Wednesday, August 29, 2007

 

Is an attack on Iran imminent?

A number of writers in the blogosphere have been asking if we're about to attack Iran. As it happens, last night I read an interesting but brief analysis of the posture of the U.S. toward Iran that I wanted to share with you, so Iran has been on my mind anyway.

American Legion Convention, August 2007

First let's look at what has set off the alarm bells—Bush's speech to the American Legion Convention yesterday in Reno, Nevada. One of the most troubling passages was this—

Iran has long been a source of trouble in the region. It is the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism. Iran backs Hezbollah who are trying to undermine the democratic government of Lebanon. Iran funds terrorist groups like Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which murder the innocent, and target Israel, and destabilize the Palestinian territories. Iran is sending arms to the Taliban in Afghanistan, which could be used to attack American and NATO troops. Iran has arrested visiting American scholars who have committed no crimes and pose no threat to their regime. And Iran's active pursuit of technology that could lead to nuclear weapons threatens to put a region already known for instability and violence under the shadow of a nuclear holocaust.

Iran's actions threaten the security of nations everywhere. And that is why the United States is rallying friends and allies around the world to isolate the regime, to impose economic sanctions. We will confront this danger before it is too late.
....

Some say Iran's leaders are not aware of what members of their own regime are doing. Others say Iran's leaders are actively seeking to provoke the West. Either way, they cannot escape responsibility for aiding attacks against coalition forces and the murder of innocent Iraqis. The Iranian regime must halt these actions. And until it does, I will take actions necessary to protect our troops. I have authorized our military commanders in Iraq to confront Tehran's murderous activities.

Before you could say "blowing smoke," American soldiers arrested eight Iranians—two diplomats from the Iranian embassy along with a delegation from the Iranian Electricity Ministry. They then entered Baghdad's Sheraton Ishtar hotel with the Iranians in tow, all of them blindfolded and handcuffed. Yet according to the AP, they were released just as abruptly this morning. And now the U.S. military has dubbed it "a regrettable incident."

Adding to the sense of American-Iranian confrontation that was pumped up by the media was a well-publicized statement by Iranian President Ahmadinejad that he delivered just hours before Bush's speech—

You (the United States) cannot preserve your power over Iraq with a few tanks, artillery and weapons. Today, you are prisoners of your own quagmire. You have no choice but to accept the rights of the Iraqi people.

I can tell you there will be a power vacuum in the region. We are ready with other regional countries, such as Saudi Arabia, and the people of Iraq to fill this vacuum.

He also, by the same account, "dismissed the chance of any US attack on Iran over its nuclear drive..."

American Legion Convention, August 2006

Bush's rhetoric at the convention seems quite ominous, but then you may have missed last year's speech at the same convention—

This summer's crisis in Lebanon has made it clearer than ever that the world now faces a grave threat from the radical regime in Iran.

Bush then launched into accusations that mirrored the charges he made before the attack on Iraq—

The Iranian regime arms, funds, and advises Hezbollah, which has killed more Americans than any terrorist network except al Qaeda. The Iranian regime interferes in Iraq by sponsoring terrorists and insurgents, empowering unlawful militias, and supplying components for improvised explosive devices. The Iranian regime denies basic human rights to millions of its people. And the Iranian regime is pursuing nuclear weapons in open defiance of its international obligations.

We know the death and suffering that Iran's sponsorship of terrorists has brought, and we can imagine how much worse it would be if Iran were allowed to acquire nuclear weapons. Many nations are working together to solve this problem. The United Nations passed a resolution demanding that Iran suspend its nuclear enrichment activities.

And Iran's "deadline" was announced in that very same speech—
Today is the deadline for Iran's leaders to reply to the reasonable proposal the international community has made. If Iran's leaders accept this offer and abandon their nuclear weapons ambitions, they can set their country on a better course. Yet, so far, the Iranian regime has responded with further defiance and delay. It is time for Iran to make a choice. We've made our choice: We will continue to work closely with our allies to find a diplomatic solution -- but there must be consequences for Iran's defiance, and we must not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon.

Laid side by side, the two speeches are remarkably similar insofar as they touch upon Iran. But to my eye, this year's speech was just a wee bit less threatening than last year's.

Détente, anyone?

Are we then moving toward détente? Hard to say, but I do not expect to see the "shock and awe" bombing of Tehran on CNN in the coming few weeks.

