January 15, 2006


The origins of the Great War of 2007 - and how it could have been prevented (Niall Ferguson, 15/01/2006, Daily Telegraph)

The third and perhaps most important precondition for war was cultural. Since 1979, not just Iran but the greater part of the Muslim world had been swept by a wave of religious fervour, the very opposite of the process of secularisation that was emptying Europe's churches.

Although few countries followed Iran down the road to full-blown theocracy, there was a transformation in politics everywhere. From Morocco to Pakistan, the feudal dynasties or military strongmen who had dominated Islamic politics since the 1950s came under intense pressure from religious radicals.

The ideological cocktail that produced 'Islamism' was as potent as either of the extreme ideologies the West had produced in the previous century, communism and fascism. Islamism was anti-Western, anti-capitalist and anti-Semitic. A seminal moment was the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's intemperate attack on Israel in December 2005, when he called the Holocaust a 'myth'. The state of Israel was a 'disgraceful blot', he had previously declared, to be wiped 'off the map'.

Prior to 2007, the Islamists had seen no alternative but to wage war against their enemies by means of terrorism. From the Gaza to Manhattan, the hero of 2001 was the suicide bomber. Yet Ahmadinejad, a veteran of the Iran-Iraq War, craved a more serious weapon than strapped-on explosives. His decision to accelerate Iran's nuclear weapons programme was intended to give Iran the kind of power North Korea already wielded in East Asia: the power to defy the United States; the power to obliterate America's closest regional ally.

Under different circumstances, it would not have been difficult to thwart Ahmadinejad's ambitions. The Israelis had shown themselves capable of pre-emptive air strikes against Iraq's nuclear facilities in 1981. Similar strikes against Iran's were urged on President Bush by neo-conservative commentators throughout 2006. The United States, they argued, was perfectly placed to carry out such strikes. It had the bases in neighbouring Iraq and Afghanistan. It had the intelligence proving Iran's contravention of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

But the President was advised by his Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, to opt instead for diplomacy. Not just European opinion but American opinion was strongly opposed to an attack on Iran. The invasion of Iraq in 2003 had been discredited by the failure to find the weapons of mass destruction Saddam Hussein had supposedly possessed and by the failure of the US-led coalition to quell a bloody insurgency.

Americans did not want to increase their military commitments overseas; they wanted to reduce them.

Secret report throws light on Iran’s strategy in stand-off (Iran Focus, 1/15/06)
A secret document obtained by Iran Focus shows that recent political developments in Syria and Lebanon have aroused deep anxiety among the top commanders of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), who see the events as “a direct threat to the national security” of the Islamic Republic and who want to speed up the development of nuclear weapons. [...]

The IRGC leadership identified the United States military presence in the Persian Gulf region as “the root of evil” and said “greater measures” were needed to counter it.

“From a strategic point of view, any change in, or destabilisation of, Syria will reduce or eliminate the calculations and reach of the Islamic Republic of Iran to counter the threats posed by the Zionist regime”, the Revolutionary Guards commanders said, referring to Israel.

'We will cut them until Iran asks for mercy' (Massoud Ansari, 15/01/2006, Daily Telegraph)
Deep in the lawless triangle connecting Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan, eight terrified Iranian soldiers are being held hostage by a Sunni group that is vowing to "slaughter" them if Teheran does not bow to its demands.

"We will chop their heads once our deadline is over," Abdul Hameed Reeki, chief spokesman of the Jundallah or Brigade of God group, told the Sunday Telegraph, slowly drawing an index finger across his neck to demonstrate the seriousness of his intent.

The deadline for the men is tomorrow.

The emergence of a fanatical Sunni group operating inside Iran's south-eastern border poses a startling new threat to the country's Shia clerical regime.

