Iran: drumbeat of war has a familiar sound (GUARDIAN UK COMMENT) Simon Tisdall 02/25/12)
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Impetus towards war with Iran can only be explained in terms of a
western desire for Iraq-style regime change
The drumbeat of war with Iran grows steadily more intense. Each day
brings more defiant rhetoric from Tehran, another failed UN nuclear
inspection, reports of western military preparations, an
assassination, a missile test, or a dire warning that, once again,
the world is sliding towards catastrophe. If this all feels familiar,
that´s because it is. For Iran, read Iraq in the countdown to the
A decisive moment may arrive when Barack Obama meets Israel´s prime
minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, in Washington on 5 March. "The meeting
… will be definitive," said Ari Shavit in Haaretz. "If the US
president wants to prevent a disaster, he must give Netanyahu iron-
clad guarantees the US will stop Iran in any way necessary and at any
price after the 2012 [US] elections. If Obama doesn´t do this, he
will obligate Netanyahu to act before the 2012 elections."
If accurate, this is not much of a choice. It suggests military
action by the US or Israel or both is unavoidable, the only question
being one of timing. Objectively speaking, this is not actually the
position. All concerned still have choices. The case against Iran´s
nuclear programme is far from proven. It is widely agreed that
limited military strikes will not work; a more extensive, longer-
lasting campaign would be required. And Obama in particular, having
striven to end the Iraq and Afghan wars, is loath to start another.
But as with Iraq in 2003, the sense that war is inevitable and
unstoppable is being energetically encouraged by political hardliners
and their media accomplices on all sides, producing a momentum that
even the un-bellicose Obama may find hard to resist.
A recent analysis of US public opinion revealed deeply ambivalent
attitudes on Iran, with the majority of Americans apparently
favouring diplomatic solutions. Yet as Republican presidential
candidates exploit the issue, as the Israelis lobby America, and as
Iranian factions manoeuvre ahead of parliamentary polls, the
likelihood grows that doves and doubters will again be either
converted or ignored.
In some key respects, the Iran crisis is distinctly different from
that over Iraq in 2002-03. As matters stand, similarly strident
warmongering surrounding Iran is thus hard to understand or explain –
unless the ultimate, unstated objective is not to curb Iran´s nuclear
programme but, as in Iraq, to overthrow its rulers.
George Bush and Tony Blair claimed a moral imperative in toppling
the "monstrous" dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. But the much vilified
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran´s president, is no Saddam, and neither is
the country´s bumbling Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The
Iranian regime is repressive and sporadically brutal, but so too are
many developing world governments. Unlike Saddam´s Ba´athists, it has
significant democratic and ideological underpinning. As a bogeyman
whose depredations might justify international intervention,
Ahmadinejad is a flop.
Weapons of Mass Destruction
Saddam, notoriously, had no deployable or usable WMD, but his
overthrow was primarily justified by the mistaken belief that he did.
The present western consensus is that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons
capability, but does not have an atomic bomb and is not currently
trying to build one. Khamenei said this week that nuclear weapons
were "useless and harmful" and that possessing them was sinful .
Netanyahu´s belief that Israel faces an imminent, existential threat
is visceral rather than fact-based. Israel´s refusal to acknowledge
its own nuclear arsenal, let alone contemplate its reduction, further
undermines the case for action.
Plenty of evidence exists that Iran supports, or has supported, armed
militants, jihadis, and anti-Israeli and anti-western armed groups in
Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, providing financial
and political backing, arms and training. In this respect, its
behaviour is more threatening to western interests than was that of
Saddam´s secular regime, no friend to Islamists. But limited or even
protracted attacks on Iran´s nuclear and/or military facilities would
not end these links, unless there was a shift of political direction
Iraq was considered important for its strategic position at the heart
of the Arab Middle East and its economic potential, especially its
oil reserves. Similarly, there can be no doubt the US and Britain
would like to see energy-rich Iran return to the western camp, as in
the pre-revolution days of the Shah. Conversely, Iran´s military is
more powerful and more committed to the defence of the status quo,
from which it benefits greatly, than was Iraq´s. The potential
disruption to oil supplies and western economies, not to mention the
impact of asymmetric Iranian counter-attacks, makes a resort to war
contingent on producing lasting dividends.
In contrast to the splits over Iraq, the main western powers are
united in their determination to bring Iran to heel. As well as
Netanyahu, David Cameron, Nicolas Sarkozy and Barack Obama have all
declared an Iranian bomb unacceptable. Their inflexibility thus makes
war more rather than less likely should Iran refuse to back
down. "Having made the case for urgency and concerted action, it
would be difficult for Obama to tell the world ´never mind´ and shift
to a strategy that accepts Iranian membership in the nuclear club,"
said Michael Gerson in the Washington Post.
In short, the Iranian crisis differs from that over Iraq in 2003 in
key respects. But the current impetus towards war can only be
explained in terms of a western desire for Iraq-style regime change –
because only regime change may achieve the de-nuclearisation the west
insists upon (guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2012
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