Is an attack on Iran really more ‘do-able’ now?

Time magazine’s often well informed Joe Klein has a significant piece on their website today, tellingly titled An Attack on Iran: Back on the Table.
He argues there that Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other high-ups in the Obama administration are now more optimistic than they were a year ago about the chances of “succeeding” in using military force to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons.
This looks like part of a concerted campaign to make the launching of a military attack against Iran– by the U.S. or by Israel– seem more “feasible”, and less disastrous all round for the American people’s true interests.
The money quote in Klein’s piece is, however, this one:

    Israel has been brought into the [U.S.] planning process, I’m told, because U.S. officials are frightened by the possibility that the right-wing Netanyahu government might go rogue and try to whack the Iranians on its own.

How’s that again?
U.S. officials are frightened that the Netanyahu government might “go rogue and try to whack the Iranians on its own”? But, um, the U.S. has for many decades been the main backer of Israel and continues to be so; and if Israel should “go rogue” and take acts that harm the American people’s interests then the U.S. could just stop that aid cold. Right?
Why on earth would we have to accede to the blackmail threat wielded by the government of a very small country on this or any other point?
If a person or entity is subjected to blackmail, the very best policy is always to go to the authorities. In this case, the U.S. government can simply go to the U.N. and invite the other members of the Security Council to join it in fashioning a response to the blackmailer.
… I have to note that the argument of Klein’s (presumably American?) source on this point is absolutely analogous to the kinds of arguments that the dreadful Mr. Blair made to his public in late 2002 about “having to go along with” George W. Bush’s increasingly escalatory policies towards Iraq because sticking close to Bush was, Blair argued to some people then, the best way to prevent Bush from jumping off the cliff and actually attacking Iraq.
Which Bush did anyway. The fact that his “good friend” Blair had indulged his warmongering up until then in fact made it far, far easier for him to launch the war than it would have been otherwise.
Now, from these unidentified informants of Klein’s we are getting the same sick argument. That Washington “has to go along with” Netanyahu in his policies towards Iran because that’s “the only way” to prevent him from jumping off the cliff and actually launching an attack against Iran.
It isn’t “the only way”. Indeed, it’s not a way to restrain Netanyahu, at all. The only way to restrain a blackmailer is by calling his bluff. Take the whole tangled case to the proper authorities and don’t think that by appeasing the blackmailer you’re going to get off the hook…
As for the broader argument Klein is trying to make there, that an Israel or U.S. (or U.S.-Israeli) attack against Iran need not necessarily be as downright damaging and disastrous all round as all the experts have thought until now… Well, actually, nothing has changed to make it seem more “do-able”.
And among the so-called “western” nations, remember that it is still us Americans who have by far the most to lose in the region… including many thousands of U.S. service-members strung out along very vulnerable supply lines all around Iran.
The Israelis? They barely have any skin in this game. They need, quite simply, to butt out, and let the U.S. and the other adult nations of the world negotiate a resolution to the multiple, overlapping security challenges in the Gulf region.
By the way, the always intelligent and estimable Paul Rogers has a very good analysis of this whole question on Open Democracy today.
He argues that,

    An Israeli security perspective, for example, is concerned almost as much with Iran’s development of medium-range solid-fuel missiles as with its nuclear projects; so missile-research, development and production sites would be key targets. Moreover, the people who design, develop and build the nuclear and missile programmes – and the facilities that train these specialists – are as significant as the physical infrastructure; so housing-complexes around nuclear and missile plants, key research-centres, factories, and even university departments training scientists and engineers would also be in the line of fire.
    In practice, then, military action will be much more generic than specific; it will certainly involve raids in and around greater Tehran; and it will be seen as more an act of war against the country as a whole than a limited dropping of bombs in remote locations.

Rogers quotes from a longer study he has undertaken (PDF linked to here), noting that it concludes that

    a war to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions will “lead to sustained conflict and regional instability”, and that it is “unlikely to prevent the eventual acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran and might even encourage it.” Thus, “military action against Iran should be ruled out as a means of responding to its possible nuclear ambitions.”
    The crisis sparked by an Israeli assault on Iran could indeed become at least as destructive as have been the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade. The fact that the United States and Israel itself are using an undefined threat of military action to reinforce diplomatic pressure on Tehran actually makes other approaches more difficult. This predicament has to be faced, and innovative thinking needed soon, if the region and the world are to avoid catastrophe.

