Hullo John got a new ‘puter?

Well, yes, I do, as my old one died two weeks back. That was Sandra’s old computer, Id bought for her from a co-worker in 2008 or so and the hard disks just gave up the ghost. Its been through the wars before and she had already lost the data that had been on it a long time ago, so no great loss. Might buy a cheap new harddrive and get it fixed anyway, just for kicks. The new computer is great and I’m well in the honeymoon phase of owning a new computer, except for having to reinstall all my old favourite programmes and settings, which is always a chore. Not of great interest to anyone but me, I know, so have some Alexei Sayle.

Of more interest, this casual suggestion that the US might have experienced its Suez moment:

Humphrey is increasingly of the opinion that we are witnessing the USA’s ‘east of Suez moment’ at which the US is faced with the same strategic challenges that all empires are faced with. The legions will be recalled from Europe soon, and this is going to leave a major series of security and other challenges that need to be filled.

Which would make the War on Iraq something like what the Suez Crisis was for the UK: a point at which America’s military capabilities outreach its political power. It was capable of invading and winning battles, but its military might did not help America reach its wider goals. The War on Iraq was the quintessential late imperial war, one not waged for a concrete, achievable goal, but more to show that the aggressor is still an empire, still top dog. It didn’t quite work out that way, which means the empire is still looking for another enemy to defeat to make everything right again, hence the confrontational stance with Iran.

First thing to remember is that Israel has the bomb

Arthur Silber is annoyed with a Peter Beinart article that’s supposedly opposed to any war with Iran:

Given the attention it is receiving from those who are nominally opposed to the United States’ foreign policy of criminal, aggressive war and intervention, it is understandable that unwary readers will view Peter Beinart’s article, “The Crazy Rush to Attack Iran,” as strongly opposed to an attack on Iran. And while Beinart’s piece may very superficially appear to oppose such an attack, opposition of this kind is no opposition at all. And it is far worse than that: Beinart accepts the entire framework of those whose warmongering he criticizes, and he thus makes an attack on Iran more likely, not less.

For those of us who paid attention back during the runup to the Wars on Afghanistan and Iraq, this is hardly surprising coming from Beinart, who spent most of it cheerleading for them, as well as policing the bordaries of acceptable dissent. Which is what he’s doing here, as in his very first paragraph he frames in such a way as to concede most of the issue to the supporters of a war:

The debate over whether Israel should attack Iran rests on three basic questions. First, if Iran’s leaders got the bomb, would they use it or give it to people who might? Second, would a strike substantially retard Iran’s nuclear program? Third, if Israel attacks, what will Iran do in response?

This framing is of course completely embraced in the mainstream news media, where the question of whether or not Iran is actually even trying to create a nuclear bomb rarely is asked anymore. Any true opponent of war on Iran therefore needs to go back to this basic question: is Iran actually trying to create nuclear weapons and, as importantly, is this any business of ours as long as Israel, which does have several hundreds nuclear bombs and has had them for decades, isn’t dealt with in the same way? If instead you go by the assumption that Iran is building a bomb and that this is a Matter of Concern, you are already conceding much of the rationale for military action, at best you’re now arguing about tactics. Which is just what Beinart wants of course. Beinart isn’t interested in stopping a war or oposing it, he’s just concerned about seeming to oppose it.

In the meantime the whole issue of an Israeli attack on Iran is as much a giant distraction attempt as it is a real threat. For both Israel and the US having the focus on Iranian misbehaviour and the potential, sadly likely to be disproportionate Israel response, rather than on their own internal problems comes in very handy. It’s a distraction measure and while an attack on Iran can’t be entirely ruled out, it is unlikely to actually happen when the mere threat of it is so useful to both countries. Beinart’s weaselly article is just a small part of it.

The Iranian elections

Like Jamie I don’t share the Foreign Policy magazine’s experts certainty that the Iranian elections were rigged. Iran has a reasonable reputation for holding honest elections, even if they are, as Jamie puts it “engineered to produce the right results from the outset through candidate selection and so on”. Western experts and expat Iranians may have been convinced that Ahmadinejad was to be wiped from the pages of time and see the failure of this as evidence of voting fraud, but that doesn’t mean reality has to conform to their wishes.

The reason expert opinion has gotten it so wrong it seems to me is not fraud, but the myopia with which western news media and experts approach Iran: through the prism of US foreign policy. Iran is only in the news whenever its supposed nuclear weapons programme is brought to our attention again, or it’s accused of meddling in Iraq or Afghanistan. In the same way Ahmadinejad is only quoted when he says something stupid about the Holocaust or is supposed to threaten Israel with extinction again. We only get to see Iran as a menace and Ahmadinejad as a clown, with nobody really covering the reality of Iran’s internal politics.

