inhumanity,”
as the newspaper of record describes our noble mission. The judgments about
the nature of the super-Hitler and the necessary response are those of
General Jimmy Doolittle, in a critical assessment of the CIA commissioned
by President Eisenhower in 1954. They are quite consistent with those of
Truman administration liberals, the “wise men” who were “present at the
creation,” notoriously in NSC 68 but in fact quite consistently.
In the face of the Kremlin’s unbridled aggression in every corner of the
world, it is perhaps understandable that the U.S. resisted in defense of
human values with a savage display of torture, terror, subversion, and
violence while doing “everything in its power to alter or abolish any regime
not openly allied with America,” as Tim Weiner summarizes the doctrine
of the Eisenhower administration in his recent history of the CIA. And
just as the Truman liberals easily matched their successors in fevered
rhetoric about the implacable enemy and its campaign to rule the world,
so did John F. Kennedy, who bitterly condemned the “monolithic and ruthless
conspiracy,” and dismissed the proposal of its leader (Khrushchev) for
sharp mutual cuts in offensive weaponry, then reacted to his unilateral
implementation of these proposals with a huge military build-up. The Kennedy
brothers also quickly surpassed Eisenhower in violence and terror, as they
“unleashed covert action with an unprecedented intensity” (Wiener), doubling
Eisenhower’s annual record of major CIA covert operations, with horrendous
consequences worldwide, even a close brush with terminal nuclear war.
But at least it was possible to deal with Russia, unlike the fiercer enemy,
China. The more thoughtful scholars recognized that Russia was poised uneasily
between civilization and barbarism. As Henry Kissinger later explained
in his academic essays, only the West has undergone the Newtonian revolution
and is therefore “deeply committed to the notion that the real world is
external to the observer,” while the rest still believe “that the real
world is almost completely internal to the observer,” the “basic division”
that is “the deepest problem of the contemporary international order.”
But Russia, unlike third word peasants who think that rain and sun are
inside their heads, was perhaps coming to the realization that the world
is not just a dream, Kissinger felt.
Not so the still more savage and bloodthirsty enemy, China, which for liberal
Democrat intellectuals at various times rampaged as a “a Slavic Manchukuo,”
a blind puppet of its Kremlin master, or a monster utterly unconstrained
as it pursued its crazed campaign to crush the world in its tentacles,
or whatever else circumstances demanded. The remarkable tale of doctrinal
fanaticism from the 1940s to the 1970s, which makes contemporary rhetoric
seem rather moderate, is reviewed by James Peck in his highly revealing
study of the national security culture, Washington’s China.
In later years, there were attempts to mimic the valiant deeds of the defenders
of virtue from the two villainous global conquerors and their loyal slaves—for
example, when the Gipper strapped on his cowboy boots and declared a National
Emergency because Nicaraguan hordes were only two days from Harlingen Texas,
though, as he courageously informed the press, despite the tremendous odds,
“I refuse to give up. I remember a man named Winston Churchill who said,
‘Never give in. Never, never, never.’ So we won’t.” With consequences that
need not be reviewed.
Even with the best of efforts, however, the attempts never were able to
recapture the glorious days of Cold War I. But now, at last, those heights
might be within reach, as another implacable enemy bent on world conquest
has arisen, which we must contain before it destroys us all: Iran.
Perhaps it’s a lift to the spirits to be able to recover those heady Cold
War days when at least there was a legitimate force to contain, however
dubious the pretexts and disgraceful the means. But it is instructive to
take a closer look at the contours of Cold War II as they are being designed
by “the former Kremlinologists now running U.S. foreign policy, such as
Rice and Gates” (Wright).
The task of containment is to establish “a bulwark against Iran’s growing
influence in the Middle East,” Mark Mazzetti and Helene Cooper explain
in the New York Times (July 31). To contain Iran’s influence we must surround
Iran with U.S. and NATO ground forces, along with massive naval deployments
in the Persian Gulf and of course incomparable air power and weapons of
mass destruction. And we must provide a huge flow of arms to what Condoleezza
Rice calls “the forces of moderation and reform” in the region, the brutal
tyrannies of Egypt and Saudi Arabia and, with particular munificence, Israel,
by now virtually an adjunct of the militarized high-tech U.S. economy.
