Attacking Iran (Again): “What’s Left?” May 2008, MRR #300

There I was, boring some friends with the story of how I got politics at 16 in 1968. For that tumultuous year, and several thereafter, most of my friends and I thought that The Revolution was just around the corner. We predicted a popular uprising any day against Nixon’s law-and-order fascism. To which the crusty nonagenarian of the group, Ben, commented, “What in hell were you smoking?”


I published a science fiction novel, End Time, in January of 1994 in which, among other things, the people of southern Mexico rise up in anarchist revolution led by a group calling themselves the Zapatistas. Coincidental to the book’s publication, the EZLN launched their uprising in Chiapas. I in no way predicted the real Zapatista rebellion, but had simply used history to create plausible future scenarios for my story. Most reviewers thought I had, however, so I played up this fortuitous circumstance to get more publicity, and sell more books.

I’ve never been very accurate in my forecasts, even though I’m not shy about making them. Five months ago, I predicted that it would be Clinton and Giuliani in November, and that the US would bomb Iran this spring. It now looks like Obama and McCain will be squaring off for the presidency. I can only hope that my forecast of US military action against Iran is equally wrong. For while few could have predicted the current economic crisis that began with the breakdown of the US sub-prime mortgage market and has expanded into an economy-wide credit collapse, the consequences of attacking Iran should be obvious to anyone.

Just in case they aren’t, let me spell them out, one more time.

I assume that the US engages in military aggression in conjunction with Israel. Their combined attack is a comprehensive assault targeting, not just Iran’s nuclear capabilities, but also that country’s military and political infrastructures, launched sometime this spring when the weather is optimal. The goals are to significantly set back Iran’s nuclear research and development program, and to affect some form of regime change. It’s doubtful that the disastrous results of such a military campaign would be significantly mitigated if the US opts for an American-only strike, or limits military targets solely to nuclear facilities. So let’s start with Iran, and move outward.

Military attacks alone cannot achieve regime change in Iran. The general populace does not rise up against the government, nor do regional or ethnic uprisings seriously threaten Iran’s national stability. What does happen is that hard line forces associated with the Revolutionary Guard, already on the ascendancy over the arch-conservative theocratic mullahs, use any US/Israeli strike to consolidate their power and take out their opposition. Iran stops selling oil to the US and Europe. That country is in a “state of war” with the West, which involves, in part, harassing petroleum shipments from Iraq and the Gulf states, if not blocking the Straits of Hormuz altogether. On a wider front, Iranian terrorist elements initiate attacks on US, Israeli and European interests around the world.

Shiite Iran makes an alliance of convenience with the Sunni Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan to strengthen and broaden the guerrilla resurgence against US and NATO forces. In Iraq, the Shiite population of the south rises up and makes that part of the country a no-go area for the US military, effectively removing southern Iraq’s oil supplies from US control as well. The Sunnis of western Iraq also revolt, driving the US military out, into the last, remaining region of Iraq still friendly to America, the Kurdish north, with perhaps a territorial corridor to the Green Zone in Baghdad. The US-installed Iraqi government pretends to function for a while longer, but the country has splintered de facto into three mini-states. That fact is not lost on Iraq’s neighbors. Iran trains and arms the southern Shia to the teeth, as does Syria and Saudi Arabia the western Sunni. Turkey, now cognizant that northern Iraq is a Kurdish state in all but name, invades and occupies the northern mountainous region of this Kurdistan, ostensibly to “help” the US fight Kurdish PKK terrorism. The Kurds respond to the Turkish invasion by intensifying their guerrilla war inside and outside of Turkey. The US, too preoccupied with problems in the rest of Iraq, is unable to stop this escalation. Meanwhile, oil reaches $400 a barrel and the industrialized North, with the exception of Russia, slides into a prolonged economic depression.

The outright participation of Israel in the third American assault on an Islamic nation in less than a decade reverberates throughout the Muslim world. Lebanon collapses into another civil war, with Hezbollah now the dominant military and political player. Pakistan completely loses control of its western provinces, taking one more step toward becoming a failed state. A failed state with nuclear weapons. Fundamentalist Muslim attacks on US forces, corporations, and individuals skyrocket internationally. Many European countries with substantial Muslim immigrant populations experience varying degrees of urban insurrection, and the United States is once more subject to terrorist attacks on its soil. Civil liberties are curtailed, conscription is reinstated, internment camps are built and populated, total surveillance becomes the norm, and civil society is thoroughly militarized.

