Chris Hedges / The World Can’t Wait – 2007-09-26 23:04:15
Judson Memorial Church, New York City (September 25, 2007) — War with Iran — a war that would unleash an apocalyptic scenario in the Middle East — appears increasingly likely before the coming Presidential election. I do not know when, or finally if, an attack on Iran will take place. But I do know that all the pieces in the chessboard are in place, that the rhetoric and propaganda is now geared toward preparing the United States for a massive strike on Iran, that many intelligence and State Department officials privately believe such an attack will take place and that our allies, from the French to the Germans to the Israelis, talk as if war is inevitable.
Let us hope sanity prevails. But sanity is a rare commodity in a White House which has perverted Leon Trotsky’s concept of permanent revolution into a concept of permanent war, with, of course, the same nefarious aims — to intimidate and destroy all those classified as foreign opponents, to create permanent instability and fear and to silence domestic critics who challenge leaders in a time defined as a national crisis. It works.
Most of the citizens of the United States, nakedly being stripped of their most basic civil liberties, are powerless, compliant and afraid. And if you doubt me take a look at the Democratic Party. The Democratic candidates, with the exception of Dennis Kucinich, have not called for the resumption of our system of checks and balances. They seek not to restore balance, but to seize power, all the while solidifying in their own name the iron grip of the corporate state.
A Convicted Felon Oversees the Iran War Program
George Bush, claiming to be anointed by a Christian God to reshape the world, and especially the Middle East, defined three states at the start of his reign as “the Axis of Evil.” They were Iraq, now occupied; North Korea, which, because it has nuclear weapons, is untouchable; and Iran. He has turned his Middle East planning to neo-conservative ideologues, such as Elliott Abrams, a convicted felon who helped orchestrate the disastrous and illegal contra war in Nicaragua, and who now handles the Middle East for the National Security Council.
Abrams knew nothing about Central America. He knows nothing about the Middle East. He sees the world through the childish, binary lens of good and evil, us and them, the forces of darkness and the forces of light. And it is this strange, twilight mentality that now grips most of the Bush administration’s civilian planners who are barreling us towards a crisis of epic proportions.
We already see the sadly familiar propaganda campaign for war. Army Gen. David Petraeus told the National Press Club a few days ago that “you can’t win in Iraq … just in Iraq.” A victory in Iraq necessitates “greater involvement with respect to some of the neighboring countries, some of the source countries for foreign fighters. … And it certainly involves Iran.”
Or take one of Senator Joe Lieberman’s fatuous questions to Petraeus during the general’s senate testimony. “Is it time to give you authority, in pursuit of your mission in Iraq, to pursue those Iranian Quds Force operations in Iranian territory, in order to protect America’s troops in Iraq?”
Lieberman has declared that “the Iranian government by its actions has declared war on us”
Bush has accused Iran of putting the Middle East “under the shadow of a nuclear holocaust” and added that the United States and its allies would face Iran “before it is too late.”
I wake up and half expect to see Judy Miller again emblazoned on the front page of The New York Times, although the advocates of war are spinning and manipulating the press astutely enough without her.
Even the man who played Cassandra in the war with Iraq, who warned us of our folly and the delusions of those who advocated invasion and occupation, has reappeared, looking somewhat like the ghost in Hamlet, on stage.
There Is ‘No Firm Evidence’ Iran Is a Nuclear Threat
Mohammed El Baradei, the Nobel prize-winning Egyptian head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, says that while there is evidence that Iran has hidden some of its nuclear activities from the Agency, there is no firm evidence that it is in fact developing nuclear weapons or diverting materials from its civilian nuclear program. He calls for negotiations built around Iran’s commitment to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. He hopes to press for intrusive inspections and to reach a new deal with Tehran to answer a series of specific questions over the autumn.
But we are ruled by a government that makes its own reality. Americans, entranced by the info-entertainment that passes for news on cable networks, are unlikely to read the latest IAEA report. And the Bush administration has blithely tossed the report in into the bonfire they are building for war.
The State Department in a September 7 press briefing cited the report as further evidence of Iranian non-compliance and announced that “if Iran wants to take steps backward to limit its cooperation with the IAEA or with other parts of the international community, again, that is only taking them further away from a resolution of this issue and I think will only lead to further negative consequences for the government and unfortunately, for the Iranian people as well.”
