In watching the USA/Israeli vs. Iranian tensions play out, I found myself thinking about the similarities with the British/Argentine war in the early 1980s over the Falkland/Malvinas Islands. Talk about a useless, purposeless war. Except for one thing. The ruling elites of both countries needed it.
In the early 1980s the Argentine military government was in trouble and they knew it. Their regime was unraveling and they desperately needed a means to hold things together. Presto!! They began a pseudo-nationalist campaign to regain control over the desolate Falkland/Malvinas Islands that were occupied by Britain (since 1833). Hoping to distract the Argentine population from the economic crisis that combined with the savagery of the military dictatorship, the junta carried out a military operation that under other circumstances would have been the basis of a comedy. Unfortunately the loss of life that accompanied this war was nothing to laugh at.
Britain, under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, needed its own distractions. The Falklands/Malvinas Islands did not possess any strategic importance to Britain but a nice little war did hold importance. A quick, dirty, little war could, and did, distract the British population from its own political and economic difficulties. It also represented an opportunity for the citizens of a dying empire to reassert themselves, much in the way that a bully picks on a weak neighbor in order to reinforce their own feelings of superiority.
There were no good-guys in that war. It was a war that should never have happened.
In today's situation the USA, Israel and Iran all need distractions. All three countries have been in the midst of severe economic crises. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis have protested economic conditions in an unprecedented display of antipathy toward the Israeli political establishment. Iran has been unsettled ever since the emergence of the massive opposition "Green Movement," that followed the questionable elections of 2009. The political challenges faced by the Iranian theocracy accompany growing economic challenges which preceded Western-imposed sanctions (though have been accelerated by those sanctions). And, of course, we in the USA are in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
The USA cannot really afford a war with Iran (though this will not necessarily stop the US from initiating one), a point demonstrated just this past week with Obama's announced cuts to the Pentagon, the clear result of the impact of the aggressive US wars against Afghanistan and Iraq. Israel, which claims an existential threat from Iran, knows full well that such a threat does not exist. The only nuclear power in the Middle East is Israel, and any threat to Israel from Iran would be met by a terrible response from both Israel and the USA. But carrying out an attack or encouraging the USA to carry out an attack on Iran would both distract the Israeli population from domestic concerns as well as provide a cover for Israeli military operations closer to home, such as against Hezbollah in Lebanon or against Hamas in the Gaza.
A war with Iran would be a disaster for everyone. For the Iranians, war would be used, much as with the Argentine junta thirty years ago, to clamp down on dissent and wrap everyone in the flag of nationalism. It would be a chance to breathe more life into what appears to be a dying, reactionary theocratic regime that has carried out brutal repression for years, all the while claiming to be an anti-imperialist force.
A war would create greater instability in the Middle East and more than likely encourage some countries that currently do not possess nuclear weapons to seek them in a hurry!
Such a war could very likely lead to an even deeper global economic crisis if the Straits of Hormuz are blocked by the Iranians, thereby cutting off about 20% of the world's oil. It would also be a war that the West cannot, literally, afford to conduct.
There are many reasons to believe that a war will not happen precisely due to the potential catastrophe. That said, there are elements in all three countries that wish to militarily settle accounts with someone on the other side and/or find an opportunity to use "patriotism" – the last refuge of scoundrels, according to 18thcentury British author Samuel Johnson – as a means of suppressing domestic conflicts, particularly the growing demands for political and economic justice.
Let's not get hood-winked.
BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member, Bill Fletcher, Jr., is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfricaForum and co-author of Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path toward
Social Justice (University of California Press), which examines the crisis of organized labor in the USA.