Fool Me Once:
Why We Shouldn't Get Lured into War with Iran
The Disassociated Press, February 15, 2007
By Eric Mader
After almost seven years of inept policy and arrogant posturing, it should be painfully clear to Americans that the Bush Administration is unable to learn from its mistakes. The question we face now is whether or not we too, the American people as a whole, are unable to learn from mistakes.
The major mistake in question here is of course the Iraq war. In 2002 and 2003, Americans were gravely mistaken in supporting Bush and Cheney in their build-up to the war and in their dishonest linkage of Iraq to al Qaeda. We know now that the evidence for Iraqi WMD was cherry-picked and sexed up. What we should have known then was that Saddam, a secularist dictator, was not linked to or supporting al Qaeda, a band of religious zealots. Americans, duped by the Bush's Administration's facile bait and switch, largely ignored this fundamental distinction, and the transformation of the "war on terror" into the war on Iraq went ahead as planned.
The reason this devious diversion was possible is very simple and ultimately should be a cause of shame to us. A majority of Americans were stupid enough to be convinced that a) since Saddam was a belligerant Muslim, and b) bin Laden was a belligerant Muslim, then c) they must be in cahoots and d) Saddam must have been involved in 9/11. To believe this was pretty dumb of us, given the resources we have as a nation to understand the world. But too many of us are proud of not knowing much about the world, and so we are easily, and proudly too, led by the nose.
In regards to this I'm reminded of that country western hit by Alan Jackson, "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)." The song became something like a temporary national anthem after the 9/11 attacks. In any case, it expresses the red state ethos perfectly. There's much in the song to admire, but the refrain sticks in my head because, frankly, it is infuriating:
I'm just a singer of simple songs
I'm not a real political man
I watch CNN but I'm not sure I can tell you
The difference in Iraq and Iran
But I know Jesus and I talk to God
. . . etc., etc.
Here it is in a nutshell. The false modesty of the "singer of simple songs." That he can't tell you the difference between Iraq and Iran is even a matter of pride for him--a sort of pledge of his simplicity and rightness. This "simple man" talks to God; and, vice versa, God probably talks to him too. But note: God doesn't tell him the difference between Iraq and Iran. And there's the problem. Because when it comes time to debate our nation's role in the world, when it comes time to debate going to war in Iraq or Iran, this simple man is suddenly no longer so simple. No, he's liable to "support the president" vehemently and may even talk angrily of "getting back at the people who attacked us on 9/11." And that might mean the Iraqis or the Iranians. Because he doesn't know the difference.
Certainly lumping together Saddam and bin Laden didn't make much sense to people who knew about the region. I still remember how they were all raising their hands in disbelief. One sympathizes with their annoyance. It was almost like a foreigner coming to America and confidently insisting that a) since Michael Moore is a fat white man who mouths off about politics, and b) Rush Limbaugh is a fat white man who mouths off about politics, then c) they must both support the same agenda. Anyone who says otherwise is only emboldening them. It was almost that dumb.
The sad thing is that we are being set up to do it again. And this is why, like I said, it's now a question of whether or not Americans are willing to learn from mistakes. Because now, as the Bush Administration orders military assets into place around Iran, we're being told of evidence that the Iranian government has been "supplying Iraqi insurgents." We are told of concrete evidence: "bomb casings" with "serial numbers" that "point to Iran." Well, since Iraqi insurgents are terrorists, this must mean that Iran is helping "terrorists." And we also know, because the president has told us, that the war in Iraq is "the main front in the war on terror." Is it really so far to the next step in this eminently logical progression? It isn't. The war on terror is really a war on Iran.
Don't get me wrong here. I'm no friend of the Iranian regime. But I know a bait and switch when I see one. And this new one--this opening gambit to introduce Iran into the ever-growing and ever-glorious War on Terror--is based on assumptions every bit as misguided as those which led us, by the nose, into Iraq.
First, to explain my meaning, I'd need to address the assertion that Iran is "supplying Iraqi insurgents." This claim is really the crux of the matter, as it's on this that the whole edifice of smoke and mirrors stands.
Who are the "Iraqi insurgents"?