And let’s not romanticize the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or the repressive groups of clerics who rule Iran. I was arrested and tossed in a jail cell on two different occasions in Iran as a correspondent there for The New York Times. I was deported once in handcuffs. I was followed, my phone was tapped and my Iranian translator harassed and bullied until she left the country. I got a small taste of the murderous and repressive apparatus that keeps figures like Ahmadinejad in power. And, because I also spent considerable time in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, I came to know the self-defeating blustering these tyrants use to justify their own internal repression and assure their population that they are ready and eager for war.
This is why Ahmadinejad earlier this month made the preposterous claim that the nuclear program is now operating at 3,000 centrifuges—the necessary level to enrich uranium for nuclear fuel within a year. It is why Saddam Hussein, although he had no weapons of mass destruction, was unable to publicly concede his own nakedness and vulnerability.
The hypocrisy of this newest moral crusade is not lost on those in the Middle East. Iran signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Iran has violated a codicil of that treaty written by European foreign ministers, but this codicil was never ratified by the Iranian parliament. I suspect Iran does, by the way, intend to acquire nuclear weapons. I do not want to minimize the danger should it acquire them in the estimated five to ten years.
But contrast Iran with Pakistan, India and Israel. These three countries refused to sign the treaty. They developed nuclear weapons programs in secret. Israel now has an estimated 400 to 600 nuclear weapons. The word “Dimona,” the name of the city where the nuclear facilities are located in Israel, is shorthand in the Muslim world for the deadly Israeli threat to the Muslim world’s existence.
What Lessons Has Iran Learned?
What lessons did the Iranians learn from our Israeli, Pakistani and Indian allies? What lessons have been learned by other countries in the region? These nations saw that the United States did not concern itself with international law and treaties when its allies secretly built nuclear weapons. These treaties only count for Washington’s enemies.
The excuses for war make no sense to those versed in the reality of Iraq and the Middle East. The idea that Teheran is directing attacks on American troops in Iraq belies the fact that very few troops are killed by Shiites. The idea that Teheran is seeking to destabilize a Shiite-led government that has extremely close ties to Iran is absurd. The notion that Iran would commit suicide by actually using a nuclear weapon hands to the Iranian government an irrationality it does not possess. But these charges are not about truth or reality. They are about driving us towards war. And the naked hypocrisy of the United States mocks all the indignant rhetoric of Joe Lieberman, George Bush and Gen. Petraeus.
Needed: A Nuclear-free Israel
Is it any wonder that Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia have all expressed a desire for nuclear capacity? Can we not grasp that Iran, knowing that with the touch of a button Israel could obliterate the country, would seek nuclear weapons especially in an age when permanent war entails making “preemptive” and unprovoked strikes?
And can we not see that the answer is not more nuclear bombs but a nuclear free Middle East, including a nuclear-free Israel? I do not delude myself that in the current political climate this is possible, I raise it only because it is finally the only way to protect Israel and the region from catastrophic war.
All efforts, short of war, must be made to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. But if we fail we must be prepared to live with a nuclear Iran. It is only a matter of time before more states, including failed states, acquire these weapons and attacking Iran, while it may retard the Iranian program, will spur dozens of other nations into the nuclear arms race.
If America’s Nuclear Weapons Are a ‘Deterrent,’ Why Does the US Fear other Nations would Risk Building Them?
John Abizaid, the retired Army general who headed Central Command for nearly four years, said that if Iran gained nuclear arms, the United States could deter it from using them.
“Iran is not a suicide nation,” he said recently. “I mean, they may have some people in charge that don’t appear to be rational, but I doubt that the Iranians intend to attack us with a nuclear weapon.”
The Iranians are aware, he said, that the United States has a far superior military capability. “I believe that we have the power to deter Iran, should it become nuclear,” he said, referring to the theory that Iran would not risk a catastrophic retaliatory strike by using a nuclear weapon against the United States.
A war with Iran will be different from the war in Iraq. It will usher in the apocalyptic nightmares spun out in the dark, fantastic visions of the Christian right. And there are those around the president who see this vision as preordained by God; indeed, the president himself may hold such a vision. The heavy military build-up in the region over the last few weeks is another show of force or a preparation for an attack. The American strike force carrier group in the Persian Gulf-Arabian Sea region, led by the USS Enterprise, has been joined by the USS Nimitz and the USS Truman Strike Groups. There are now three American naval, air and marine forces within striking distance of Iran.