All to contain Iran’s influence. A daunting challenge indeed.
And daunting it is. In Iraq, Iranian support is welcomed by much of the
majority Shi’ite population. In an August visit to Teheran, Iraqi Prime
Minister Nouri al-Maliki met with the supreme leader Ali Khamenei, President
Ahmadinejad, and other senior officials, and thanked Tehran for its “positive
and constructive” role in improving security in Iraq, eliciting a sharp
reprimand from President Bush, who “declares Teheran a regional peril and
asserts the Iraqi leader must understand,” to quote the headline of the
Los Angeles Times report on al-Maliki’s intellectual deficiencies. A few
days before, also greatly to Bush’s discomfiture, Afghan President Hamid
Karzai, Washington’s favorite, described Iran as “a helper and a solution”
in his country. Similar problems abound beyond Iran’s immediate neighbors.
In Lebanon, according to polls, most Lebanese see Iranian-backed Hezbollah
“as a legitimate force defending their country from Israel,” Wright reports.
And in Palestine, Iranian-backed Hamas won a free election, eliciting savage
punishment of the Palestinian population by the U.S. and Israel for the
crime of voting “the wrong way,” another episode in “democracy promotion.”
But no matter. The aim of U.S. militancy and the arms flow to the moderates
is to counter “what everyone in the region believes is a flexing of muscles
by a more aggressive Iran,” according to an unnamed senior U.S. government
official—“everyone” being the technical term used to refer to Washington
and its more loyal clients. Iran’s aggression consists in its being welcomed
by many within the region, and allegedly supporting resistance to the U.S.
occupation of neighboring Iraq.
It’s likely, though little discussed, that a prime concern about Iran’s
influence is to the East, where in mid-August, “Russia and China today
host Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at a summit of a Central Asian
security club designed to counter U.S. influence in the region,” the business
press reports. The “security club” is the Shanghai Cooperation Organization
(SCO), which has been slowly taking shape in recent years. Its membership
includes not only the two giants Russia and China, but also the energy-rich
Central Asian states Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan.
Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan was a guest of honor at the August meeting.
“In another unwelcome development for the Americans, Turkmenistan’s President
Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov also accepted an invitation to attend the summit,”
another step in its improvement of relations with Russia, particularly
in energy, reversing a long-standing policy of isolation from Russia. “Russia
in May secured a deal to build a new pipeline to import more gas from Turkmenistan,
bolstering its dominant hold on supplies to Europe and heading off a competing
U.S.-backed plan that would bypass Russian territory.”
Along with Iran, there are three other official observer states: India,
Pakistan, and Mongolia. Washington’s request for similar status was denied.
In 2005 the SCO called for a timetable for termination of any U.S. military
presence in Central Asia. The participants at the August meeting flew to
the Urals to attend the first joint Russia-China military exercises on
Association of Iran with the SCO extends its inroads into the Middle East,
where China has been increasing trade and other relations with the jewel
in the crown, Saudi Arabia. There is an oppressed Shi’ite population in
Saudi Arabia that is also susceptible to Iran’s influence—and happens to
sit on most of Saudi oil. About 40 percent of Middle East oil is reported
to be heading East, not West. As the flow Eastward increases, U.S. control
declines over this lever of world domination, a “stupendous source of strategic
power,” as the State Department described Saudi oil 60 years ago.
In Cold War I, the Kremlin had imposed an iron curtain and built the Berlin
Wall to contain Western influence. In Cold War II, Wright reports, the
former Kremlinologists framing policy are imposing a “green curtain” to
bar Iranian influence. In short, government-media doctrine is that the
Iranian threat is rather similar to the Western threat that the Kremlin
sought to contain, and the U.S. is eagerly taking on the Kremlin’s role
in the thrilling new Cold War.