There are too many holes in Mr. Fergusons scenario to pick them all apart--perhaps two will suffice. First, as WWI and WWII demonstrated, socialists were only too happy to go to war each other because ethnicity and other distinctions were more important to people than some imagined ideological unity. Similarly, the Shi'ites hate the Sunni and Persians the Arabs and vice versa and so on and so forth far more than they all believe in some kind of Islamism. Only a handful of Westerners have been killed by Islamists over the past thirty years, but Muslims killed each other by the hundreds of thousands in the Iran-Iraq War. If Iran ever were to get nukes it would be most likely to use them on Sunni Arabs, not Jews or Europeans. Second, as nearly all our wars of the past hundred years demonstrate, it doesn't much matter that the American people aren't eager for war--if the President starts one they'll go along until it's done. And in the case of Iran, where all we seek to do is destroy its nuclear facilities, they won't even have a chance to weigh in. It'll be over in one fell swoop.

A Nation of Pre-emptors? (DAVID RIEFF, 1/15/06, NY Times Magazine)

The fact that political debate over the U.S. intervention in Iraq breaks down largely along party lines, with Republicans generally in favor and Democrats skeptical or opposed, has tended to obscure the fact that American interventionism has historically been a bipartisan impulse. Indeed, far less separates the parties than it might seem from the current polarized discourse in Washington. For all their scruples about the Iraq adventure, few Democrats question the idea that it is right for the United States to "promote" democracy in the world, by force if necessary. It could hardly be otherwise. As George W. Bush has pointed out, nation-building was a principal foreign-policy cornerstone of the Clinton administration.

Nonetheless, the pervasive sense that the Bush administration bungled the mission in Iraq has led Democrats to play down their own ideas about reshaping the global order. Recently, however, a number of Democratic foreign-policy analysts have tried to reinvigorate their party's internationalist traditions. In a series of articles, Ivo Daalder and James Steinberg, both of whom held senior positions in the Clinton administration, have argued that "states have a responsibility to head off internal developments - acquiring weapons of mass destruction and harboring terrorists, to name two - that pose a threat to the security of other states." If they do not do so, outside powers may and sometimes must intervene. "It would be unfortunate," they write, "if President Bush's doctrine of pre-emption were a casualty of the Iraq war." For them, "conditional sovereignty" is "central to a new norm of state responsibility." Implicit in their argument is the view that nondemocratic states are especially likely to breed threats. For this reason, the lack of democracy may itself pose a security problem - a notion that Britain's prime minister, Tony Blair, once summed up when he declared that "the spread of our values makes us safer."

At first glance, such a foreign policy combines the best of Wilsonian moralism and sober realism. What could be wrong with a global consensus supporting action against states that commit crimes against their own citizens or maintain a nasty habit of supporting terrorists or seeking to develop weapons of mass destruction? But the sad fact is that what at first may seem morally obvious may prove to be morally ambiguous as well. The problem is that it is probably not the "international community" that will be doing the intervening; it is particular states - above all, the United States and its allies. And as the international reaction to the Iraq war so painfully demonstrated, the gap between the international perception of the legitimacy of America's actions and the American view could scarcely be greater.

The Bush administration has claimed that the essential question is not whether an intervention is unilateral or multilateral, United Nations-sanctioned or not, but whether it is right or wrong. Agree or disagree, it is a coherent position: the world needs American leadership, and America must provide it.

The new theorists of conditional sovereignty share this benign vision of American power.

The one condition placed on modern sovereignty is that America approve of your regime.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 15, 2006 9:18 AM

". From Morocco to Pakistan, the feudal dynasties or military strongmen who had dominated Islamic politics since the 1950s came under intense pressure from religious radicals."

Can't say much about Morocco but judging from my business trip this past week to Pakistan, Islamist radicals are definitley not going to be pulling off a power grab any time soon.

Posted by: Ali Choudhury at January 15, 2006 10:07 AM

Nuke'em till they glow!

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at January 15, 2006 11:59 AM

if the sunni countries really are at risk from the iranian bomb, they had best step up and give bush some political cover, otherwise he might just let this one go. the smart move would be to force a vote on the issue so that the democrats have to go on record as being against intervention. then when the big glowing hole appears somewhere, they won't be able to pretend they had a pair when it really mattered. might be a good time for the israelis to get over their squeamishness and send a few million iranians to their maker, pour les encouragement des outres.