So we get an incredible distorted view of Iran and Ahmadinejad and because we don’t like him we automatically assume this is the default view in Iran as well. But as Splinty points out, in the country itself he has a quite different reputation; he may not be liked by the western-orientated middle class, but he’s a friend of the poor and the peasants and they vote too.

And of course, expecting Iranians to vote according to our views of their foreign policy is as absurd as to have expected the last Dutch elections to have been decided on the withdrawal of Dutch troops from Iraq.

Preparation for future wars

I’ve talked about the failure of the antiwar movement before, in that it failed to stop the War on Iraq from happening, despite the protests held by tens of millions of people all over the world in the months before the start of the war. One common complaint heard at the time was that the protests came too late, that the troops were already in place, the preperations made and that therefore war was inevitable. I’m not sure this was entirely true; the protests did keep the Netherlands out of the war proper, though sadly not out of the occupation and I can see that if the Stop the War campaign had made different tactical and strategical choices in 2003 it might’ve kept the JUK out as well. There is however a kernel of truth in the idea that anti-war protests usually come too late, when the war is already started or preparations are so advanced stopping is impossible. It doesn’t help that for the most part anti-war movements are created largely adhoc, in response to a threatening war, that they die down in times of “peace”.

When you stop to think about it, it’s absurd that we live in a time when it’s assumed normal that even a country like the Netherlands, with no real enemies nearby is spending millions if not billions of euros each year on defence. Moreover we’re spending it not to defend our own country, but to enable our army to invade and occupy other countries. During the nineties, while our attention was elsewhere, the Dutch army transformed itself from a tank heavy Cold War style “defend the Fulda Gap” army into a lean, mean humanitarian intervention fighting machine, laying the foundations for getting involved first in Yugoslavia, then Kosovo and finally Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s the status quo, in which criticism of defence spending is seldom on a fundamental level, but mainly on issues of cost or choice of spending.

What brought this to mind is the news that the UK ministry of Defence is going ahead with a thirteen billion pound tanker investment, in which it gets over a dozen new tanker/transport planes. These planes are not needed for the defense of the United Kingdom, certainly not in that number. Instead they’ll be invaluable for the next Iraq or Afghanistan… That’s why we need an anti-war movement that doesn’t just mobilise when war is imminent, but that opposes defence spending from the start. If we have an army that’s capable of “humanitarian interventions”, interventions is what we get. We need to take away these tools that enable our armies to start wars. We need to stop the preperations for future wars, not just the current war.

Manufacturing consent and the NIE

I came across two great remarks today on how that National Intelligence Estimate helps shape the received wisdom on Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons ambitions. First quote is from Left I on the News, second quote from Aaronovitch Watch:

One of the successes of the new NIE is that virtually everyone in the “mainstream” (pundits, candidates, corporate media) now accepts as simple fact that Iran had a nuclear weapons program which it abandoned in 2003.


“News” in the same sense that it was “news” that Iraq didn’t have WMD – ie, it’s not news, it has been available for years, the international inspectors who know what they’re doing and publish their results have been giving exactly this message, but now some sekrit American intelligences have said the same thing, it is no longer possible to pretend otherwise[.]

The news cycle on this issue was from start to finish driven by the American government. The US says Iran is seeking nuclear weapons and the debate is on whether the US should impose sanctions or use military force to stop this, not on whether or not its claims are actually true. When the issue of truth did arise, it was presented as “he said, she said”, with the truth of the matter, that international inspectors had not found any evidence of Iranian wrongdoing, largely not being reported or only glossed over. Only when the NIE confirmed this was it converted to the official truth, though as Left Eye remarks, with the caveat that Iran had a nuclear programme before 2003, again something I haven’t seen any evidence for.

In other words, there have White House originated limits in the reporting on this issue, beyond which the newsmedia, whether approving or disapproving of the US stance on Iran, whether British, American or Dutch, have largely not strayed. And this is not done through some sort of Stalinist censorship, but purely through the news media’s internalised ideas about what is and isn’t acceptable reporting. As Chomsky and Herman discussed so many years ago, the media operate under a set of self imposed filters, filters that hinder its ability to determine the real truth and instead lead it to present a severely skewed image of the world.