All of this is presented without noticeable concern. Nevertheless, the
recognition that the U.S. government is modeling itself on Stalin and his
successors in the new Cold War must be arousing at least some flickers
of embarrassment. Perhaps that is how we can explain the ferocious Washington
Post editorial announcing that Iran has escalated its aggressiveness to
a Hot War: “the Revolutionary Guard, a radical state within Iran’s Islamic
state, is waging war against the United States and trying to kill as many
American soldiers as possible.” The U.S. must therefore “fight back,” the
editors thunder, finding quite “puzzling…the murmurs of disapproval from
European diplomats and others who say they favor using diplomacy and economic
pressure, rather than military action, to rein in Iran,” even in the face
of its outright aggression. The evidence that Iran is waging war against
the U.S. is now conclusive. After all, it comes from an Administration
that has never deceived the American people, even improving on the famous
stellar honesty of its predecessors.
Suppose that for once Washington’s charges happen to be true, and Iran
really is providing Shi’ite militias with roadside bombs that kill U.S.
forces, perhaps even making use of some of the advanced weaponry lavishly
provided to the Revolutionary Guard by Ronald Reagan in order to fund the
illegal war against Nicaragua, under the pretext of arms for hostages (the
number of hostages tripled during these endeavors). If the charges are
true, then Iran could properly be charged with a minuscule fraction of
the iniquity of the Reagan administration, which provided Stinger missiles
and other high-tech military aid to the “insurgents” seeking to disrupt
Soviet efforts to bring stability and justice to Afghanistan, as they saw
it. Perhaps Iran is even guilty of some of the crimes of the Roosevelt
administration, which assisted terrorist partisans attacking peaceful and
sovereign Vichy France in 1940-41, and had thus declared war on Germany
even before Pearl Harbor.
One can pursue these questions further. The CIA station chief in Pakistan
in 1981, Howard Hart, reports that “I was the first chief of station ever
sent abroad with this wonderful order: ‘Go kill Soviet soldiers.’ Imagine!
I loved it.” Of course “the mission was not to liberate Afghanistan,” Tim
Wiener writes in his history of the CIA, repeating the obvious. But “it
was a noble goal,” he writes. Killing Russians with no concern for the
fate of Afghans is a “noble goal,” but support for resistance to a U.S.
invasion and occupation would be a vile act and declaration of war.
Without irony, the Bush administration and the media charge that Iran is
“meddling” in Iraq, otherwise presumably free from foreign interference.
The evidence is partly technical. Do the serial numbers on the Improvised
Explosive Devices really trace back to Iran? If so, does the leadership
of Iran know about the IEDs, or only the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Settling
the debate, the White House plans to brand the Revolutionary Guard as a
“specially designated global terrorist” force, an unprecedented action
against a national military branch, authorizing Washington to undertake
a wide range of punitive actions. Watching in disbelief, much of the world
asks whether the U.S. military, invading and occupying Iran’s neighbors,
might better merit this charge—or its Israeli client, now about to receive
a huge increase in military aid to commemorate 40 years of harsh occupation
and illegal settlement, and its fifth invasion of Lebanon a year ago.
It is instructive that Washington’s propaganda framework is reflexively
accepted, apparently without notice, in U.S. and other Western commentary
and reporting, apart from the marginal fringe of what is called “the loony
left.” What is considered “criticism” is skepticism as to whether all of
Washington’s charges about Iranian aggression in Iraq are true. It might
be an interesting research project to see how closely the propaganda of
Russia, Nazi Germany, and other aggressors and occupiers matched the standards
of today’s liberal press and commentators.
The comparisons are of course unfair. Unlike German and Russian occupiers,
American forces are in Iraq by right, on the principle, too obvious even
to enunciate, that the U.S. owns the world. Therefore, as a matter of elementary
logic, the U.S. cannot invade and occupy another country. The U.S. can
only defend and liberate others. No other category exists. Predecessors,
including the most monstrous, have commonly sworn by the same principle,
but again there is an obvious difference: they were wrong and we are right.
