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Iran and the masters of war

On 21 April 2008, the American Defence Secretary Robert Gates, told the West Point Military Academy’s cadets that they could expect “years of persistent, engaged combat all around the world” for — note well — “there are no exit strategies”.

At the Academy, much is made of their claim that “the history we teach was [and — by extension — is] made by people we taught”. Indeed, two days later one such alumnus who argues that the US “cannot win in Iraq, solely in Iraq” –- General David Petraeus, was appointed by Gates as the new head of Central Command.

In a previous post I outlined a whole series of developments that happened in March, which suggested the spectre of an attack on Iran.

Events in April, and now early May, amplify that threat.

Testifying last month in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Petraeus responded to Senator Joe Lieberman’s question as to whether Iran was “responsible for the murder of hundreds of American soldiers” by insisting, “It certainly is”. The following day, the general told a similar House Committee that the “special groups” that Iran funds are “the greatest long term threat to the viability of a democratic Iraq.”

Subsequently, a whole range of dramatis personae have repeated what the rightwing pundit Pat Buchanan termed Petraeus’s “predicate for US air strikes”.

The Director of the CIA, the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and even the seemingly unrelated assistant secretary of state for the Western hemisphere, whose concern is Iran’s entente with South America, have all — despite the odd disclaimer about using force as a last resort — spoken menacingly.

So have sections of the press:

The Jerusalem Post states that according to intelligence reports, “Iran could have a nuclear weapon by the middle of next year”; The Washington Post says that “the proxy war in Iraq is just one front in a much larger Iranian offensive”; and Melanie Phillips – without any evidence whatsoever – sucks her thumb in The Spectator about Iranian trained sleeper cells “waiting for a signal” in, what she has previously called, “Londonistan”.

Then there have been the comments of a variety of former office—bearers.

Those forewarning us, like the erstwhile UN chief weapons inspector, Scott Ritter, who says that an attack on Iran is a “virtual guarantee”; and those frothing at the mouth, like the former US ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, who recently told Fox News that bombing Iran would be “entirely responsible on our part”.

April also witnessed Israel undertaking its largest–ever drills, simulating missile attacks, while the US carried out something similar from 1 – 8 May.

(I note here, incidentally, the opinion of Newsweek’s Michael Hersh who considers that Jerusalem might want to take advantage of “the friendliest -– certainly the most compliant –- US government the Israelis have seen” and, before George Bush leaves office, fire the opening salvo).

And now we face, of course, yet another geopolitical crisis in Lebanon.

Such then are the harbingers of widening conflict. But can we see the wood for the trees? For as the blogger David Bromwich suggests, everyone’s talking about Iran but no one is talking about Iran.

Yes, Iran is involved in Iraq. But in ways that are more attenuated than presented in the dominant discourse.

Let’s not forget that Iraq is a Shia majority country and hence — as Saddam Hussein feared — Iran has a considerable, indeed organic, demographic influence.

A point seldom made is that both the US backed government and the militias have links to Teheran. Given these relationships it doesn’t make any sense, unless one’s motives are, of course, propagandistic, to speak of a “proxy–war”.

(The American journalist Nir Rosen, who decries this lack of objectivity in the media’s reporting, argues that the Iranians are more closely aligned with the government than –- the subjects of American concern — Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, for instance, trained the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Councils’ Badr militia that now constitute elements of the Iraqi army and police; and Prime Minister Nouri al–Maliki himself, and so many of the Islamic Dawa Party, were exiled in Iran and Syria).

Yes, Iran supports Hamas and Hizbollah. But these are locally rooted organisations and, whether we like it or not, they’re popular.

Even if Hillary Clinton was able to “totally obliterate” Iran, Zionist Israel would still exist and, consequently, so would its anti–Zionist opponents. (And by the by does Clinton’s comment not exceed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s statement that “the regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the pages of time”?)

Yes, Iran is internally repressive. But then again so are the other dictatorships that America sees as its “moderate” allies in the region.

We should also note that it has not attacked another country since the 18th century, and that it was Saddam Hussein that launched the longest conventional war of the 20th century, the Iran–Iraq war.

(For an alternative and critical history seen through the eyes of an Iranian woman, try and see Marjane Satrapi’s 2007 Cannes-winning, animated film, Persepolis).

I have dealt previously with Iran’s cooperative and proactive stance in relation to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s and the Fissban Treaty’s suggestions that any high enrichment process or production of fissile materials, wherever in the world, be carried out under international control. I also noted then the United States opposition to the latter (Britain and Israel abstaining), and its undermining of its own National Intelligence Estimate that with “confidence” states that Iran has desisted from developing weapons.

Gates had the audacity to tell those West Point cadets, in words used verbatim in the build up against the Saddam regime, that Iran is a “destabilising force throughout the Middle East” and a “rogue nation … hell–bent on acquiring nuclear weapons”.

I say audacity, not just because of America’s illegal occupation of Iraq, its financing of Sunni militias, or its own violation of the Non–Proliferation Treaty, but because as a former CIA analyst, Melvin Goodman, points out, Gates is alleged during his often–controversial career in the CIA to have been directly involved in the selling of chemical weapons and cluster bombs to Saddam.

(Robert Fisk in his The Great War For Civilisation describes how when the Iraqis dropped gas on Halajaba, killing more than 5 000 civilians, the CIA “still supporting Saddam” sent a briefing note to US embassies in the Middle East, stating that “the gas might have been dropped by the Iranians”).

Goodman said of Gates at the time of his nomination to replace Donald Rumsfeld: “Here is a nation that went to war with politicized intelligence, and now it’s naming…. someone who was the most important practitioner of politicised intelligence in the history of the CIA. So, as Yogi Berra [a Major League Baseball player known for his malapropisms] would have said, “This is déjà vu–vu all over again”.

And it’s not just the defence secretary who’s engaging in this redux:

Joe Lieberman and John McCain have both conjured up –- as did Bush about Saddam — the metaphysically nonsensical: Al Qaeda’s existence in Iran.

Yes, McCain retracted one of those statements in Jordan, as a result, ironically enough of the intervention of Lieberman, who then repeated the gaffe in a later interview last month. But the point is: Iran is now being represented as if it were the new Al Qaeda.

Never mind that the Iranians helped broker the recent ceasefire in Basra –- that’s now used against them as indicative of their primarily evil influence!

With all this deceit and hyperbole — war, indeed, seems inevitable.