That the United States government, struggling under the weight of the bloody fiasco in Iraq, might be contemplating another war must seem unimaginable to most Americans. But the political class in the United States does not necessarily relate to what is unimaginable for most people, at least not recently. Consider for a moment the evidence that war is coming. There are the words of the Great Decider himself declaring that Iran's acquisition of a nuclear weapon is no longer the only issue. Per President George W. Bush, "If you're interested in avoiding World War III it seems you ought to be interested in preventing them from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon." If there were any confusion on the subject of US resolve, Vice President Dick Cheney reinforced the message in a speech before the neo-con and pro-Israeli Washington Institute for Near Eastern Policy (WINEP) in which he called Iran a "growing obstacle to peace in the Middle East," and promised "serious consequences" if the nuclear program is not abandoned. More tellingly, he also said that the United States "will not allow" an Iranian bomb. There have been additional comments from the usual members of the choir, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has referred to Iran as "a cancer."
More worrying, the president and vice president are not alone. Senator John McCain, the only Republican Presidential hopeful who actually knows something about foreign policy, recently commented that the public has no idea how close the US is to going to war with Iran. Republican Presidential contenders Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney have repeatedly pledged that Iran will not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons and have stressed that they possess the iron resolve required to use America's own nuclear arsenal against Tehran. And the Democrats are all lined up too with the leading candidates agreeing, without any debate, that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) formulation that "all options must remain on the table" with Iran is the appropriate policy. The ever opportunistic Senator Hillary Clinton went one step farther, voting for the Kyl-Lieberman oxymoronic "sense of the Senate" amendment to the defense appropriations bill, which advocated labeling the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist group. The Bush Administration followed through on the motion last week, declaring the Guards' Quds division a terrorist group and, for good measure, citing the Guards for proliferating weapons of mass destruction. It was the first time that part of the military of any sovereign country has been so labeled. The terrorist designation will permit unilateral military action without any process of seeking congressional approval. Not that Congress would say "no" in any event - a clear majority toes the AIPAC line on Iran. Attacking Iran is the only truly consensus issue in American politics.
The terrorist designation also makes any future negotiations with Iran impossible as the US government will not speak to terrorists and current and former Revolutionary Guard officers occupy key positions in the Iranian government and would have to be part of any serious attempt to resolve differences short of war. Kyl-Lieberman, a declaration of war without actually saying so, would virtually guarantee that talks never take place, which is precisely what the estimable Senators and their seventy-five supportive colleagues intended.
The United States is not now talking with Iran even though the President and Secretary of State insist that a diplomatic solution is being sought. The Administration is not willing to negotiate unless Tehran as a precondition gives up its nuclear enrichment program, something that Washington knows will not happen, so it is a non-starter by design. The new George Bush insistence that Iran should not be allowed to have the knowledge necessary to build a nuclear weapon is linked to Cheney's declared willingness to go to war to stop such a development. It is important to pause and think seriously about the Bush and Cheney comments, as they could have real life consequences. Quite a lot of information on building a nuclear weapon is available from public sources. It is the engineering of a bomb that is complicated. Many countries know how to build a bomb, including Japan, Brazil, South Korea, and just about every nation in Western Europe. Most also have nuclear reactors to provide energy, which Tehran claims is its own intention. Bush is not threatening to bomb Sao Paulo and Brussels. If the White House's real objection is to the fact that Iran is ruled by religious leaders who happen to be Muslims and that the country is hostile to United States and Israeli policies perhaps he should say so, though it is likely that he does not do so as it would not make a compelling case for the launching of a World War. The argument that Iran is interfering in Iraq and Afghanistan is also long on innuendo and light on facts leaving the president with fear mongering about possible global conflict as the only way to go.
War is serious business and it seems implausible for a number of reasons to suggest that the next one might be started by Iran. The threat allegedly posed by the Mullahs must be put in context. Iran is basically a third world country with a classic rentier one-commodity economy derived from its oil revenue. It has little else in the way of a real economy and, even with the oil, there is high unemployment and little future for the young people who make up most of the population. No one is emulating the Iranian political model. Its government led by Mullahs is unpopular and only experiences a surge of support when its leaders are being attacked by the US. A recent opinion poll reveals that most young Iranians actually admire the US, though not Washington's policies. Iran, with an economy only 1.4% as large as that of the US, has a gross national product (GNP) that is smaller than that of Finland and would seem to be an unlikely candidate to threaten the rest of the world. The GNP would actually be shrinking if it weren't for increasing oil prices.
The president of the United States, whose grasp of words and their meaning is admittedly fleeting, is stating that if Washington is not able to use whatever means are necessary to disarm Iran it could mean a world war. This is crazy talk and fear mongering at the highest level. It also is illogical. Tehran does not have a demonstrated military capability to attack anyone and its rulers are fully aware that the end result of an aggressive act would be their complete destruction by nuclear weapons in the hands of the United States and Israel. There is no evidence that the Iranian leadership is suicidal, quite the contrary.
If there is a war originating in the Persian Gulf it will presumably be started by the United States or Israel. If the conflict is not contained it could indeed become global as Iran becomes a symbol for the hundreds of millions of people around the world who have come to hate the US and its policies. More than seventy million people died in the last world war and the technology of death has improved since 1945. Concerned Americans should consequently demand to know what the President is really saying and what his intentions are, particularly since the mainstream media appear to have lost interest in the subject. Does Bush really believe that Iranian knowledge of how to build a nuclear weapon must be stopped by all means necessary because it will otherwise produce a world war? If he thinks that to be true, what is the evidence for such an alarmist conclusion? Or do he and Cheney think that the United States has some kind of carte blanche authority to start a series of preventive wars against selected enemies based on presumptions about intentions and capabilities? Concerned citizens might also ask why the United States is not talking to Iran in an attempt to resolve differences.