Posted by: toe at January 15, 2006 12:27 PM

Modern sovereignty--another way of saying, "so-called 'sovereignty'."

You are most correct in observing that countries exercise as much "sovereignty" as the world government allows.

Posted by: Lou Gots at January 15, 2006 12:29 PM

OJ, the the premise of NF's article was in support of GWB's policy of pre-emption and as a rational for exercising it again to prevent a greater war. The idea that Iran would use a nuke against the Sunni before Israel is preposterous.

Western oil dependency remains the greatest issue as a threat to peace. The Iranians wisely placed their nuclear programs within their oil producing areas and population centers. Check; our move. To not address our dependency issue as our next move would be immoral.

Posted by: Genecis at January 15, 2006 1:12 PM

Preposterous? Shi'ites and Sunni are killing each other right now in Iraq. Where are Iranians and Jews fighting?

Posted by: oj at January 15, 2006 1:30 PM

"The pervasive sense that the Bush administration bungled the mission Iraq" [{Emphasis added]

So whether or not we've "bungled the mission" isn't important, but how it's seen here at home. As Fernando would say, '"it's better to look good than to have done good."And who's responsibile for that "sense"? People like this Rieff clown who constantly emphasize any bad news, no matter how trivial, while suppressing any good new, no matter how important.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at January 15, 2006 1:31 PM

the iranians are sponsoring hezbollah, in south lebanon. the latter are shooting missles and so forth into israel. iran is also making trouble in gaza, using the hapless palistinians as proxies. look for a "mishap" to take out a good chunk of tehran, and the israeli government to shrug its collective shoulders.

we have all the weapons we need to surgically eliminate facilities in sensitive areas. we can also take over their oil fields and leave their population centers to stew without money, food, or water. this isn't a ghwb half-ass clown show, this is the hard fist coming down in a killing blow.

Posted by: toe at January 15, 2006 2:51 PM

Genecis is right about the Israel/Sunni targeting. So what if Sunnis and Shias are fighting? What Sunni target would Iran attack? Baghdad? Riyadh? Nothing makes as much sense as Israel, which they've repeatedly said they want to nuke.

Think about it: they have a choice between nuking Israel, universally hated throughout the Muslim world, and some Sunni Muslim target, part of the majority of Muslims throughout the world. Which do you think would serve Iranian interests more? Which do they think is more likely to bring on the Mahdi and the Caliphate?

Posted by: PapayaSF at January 15, 2006 2:59 PM

Papaya: You leave out the detail that Israel has the capability of a) defending itself and b) retaliating in a meaningful way.

Attacking the Saudi oil fields, OTOH, would eliminate a hated sunni enemy and drive world oil prices over $100/bbl., which would line the Iranian's pockets.

Purse snatchers attack little old ladies for a reason.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at January 15, 2006 3:48 PM

True, nuking Saudi oil fields might seem (at least to Iran) to work in Iran's favor. Still, the Saudis do have an air force, and aren't far from Iran, and there's still the very bad PR of an unprovoked Muslim-on-Muslim nuke. Other than the bin Ladenites and the nuttiest of Shias, how much of the Muslim world would approve?

Sure, Israel might be able to shoot down an IRBM, but maybe not. And they would retaliate, but Iranian bigwigs have publicly stated that losing Iran to Israeli retaliation is a price they would pay to destroy Israel.

Posted by: PapayaSF at January 15, 2006 6:37 PM


What's Hezbollah's death count in Israel in the past few years?

Meanwhile Sunni are blowing up Shi'ites left and right in Iraq.

The War is within Islam, not without.

Posted by: oj at January 15, 2006 6:59 PM

The War is within Islam, not without.

So those airplanes and buildings destroyed on 9/11/01 were full of Muslims, huh?

Posted by: PapayaSF at January 16, 2006 2:59 AM

By attacking The Great Satan head on on His home turf using His own tools, they were in effect calling out their co-religionists and demonstrating that they are the only group pious enough to be in charge of the Jihad.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at January 16, 2006 10:04 PM