Many Americans fear that the Bush administration will launch a new war before the election in order to win the election for McCain with the usual appeals to "national unity" and "national security." While I am not nor have I ever been a "conspiracy theorist," meaning that I don't see history as a big conspiracy, even though as an historian I and every other student of history knows that "secret treaties," behind the scenes political maneuvers which have little to do with what the general public thinks they are about, are significant parts of history. To paraphrase a famous statement made by a nineteenth century Prussian general, war is politics by other means.
Yesterday, mass media was repeating intelligence reports about a Syrian nuclear reactor which the Israelis had previously destroyed. The reactor was seen as a direct step in developing nuclear weapons and the result of Syria using "North Korean" technology(since the Baath government of Syria was an active opponent of the Baath government of Iraq, it was not an original member of the "Axis of Evil," Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, although it may be on its way to replacing Iraq in that lineup). All sorts of questions were being raised about the "evidence" concerning these accusations, given the previous "photographic" evidence used to support the Iraq invasion, but my interest in it is as a trial balloon to prepare Americans to think in terms of new and/or wider wars.
Admiral Michael Mullen, new chairperson of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, launched a bigger and potentially more dangerous trial balloon when he accused the Iranian government and the special forces units of its Revolutionary Guards of using "malign and increasingly lethal influence" internationally, arming and manipulating insurgent groups. For those with short memories, alleged Iranian weapons found in Iraq were trotted out, along with suggestions that these weapons are being used to kill U.S. and Iraqi forces fighting against Shia militias in Basra and other Southern Iraqi regions.
Mullen didn't suggest any new war against Iran, but he did stress that Iran was seeking to establish a "weak Iraq" to advance its interests in the region (of course, one might ask what kind of Iraq is the U.S. seeking to establish as it works with and against Turkish outside forces, the Kurdish minority, Shia and Sunni populations). But Mullen went on to make a blanket condemnation of the Iranian government's support for all sorts of insurgent groups in the region, its training "Iraqis in Iran to come back and fight Americans and the coalition." He also, in a real blast from the recent discredited past, contended that "in fact we are seeing some evidence that they are supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan."
A little elemental history should be cited here. The clerical forces that came to power in Iran and established an "Islamic Republic" are of the Shia denomination. The Al Qaeda group and the Taliban in Afghanistan both represent ultra-right sectarian groupings within the Sunni denomination (which globally represents in its many groupings, which range from liberal to moderate to conservative, over 80 percent of the world's Muslims). Unlike the great majority of the world's Muslims, they are not only extremely intolerant of other religions and secular regimes in Muslim countries and non Muslim regimes everywhere, but they are specially intolerant of other Muslims. They have vilified and fought against Shia Muslims particularly and are sworn enemies of Iran, as they were sworn enemies of the Baath regime in Iraq.
The Bush administration, by its complete refusal to do anything but condemn and seek to economically harm a more liberal clerical regime in Iran in its early years, set the stage for the present rightist clerical regime, which is actively opposed by large numbers of Iranians
and whose adventurist demagogic President (a symbol but not the real power in the government) is in his crackpot embrace of pro Nazi Holocaust deniers and other stands in world politics is a perfect foil for the Bush administration, as was Saddam Hussein (whom the Reagan administration supported in its war against Iran in the 1980s, just as six U.S. presidents earlier supported the brutal reactionary regime of the Shah, which the CIA installed through a coup in 1953, in order to denationalize Iranian oil (which before nationalization had been controlled by British Oil interests) and split up the oil with the British.
Iran in 2008 is not Iraq in 2003. Its military power is significantly greater and a U.S. invasion (it is virtually impossible to think of any ally including Britain joining the U.S.) would have disastrous consequences for everyone, not the least of which would be large numbers
of Iranian and U.S. casualties far beyond anything that the U.S. has experienced to date in Iraq. U.S. bombing of Iran, which some interventionists have suggested short of invasion, would also be very different than the bombing interventions which the U.S. has since the Reagan administration carried out in many places, because the ability of the Iranians to retaliate and thus create a wider war is much greater.
Instead of preparing for a potential war against Iran or at the very least using Iran as an excuse to extend the U.S. occupation and operations in Iraq, we should be working to end that occupation and pursue a regional peace process that will not strengthen reactionary forces in power in Iran or be a pretext for reactionary forces in power in the United States to maintain their power.