Iran on the Brink

May 25th, 2007

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In the past week, US-Iran relations have gone from a slow simmer to a roiling boil. Is this posturing and positioning in the run up to the May 28 bilateral talks in Baghdad, or is this the road to open warfare? Let’s look at the evidence.

Within the past 48 hours, ABC News reported that Pres. Bush has authorized a covert CIA operation to destabilize the Iranian government
and that the US moved two carrier strike groups and a Marines amphibious strike group into the Persian Gulf.
Yesterday, a “senior US official in Baghdad” told the Guardian that Iran is coordinating with al-Qaeda and Sunni Arab militants in Iraq to plan a summer offensive against US troops.

Meanwhile, Iran has turned to overt operations. Iran continues to detain distinguished Wilson Center scholar Haleh Esfandiari, denying her access to her lawyer (Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi) or visiting Swiss diplomats, and charging her with attempting to foment a velvet revolution in Iran.

According to an Iranian spokesman, Esfandiari’s detention is linked to support the Wilson Center gets from George Soros’ Open Society Institute. That’s right: the Iranians are accusing Esfandiari of being part of a Bush-Soros conspiracy!

That would be funny if the results weren’t so tragic for Esfandiari and her family.

But it doesn’t stop there. The Financial Times reported that Iran recently detained Open Society affiliate (and dual US-Iran national) Kian Tiajbaksh, also for being part of the Bush-Soros fantasy team. Though their justification for also imprisoning Tiajbaksh’s pregnant wife is not known. Iranian-American Parnaz Azima, who broadcasts for the US-funded Radio Parda, has been barred from leaving Iran since January.

And just yesterday, Iran’s demagogic President Ahmedinejad delivered a speech to a cheering crowd, in which he claimed that Iran’s nuclear program is “near its peak.” This was, of course, in response to a damning IAEA report released this week that the agency could not ‘provide assurances’ about the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program

Steve Clemons has some good scoop in the Washington Note that the Vice President’s office is trying to cut Condi off at the knees and force the President into military action in Iran.

An email I received from an anonymous observer in Iran basically describes a similar situation there: “what we are seeing is basically a group of security officials whose history, world view and philosophy go back to early revolutionary days, making a comeback.”

This observer went on to say (and IRI is the Islamic Republic of Iran): In 2001 Iran was put in the “Axis of Evil” list; Iraq was attacked and occupied in 2003; the Bush administration has consistently said that all options (including military) regarding the IRI are on table, it has asked for regime change in Iran and has allocated funds to “promote democracy” (or whatever) in Iran. Furthermore, we can clearly see an increase in violent activities among Iran’s ethnic minorities with real or imaginary covert US support. I believe that above developments have given the xenophobic and violent “rogue” security group the upper hand in the IRI decision making circles.

But here’s the real kicker. This obviously very intelligent and brave person is telling us the way out, and it’s not going to be an easy row to hoe: Defeat of this policy can not be from the outside. Iranians have two elections ahead of them in 2007 (Majles) and 2009 (presidency). This group can be expelled once more if the electorate show sobriety.

Funny enough, that is ultimately the solution on the American side, too – swearing in a new vice president (and president, perhaps) on January 2009 is our way out.

Is this the hand of George Soros after all?

So whether we’re just seeing rear-guard action to frustrate the May 28 meeting or a genuine attempt on both sides to foment war, the answer is the same. Steady as she goes. Neither country can afford to go to war.

And when I say we cannot afford to go to war, let me be clear. The United States has the money and the resources to go to war with Iran and exact heavy damage on strategic targets across the country, if necessary. Given that Iran’s economy is already paper thin (oil revenues mask that, but nothing can mask brutally high unemployment rates) and the discontent of their population is more explosive, I think they’re playing a far more dangerous game than we are, at least in the near term. But they could still inflict harm on the US, too, just nothing even close to what we could do to them.

What we cannot afford is the outcome. It’s not surprising that two draft dodgers would fail so completely to understand the nature of war: Dick, George – nations go to war to gain something. To achieve a political outcome that cannot be achieved in any other way. To settle a situation in order to protect the people or reach a peace. Attacking Iran now would not give us a different political outcome, it would not protect our people and it would walk us further from peace not only with Iran, but with the rest of the world.

There’s no question that the world cannot afford an Iran with a nuclear weapon, but I have not seen anyone make a convincing case that attacking Iran would actually accomplish that goal. I just read a really scary Norman Podhoretz piece advocating an attack, and even he admits that we would probably only delay their program.

If the point is to force regime change, why do they think that attacking Iran will provoke regime change, and that regime change will usher in a pro-US government or even a government that will forego nuclear weapons? I don’t know – I’ve never seen them make that case. Not with Iran, not with Iraq, and not with North Korea. All they do is justify the case for war – not what war would actually gain. Presumably, they think that if we raise the pain threshold high enough, we will force Iran to give up the bomb. But are the American people prepared for how high that threshold might have to be? Are we prepared to conduct a military campaign that is not just counter force, but counter value (i.e., targets the civilian population)?

Dick Cheney might be, but the American people are not, according to a new poll by the American Security Project.

So, let’s all hope that the discussions on May 28th occur and that relations are returned to a simmer until both nations can achieve political change.