We are actively engaged in an effort to destabilize the Iranian regime by recruiting tribal groups and ethnic minorities inside Iran to rebel. We have selected 1,000 sites inside Iran to wipe out nuclear production and cripple the 850,000-man Iranian army. The Bushehr nuclear power plant, along with targets in Saghand and Yazd, the uranium enrichment facility in Natanz, a heavy-water plant and radioisotope facility in Arak, the Ardekan Nuclear Fuel Unit, and the uranium conversion facility and nuclear technology center in Isfahan, will all probably be struck by the United States and perhaps even Israeli warplanes.
The Tehran Nuclear Research Center, the Tehran molybdenum, iodine and xenon radioisotope production facility, the Tehran Jabr Ibn Hayan Multipurpose Laboratories, and the Kalaye Electric Co. in the Tehran suburbs will also most likely come under attack. Most of these facilities are in heavily populated areas. The loss of civilian life will be astronomical and the rage it will engender will lock us in a death embrace with Iran.
The disaster last year in southern Lebanon, where the Israeli air campaign not only failed to break Hezbollah but united most Lebanese behind the militant group, is a good example of what would happen if we carried out air strikes on Iran. The massive Israeli bombing of Lebanon failed to pacify 4 million Lebanese. What will happen when we begin to pound a country of 70 million people whose land mass is four times the size of France?
An Air Campaign Always Leads to Troops on the Ground
As retired General Wesley K. Clark and others have pointed out, once you begin an air campaign, it is only a matter of time before you have to put troops on the ground or accept defeat, as the Israelis had to do in Lebanon. And if we begin dropping bunker busters, cruise missiles and iron fragmentation bombs on Iran this is the choice that must be faced—either sending American forces into Iran to fight a protracted and futile guerrilla war or walking away in humiliation.
But more ominously, an attack on Iran will ignite the Middle East. The loss of Iranian oil, coupled with Silkworm missile attacks by Iran on oil tankers in the Persian Gulf, could send oil soaring to close to $200 a barrel. The price of oil would certainly double the moment war began. The effect on the domestic and world economy will be devastating, very possibly triggering a huge, global depression. The Middle East has two-thirds of the world’s proven petroleum reserves and nearly half its natural gas. A disruption in the supply will be felt immediately.
A US Attack would Trigger a Catastrophe
The 2 million Shiites in Saudi Arabia, the Shiite majority in Iraq and the Shiite communities in Bahrain, Pakistan and Turkey will turn in rage on us and our dwindling allies. We will see a combination of increased terrorist attacks, including on American soil, and the widespread sabotage of oil production in the Gulf. Iraq, as bad as it looks now, will become a death pit for American troops as Shiites and Sunnis, for the first time, unite against their foreign occupiers. Iran, in retaliation, will fire its missiles, including the new Qadr-1, with a range of 1,100 miles, on American installations, including the Green Zone.
Expect substantial casualties, especially with Iranian agents and their Iraqi allies calling in precise coordinates.. Iranian Shabab-3 and Shabab-4 missiles, as well as the Qadr-1, will be launched at Israel. The Strait of Hormuz, which is the corridor for 20 percent of the world’s oil supply, will become trecherous. Chinese-supplied C-801 and C-802 anti-shipping missiles, mines and coastal artillery, along with speed boats packed with explosives, will target U.S. shipping, along with Saudi oil production and oil export centers.
Hezbollah forces in southern Lebanon, interpreting the war as an attack on all Shiites, will fire rockets into northern Israel. Israel, already struck by missiles from Tehran, will begin retaliatory raids on Lebanon and Iran. Pakistan, with a huge Shiite minority, will reach greater levels of instability. The unrest could result in the overthrow of the weakened American ally President Pervez Musharraf and usher into power Islamic radicals. Pakistan, rather than Iran, could become the first radical Islamic state to possess a nuclear weapon. The neat little war with Iran, which nearly all Democrats do not oppose, has the potential to ignite a regional inferno.
The country, however, that will pay the biggest price will be Israel. And the sad irony is that those planning this war think of themselves as allies of the Jewish state. A conflagration of this magnitude could see Israel drawn back in Lebanon and sucked into a regional war, one that would over time spell the final chapter in the Zionist experiment in the Middle East. The Israelis call their nuclear program “the Samson option.” The Biblical Samson ripped down the pillars of the temple and killed everyone around him, along with himself. It may be a sad and apt metaphor.
The Politics of Empathy
The most effective diplomats, like the most effective intelligence officers and foreign correspondents, possess empathy. They have the intellectual, cultural and linguistic literacy to get inside the heads of those they must analyze or cover. They know the vast array of historical, religious, economic and cultural antecedents that go into making up decisions and reactions. And because of this—endowed with the ability to communicate and more able to find ways of resolving conflicts through diplomacy—they are less prone to blunders.