Another comparison comes to mind, which is studiously ignored when we are
sternly admonished of the ominous consequences that might follow withdrawal
of U.S. troops from Iraq. The preferred analogy is Indochina, highlighted
in a shameful speech by the president on August 22. That analogy can perhaps
pass muster among those who have succeeded in effacing from their minds
the record of U.S. actions in Indochina, including the destruction of much
of Vietnam and the murderous bombing of Laos and Cambodia as the U.S. began
its withdrawal from the wreckage of South Vietnam. In Cambodia, the bombing
was in accord with Kissinger’s genocidal orders: “anything that flies on
anything that moves”—actions that drove “an enraged populace into the arms
of an insurgency [the Khmer Rouge] that had enjoyed relatively little support
before the Kissinger- Nixon bombing was inaugurated,” as Cambodia specialists
Owen Taylor and Ben Kiernan observe in a highly important study that passed
virtually without notice, in which they reveal that the bombing was five
times the incredible level reported earlier, greater than all allied bombing
in World War II. Completely suppressing all relevant facts, it is then
possible for the president and many commentators to present Khmer Rouge
crimes as a justification for continuing to devastate Iraq.
But although the grotesque Indochina analogy receives much attention, the
obvious analogy is ignored: the Russian withdrawal from Afganistan, which,
as Soviet analysts predicted, led to shocking violence and destruction
as the country was taken over by Reagan’s favorites, who amused themselves
by such acts as throwing acid in the faces of women in Kabul they regarded
as too liberated, and who then virtually destroyed the city and much else,
creating such havoc and terror that the population actually welcomed the
Taliban. That analogy could indeed be invoked without utter absurdity by
advocates of “staying the course,” but evidently it is best forgotten.
Under the heading “Secretary Rice’s Mideast mission: contain Iran,” the
press reports Rice’s warning that Iran is “the single most important single-country
challenge to…U.S. interests in the Middle East.” That is a reasonable
judgment. Given the long-standing principle that Washington must do “everything
in its power to alter or abolish any regime not openly allied with America,”
Iran does pose a unique challenge, and it is natural that the task of containing
Iranian influence should be a high priority.
As elsewhere, Bush administration rhetoric is relatively mild in this case.
For the Kennedy administration, “Latin America was the most dangerous area
in the world” when there was a threat that the progressive Cheddi Jagan
might win a free election in British Guiana, overturned by CIA shenanigans
that handed the country over to the thuggish racist Forbes Burnham. A few
years earlier, Iraq was “the most dangerous place in the world” (CIA director
Allen Dulles) after General Abdel Karim Qassim broke the Anglo-American
condominium over Middle East oil, overthrowing the pro-U.S. monarchy, which
had been heavily infiltrated by the CIA. A primary concern was that Qassim
might join Nasser, then the supreme Middle East devil, in using the incomparable
energy resources of the Middle East for the domestic population. The issue
for Washington was not so much access as control. At the time and for many
years after, Washington was purposely exhausting domestic oil resources
in the interests of “national security,” meaning security for the profits
of Texas oil men, like the failed entrepreneur who now sits in the Oval
Office. But as high-level planner George Kennan had explained well before,
we cannot relax our guard when there is any interfence with “protection
of our resources” (which accidentally happen to be somewhere else).
Unquestionably, Iran’s government merits harsh condemnation, though it
has not engaged in worldwide terror, subversion, and aggression, following
the U.S. model—which extends to today’s Iran as well, if ABC news is correct
in reporting that the U.S. is supporting Pakistan-based Jundullah, which
is carrying out terrorist acts inside Iran. The sole act of aggression
attributed to Iran is the conquest of two small islands in the Gulf—under
Washington’s close ally the Shah. In addition to internal repression—heightened,
as Iranian dissidents regularly protest, by U.S. militancy—the prospect
that Iran might develop nuclear weapons also is deeply troubling. Though
Iran has every right to develop nuclear energy, no one—including the majority
of Iranians—wants it to have nuclear weapons. That would add to the threat
to survival posed much more seriously by its near neighbors Pakistan, India,
and Israel, all nuclear armed with the blessing of the U.S., which most
of the world regards as the leading threat to world peace, for evident
Iran rejects U.S. control of the Middle East, challenging fundamental policy
doctrine, but it hardly poses a military threat. On the contrary, it has
been the victim of outside powers for years: in recent memory, when the
U.S. and Britain overthrew its parliamentary government and installed a
brutal tyrant in 1953, and when the U.S. supported Saddam Hussein’s murderous
invasion, slaughtering hundreds of thousands of Iranians, many with chemical
weapons, without the “international community” lifting a finger—something
that Iranians do not forget as easily as the perpetrators. And then under
severe sanctions as a punishment for disobedience.
