“This is the most grave (sic) situation that we have faced since the end of the Cold War, absent the whole war on terror,” Sen. John McCain told CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “It is a serious problem — probably right now the most serious in the world,” (Senator) Lott said. Does that sound familiar? Was it only four years ago that Iraq was the gravest threat facing humanity? And, of course there is or was North Korea, touted as an inhuman regime which could precipitate a nuclear holocaust, a topic now off the shelf of the talking shop.
Then with regard to Chinese and Russian Support: “They need stuff from us. They need trade. They need all kinds of assistance. We ought to play hardball with them,” he said. “And if President Bush were to do that, either publicly or privately, I think he’d get broad bipartisan backing.” That brilliant reasoning emanating from Senator Schumer of New York. So now China and Russia could replace France and Germany as ungrateful curs. Will vodka, egg foo yong and sweet-sour shrimp soon be taken off the Senate dining room menu?
This intemperate rhetoric is coming from both sides of the aisle, Democrat as well as Republican.
Although the European Big Three: France, Germany and the UK, have come to together to support taking the issue to the Security council, it is still far from certain that two veto toting members, Russia and China, will go along with them. China in particular would be loathe to alienate an important energy source to fuel its growth. Russia too has traditionally close ties to Iran and some lucrative contracts pending for supply of nuclear equipment. One question is what sanctions could be imposed considering that the Europeans and Americans do not want to punish the people there as they did in Iraq with sanctions on essential items. Iran’s biggest export must surely be oil, but who in their right mind wants to deprive the world of oil when it is already in short supply. Sanctions on exports would drive up the price to new highs. Mc Cain thinks the consequences in this regard are acceptable, but I wonder how many other people would be happy with a 50% or more increase in petrol prices. By his reasoning and that of Bayh, any consideration of the Iranian people would be taken off the table.
The US, of course, is, as always, ready to give enthusiastic support to any opposition to Iran, and lurking in the background stirring up the pot, is Israel. The US and Israel would dearly love to undertake military action, their preferred option to any difference of opinion, but that could hold tremendous risks. Another air strike by Israel on Iran (as in the 80s) would be seen, quite correctly, as approved and supported by the US and further inflame Arab sensibilities, confirming the viewpoint that the US is out to destroy Islam.
The US is not in a position to undertake a large scale ground campaign when it does not have enough troops to fight the insurgency in next door Iraq, and any attack on Iran could have serious implications in Iraq amongst the Shia. The latter would not take kindly to the US attacking Shia brothers in Iran. That sort of ill advised action could alienate the largest single ethnic and religious group in Iraq. The Shia have been relatively well-behaved until now, but if they were provoked, they could create worse chaos than already is present in Iraq. They could well do what I have always thought they should and could do, namely declare an autonomous Shiite State. The upshot of that would be to elevate Iran to a major regional power and one with enormous oil reserves in both Iran and the Iraqi Shia territory. The other scenario is that such actions against Iran could tip the Shia in Iraq into an all out war against the US and its coalition allies.
As for the threat of a nuclear wielding Iran, it is difficult to justify singling them out when Israel has possessed nuclear weapons for twenty years and refuses to sign the non-proliferation treaty, but nary a word about this from the West. In any case, I do not fear an attack on either Israel or the West by a nuclear armed Iran. To undertake such a fool hardy action would bring utter and complete destruction of Iran by the US and Iran is well aware of those consequnces.
As for Pakistan, which I have always contended poses a greater threat than any other Muslim state, the US is now playing with fire in that country, an alleged ally in Bush’s war against terrorism. Indeed, it is undoubtedly true that the western provinces in that country are harbouring at the very least remnants of Taliban and probably Al-Qaeda cells. In addition, Al-Zawahiri may well be holed up there, but so what? What if an air strike killed Al-Zawahiri? Would that take the wind out of the sails of the insurgency in Iraq? Would it destroy the ability and wish of Al-Qaeda to strike at western targets? I hardly think so. The insurgency and terrorism have evolved beyond movements centralized and tightly controlled by Osama and any of his lieutenants. The diverse national and local terrorist groups are becoming autonomous, most having their own agenda and resources which will in no way be affected by the removal of a single person such as al-Zawahiri.
The US legislators are virtually unanimous in justifying the deaths of the civilians in Pakistan in order to kill al-Zawahiri, but as with Iraq the Americans are unable to look beyond their immediate objective. Not only are they supporting the action and results, they seem to be proposing the US not recognise Pakistan territorial sovereignty and that the western border area be considered an open warfare zone with or without Pakistan approval. What now? Are the people who took us to war in Iraq now proposing we invade both Iran and Pakistan?
Musharraf is already walking the proverbial tightrope with a regime shot through with radical fundamentalists; his army and intelligence services have been compromised and infiltrated by al-Qaeda sympathisers. I argued two years ago that his days were numbered and every incident of the nature of the recent bombing going awry can only hasten his departure. Once that happens, Pakistan could move from being a reluctant collaborator and ally to an outright enemy state, one with nuclear weapons and delivery systems already in place. The risk of a radicalised Pakistan is that it could draw India into a regional nuclear conflict that would then escalate into a wider conflagration.
In the years leading up to Vietnam there was much talk of the ‘domino effect’, namely that any given communist regime would by its propinquity to its neighbours bring them down as well. Now, the invasion of Iraq seems to be leading the US into a succession of unsustainable wars. They will prove unsustainable because, short of bombing the entire territory into rubble and killing the population in the process, there is no way the US can prevail in those wars. Iran is no Iraq. It is an ethnically and religiously homogenous nation and not suffering under a regime any where near as repressive as that of Sadaam. It has a more effective fighting force and a population that on the whole will resist invaders.
If, as Professor Stiglitz of Columbia University estimates, the cost of the Iraqi war could be in the realm of $1.2 trillion, the mind boggles at the cost of financing yet another war in Iran. Then, add the cost to the American economy of increased cost of petrol and you have a recipe for economic disaster, a result Osama could never on his own have achieved.