'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Iranian Problem, Again 

Charlie Davis has an excellent post summarizing the policy that Defense Secretary Gates wants to pursue in relation to the Iranian nuclear program:

. . . Iran could remain a signatory to the NPT while maintaining a virtual weapons capability is a concession that developing such a capacity is perfectly legal under the treaty. That being the case, what then would be the justification under international law for taking action -- in the form of economic or aerial warfare -- to stop Iran from possessing the enrichment capacity and knowhow to possibly someday build nuclear weapons, if it chose to do so (which even U.S. intelligence agencies don't believe the Iranians have decided to do)? My money's on a Security Council resolution.

Still, what is clearly illegal under international law and the NPT is not having a nuclear breakout capacity -- as Iran stands accused not of possessing, but seeking to possess -- but the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any States, as the non-proliferation treaty itself notes. That's something to be remembered the next time a U.S. official declares all options are on the table when dealing with Iran, and contrasted with the Obama administration's recently stated policy in its Nuclear Posture Review of maintaing the right to use nuclear weapons against those it deems in violation of the NPT (e.g. Iran).

I periodically encounter people who don't believe that the US will attack Iran. Eli Stephens over at Left I on the News has expressed this view over the years, and I have tentatively come around to agreeing with him.

But, maybe, we shouldn't be so sanguine about it. Consider this historical nugget, offered to us by Uri Avnery when he evaluated the issue in July of 2008:

On the basis of all these considerations, I dare to predict that there will be no military attack on Iran this year - not by the Americans, not by the Israelis.

As I write these lines, a little red light turns on in my head. It is related to a memory: in my youth I was an avid reader of Vladimir Jabotinsky's weekly articles, which impressed me with their cold logic and clear style. In August 1939, Jabotinsky wrote an article in which he asserted categorically that no war would break out, in spite of all the rumors to the contrary. His reasoning: modern weapons are so terrible, that no country would dare to start a war.

One wonders, what does Avnery think in 2010? Has his opinion changed, and, if so, why? There are a number of reasons to support a belief that an attack is now more probable: the failure of the protests to topple the Islamic regime, the naivete of a new President who acts and speaks as if he must actually confront issues, such as health care, social security, Medicare and financial reform, among others, not to mention the Taliban and Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan and Pakistan, that he asserts have been wilfully evaded and the possibility that US pressure on Israel, no matter how slight, to enter in a peace agreement with the Palestinians is a pragmatic display of realpolitik designed to lessen the global backlash in the event of military action.

Recall that, in 1991, President Bush called a Likud government to the negotiating table in Madrid after Operation Desert Storm. Recall also that the Iranian regime tries to mitigate global opposition to its repressive characteristics by positioning itself as the preeminent advocate for the Palestinian people. Because of its alignment with the maximalist goals of the Israeli right, the second Bush administration could not take the step of brokering a peace deal in order to open the way for an attack upon Iran, while the Obama administration can. Even so, on the merits, I remain agnostic.

If addressed rationally, as Admiral Mullen has done on a number of occasions, the consequences of an attack upon Iran are frightening to contemplate, even for an institution as powerful as the Pentagon. Everyone knows that the US military is overstretched in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and an attack could ignite an even more intensified period of violence by both state and non-state actors. Unfortunately, though, as we all know, people don't always act rationally, as the Jabotinsky column remembered by Avnery reminds us.

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