I would insist that the Iraqi insurgents, properly speaking, are that coalition of Sunni Muslim groups that have caused so much carnage in Iraq starting soon after the fall of Saddam. On the one hand, and most famously, there are the al Qaeda types who entered Iraq from abroad to wage jihad against the American occupation; on the other hand, and more consequentially, are the locals who are in the fight because they fear Iraq's Shia majority. Thus the Iraqi insurgents, as a whole, are guided by hatred and fear of two enemies: the Shia Muslims who have a majority in the new Iraqi government, and the Americans who, spawn of Satan, are corrupting pure Muslim values across the globe.
Of course the Iraqi insurgents are happy to see the American project fail. The Sunni jihadists want us to fail in a cosmic and global way. The Sunni locals just want us to fail so they can set up their own new regime against the vengeful Shia south. But the point by now should be clear: the proper insurgents in Iraq are Sunni.
It is hardly likely, then, that the Iranian regime is supplying bombs to "Iraqi insurgents." It would be like Michael Moore working overtime to promote a new Ann Coulter book. So when the Bush Administration tells us Iran is supplying "insurgents" in Iraq, it is a serious obfuscation of what is really going on.
Iraq is in a civil war. Shia and Sunni Muslims are in a fight to the death that nothing is going to avert. The Shia are finally asserting their power after decades of brutal oppression under Saddam's Sunni government. The Sunnis are terrified of this new Shia political force, as they should be. Currently neighborhoods are fighting neighborhoods, militias are patrolling and terrorizing, and every morning there are dozens of new corpses under bridges and in alleys. This fight has little to do with the Americans. With the exception of those foreign zealots, the al Qaeda types, most of these people really have other things on their minds than fighting America. It is a civil war.
Iran, bastion of Shia Islam and long-time enemy of Saddam and his Sunni henchmen, is understandably doing its best to help the Iraqi Shia. The Iraqi government, the government we currently support, is mainly Shia, and (strange bedfellows does Bush policy make) the Iranians are generally in support of this government. That is an odd fact, I know, but a fact nonetheless. Much of the power of the current Iraqi government comes from two sources: on the one hand the United States, on the other the Shia militias, partly trained and supplied by Iran.
This is why, back at the beginning of Bush's reign, Iranian intelligence agents were so busy helping fabricate the WMD "intelligence" that the Bush Administration pretended to believe in order to justify the war. If well-meaning red-blooded American voters were willingly led into Iraq by the lies and distortions of Bush and Cheney, Bush and Cheney were willingly led into Iraq by the lies and distortions of the Iranians and their Shia friends. The name Ahmed Chalabi and the role he played in this brilliant bit of Shia misinformation will go down in history, even though most Americans, doubtless most of those who gave Bush his second term, don't even know who Chalabi is. The Iranians and their Shia friends used our trigger-happy Texan to bash their old enemy Saddam. Read a brief (and embarrassing) summary of Chalabi's role here:
For the Iranians, luring America into Iraq wasn't only a matter of vengeance against Saddam. Because the Iranians knew just like most everyone else did that any attempt to remake Iraq was going to be a disaster. They knew the country would explode into feuding factions as soon as Saddam was gone. And among those feuding factions, the Iranians also knew the largest and most stable would be the Shia south: their natural political and religious allies.
"Who knows," the Iranians probably said to each other back in 2002, "who knows but that the Americans will get in such a tangle in Iraq that their hands will be tied? We might even be able to get back to building our bomb."
And this is what is happening. And Bush and Cheney, arrogant and overconfident as ever, are preparing for a strike against Iran on the grounds that Iran is working on a bomb and is, besides, "aiding terrorists." The Iranians are not so much "aiding terrorists" as they are supporting their brethren in Iraq's civil war.
It is probably true, as stated in the U.S. military intelligence report, that coalition troops have been killed by weapons supplied by Iran or made in Iran. The report claims that more than 170 troops have been killed by these weapons, which I suspect is an exaggeration promulgated in service to the Bush Administration's new focus on Iran. One cannot be sure, however. Perhaps in fact 170 troops have been killed by Iranian weapons.
The debate in American political circles is now over early assertions that the use of these weapons to target coalition troops is a policy that can be traced to the "highest levels of the Iranian government." Soon after this statement was made, Bush himself acknowledged it could not be proven. Whether it is finally substantiated or not is not really crucial to my arguments here. My arguments here are addressed to a more general question: Should we as Americans now allow ourselves to be drawn into yet a new Mideast war? Should we let ourselves be convinced that this new involvement is part of a "war on terror" and thus somehow important to our self-defense?