Rogers was one of that stalwart band of informed observers (myself included) who correctly predicted that the U.S. invasion of Iraq would turn out very badly for all concerned– including, very rapidly, the U.S.
So will members of the policy elite in the U.S. be more inclined to listen to us this time– or to the war-mongering enablers of escalation whom Joe Klein has evidently been talking to?

20 thoughts on “Is an attack on Iran really more ‘do-able’ now?”

  1. In these desperate times the only consolation is that it cannot continue, that there is a point at which a country runs out of feet to shoot off.
    Underlying these prospective follies (not to mention war crimes) is the curious fact that a large part of the current US government probably believes that the Iraq war was a success and that Afghanistan will soon be reduced to obedience. They probably feel that those who warned them not to meddle in Pakistan have been proved wrong and that this might be a good time to start squeezing China.
    There is no doubt that they feel no harm can come from threatening Russia and that South Korea’s Gulf of Tonking style naval games are worth backing to the hilt.
    In other words the US government appears to have been taken in by its own crude propaganda. It might even believe that Iran has a nuclear weapons programme simnply because the Washington Post tells it so.

  2. In short, it would be difficult but not impossible for Israel to attack Iran.

    So where does this leave us? To speculate, it seems to me that the Israelis are on the edge of a cliff:
    if they move ahead in their plan to attack Iran, as they say they will, regardless of hatever restraints are applied or cautionary words voiced by the Obama administration [72] or others, I believe they will create a catastrophe not only for Iran but also others. Their action will precipitate at minimum a guerrilla war of more serious dimensions in Lebanon, in Jordan and Gaza, possibly revolution in some of the surrounding states, particularly in Egypt and perhaps in Saudi Arabia. Growing hatred of Israel throughout much of Asia, Africa and even Europe. Severe worldwide economic dislocations. Indeed, I believe that it will later be seen to have marked the beginning of the end for Israel itself.

    The Danger of War in the Middle East
    The Danger of War in the Middle East by William R. Polk is the senior director of the W. P. Carey Foundation.he also studied at the Universidad Nacional de Mexico, the Universidad Nacional de Chile, the University of Baghdad and the American University of Cairo.

  3. I think Klein’s article is just more “undefined threat” that Paul Rogers referred to in your quoted text “The fact that the United States and Israel itself are using an undefined threat of military action to reinforce diplomatic pressure on Tehran actually makes other approaches more difficult.”
    It is of course Roger’s opinion that this makes it more difficult.

  4. And of course, David, as I noted in my piece, Paul Rogers has a sure grasp of strategic realities and was among those of us who warned of the folly and huge costs of invading Iraq and urged against it.
    And you?

  5. Rogers was one of that stalwart band of informed observers (myself included) who correctly predicted that the U.S. invasion of Iraq would turn out very badly for all concerned– including, very rapidly, the U.S.
    Helena, you are right, things smell bad, just as bad as before the US invasion of Iraq. More and more people are speaking of attacking Iran. More and more propaganda is spilled off. What I find worrying is that now even our European media are diffusing propaganda against Iran. So I won’t be surprised if in some months an act of war against Iran is undertaken.
    Did the Iraq invasion turn badly on all those concerned ? I’m not sure at all. It turned out very badly for the Iraqi, but for the US ? I’d say, it depends upon what ist stake : if the goal was a long term geostrategical control of the rich oil ressources of the region, then one can’t say that it went so badly. Just now, one can’t say that the US and its companies are benefitting from Iraqi oil. However, the US companies have been able to put a foot in a country from which they were excluded. The outcome is not yet clear, but China for sure won’t have a very easy access to Iraq oil in the future.
    For the cynicals, especially the big oil companies, things may not have turned so badly in Iraq after all : all what they need is some patience. Robert Gates’ predecessor used to say that “the war on terror” would be a long lasting war. And the American enterprise presented Iraq as a first step to remodell the ME. Things look as if Obama was now on tracks to continue the job undertaken by Bush and what comes next may be an aggression against Iran. It lasted more than ten years before Iraq was exhausted by the sanctions and the US invaded : how long will it take for Iran I don’t know, but all the progaganda we hear is preparing for that, as frightening as it may be.
    I fear that all these warmongering talks, even if they seem to be spilled by right wing hawks are in fact familiarizing the opinion to that idea.

