Saturday, February 13, 2010

Attacking Iran

Note: Welcome to who has invited me to become one of their voices on national and international issues so here's my first shot.

What has been a surprise to me is that Iran is still an issue, at least to the United States.  It's all about nuclear weapons and whether Iran has any, so let's take a look back at how we got here.

It's four months after the biggest act of terrorism ever on U.S. soil and it's clear that the 9/11 attackers were foreign based, not domestic like the Oklahoma City bombing of a federal building.  The country is the most united it's been for a while and with bipartisan support the invasion and initial defeat of the Taliban in Afghanistan takes place.   Now it's 2002, time for the State of the Union speech to the nation and a new term is introduced into the national debate:  The Axis of Evil. 

Who are the three nations who Bush names as members of this Axis?  Iraq, North Korea and Iran.

Plans go into motion to build up support for a second invasion and war in the Middle East, this time supposedly to stop development, storage and possible terrorist use of what the Bush administration claimed were stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons by Iraq's dictator Saddam Hussein.  The Republicans successfully use this as a campaign issue against the Democrats in 2002 as the 'threat' from Iraq is sold to frightened Americans. 

In 2003, Bush makes good on his threat to invade Iraq and we're pretty familiar with what happens after that.
While a majority of Americans applaud the invasion of Iraq, the other two 'members' of the 'Axis of Evil' get worried that they will be next.  What becomes clear very soon is that the Bush administration is quick to invade a nation that was essentially defenseless after the first Gulf War but when a possible opponent shows that they have the means to fight back, the Republicans shift to just wanting to talk. 

Case in point:  Iraq is invaded, North Korea with it's nearly 6 million member armed forces and potential to build nuclear weapons gets a good GOP talking to.  The talking continues during the Bush era even when North Korea does their first nuclear tests and test fires the missiles to deliver them. 

Would any of these three have a chance in hell of defeating an all-out conflict with America?  Of course not, but if the case for having one is weak on the U.S. side, any support vanishes rather quickly when a lot of Americans die or get maimed for what the country sees as an unworthy war.  If a party wants to build it's war cred, pick someone weak to fight so you can win fast and get out.

Iran gets this message loud and clear.  Iran has armed forces but nowhere near the reported size of North Korea so what can they do to prevent invasion by the Bushies?  Announce loudly that they are close to making nuclear weapons.  Sure enough, the Republicans back off and instead of sending troops they send sanctions.  Despite much saber rattling on both sides that's about where things stay until the election of Barack Obama.

Unfortunately, even with a President who has expressed no desire or interest in following the neocons' plans for constant war in the Middle East, that's where things still stand.  If you followed Iran's rhetoric, you'd think Bush was still in the White House. 

The reason for this is now the Iran regime finds the threat of a foreign invader useful not on the international stage but the domestic one.  Iran is facing a major movement to reform it's quasi-democratic form of government and as usual the people in power don't want their power reformed away.  Attacking reform protestors in the streets, even executing some, isn't getting the job done for the Iranian establishment.  So they are going for what works for every country - convince enough Iranians that they are in danger from outside attack and that silly reform thing goes by the wayside.

Now, the boogeymen in the case of the United States are hard to find here.  Sure there were the usual neocon war pimps howling for war with Iraq that they could watch from the safety of their homes but they are no longer in power.  Remarks from the Obama White House only vaguely spoke of further action and that looks to remain more sanctions than military.  So who steps in to take our place as a friend of the rulers of Iran who are seeking a foreign threat?  Israel, who openly talks of bombing raids of Iran.

OK, now what's the problem from the side of the people in the U.S. and Israel for their desire to attack Iran?   Well, a couple of things:

First, the reports on where Iran actually is in developing a nuclear weapon is sketchy and contradictory, even as to whether they actually have an interest in actually making one.  Some reports say a nuclear Iran is months away, others say it's still years off.  Iran wants to have its cake and keep it secret too - they claim they are close for the sake of bluster but never say for sure.

Second, the real threat from a nuclear weapon isn't that anyone just has one - it's whether they can get it to a target.   So far, Iran hasn't shown much capability in delivering such a weapon anywhere beyond their underground labs.  Being afraid of a nuclear weapon without the means of it being delivered anywhere is like being afraid of a box of bullets.  Both have the potential for harm but that requires a gun to shoot them out of or a missile to launch them on.

With domestic uses for a Iran 'threat' in three countries now, unfortunately not much is going to change.  The Republicans want Iran around so they can make their usual "Democrats are weak on defense" argument for election time, a new conservative government in Israel wants to show their people that they will protect them and the Iranians want to have the threat of foreign attack to shut down that reform movement. 

And so it goes.....

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