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The coming U.S. war on Iran?

September 14, 2007 | Page 4

LANCE SELFA points out that the rumors about impending U.S. air strikes have been wrong before.

ONE OF the most serious guessing games around Washington these days is analysts' attempts to answer the question: Will the Bush administration launch a war against Iran?

Discussion about this reached a new pitch at the end of August when Professor Barnett Rubin of New York University said that a source identified as a staffer at a conservative think tank told him that Vice President Dick Cheney's office had "issued orders" to a coterie of neoconservative media outlets and cheerleaders--from Fox News to the American Enterprise Institute--to begin in September a concerted PR offensive to prepare public opinion for an attack on Iran.

Rubin, a respected scholar of Central Asia and hardly a conspiracy nut, lent credibility to the latest rounds of speculation about U.S. intentions toward Iran.

But before we get carried away with predicting an imminent U.S. strike on Iran, we should remember that there have been many similar revelations in the past, which produced nothing.

Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh had it on good authority that the administration was preparing to attack Iran last summer. But the attack didn't happen.

Instead, the Bush administration found itself losing support in the run-up to the November 2006 congressional elections, when the Republicans lost control of Congress. And Israel, the major surrogate for the U.S. in the region was strategically defeated last summer in a U.S.-backed war in Lebanon--aimed at Hezbollah, considered a cat's paw for Iran--that was meant to make it easier to isolate Iran.

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THIS MONTH, we will see if the Washington rumor mill proves any more reliable. Starting September 10, when the American Enterprise Institute debuts a new book urging "regime change" in Iran, there will be ample opportunities to judge if the administration is laying the groundwork for an attack.

Other milestones to watch are the opening of the UN General Assembly, a venue that the administration has used in the past to rattle sabers, and the meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Geneva near the end of the month, at which Iran says it will produce a plan to comply with international mandates concerning its nuclear program.

One impact of the news leaks may be to steal the administration's element of surprise. It's possible, then, that the leaks are from insiders who consider the idea of attacking Iran to be a reckless endeavor, doomed to failure. Rubin's source, for example, told him that though he considered himself a conservative and a Republican, he thought the idea of attacking Iran was "lunatic."

In this reading, the news leaks have the same impact of the announcement in late August by Mohamed ElBaradei of the IAEA that the agency has accepted an Iranian proposal to work out all outstanding issues on Iran's nuclear program over the course of the next two months.

This announcement, following ElBaradei's earlier warnings against the maneuvers of "crazies" who want war with Iran, temporarily threw cold water on the administration's attempt to portray Iran as an international nuclear scofflaw. Predictably, neoconservative journals and even the Washington Post accused ElBaradei of appeasing Iran.

On the other hand, the leaks could be coming from administration hardliners themselves. Just as Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger toyed with the "madman" theory of threatening nuclear war to win concessions from Vietnam at the peace table, the U.S. could be putting up a sophisticated bluff.

The leaks feed the notion that "crazies" are about to launch a war on Iran, leaving room for the "adults" in the administration--more conventional foreign policy hands like Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice--to exert diplomatic and economic pressure.

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THE ARGUMENTS against an attack on Iran--especially in late 2007--seem to be overwhelming.

The U.S. military remains bogged down in Iraq; an attack would send world oil prices through the roof, virtually guaranteeing a world recession; the U.S. has little international support for such an endeavor; nor is there public support at home. The administration's threadbare credibility following the Iraq debacle would make portraying Iran as an "imminent threat" to the U.S. a tough sell.

Yet none of these reasons by themselves rules out an attack. And even if no attack is in the offing, the ideological offensive against Iran helps to bolster the administration's attempt to shift the basis of its Middle East support to alliances with Israel and Sunni-dominated regimes.

Radical scholar Noam Chomsky told Alexander Cockburn of CounterPunch that he has moved from being a skeptic on warnings of an imminent attack on Iran to believing that the administration's sheer desperation with failure everywhere it turns makes it "unpredictable"--and therefore more likely to launch an ill-advised attack on Iran.

Still, I think the odds are against an attack on Iran under the Bush administration. The problem that Iran poses to the U.S. is larger than the obsessions of the small, largely discredited band of neoconservatives in Washington--or that of a desperate administration looking for a boost in the polls.

The real problem for Washington lies in the fact that Iran is one of the last remaining holdouts to complete U.S.-Israeli domination of the region. Iran is the only country with sufficient natural resources and population depth to pose a challenge to U.S. allies in the region.

An Iran with nuclear power makes it more powerful on the world hydrocarbon market. And an Iran with nuclear weapons undermines the U.S.-Israeli nuclear monopoly in the region.

Even if it somehow successfully disables every nuclear installation in Iran, the U.S. would still face an Iran that isn't on the U.S. side when it comes to Middle Eastern and hydrocarbon issues.

That's why Washington is really more interested in changing the regime--or, at least, changing the regime's posture toward the U.S. And for now, with Washington in a much weaker position in the region, an escalating campaign of pressure and sanctions, led by the U.S. and backed by Europe, may be more effective in pushing this agenda than an attack that will shore up the Iranian regime domestically in the short term.

Waiting would also give the U.S. time to rebuild its international standing after the Bush administration is gone--not to mention allow the oil industry to build an alternative to the Strait of Hormuz as a transit point for oil.

Make no mistake: the U.S. doesn't want to coexist with an Iran that doesn't follow the U.S. program for the Middle East.

But if U.S. imperialism decides that war is the only way that it can achieve this objective, it will most likely wait until it can delegate this task to a President Clinton or Obama--both of whom have shown no hesitation to rattle the saber against Iran.

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