  6. I was very excited to see that you had finally written a great article, Helena. Then I got to the end. Yeah, whatever. As we all know that the US doesn’t necessarily want stability in the region, that what it wants is bases and control, that such control has been the goal of the US policy establishment for some time and for that it needs there to be at least some degree of instability. So your math on the likelihood of war is just off, and you have to know it.
    A related point: one constantly sees this idea, presented as obvious fact, that the only reason the US and Israel are talking up war so hard is to bolster their diplomacy. Well, setting aside the immorality and illegality of threatening war in order to advance policy, such an purportedly benign explanation for increasingly heated rhetoric and war buildup somewhat depends on there being some actual diplomacy involved. But there has been no diplomacy. Again, as you know, the closest Obama came to diplomacy was the October swap deal, which was poisoned from the beginning, and as soon as Iran made counterproposals, Obama shut the whole thing down. Obviously, as we all know, refusing to even consider counterproposals is the opposite to diplomacy. In case there was any doubt about whether or not Obama wanted diplomacy to work, we all saw his brutal shut down reaction to Turkish/Brazilian diplomacy. Clinton let the cat out of the bag early, declaring that the ‘engagement’ track would demonstrate to the world that war was necessary. But it’s convenient to forget that, of course, and all other obvious indications that diplomacy was never sincere.
    Nor is there any reason to think that Israel fears a regional war. Quite the opposite. They are well aware of how far their power exceeds the powers around them, and they have made it clear that they feel they have a lot of unfinished business with Gaza, the Left Bank and Lebanon. There remain many faits accomplis yet to be accompis’d.
    I think that what is happening right now is that the Obama Regime is pressuring Russi and China to give up technical information that will allow the US to defeat Tors and Sunburns with ease. Then I suspect that it’s mainly a simple matter of determining when will be the best timing for the (presumably US backed) Rafsanjani-Mousavi faction to make its definitive move, very possibly with US air cover.
    As we have seen with the Afghanistan controversies, the US High Command, along with the US boots on the ground, is/are preoccupied with the notion that US forces need to take the gloves off. If nothing else, the Iran war will provide a pretext for that.
    Denying the growing groundswell for war won’t make it go away.

  7. The term blackmail may well be a euphemism. The real issue may be nuclear blackmail.
    John Mearsheimer explained how Israel started using nuclear blackmail during the Yom Kippur war: “During that conflict, the Israelis looked like they were in dire straits for the first few days. And they wanted the United States to immediately resupply them. The Nixon administration said “no” because the Nixon administration judged quite correctly that once the Israelis recovered from the initial surprise that they would do very well. And therefore the US government did not what to give the Israelis at that point more arms. The Israelis then threatened to pull the nuclear weapons out, and began talking about using nuclear weapons. That, not surprisingly, spooked the Americans who immediately began resupplying the Israelis even though they did not what to do that.”
    Having succeeded so brilliantly in using nuclear blackmail in 1973, would anyone be surprised to learn that Israel is doing it more frequently and across a broader range of situations?
    Now, instead of threatening to use nukes only when in danger of being overrun, Israel may have expanded its criteria to include any existential threat, real or imagined. This is what makes the language so ominous when Israel uses the term “existential threat” to describe Iran.
    From Israel’s standpoint, what’s the downside? International isolation? Well, hel-lo-oo, they’ve been dealing with that forever.
    From the US perspective, the real possibility of nuclear blackmail needs to be brought out of the closet. Like Iran, Israel must come to recognize that there is a price to be paid for even thinking about nuclear blackmail.
    Furthermore, the US needs to make very concrete plans to preempt an Israeli first strike and make Israel fully aware that the US is prepared to act. Only then can the blackmail be eliminated.

  8. Helena,
    I am one of those naive people that Paul Krugman mentioned in a recent NYT column, who believe that political leaders make decisions based on a rational examination of the evidence. While I am constantly proved wrong, I understood perfectly well that the lead up to war in Iraq was not based on a rational decision but on something else. (I haven’t yet made up my mind between messanic religious belief or did he really believe the neocon propaganda of a new world). Either way I still like to think that Israel’s leaders are not stupid. They test that idea with idiotic actions like the flotilla but I still want to believe, truly want to believe, that there is a limit to stupidity and that Israel will not attack Iran with any weapons and especially not nuclear ones.
    And yes, I too “warned of the folly and huge costs of invading Iraq and urged against it”, but I’m a nobody with no platform other than letters to the editor at my local newspaper.