You’d think that the quagmire-like nature of US military involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, not to mention the dire circumstances of the American economy, would dissuade Bush and Company from further military adventures in Iran. The recent forced resignation of Admiral William Fallon, Central Commander responsible for the Middle East, has been widely interpreted as a sign that the US executive is indeed preparing to go to war with Iran. An Esquire interview reveals that Fallon was a vocal critic of the administration’s military policies in Iraq and belligerence toward Iran, and describes him as the lone man standing in the way of Bush attacking Iran. Yet I’ve been foretelling an impending US military strike on Iran for the past four years now, thankfully without much accuracy. I appreciate how damned hard predictions are to make as I finish this column in the middle of March, with spring yet to begin. Readers of this issue, the May issue and the 300th issue of Maximum Rocknroll will probably know the accuracy of my prognostications. I do hope that mine are wrong.

Three hundred issues. Who would have predicted it?

Attacking Iran: “What’s Left?” May 2007, MRR #288

One sign of serious mental illness is when an individual does the exact same thing over and over, each time expecting a different outcome.

Junior Bush militarily attacked Afghanistan in 2001, the first campaign in his international War on Terror. Lip-synching the neoconservative refrain that combating terrorism may require preemptive war, Bush applied the solution favored by his neocon advisors, regime change. The war was expected to be short, and result in a free, democratic and grateful Afghanistan. Today, and despite having ostensibly turned over military operations to NATO, the US accounts for over half of the 50,000 troops in the country that are fighting a Taliban guerrilla insurgency on the rebound. Acts of terrorism are on the increase throughout the region and Pakistan’s western provinces are a de facto jihadist state. Expecting a spring offensive, the Pentagon moved a brigade of 3,200 soldiers originally destined for Iraq–the 173rd Airborne–to Afghanistan, according to a 2-14-07 CNN report. And the US is haranguing its NATO allies not just to commit more troops, but also to commit them to much more dangerous parts of Afghanistan.

The Numbnuts in Chief then invaded Iraq in 2003, round two of the War on Terror. Preemptive war and regime change in Iraq were expected to be a cakewalk according to most neoconservatives, with the citizens of that country greeting American troops as liberators, showering them with flowers and candy. Freedom and democracy in Iraq, in turn, were supposed to spread throughout the region, bringing about peace and an end to tyranny in the Middle East. Today, the 152,000-plus US soldiers in Iraq, in addition to 15,000 troops comprising Junior Bush’s miniscule Coalition of the Willing, are ass deep in a Sunni jihadi insurgency, and a bloody civil war between Sunnis and Shias fueled by Shia dominance in the new national government. Iraq is on the brink of splitting into Sunni, Shia, and Kurdish mini-states, the entire region has been destabilized, terrorism is on the rise throughout the Middle East, and Iran appears to be the primary beneficiary of all of this. As I begin this column, the US House of Representatives has just passed a toothless, non-binding resolution condemning Junior Bush’s 20,000 troop surge.

Rumor has it that, sometime this spring, the lesser Bush intends to follow the advice of various neoconservative pundits to launch the third installment of his War on Terror with a preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. “As cited by former CIA officer Philip Giraldi in the most recent edition of American Conservative, Bush’s charges that Iran is supplying bombs to Shi’a militias to kill U.S. soldiers in Iraq; the seizure by U.S. forces of Iranian diplomatic and intelligence officials there; the deployment of two aircraft carrier groups with a flotilla of minesweepers to the Gulf; the supply of Patriot anti-missile batteries to Washington’s allies in the region; the unprecedented appointment of a navy admiral and former combat pilot as the head of Central Command; the ‘surge’ of as many as 40,000 troops into Iraq; persistent reports of U.S. covert operations inside Iran-all suggest that Washington is preparing for a military confrontation, and soon.” (Jim Lobe, “The Neo-Con Dog That Isn’t Barking,” Inter Press Service, Feb. 16, 2007)

Israel will be America’s partner in this operation, if not its avant garde. A 2-19-07 BBC report claims that “US contingency plans for air strikes on Iran extend beyond nuclear sites and include most of the country’s military infrastructure,” including “Iranian air bases, naval bases, missile facilities and command-and-control centres.” Neocon true believers have long insisted that the goal of such a military first strike must go beyond merely deterring Iran’s nuclear weapons development capabilities, all the way to regime change.

As I finish this column, Iran has not yet been attacked. I hope MRR readers are not witnessing US/Israeli military action against Iran as they read these words. By now it ought to be clear that a preemptive attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities amounts to strike three in a disastrous foreign policy that cannot possibly bring peace, democracy, prosperity, or stability to Iran, let alone to the Middle East. If the idiocy of the neocons has prevailed however, let me offer a few predictions about the consequences of military action against Iran, just to see how close I come to the unfolding reality.

