Murray Polner: War Against Iran?

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Mr. Polner, a Book Editor at HNN, is the author of “No Victory Parades: The Return of the Vietnam Veteran,” “Rabbi: The American Experience,” and, with Stefan Merken, edited the recently published “Peace, Justice & Jews: Reclaiming Our Tradition.” ]

‘American Jewish groups are aggressively attempting to rally support for isolating Iran until it ends its suspected nuclear weapons program,” the JTA recently reported. “They are lobbying Congress, reaching out to friendly nations overseas and seeking allies in the U.S.”

Will Israel and its American Jewish surrogates actually prevail in their efforts to isolate Iran by increasing sanctions, which rarely work, if Tehran does not give up its nuclear program? I hope they do, but if sanctions and threats don’t work, what then? And if it is to be war and, like Iraq, it goes sour, who then will be blamed?
Those raising the ante against Iran — while two other failed wars grind on — can never surpass Vice President Dick Cheney’s constant drum beating for war. Nor can they surpass the administration’s stream of uncorroborated allegations and leaks to a sycophantic mass media, which is now playing the identical shameful role it did when it served as the White House’s echo chamber before Iraq.

Cheney-Bush and Co. and its neoconservative cheerleaders are the same people who brought us the Iraq casualty lists (whose coffins we aren’t allowed to photograph). Daily we are bombarded with fear and dehumanization of Muslims. Iran’s paranoid president has become yet another “Hitler” (a la Saddam Hussein) and Iran is now said by Bush-Cheny and Co. to endanger the Western world, by which they mean nuclear bomb-saturated Israel. 

This administration and its incompetent neoconservative advisers see relations with Iran in simple Manichean terms, though surely there are other U.S. goals than “protecting” Israel. Oil, U.S. domination of the Middle East and regime change are never mentioned. But people who know very little about such things talk of a successful U.S. bombing campaign.  Neocon ideologues invoke baseless fantasies of something dubbed “Islamofascism,” a meaningless term conflating all Muslims as potential terrorists.

It’s beginning to sound a bit like August 1914 after the assassination of the Austrian Archduke and his wife the previous June by a Serbian nationalist. European states unexpectedly found themselves mobilizing their reserves and preparing for war. The search for détente and a cooling off of tensions went nowhere as hawks on all sides predicted a short conflict and victory. Many millions died over the ensuing four years in a war devoid of purpose save preserving imperial possessions and the wealth the war generated. Few then realized that the carnage and peace treaties would ultimately pave the way for Nazism, Communism and World War II.

Thankfully, not everyone outside Washington and New York’s pugnacious circles agrees, and the press has had numerous articles questioning the sanity of going to war with Iran.

Should, however, America’s hawks prevail, here’s one nightmarish scenario: U.S. and Israel bomb Iran and Iran counterattacks against Israeli’s Dimona nuclear facilities and even against Israel proper. A third war, consequences be damned, starts against millions of non-Arab Iranians who, in the 1980s, absorbed half a million deaths in a savage war against Saddam’s Iraq (then America’s favorite dictator). Many more Middle Eastern terrorists are created. Iran retaliates with long-range missiles against the U.S. Fifth Fleet blockades the Gulf of Hormaz, attacks U.S. forces in southern, Shiite Iraq, and incites Hezbollah and Hamas to go on the offensive. And what if Chinese and Russian ships arrive at blockaded Iranian seaports and refuse to turn back?   If war comes, and it is more than a series of aerial attacks, reluctant draftees may again be called on to replace the military’s depleted and exhausted ranks, swelling the casualty lists, and producing a Vietnam-like series of turmoil on campuses, dread among suburban families, and lots of unhappiness in elite neocon homes never eager to send their young to war.

Then why not encourage Israel to attack as it did at Osirak in Iraq in 1981, when it blasted Saddam’s nuclear reactor? The situation is now far more complicated because the Iranians, reportedly, have widely scattered their missile sites.  But if Israel, threatened — and it very well may be — by Iran’s eventual or actual possession of a nuclear bomb, believes it is in its national interest to fight, so be it. Israel, with its estimated 200-300 nuclear bombs and sophisticated weaponry can take care of itself.  It is also far from clear — especially after Iraq — that most Americans will support sending GIs into combat to defend so powerful a military state as Israel.

Are there cooler heads here, in Iran and in Israel? Or is diplomacy outmoded? After Flynt Leverett left the National Security Council, he wrote in the New York Times that in 2003 the U.S. rejected an Iranian offer that was sent through the Swiss government by a reformist Iranian government, and signed by Ayatollah Khameni.  It was an effort to open a broad diplomatic dialogue aimed at settling differences.

Meanwhile, the Iranian press recently quoted the Teheran Ayatollah Kashani saying publicly that Iran’s “Supreme Leader” Ayatollah Seyed Al Khamenei, “the highest authority having the power of issuing decrees and having the first say in decision makings and politics, has explicitly banned production and use of Weapons of Mass Destruction.”

We will never know if the aborted 2003 offer was serious, and we will never know if Iran is serious now unless Bush and Cheney agree to consider it seriously. This is hardly a replay of Munich, but realpolitik. After all, if a modus vivendi of sorts can be reached with North Korea, why not with Iran too?

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