  9. David, haven’t yet made up my mind between messanic religious belief or did he really believe the neocon propaganda of a new world).
    The above statement picked my attention for reasons. Normally people not openly has been said to make their mind as a diplomatic way of regards their stand in the middle while all their feelings and their words smears a lot of support for that side of story.
    Anyway if some thinks “messanic religious” far from what happening in ME he need no longer to search the web with piles of books from religious sites to political figures and Israeli supporters talking in this “messanic religious” megaphone propaganda not mentioning Bush or Sarah Palin in US.

    For many years I have argued that within the Jewish secular discourse there is no ideological or spiritual dichotomy between the Israeli, the Jew and the Zionist. It is probably impossible to determine where the Zionist ends and the Jew starts. And yet, the notion that in Britain there is a minority community, the overwhelming majority of which supports war crimes, is pretty shocking, especially considering the devastating fact that every political party in this country is bankrolled by different shades of the “Friends of Israel”.

    By Gilad Atzmon,17 July 2010

  10. Israel and the US will almost certainly attack Iran if they believe they can win an easy low-cost victory. If not, the odds of an attack are very low.
    Recent reports that Iran is training “militants” to attack US troops in iraq are probably true. This is just a taste of what is likely to happen if the US and Israel are stupid enough to unleash still another war.

  11. You’ll have to forgive me, but I find it impossible to take seriously the veiled threats, from America and Israel, to launch a military assault on Iran.
    The US blundered into Afghanistan because it looked like a soft target. It attacked Iraq after 10 years of crippling sanctions combined with a program aimed at systematically disarming it. Arundhati Roy correctly described the Iraq ‘war’ as “the most cowardly attack in the history of warfare” – a record since superceded by Israel’s attack on Gaza in 2008.
    Efforts to impose optional (harsher) sanctions – such as on refined petroleum products – on Iran are being openly defied by Russia, China and Turkey on the grounds that they are perceived as targeting the civilian population. And disarming Iran hasn’t even begun. Nor is there any prospect that it will in the near to medium future. So that rules out the preconditions for an attack by America (target not yet soft enough).
    The talk of an attack on Iran by the spineless Israelis is beyond laughable unless they’ve suddenly decided to redefine the term “suicide bombing.” I mean it’s not as if the Iranians don’t know where Tel Aviv, Haifa and Dimona are. And they can’t possibly have forgotten what happened to Iraq – after surrendering two weeks in. To say that the Iranians will be highly motivated to spread pain, suffering and regret far and wide, in the event of an unprovoked attack, would be the understatement of the century.

  12. I realize Salah that you want to believe that Bush attacked Iraq for Israel but I don’t buy it. There are three much more plausible explanations. First, that Bush really thought he would be doing God’s work bringing Democracy to Iraq. Two, he bought into the neocon argument that there will be a transformation of the middle east. Three, it was following the advice of Kissinger who said one country (Afghanstan) was not enough to pay for 9/11, a second country was needed for revenge.
    Yes, I know the the book “The Israel Lobby” made the argument it was for Israel, I found the book very unconvincing.
    Finally let me just correct Neil M. The US did not “blundered into Afghanistan because it looked like a soft target”. The US invaded to kill/capture bin laden and disrupt his network. If you don’t agree I would be curious, “soft target” for what? Iraq had oil, what does Afghanstand have that the US would have wanted?

  13. “Iraq had oil, what does Afghanstan have that the US would have wanted?”
    Israel wants as many unprovoked & simultaneous fake wars in Islamic countries as possible. It helps reinforce the Israeli myth that Moslems defending themselves from violent alien invaders are war-like for no reason. Israel has a vested interest in promoting this myth. It is, after all, killing Muslims, maiming and starving their children, destroying their ability to be self-sufficient and stealing land they promised not to steal.
    9/11 wouldn’t have happened if NORAD hadn’t failed to do its job for the first time in its history – and the only time there was a crisis of the kind NORAD was designed to prevent.
    Attacking Afghanistan for a raid perpetrated by 19 Saudis made no more sense in 2001 than it does now.