There will be tremendous collateral damage in Iran in the form of civilian deaths, property and infrastructure destruction, and radioactive pollution that will allow the country’s theocratic hardliners to eliminate all opposition and consolidate their power. Iran’s Shi’ite allies in Iraq will stage an uprising with Iranian arms and perhaps Revolutionary Guard intervention throughout the south that, with the Sunni insurgency in Anbar province, will drive US forces out of all but the Kurdish parts of Iraq. Moderate, pro-western Muslim regimes will be unwilling and unable to draw any distinction between American and Israeli foreign policies, and it will be assumed that they are identical by the entire Muslim world. Muslims worldwide will be outraged as the region between Lebanon’s Mediterranean coast and Pakistan’s autonomous western provinces descends into chaos, resulting in a dramatic increase in international terrorism against US, Israeli, Jewish, and Western targets. The international flow of oil will be severely disrupted, due to Iranian economic retaliation and Revolutionary Guard attacks on Persian Gulf shipping, bringing about a worldwide economic depression.

Is Junior Bush so mentally addled, or so much a tool of the neoconservatives, that he would risk even part of the above coming true? Are the neocons completely insane in their apocalyptic brinksmanship? It might be a bit more insidious than that. Joshua Micah Marshall first hit upon what’s actually going on in his April 2003 Washington Monthly essay “Practice to Deceive,” when he argued that far from being a nightmare scenario, chaos in the Middle East is what Bush and his neocon hawks have in mind.

The model here is the second World War and its aftermath, particularly in Europe. Then, an entire continent had collapsed into chaos as a consequence of savage warfare. The Western allies-France, Britain, and the US-used the opportunity of that chaos to reshape Europe. Borders were redrawn, old enmities as between France and Germany were buried, and authoritarian countries like Germany, the western part at least, were transformed into showcase democracies. Indeed, it was the successful democratization of both Germany and Japan after the war that is the cornerstone to the neoconservative delusion of democratizing the Middle East. Instead of seeing the widening instability in the region as evidence of some fundamental strategic bankruptcy, neoconservatives interpret the growing chaos as a vindication of their imperial designs, an affirmation of ur-neocon Leo Strauss’s implied theory of “creative chaos.” Indeed, the neocon recipe assumes that a whole lot of eggs will have to be broken in order to make this democratic omelet. Thus, Condoleezza Rice could oversee Israel’s devastation of Lebanon and callously call it “the birth pangs of a new Middle East.”

I needn’t point out that Lebanon hasn’t turned out the way Bush and Co. wanted either.

The notion that geopolitical collapse and international chaos will help facilitate the creation of a democratic Middle East makes about as much sense as hoping that the US remains bogged down in Iraq because the potential for imperial collapse and social chaos will make social revolution in this country that much more likely. Aside from the fact that both scenarios are against the interests of working people here and around the world, the proposition that a worthy future can be built upon mountains of corpses is extremely dubious. Unfortunately, mountains of corpses are all but guaranteed in the Middle East for the foreseeable future.

Recently, one neocon pundit after another revealed in Vanity Fair (11-3-06) that they believe Bush bungled Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon, that Bush didn’t commit the manpower and resources to do the job right, that Bush compromised away their vision of democratic imperialism to traitorous State Department “realists,” that Bush wanted to talk their talk but was unable to walk their walk. It’s hard to sell the public on “creative chaos,” so it’s CYA time for the neoconservatives, who are now making excuses for why things didn’t turn out quite the way they’d planned. Junior Bush may very well have been incompetent and done a half-assed job implementing the neocon agenda. Yet complete devotion to democratizing the Middle East would not have accomplished much more. As admirers of the influence wielded by the Roman Empire at its prime, neoconservatives have great difficulty accepting that the US has neither the troop levels, military strength, or imperial will to emulate ancient Rome.

If the neocons remain wedded to their delusions despite the facts, why then are they not more excited by the prospect of a military attack on Iran’s nuclear capabilities sometime this spring? Journalist Jim Lobe writes that “[I]f an attack on Iran is on the near-term agenda, the neo-conservatives have been decidedly off-message. […] This tack may simply be a ruse to lull anti-war forces into complacency. Or it may reflect a fear that, given their record on Iraq, beating the drums for war with Iran may prove counter-productive […]. Or it may indicate that prominent neo-cons have somehow lost touch with the hawks in the White House and Cheney’s office who are now determined to go to attack Iran this spring.”

Whether the neocons are lying low so as not to attract undo attention to an imminent US/Israeli military strike on Iran, or perhaps know “that any such attack is still some time off, if it takes place at all” (per Jim Lobe), will be obvious by the time this issue of MRR officially hits the newsstands. I for one have no desire to count up how many of my predictions about the consequences of a military strike on Iran proved to be on the mark.