Certainly the attendance by the U.S. at a regional conference on Iraqi violence in which both Syria and Iran participated has been interpreted as a positive sign. U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad spoke directy to Iranian diplomats and did not slap them with his glove.

That March meeting was followed by a higher level meeting arranged by Egypt in early May to which Iran sent its foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari. The U.S. sent Secretary of State Condi Rice. They didn't actually talk, but they were to be seated across from each other at dinner and might have touched knees. Unfortunately the Egyptian hosts provided a violinist wearing "un-Islamic dress"—perhaps a belly-dancer accompanying herself on the violin—which gave the Iranian foreign minister an excuse to bow out. In diplomatic circles this was understood to be a protest against the continued detention of 5 Iranians held by the U.S. in Iraq.

Is there no cause for concern then?

There is every cause for concern, but not because Bush was trotted out to read a bellicose speech before a bunch of right-wing Legionnaires. And that brings me to a couple of interesting analyses from The Swoop, "a source of intelligence about U.S. international policy" that claims to enjoy "insider access to the centers of power in Washington DC." From their writing my guess is that the authors are retired employees of the Pentagon and State Department.

On August 25 they published a summary analysis titled "Iran: Containment and Deterrence, not Confrontation?"

Harsh US criticism of Iran continues. However, last week we described indications that US policy toward Iran is changing, with more emphasis on a long-term “deter and contain” policy. The deterrence aspect comes with the development of a new generation of nuclear weapons such as the Reliable Replacement Warhead. Regarding containment, this strategy involves strengthening of regional counterweights to Iran like Israel and Saudi Arabia so that, even if Iran successfully acquires a nuclear weapon, its options will be severely limited. US officials tell us that the increased military aid announced on July 30th for the region should be seen in this light. “We are signaling to Tehran that it will not be able to dominate the region – even if it develops nuclear weapons,” a Pentagon official commented to us. Further, the new aid will require a strengthened US military presence in the Gulf Coordination Council countries – another check on Iranian ambitions. While containment ideas are attracting increased attention, the Administration is not united on its Iran policy. Officials associated with Vice-President Cheney believe that economic and diplomatic measures are insufficient. Instead they advocate military action before the end of the Bush Administration. In the short term, they want a new UN Security Council Resolution that, alongside tougher economic sanctions, would permit the US to board vessels headed for Iranian ports. By acting on this, they hope to stimulate an international incident that would lead to military action. Our contacts say that this thinking is not in the ascendant but, as they tell us: “Cheney has not abandoned his goal of attacking Iran.”

Along with "Mad Dog" Cheney, neither have the Neocons nor Israel.

But if we were to attack Iran, how would this be done? Another analysis from The Swoop, written over a month ago, may be helpful—

In recent days Michael Chertoff, the head of the Department of Homeland Security, has warned of a heightened risk of a terrorist attack inside the US over the summer.... While intelligence officials tell us that they do not have evidence of specific terrorist plans, some thinking is underway at the White House about the implications of such an attack. An uncontested assumption is that the US would retaliate with military strikes. As one senior official put it to us: “This brings Iran into the picture. To strike back we have to have an address.” By this, he meant that the US would look for a meaningful target to attack. An obvious target would be an Al-Qaeda camp in Pakistan’s Western border regions, but the risks to Pakistan’s stability may rule this out. Iran offers an alternative. Given the upsurge in statements by the White House, Pentagon and State Department about Iran’s role in international terrorism, officials tell us that “Iran would immediately be suspect.” We see this as a credible scenario, one that would allow advocates of military action against Iran to gain influence. For the time being, these voices – most prominently Vice-President Cheney – are in the minority. The recent progress on North Korea has also strengthened supporters of a more balanced approach, as have the prospects of a second meeting between US and Iranian officials in Baghdad. An international crisis arising from a terrorist attack in the US would change these dynamics. A State Department official explained to us: “The risks associated with an attack on Iran would take second place to the political pressure on Bush to respond.”

Does that sound familiar?

[There is quite a bit more to be said here, but unfortunately I have run out of time. Please check back tomorrow for the continuation and perhaps a sprinkling of footnotes.] [8/30 8:45 pm--I ended yesterday's post with a promise to continue it today, and toward that end I've worked most of the day. Unfortunately as I was putting the finishing touches on it, the software (Dreamweaver) crashed and I had not saved the file for at least 3 hours. So I'm trying to recreate what was lost, but I'm afraid I've run out of steam. I'll continue the continuation in the morning and hope to have it up soon.]

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