Sunday, January 28, 2007

Developments on Iran

When you read the history of World War I, it's difficult to be impressed with the heads of state that blundered into that war. The number one flaw that the heads of state in that era shared was hubris. The president of the United States and the current president of Iran share that quality. Of course, we're the superpower and we're supposed to be the guys who know better. War with Iran is not inevitable but a number of people inside and outside the United States better start getting their acts together.

The problem with coverage of Iran is that we're already beginning to slip into the kind of build-up that led to the fiasco in Iraq. Sam Gardiner of The Left Coaster notices the spin and has other observations:
The President said he's not going to attack Iran. If that’s true, I am left wondering why the outrage effort. Why has the White House created an interagency working group whose mission is to build outrage in the world about Iran? The whole effort is so much in the pattern of message preparation for Gulf II that I am left concerned.

In other words, not only does it look as if there are military preparations for striking Iran, it looks as if the White House is doing public opinion preparations for a strike on Iran.

(snip)

This week the United States went to the UN to get a resolution condemning those who denied the Holocaust.

The President of Iran crossed the line with his rhetoric. I worry, however, this could be the main theme for generating support in the United States for the eventual attack on Iran. If you are interested in marketing a war, the beauty of this theme is that there are not many Democrats who would be able to object if that case is made. It also appeals to the religious right. It is a wonderful path to outrage.

The last two paragraphs above suggest the Bush Administration is deliberately looking for trouble. There's a lot of hot air on both sides and it's ridiculous if hot air leads to a broader war. In the past, competent American presidents has known ways to defuse hot air and have usually come out the winner in such cases. This is where the Europeans, Russians and Chinese could make themselves useful.

Americans need to recognize that there are diplomatic efforts going on, even if Bush and the neocons disdain them. Here's an AP story by Nasser Karimi in the San Diego Union-Tribune:
Iran said Sunday it needs time to review a plan proposed by the head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency that calls for holding off on imposing U.N. Security Council sanctions if Tehran suspends uranium enrichment.

The International Atomic Energy Agency chief, Mohamed ElBaradei, proposed the simultaneous time-out plan during the World Economic Forum in Switzerland in an effort to end the standoff between the West and Iran over the Islamic republic's suspect nuclear program.

“Time should be allocated to see if the plan has the capacity to solve the (nuclear) case,” Ali Larijani, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, told reporters during a joint news conference with Russia's national security adviser, Igor Ivanov. He did not elaborate.

Steve Clemons of The Washinton Note, however, observes that the Iranians can sometimes be rather stupid (or perhaps in disarray?):
Over the last two years, Iran has played a shrewd diplomatic hand. It has negotiated with the Europeans and continued to do business deals with China and Russia. It has not done as much harm as it might have done inside Iraq, or even as a key sponsor of Hezbollah and Hamas.

While it's not comfortable for critics of Iran to hear this, Iran could have been a far worse actor on the international stage than it has been. There are real limits to this logic, but the key question is whether Iran's behavior can be steered away from being an international trouble-maker bent on exclusive domination of the Middle East, or whether Iran, America, and other key players are going to be drawn into what could evolve into a world war that alters the geopolitical terrain permanently.

Iran is now competing with George Bush as a champion of counter-productive, idiotic moves that undermine any international acceptance and legitimacy of its position.

Iran is now calling for the removal of the UN's top Iran-focused nuclear inspector, Chris Charlier, and has banned 38 other UN inspectors from entering the country.

At times, Ahmadinejad isn't much brighter than George W. Bush and seems to forget how his own words can be used against him by an administration adept at propaganda. In a war, Iran, has far more to lose than the United States, though both countries could be set back decades in a heavy war, particularly if oil production takes a serious blow. The potential consequences of war with Iran are not small (in fact, the consequences of fighting three wars at the same time will not be small).

Here's a story by the Guardian, reminding us that we may be going to war against an illusion and once again that would not be in America's interest:
Iran's efforts to produce highly enriched uranium, the material used to make nuclear bombs, are in chaos and the country is still years from mastering the required technology.

Iran's uranium enrichment programme has been plagued by constant technical problems, lack of access to outside technology and knowhow, and a failure to master the complex production-engineering processes involved. The country denies developing weapons, saying its pursuit of uranium enrichment is for energy purposes.

Despite Iran being presented as an urgent threat to nuclear non-proliferation and regional and world peace - in particular by an increasingly bellicose Israel and its closest ally, the US - a number of Western diplomats and technical experts close to the Iranian programme have told The Observer [Guardian affiliate] it is archaic, prone to breakdown and lacks the materials for industrial-scale production.

Notice how Israel keeps popping up in various discussions. Israel has its right wing hawks just like we do and it's ridiculous that we might go to war with Iran because of Israel. A similar problem is apparently developing with Saudi Arabia. We are friends and allies of Israel and Saudi Arabia and it is proper for both to express their concerns to us but it is not proper for either nation to drag us into some bigger war as a consequence of their own blunders. That begs the question of how much the Bush Administration understands American foreign policy and how much it's in control of its policy and how much it's willing to let two small countries 'dictate' our foreign policy?

Let me add one other post, again by Steve Clemons:
The Gulf States with Saudi Arabia in the lead are scrambling to figure out what to do if American power in the Middle East continues to dissipate. One of the tools in their tool kit is to quietly over-supply crude oil into the global market and knock prices down.

This would not only make Iran worry about its income shortfalls and the domestic political impact of that -- but also takes some of the flamboyance out of Russian and Venezuelan behavior lately.

Clemons is simply reporting what could be a bad situation on several levels. Something to keep in mind is that some experts believe Saudi Arabia does not have the capacity to pump more oil and could be bluffing. If Saudia Arabia is telling the truth and if it truly has the capacity to pump more oil, then this begs a mystery over the last few years: why has Saudi Arabia needed so many drilling rigs? Was it planning on the current situation? And, if so, was it planning it with the Bush Administration? I believe the answer is no, but it is something to consider and keep a watchful eye on. At the same time, it's important to note that Iran's growing population and economic isolation makes it difficult to maintain its level of oil exports. It's the falling oil exports, in fact, that may be driving its nuclear program.

One thing is certain, though. We cannot expect straight answers from George W. Bush in the coming months.

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