Israel regards Iran as a threat. Israel seeks to dominate the region with
no interference, and Iran might be some slight counterbalance, while also
supporting domestic forces that do not bend to Israel’s will. It may, however,
be useful to bear in mind that Hamas has accepted the international consensus
on a two-state settlement on the international border, and Hezbollah, along
with Iran, has made clear that it would accept any outcome approved by
Palestinians, leaving the U.S. and Israel isolated in their traditional
But Iran is hardly a military threat to Israel. And whatever threat there
might be could be overcome if the U.S. would accept the view of the great
majority of its own citizens and of Iranians and permit the Middle East
to become a nuclear-weapons free zone, including Iran and Israel, and U.S.
forces deployed there. One may also recall that UN Security Council Resolution
687 of April 3, 1991, to which Washington appeals when convenient, calls
for “establishing in the Middle East a zone free from weapons of mass destruction
and all missiles for their delivery.”
It is widely recognized that use of military force in Iran would risk blowing
up the entire region, with untold consequences beyond. We know from polls
that in the surrounding countries, where the Iranian government is hardly
popular—Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan—nevertheless large majorities prefer
even a nuclear-armed Iran to any form of military action against it.
The rhetoric about Iran has escalated to the point where both political
parties and practically the whole U.S. press accept it as legitimate and,
in fact, honorable, that “all options are on the table,” to quote Hillary
Clinton and everybody else, possibly even nuclear weapons. “All options
on the table” means that Washington threatens war.
The UN Charter outlaws “the threat or use of force.” The United States,
which has chosen to become an outlaw state, disregards international laws
and norms. We’re allowed to threaten anybody we want—and to attack anyone
Washington’s feverish new Cold War “containment” policy has spread to Europe.
Washington intends to install a “missile defense system” in the Czech Republic
and Poland, marketed to Europe as a shield against Iranian missiles. Even
if Iran had nuclear weapons and long-range missiles, the chances of its
using them to attack Europe are perhaps on a par with the chances of Europe’s
being hit by an asteroid, so perhaps Europe would do as well to invest
in an asteroid defense system. Furthermore, if Iran were to indicate the
slightest intention of aiming a missile at Europe or Israel, the country
would be vaporized.
Of course, Russian planners are gravely upset by the shield proposal. We
can imagine how the U.S. would respond if a Russian anti-missile system
were erected in Canada. The Russians have good reason to regard an anti-missile
system as part of a first-strike weapon against them. It is generally understood
that such a system could never block a first strike, but it could conceivably
impede a retaliatory strike. On all sides, “missile defense” is therefore
understood to be a first-strike weapon, eliminating a deterrent to attack.
A small initial installation in Eastern Europe could easily be a base for
later expansion. More obviously, the only military function of such a system
with regard to Iran, the declared aim, would be to bar an Iranian deterrent
to U.S. or Israel aggression.
Not surprisingly, in reaction to the “missile defense” plans, Russia has
resorted to its own dangerous gestures, including the recent decision to
renew long-range patrols by nuclear-capable bombers after a 15-year hiatus,
in one recent case near the U.S. military base on Guam. These actions reflect
Russia’s anger “over what it has called American and NATO aggressiveness,
including plans for a missile-defense system in the Czech Republic and
Poland, analysts said” (Andrew Kramer, NYT).
The shield ratchets the threat of war a few notches higher, in the Middle
East and elsewhere, with incalculable consequences, and the potential for
a terminal nuclear war. The immediate fear is that by accident or design,
Washington’s war planners or their Israeli surrogate might decide to escalate
their Cold War II into a hot one—in this case a real hot war.
Noam Chomsky is a linguist, lecturer, social critic, and author of numerous
articles and books.