But we live in an age where dialogue is dismissed and empathy is suspect. We prefer the illusion that we can dictate events through force. It hasn’t worked well in Iraq. It hasn’t worked well in Afghanistan. And it won’t work in Iran. But those who once tried to reach out and understand, who developed expertise to explain the world to us and ourselves to the world, no longer have a voice in the new imperial project. We are instead governed and informed by moral and intellectual trolls.
To make rational decisions in international relations we must perceive how others see us. We must grasp how they think about us and be sensitive to their fears and insecurities. But this is becoming hard to accomplish. Our embassies are packed with analysts whose main attribute is long service in the armed forces and who frequently report to intelligence agencies rather than the State Department. Our area specialists in the State Department are ignored by the ideologues driving foreign policy. Their complex view of the world is an inconvenience. And foreign correspondents are an endangered species, along with foreign coverage.
We speak to the rest of the globe in the language of violence. The proposed multibillion-dollar arms supply package for the Persian Gulf countries is the newest form of weapons-systems-as-message. U.S. Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns was rather blunt about the deal. He told the International Herald Tribune that the arms package “says to the Iranians and Syrians that the United States is the major power in the Middle East and will continue to be and is not going away.”
The arrogant call for U.S. hegemony over the rest of the globe is making enemies of a lot of people who might be predisposed to support us, even in the Middle East. And it is terrifying those, such as the Iraqis, Iranians and Syrians, whom we have demonized. Empathy and knowledge, the qualities that make real communication possible, have been discarded. We use tough talk and big weapons deals to communicate. We spread fear, distrust and violence. And we expect missile systems to protect us.
Bush Has Committed Criminal Aggression under International Law
George Bush has shredded, violated or absented America from its obligations under international law. He has refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol, backed out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, tried to kill the International Criminal Court, walked out on negotiations on chemical and biological weapons and defied the Geneva Convention and human rights law in the treatment of detainees. Most egregiously, he launched an illegal war in Iraq based on fabricated evidence we now know had been discredited even before it was made public. He seeks to do the same in Iran.
This president is guilty, in short, of what in legal circles is known as the “crime of aggression.” And if we as citizens do not hold him accountable for these crimes, if we do not actively defy this government and support impeachment, we will be complicit in the codification of a new world order, one that will have terrifying consequences. For a world without treaties, statutes and laws is a world where any nation, from a rogue nuclear state to a great imperial power, will be able to invoke its domestic laws to annul its obligations to others. This new order will undo five decades of international cooperation — largely put in place by the United States — and thrust us into a Hobbsian nightmare…
A rule-based world matters. The creation of these international bodies and rules, as well as the use of our influence over the last half century to see they were followed, have allowed us to stand as a nation that respects and defends the rule of law. If we demolish the fragile and delicate international order, if we permit George Bush to create a world where diplomacy, broad cooperation and the law are worthless, if we allow these international legal systems to unravel, we will see our moral and political authority plummet. We will erode the possibility of cooperation between nation states, including our closest allies and see visited upon us the evils we visit on others.
We have rendered the nation deaf and dumb. We no longer have the capacity for empathy. We prefer to amuse ourselves with trivia and gossip that pass for news rather than understand. We are blinded by our military prowess. We believe that huge explosions and death are an effective form of communication. And the rest of the world is learning to speak our language. If you are sure you will be raptured into heaven, your clothes left behind with the nonbelievers, then this news should cheer you up. If you are rational, however, these may be some of the last few weeks or months in which to enjoy what is left of our beleaguered, dying republic and way of life.
The scenario that faces us requires those of us as citizens to act. The Democratic Party, which does not have the stomach to halt the war in Iraq, has made clear it will cheer on our self-immolation in Iran.
A country that exists in a state of permanent war cannot exist as a democracy. Our long row of candles is being snuffed out. We will soon be in darkness.
I ask you to join me, if we should go to war with Iran, in refusing to pay your income tax. Put the money in an escrow account. Dispute this. Go to court. Maybe a few courageous judges will rule that the Constitution has been usurped and the government is guilty of what the post-war Nuremberg laws defined as a criminal “war of aggression.”
Maybe. Maybe not. I no longer know. But I do know this. I have friends in Teheran, in Gaza, in Beirut and Baghdad, in Jerusalem and Cairo, and even if our efforts of resistance fail we should at least muster enough integrity and courage so that when the slaughter is over we will have earned the right to ask for their forgiveness.
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