  14. Bush attacked Iraq for Israel but I don’t buy it.
    That’s you view with respect, but may I pick your attentions that Bush in many his speeches he made that War in Iraq is for the best of Israeli and her security that make no doubt Bush linked Iraq to the security of Israel rather that US, as you and all we know N. Korea more dangerous than Iraq to the security of US specially Iraq have had no any direct or indirect conflicts with US for so long. As per Kissinger comment, give me a break there more big names who are more influential to him who done the homework not just Kissinger’s word to Bush a list very known to you more that nay one ales I believe.
    what does Afghanstand have that the US would have wanted?
    Please read below and don’t tell us you don’t “buy it” again. or these writers are lefties?
    What US to do went to the war in Vietnam? I don’t “buy it” either what’s there in Vietnam?
    Trillion reasons to beat the Taleban

  15. Let’s try some sarcasm. This is what it sounds like to me.
    There is a group of Jews that sit behind the scenes pulling the strings of the US government. The President of the US is really just their puppet. When 9/11 comes they rub their hands together and think “great, we can start another war in a Muslim country”. (I assume you don’t think Israel was behind 9/11, your reference to NORAD has me confused)? Then this group of Jews thinks “we can get the US to now invade Iraq by saying it’s ‘the next step in the war on terror that started on 9/11’” And the motive behind all this; “Israel wants as many unprovoked & simultaneous fake wars in Islamic countries as possible. It helps reinforce the Israeli myth that Moslems defending themselves from violent alien invaders are war-like for no reason. Israel has a vested interest in promoting this myth. It is, after all, killing Muslims, maiming and starving their children, destroying their ability to be self-sufficient and stealing land they promised not to steal.” By “stealing land” do you mean in the West Bank? You are not suggesting that Israel is going to expand settlements into Iraq and Afghanistan?
    Meanwhile nobody in the US government is spilling the beans and letting the American people know this. They do this because the powerful Israel lobby will arrange for them to be voted out of office and with their self serving interests they would rather see 4000 plus Americans die in Iraq and I don’t know how many in Afghanistan for Israel’s interest than lose office. Even congressmen that retire such as Indiana’s Evan Bayh keep silent for some reason. Maybe he was bought off with promises of riches from lithium.

  16. David,
    Having re-read my remarks about NORAD I’m sorry that you found them confusing. But I’m not surprised, given that you were also confused by my reference to “stealing land.”

  17. David
    Who cares with your words, non of waht you wrote have disscused really the point sated. go get a live david.

  18. David,
    You admitted that “neocons” exist. You must acknowledge that the Project for a New American Century is the leading neocon organization, practically a priesthood whose writings form neocon dogma. Dick Cheney signed its charter and made it a serious force in Washington.
    Now did you know that some of the charter signatories also worked as consultants to the Likud? That they wrote the “Clean Break” paper that calls for the far-right swing of Israeli domestic policy AND the perpetual weakening of the Arab world?
    It happens those gentlemen were Jews. I don’t know how these consulting jobs get handed out; maybe you have to be an Israeli citizen to get them, and those gentlement surely were.
    In fact the neocon movement was not associated with Jews before the mid-’70s, but many militarist Jewish-Americans were attracted to it afterwards, for reasons you may or may not wish to research. I think it is clear that the ’67 War seduced many Americans obsessed by fear of “weakness” and being overwhelmed by dark-skinned hordes: Direct Action! Seize the day, shoot any resistance and ultimately our superior ends will justify our means. That in a sense is what Zionism is all about, the use by secular people who in fact regarded themselves as superior Europeans of a religious narrative they don’t really believe to invade a “backward” land and erase and replace its story. Both our Christian Right and apparently a growing number of urban US Jews spooked by Black Power embraced the myth of the Tough Jew as a way back to Manifest Destiny. Then these two groups embraced each other, creating Reagan’s path to power and the conservative establishment that funded PNAC.
    So do Jews deserve the blame for Dick Cheney’s conspiracy to wage aggressive war? No, it’s just that 80% or so of his primary henchmen were Zionists and brought with them an idea to reshape Israel and the US (and probably the UK) into their Frankenstein monster of Victorian Judeo-Christian empire. “Clean Break” presented a broad vision of Israel reshaped economically, socially and politically by the exigencies of war. It’s a small country where they had connections and they pulled it off. Then they had to impose the same model on a much larger country and ended up with a half-baked mess too broke to get away with its crimes. Everything the neocons did in the US fit the “Clean Break” scenario.
    And why did “Clean Break” call for the perpetual degradation of Arab society? Because if they are seen as subhuman, a view far more prevalent in the US now than before the Israeli lobby went to work, then the theft of the rest of the West Bank would not be a matter of human rights in our eyes. And in fact Israel has already won that battle, hasn’t it?

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