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SW readers and writers debate:
Will Bush start a war on Iran?

November 2, 2007 | Page 13

PHAM BINH responds to a column by LANCE SELFA ("The coming U.S. war on Iran," September 14) questioning the argument made by some left-wing antiwar activists that a war on Iran is imminent--and Lance replies to Pham's contention that an attack on Iran during Bush's presidency is "more likely than not."

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Pham Binh

IN A previous article, Lance Selfa argued that it is unlikely the Bush administration will attack Iran. I strongly disagree.

He pointed out all those who predicted a U.S. attack on a particular month or week for the last four years were wrong. But just because it hasn't happened doesn't mean it won't.

Selfa is rightly skeptical of the leaks from "Washington insiders" who claim an attack is imminent. He concluded by arguing that U.S. imperialism "will most likely wait until it can delegate this task [war] to a President Clinton or Obama" since the Bush administration is too weak and discredited to do anything beyond make threats and impose sanctions.

The problem with this analysis is that "U.S. imperialism" is not a person or an entity that can consciously decide or not decide to do anything. As Bush is fond of saying, he's "the decider." Concretely, it is the Bush administration that will decide whether or not to attack Iran.

I am convinced that an attack on Iran during Bush's watch is more likely than not for a few reasons.

With each passing day, Iran's economic ties to, and political sway over, Iraq grows. Iran now supplies Iraq with significant amounts of electricity, cooking gas and foreign investment. Iran is building a railway between the two countries and will build an oil pipeline from Basra to Adara. The U.S. is losing the war in Iraq to Iran.

Furthermore, the political, ideological and diplomatic groundwork is being laid for an attack. In July, the Senate voted 97-0 for a resolution that said, "The murder of members of the United States Armed Forces by a foreign government or its agents is an intolerable act against the United States" and demanded that Iran immediately stop arming and training Iraqi militias. Recently, the House and Senate voted to label Iran's Revolutionary Guards a terrorist organization.

The rhetoric coming from the White House on Iran is becoming much more heated. In addition to falsely accusing Iran of supplying explosives and training used to kill U.S. soldiers in Iraq, the Bush administration recently claimed that allowing Iran to continue enriching uranium would lead to a nuclear "holocaust."

On the diplomatic front, the U.S. is pressing for a third round of UN sanctions. These sanctions will fail either because Germany, Russia and China refuse to get on board given their investments in Iran--or they will fail because Iran will ignore them and continue enriching uranium to meet its energy needs.

Faced with the failure of non-military means to rollback Iran's influence in Iraq or stop its nuclear program, Bush will have a stark choice by the time he leaves office: accept failure or opt for military action.

Another important element in figuring out whether or not an attack on Iran is likely before Bush leaves office is the military. Almost half the U.S. Navy is stationed off the coast of Iran, including two carrier strike groups and amphibious assault groups. Not to mention the military installations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Eastern Europe, Turkey and Central Asia that will also play a role in an attack (the U.S. is building a base five miles from the Iraq-Iran border, a perfect place to launch a "hot pursuit" raid into Iran or to "catch" arms smugglers red-handed).

The point is that most of the military hardware necessary for a strike on Iran is already in place. We won't have the luxury of a blatantly obvious six-month buildup, as we did before the Gulf War and the Iraq invasion, to build opposition.

Lastly, an attack is more likely than not because the Bush administration will be tempted to hand the mess to its Democratic successor. War before the 2008 election is unlikely because the GOP would suffer at the polls if it was a disaster, but after November, Bush will still have three months left in office.

To conclude: An attack on Iran by the Bush administration is more likely than not. Although military action is not a foregone conclusion at this point, it's a growing possibility that all antiwar activists need to take seriously.

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Lance Selfa

FIRST, LET me say that I agree with the last sentence of Binh's contribution. Neither one of us has insider knowledge into the planning or thought processes of the Bush administration, so we can only make assessments based on the information that is available to us.

Binh comes to one conclusion. I come to another. But both of us believe that we need to organize against any moves by this administration or the next one to launch an attack on Iran.

With that said, I believe that an attack is less likely than Binh does.

True, "U.S. imperialism" isn't an abstract thing. It's composed of people and institutions. This would include--at least, but not only--the administration and the executive branch, Congress, the leadership of the two mainstream parties, think tanks, the military brass, big business, the bankers, the leaders of the media and so on.

Once you start defining "U.S. imperialism" in this way, you see that support for an attack becomes thinner the farther away one gets from the administration neocons and their think tanks.

If we can believe some reports in the press, a key factor in deterring Bush from moving on Iran was the threatened resignation of Admiral William Fallon, the chief of CENTCOM, possibly along with other members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. If this story is accurate, then Binh's argument that current naval deployments in the Persian Gulf make an attack more likely loses steam.

Interestingly, it should be noted that when Fallon took over at CENTCOM, a lot of commentary saw the promotion of a naval officer as a signal that an attack on Iran was in the works. It wasn't.

One argument that Binh uses to support his contention that the Bush administration is planning an attack is that if it doesn't, Iranian influence in Iraq will be consolidated. Essentially, he argues, the U.S. has to attack Iran in order to keep from losing Iraq.

I don't think this argument is convincing. As the astute Middle East analyst Juan Cole wrote recently ("The collapse of Bush's foreign policy," Salon, October 24, 2007): "Along with the failed state in Iraq, which has neglected to use any decrease in violence temporarily provided by the recent U.S. troop escalation to effect political reconciliation, the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan raises the specter of a collapse of both of Bush's major state-building projects. The turmoil in Turkey and Pakistan damages U.S. relations with two allies that are key to shoring up the countries under American occupation."

In other words, the Bush administration faces a bigger catastrophe than increasing Iranian influence in Iraq. It faces the complete collapse of its project in the Middle East. I think an attack on Iran would only make the situation worse, and I believe that there are many people in the Defense and State Departments who think so, too.

I think the weakest part of Binh's case comes when he suggests that Bush would wait until after the November 2008 elections to attack Iran. If all of the preconditions are in place now and the administration believes Iran is a clear and present danger, why would the administration wait?

If the stakes are that high, I don't think the administration would let worries about hurting GOP candidates in the elections get in its way. It didn't stop insisting that GOP candidates support its Iraq policy in 2006, when that policy was a clear electoral loser.

The administration's recent announcement of sanctions against the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRG) shows that the U.S. government will not back away from a strategy of putting pressure on the Iranian regime. But the administration's action fell short of the U.S. Senate's recent vote to label the IRG a terrorist organization.

To the well-connected military analyst Anthony Cordesman, the sanctions are "more a demonstration of restraint than a signal that we're going to war" (See Barnett Rubin, "New Unilateral Sanctions Against Iran: What Do They Mean?" October 24, 2007).

While we should continue to be vigilant about the government's intentions in Iran, I still think that the antiwar movement is not facing an imminent threat of war with Iran.

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