US government acknowledges reality, sort of

Big news yesterday, as Pradva on the Hudson revealed that “American intelligence agencies” have come to the conclusion that “Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and that the program remains frozen”. The $64,000 question is how much this actually matters: will it halt or slowdown Bush’s war preparations against Iran (that is, if war with Iran is actually on the cards and is not just used as a convenient threat). Lenny is guardedly optimistic on this, but I’m not so sure. The Bush administration has never let itself be embarassed by inconvenient facts before, so why should this time be different?

In general the report does not say anything new about the whole Iran “crisis”. We already knew that the accusations of nuclear chicanery were bogus. The only new thing is that a segment of the American government has finally managed to acknowledge reality, which is a step forwards, I guess. However since the report does say that Iran had been working on a nuclear bomb back in 2003, in a roundabout way it strengthens the Bushite narrative as Iran as an unreliable, aggressive power.

Now as far as I know, only American or American backed sources have ever said that Iran was working on nuclear weapons, there has never been any independent confirmation of this, so the fact that the US government and the media finally have to acknowledge Iran isn’t working on them
now is decidedly a “glass half empty” situation. Especially since it allows the Bushites to argue that their strongarm tactics have worked, as they’re already doing.

Iran, Israel and the Bomb

Avedon Carol quotes Israeli historian Martin van Creveld on Iran and nuclear weapons: “Since 1945 hardly one year has gone by in which some voices — mainly American ones concerned about preserving Washington’s monopoly over nuclear weapons to the greatest extent possible — did not decry the terrible consequences that would follow if additional countries went nuclear. So far, not one of those warnings has come true. To the contrary: in every place where nuclear weapons were introduced, large-scale wars between their owners have disappeared.

Carefully not noted by Martin is a) the lack of evidence about Iran’s alleged attempts to create nuclear weapons and b) the fact that there is one country in the Middle East which unquestionably does have nuclear weapons which it has never admitted to: Israel…

Will the US attack Iran?

Back in March-April 2003, when it looked like the US/UK coalition had won the war on Iraq
relatively quick and easy, there were well justified fears that the Bush regime would take
this easy victory as an incentive to go on other adventures in the region. At the time it
looked like Syria would be the next target, with Iran a close second. Fortunately, the
US “victory” quickly turned into a quagmire and the threat of further attacks receded into
the background. However, we might have been too complacent in assuming that with the greater
part of its army stuck in Iraq the US would be unable to indulge in further adventurism, as

Ken MacLeod makes clear

The war drums have certainly not been silent this past year, with threats against Iran coming not just
from the US, but also from its pilot fish in the Middle East, Israel, with both nations making
noises about taking out Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program. The situation is not helped by Iran’s
new president and his rather stupid remarks about Israel.

It is probably true that Iran is in pursuit of an a-bomb of its own; it only makes sense, what with
Iraq next door as the perfect example of what happens to annoying countries without nuclear weapons,
not to mention the threat of the Israeli atomics. However, Iran’s nuclear program is as much excuse as it
would be reason for any US attacks. If Bush attacks Iran, it is as it was with Iraq, because he had wanted
to do so from the start.

The question now is not does the US want to attack Iran, but can it? At first glance, it looks unlikely, what with the massive overstretch the US army find itself in in Iraq, but then again, it’s the army that’s overstretched, much less so the US navy and airforce. The US does not necessarily need to invade Iran to get what it wants; a series of well chosen airstrikes may do. Especially when the option to make those strikes nuclear is on the table…

Drawing Iran into the war might actually alleviate the US’ troubles in Iraq. Rightly or wrongly, the US thinks Iran, as well as Syria, is behind much of the resistance against the Occupation. In the best possible case for the US, military action or the threat of military action would lead to the overthrow of the Ayatollahs’ regime in Iran and the subsequent collapse of much of the resistance in Iraq, as well as keep any other troublesome Middle Eastern country nice and fearful. In one fell swoop, the fortunes of the US would’ve been transformed from near-failure into succes.

It is a strategy the Americans have used before, in Vietnam. When the US became involved in what was until then a relatively straightforward war of national liberation, the US took the deliberate step of first drawing North Vietnam into the war and when that did not solve its troubles, by extending the war into Laos and Cambodia. Though the US still lost Vietnam, as well as Cambodia and Laos, it succeeded in so far that it kept its other client states — Thailand, Taiwan, Indonesia, South Korea — under control, kept the dominos from falling and kept its loss from being Vietnam’s win, as the country was left devastated by the war.

Of course, the chance that everything will actually work out in the US’ favour if it would attack Iran are vanishingly small and rational sane people would never take that chance, but the people in charge of the US at the moment are far from rational and sane. For Bush and co, the clock is ticking; with now only two more years before the next presidential elections, this might be the last best throw of the dice. In their view, even a slim chance might be better than just muddling through.