How is it we can militarily occupy a distant nation like Iraq and then expect neighboring nations, with closer ethnic and religious ties to Iraq, not to get involved in trying to influence the political outcome? Iraq is not on our borders, but it is on Iran's borders. The majority in Iraq are not Southern Baptists or Presbyterians seeking protection from American co-religionists. They are Shia Muslims, like the Iranians.
If the Iranians are supplying the Shia militias in Iraq with weapons, it should be no surprise. Our military hasn't been able to protect Shia neighborhoods from Sunni attack. If the Iranians are now sending the message to these militias that American troops should be targeted, that is a serious problem for us, and we must, if it is proven, begin targeting those militias as we target Sunni insurgents. But we must do this only because we are occupying Iraq and we have a "mission to accomplish": protect the development of Iraqi democracy. The truth about this mission, however, has become stark and simple: first, that we shouldn't be in Iraq in the first place; and second, that Iraqi democracy is not going to develop. When all the smoke and blood and shards of metal have finished flying, Iraq is not going to be a Western-style democracy. Very possibly Iraq is not going to be a unified country at all, as Yugoslavia is no longer a unified country.
So where does that leave us as regards these new revelations? As I said above, I'm no friend of the Iranian regime. But at this point in the game, calling for a military strike on Iran would be a terrible gamble and one most likely to fail. Why?
For one, we're not going to send in troops to occupy Iran. We have no troops to do so, which means any military strike we may undertake will not remove the Iranian regime.
Secondly, unless we use nuclear weapons ourselves, and quite a few of them, we have almost no chance of actually destroying Iran's uranium enrichment program. In other words, we can probably at best slow down what they're doing; we can't stop it.
Third, there are signs that Ahmadinejad's hardline positions are losing support among the Iranian population. Iran, with a very large young generation now entering adulthood, has a good chance of developing in a more liberal direction. Attacking Iran now would only entrench the most extreme and anti-Western elements in the society.
And fouth--remember Iraq? We're not doing very well there, are we? Presently the only groups not killing themselves to kill our troops are the Kurds in the north and the Shia in the south. Yes, the same Shia who will vow eternal hatred for us if we attack Iran. In short, attacking Iran would make us a whole new army of enemies in Iraq, a place we seem to have enough enemies as is. But how can we ever have enough enemies?
I am not at all confident that Bush will listen to reason and refrain from bombing Iran. I don't think this president is capable of listening to reason. I suspect that when he starts to hear people making intelligent arguments based on rational calculations and knowledge of the cultures involved--I suspect he starts to get kind of nervous and peeved and just decides to call for the opposite. Besides, who needs reason when you have brilliant tacticians like Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld?
The Bush Administration long ago stopped fighting a war on terrorism. That ended with the attack on bin Laden's camp in Tora Bora in Afghanistan in 2001. Ever since then, what Bush has been up to has been, really, not a war on terrorism, but just war plain and simple. War on Iraq. Soon, probably, war on Iran. These wars, I believe, are not really in the interest of defending the United States. Saddam's Baathists were not going to attack the United States. Neither, I believe, would any Iranian regime attack the United States. Not aimed at defending the U.S., these wars are something else. How to define that something else would be the subject of a much longer essay than this. But presently, we Americans need to decide if we will continue to sit back and let Bush and his cronies undertake this something else in our name.
Because if the Bush Administration decides to bomb Iran, the world will not simply say, "That apocalyptic moron Bush and his neocon gang have gone and attacked another country!" No, the world will say: "The Americans think they own the whole planet. They are the new Roman Empire." Yes--in the world's eyes it will be we as a people who have called those strikes; it will be we as a people who will lose in stature, as we have already lost so much in stature thanks to Bush's policies so far.
This is not to say we should be enthusiastic about the possibility that, a number of years from now, we may be facing a nuclear-armed Iran. But most observeers have pointed out that Iran, regardless of its religious zealotry at home, behaves rationally in its foreign policy: i.e., it behaves in its own interests, like a rational political player. Given this, one would be hard-pressed to imagine a situation in which a nuclear-armed Iran would use its weapons. Certainly to do so would be suicidal.
The Bush Administration is now launching a campaign to link Shiite Iran to the mainly Sunni terrorist attacks in Iraq. This campaign can only have the goal of making Iran a part of the war on terror. It is a bait and switch. We fell for the switch from bin Laden to Saddam. Let's not fall for this switch from the Sunni insurgency to Iran.
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