21 February 2007

Iran Next?

With a modicum of peace secured with North Korea, the drums of war seem to be beating for Iran.

First, Bush invaded Afghanistan. Then he invaded Iraq. Now, we are saber rattling at Iran. The British press reports that an invasion could be just days away. There are two aircraft carriers, and a mini-carrier outfitted with a compliment of aircraft heavy on fighters and skimpy on the usual helicopters in the region. Iran is ringed with U.S. bases in Afghanistan and Iraq and Turkey. The carriers and mini-carrier have a large compliment of supporting ships. The WMD and terrorism support claims are flying again. Bush is unpopular. Perhaps, he thinks we will receive a war boost and increased support from Congress if he goes to war again.

Does Bush have stock in a company planning to build a pipeline or road from Pakistan to Syria? Did even the Arabic empire seek to rule so much Middle Eastern real estate so quickly? Does he think that there are economies of scale involved in fighting three regional wars right next to each other?

The British are bailing on the Coalition of the Willing in Iraq, with plans to remove a third of their troops by summer, and a majority of them within the year. Most of the other parties to the Coalition have already left or greatly reduced their commitment. The U.S. is increasing its troop commitment. This isn't a surge, it's U.S. troops replacing departing troops from our allies. The U.S. is increasingly fighting the war in Iraq on all its own.

We've spent more on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan combined, in real dollars, than we did in Vietnam. We've been at war under the Bush Administration longer than we were at war in World War II (or World War I). We are months from making this the longest period in U.S. history that the country has been at war other than Vietnam and the "Indian Wars". U.S. troops don't seem to be dying at quite the rate that they were earlier in the conflict, but the U.S. appears to have responded to this fact by putting U.S. troops in less well defended outpost in Baghdad. Almost everybody in the Army, Marines, Army Reserves, Marine Reserves, and Army National Guard who has a specialty in any way relevant to the war has served multiple tours in the "sandbox" or hasn't been in long enough to do so yet.

The public opposes the war in Iraq. A majority want troops out now. By an almost 2-1 margin, they favor some sort of withdrawal. Bipartisan majorities in both the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate oppose the surge and want U.S. troop levels to decrease.

It is hard to believe that Bush could seriously contemplate another conflict. There is no meaningful public support for such a move right now in Congress or among members of the general public. But, it seems that the idle war planes and missiles of the Air Force and Navy want to have their own turn at playing war, and Bush seems happy to oblige them by bombing Iran back to the stone age (they're already leaving in a medieval society as it is, socially anyway).

While it isn't so hard to justify selected strike of potential nuclear bomb production sites in Iran, apparently the calculation that the Bush administration has made is that any strikes will produce fierce retaliation, so that they should eliminate the possibility of retaliation for U.S. strikes, as well as making the strikes themselves.

Does it really make sense to inflict massive damage on a country that has made real progress towards restoring a somewhat democratic regime in the last few decades? Iran's elections are not up to Western standards, but they are more free and fair than any ever held in the last forty years or so in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman, Jordan, Syria, North Korea, Libya, Cuba, Nepal, Myanmar, Kazakstan, China, Singapore, Morocco, Sudan, and a host of other countries that few people other than geographers know exist.

The election before the most recent one in Iran brought reformers to significant power. The Iran of today is very different from the one that emerged in 1979 in the revolution against the U.S. backed Shah. A majority of Iran's population wasn't born when that happened.

The level of democracy in Iran is comparable to that in Putin's Russia, Lebanon, Pakistan, and a host of other countries with seriously flawed democracies that aren't dead letters either. It is on a par, really, with Mexico in the era when the PRI dominated the political scene.

We ourselves, i.e. the United States, have in the Bush administration ushered in the birth of fragile governments in both Afghanistan and Iraq where Islamic law is part of the constitution and has the power in principle to override secular law -- the theocratic institutions in those governments aren't as robust as they are in Iran, but the difference is one of degree, not of principle.

Unlike Sudan, Rwanda, and Uganda, Iran has not engaged in a genocidal campaign against its people. It does not have gulags full of political prisoners. While not disinterested in the war in Iraq, the evidence that it has been a major military participant is weak indeed and any such involvement has come in the last few months after several years of restraint.

Iran is no model for diplomatic poise, democracy, personal freedom or capitalism. It was probably complicit on rocket attacks on Israel last year through the proxy Army of Hezbollah. It is a leading user of the death penalty (although far more restrained than either Saudi Arabia or China, both of whom we maintain better diplomatic relations with than Iran). Unlike Iraq, there is a plausible argument that it is trying to develop nuclear weapons (Iraq wasn't even trying to develop nuclear power). But, the community of nations is full of members who are less than model citizens.

War on Iran will permanently put U.S. interests abroad at risk, further bankrupt our country which has been fighting its two current wars on the moral equivalent of credit cards while cutting taxes and increasing domestic spending, and keep U.S. troops in harms way for years to come, all against the public will. Is this any way to run a democracy?

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