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Flyin' Blind: On to Greater Conquest PDF Print E-mail
Peace News
Saturday, 08 April 2006 11:33
Flyin' Blind: On to Greater Conquest

Agence Global
- Tom Porteous - You might think that the daily reminders of the strategic blunder of the war in Iraq would make U.S. and British decision-makers wary of launching military attacks against Iran. Think again.


Strategic Blind Spot
Tom Porteous

Agence Global
April 9, 2006

Copyright ? 2006 Tom Porteous / Agence Global
[republished at PEJ News with permission of AG]

Even as the situation in Iraq deteriorates, as the West's Middle Eastern allies worry about the consequences for the region, and as the price of oil spirals ever upwards, strategists in London and Washington are laying plans for military air strikes on Iran.

The British Daily Telegraph newspaper reported in early April that British military chiefs were meeting to discuss the role Britain would play in such an attack and its consequences.

The paper quoted a British Foreign Office official as saying: "If Iran makes another strategic mistake, such as ignoring demands by the UN [to suspend its nuclear enrichment programme] or future resolutions, then the thinking among the chiefs [of defence staff] is that military action could be taken to bring an end to the crisis. The belief in some areas of Whitehall is that an attack is now all but inevitable."

The remarks reflect the degree to which policy makers in London and Washington are in denial about the consequences of their actions in the Middle East.

It should hardly need pointing out that the "strategic mistakes" so far have all been on the side of the United States and Britain. It should also be obvious that an attack on Iran will not "bring an end to the crisis."

So what would be the likely effect of U.S. military action against Iran?

Military analysts predict an attack would probably consist of raids against nuclear sites by B-2 stealth bombers armed with 4500 pound bunker-busting bombs. There would also be strikes against military, air defence and intelligence installations. Inevitably a lot of people will be killed.

On the nuclear front, such an attack would certainly set back Iran's nuclear programme, but not necessarily destroy it. Furthermore, as long as the current regime or a variant of it remains in place, air strikes would provide Iran with an incentive to redouble its efforts to attain nuclear capability.

On the internal Iranian political front, there are three possible scenarios:

The most likely one is that air strikes will entrench the power of the Islamist regime and strengthen the power in particular of the most extreme and millenarian elements within Iran's fragmented political power structure. Strikes would also undermine even further the position of those pressing from the outside and from within the regime for political reform and provide the hardliners with a pretext for further purges and crackdowns on political, social and ethnic unrest.

Another scenario is that air strikes could trigger an Iraq style civil war, fuelled by ethnic, religious and social grievances, and by clandestine U.S. support to opposition groups and to ethnic Kurdish, Arab, Azeri and Baluchi dissident and insurgent factions. Fear of such ethnic and revolutionary chaos is exactly what the regime is counting on to maintain the support of the majority of Iranians.

The least likely scenario is the one the U.S. State Department is seeking to engineer with a multi-million dollar programme of "transformational diplomacy," i.e., a Ukrainian style "coloured revolution." Though implausible, this scenario is not totally impossible, at least in the longer term. But U.S. air strikes will make it less plausible.

The potential regional impact of military strikes is no less problematic and worrying. If the current regime remains in place, Iran would no doubt retaliate using its intelligence networks and alliances with political and paramilitary groups in Iraq and Afghanistan where the United States and Britain are dependent on a certain degree of Iranian cooperation. It may also stir up trouble for Israel through increased support to Hizbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian territories.

More generally, Iran could put pressure on the United States' Arab allies through support to Shi'ite minority groups in the Arabian peninsula and to the Sunni Islamist political mainstream which is making political gains throughout the region on the back of rising anti-Western sentiment and the failures of corrupt and repressive pro-Western regimes. Of course, an attack on Iran would further increase anti-Western feelings in the Muslim world.

The regional consequences of air strikes on Iran would be no less damaging if they trigger Iraq-style ethnic and political conflict in the country. Iran, or parts of it, would then join Afghanistan, Iraq and the borderlands of Pakistan as a joined up, ungoverned area of conflict and political instability vulnerable to penetration by radicals, terrorists and criminal/drugs networks. It is difficult to see how regional and Western military forces could avoid being drawn into this spreading quagmire.

Whether the regime falls or survives, the impact on oil prices and the world economy is likely to be momentous. Iran is the world's fourth largest oil producer. Two thirds of the world's oil trade passes through the straits of Hormuz at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. At present there is not enough spare global oil production capacity to cope with even a short-term disruption of oil supplies.

A glimpse of the volatility of the oil markets over the Iran issue was afforded by the spike in oil prices caused by Iran conducting war games, the so called "Holy Prophet" military exercises, and test firing missiles in the Persian Gulf area this month. Imagine what would happen to oil prices if Iran responded to U.S. attacks by blocking the straits, suspending oil exports and stirring up unrest among the Shi'ite majority in eastern Saudi Arabia -- where most of the Saudi oil lies.

If the consequences of an attack on Iran are potentially so serious then why is it being entertained as a serious option and why is there such unwillingness to learn the lesson of Iraq?

The answer is writ large in the new U.S. National Security Strategy published last month. The strategy precludes learning lessons from Iraq because it presents Iraq as a success. It therefore reiterates the primacy of military pre-emption as a central means of addressing what the U.S. and British governments now see, almost obsessively, as the main threat to Western security: the conjunction of WMD, terrorism (by which they mean Islamist radicalism) and rogue or failed states.

The allied intervention in Iraq has inadvertently increased both the opportunities for radical Islamist militants to extend their reach and the regional strategic and political influence of Iran. Thus we are now in an absurd and dangerous situation in which the very failures of U.S. and British strategic thinking in Iraq have created conditions which are being used to justify the commission of further blunders which will put the Middle East and the rest of the world at even greater risk than they are at present.

There is an alternative. Iran claims it is not pursuing nuclear weapons. It should be offered serious incentives and security guarantees to prove that this is the case and to pursue a single use civilian nuclear programme.

There is also now an opportunity to explore this alternative. Iran and the United States have agreed in principle to hold their first official contacts in years, to discuss Iraq, where both sides have common interests in promoting peace and stability. A date is yet to be set and there are plenty of things that could happen to sabotage the meeting.

But Washington and Tehran should make sure that these talks do take place and they should seize the opportunity to start talking about cooperation and compromise instead of war and confrontation. A lot hangs on it.

Tom Porteous is a syndicated columnist and author who was formerly with the BBC and the British Foreign Office.

Copyright ? 2006 Tom Porteous / Agence Global

Released: 09 April 2006
Word Count: 1,255 words
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Advisory Release: 09 April 2006
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Agence Global is the exclusive syndication agency for The Nation and The American Prospect, as well as expert commentary by William Beeman, Richard Bulliet, Juan Cole, Mark Hertsgaard, Rami G. Khouri, Tom Porteous, Patrick Seale and Immanuel Wallerstein.

Last Updated on Saturday, 08 April 2006 11:33

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