Is President Bush Preparing for War with Iran?

After the attacks on September 11, 2001, America wanted justice. And the pursuit of justice began quickly with U.S. troops going into Afghanistan, with wide international support, to find Osama bin Laden and remove the repressive Taliban regime in Afghanistan that had facilitated bin Laden’s movement. Things were going well in the “war on terrorism.” However, Bush began to divert the attention of the nation in 2002. Talk of an “axis of evil” began overriding talk of destroying al-Qaeda. In the State of the Union speech of January 2003, Bush mentioned Saddam Hussein 18 times, and Osama bin Laden not once.

Now, just as the war in Iraq seems absolutely hopeless, Bush is starting to turn his rhetoric to another member of the “axis of evil”—Iran.

Look at the following quotes from the speech George W. Bush gave January 10th to present his “new” plan for Iraq.

[The consequence of failure in Iraq would be that] “Iran would be emboldened in its pursuit of nuclear weapons.” There is no proof that Iran is indeed pursuing nuclear weapons. In fact, Iran’s popularly-elected parliament is clamping down on the popularly-elected president Ahmadinejad’s pursuit of any nuclear technology, presumably because of fear of international pressure and reprisal.

“Succeeding in Iraq also requires defending its territorial integrity – and stabilizing the region in the face of the extremist challenge. This begins with addressing Iran and Syria. These two regimes are allowing terrorists and insurgents to use their territory to move in and out of Iraq. Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops. We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We will interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.” These seem pretty aggressive steps against a sovereign state. I think it would be much more productive to stop pouting and to talk to Iran and Syria and get their help in stopping the problem. Syria has already come forward offering such help, but has been ignored by the Bush administration.

“I recently ordered the deployment of an additional carrier strike group to the region. We will expand intelligence sharing and deploy Patriot air defense systems to reassure our friends and allies.” What good are Patriot missiles (very large) and another aircraft carrier strike group against an urban guerilla insurgency? They aren’t; they are intended to intimidate Iran and possibly be used in armed conflict against it.

“And we will work with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating the region.” Again, Bush is raising the specter of nuclear weapons (does this sound familiar, circa 2002?) and trying to pit Shiites against Sunnis—it won’t work.

“Countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and the Gulf states need to understand that an American defeat in Iraq would create a new sanctuary for extremists – and a strategic threat to their survival.”

Pitting Shia against Sunni won’t work when they all see a common enemy in the U.S. They will bind together as brothers in Islam to fight against what they feel is the most dangerous country in the world today—and W is trying to prove them right.

There are more than enough conflicts in the region to fill a bucket. The Sunnis are against the Shia (and even divisions within the larger sects such as the fact that the ruling Asad family in Syria is of a Shiite sect called Alawites that comprises only 10% of Syria’s predominantly Sunni (74%) population (sound familiar?)), the Persians against the Arabs, the moderates against the hardliners, etc. But trying to split the vote between Sunnis and Shiites so that the “dark horse” U.S. can gain favor is a wrongheaded aim. The administration is ignorantly underestimating Muslims’ capacity for reason, and dangerously underestimating their mistrust of the U.S.

Question: why would Iran want to foment “insurgency” in Iraq? The insurgency is a Sunni operation, trying to destabilize what will eventually be a predominantly Shiite government. The Shiite government (if it beats the odds and survives) will end up looking a lot like Iran’s own government of mostly Shiite elected officials, constrained by sharia law. Bush’s accusing Iran of supporting insurgency is a red herring meant to stir up anger against them. Iran can simply sit back and let the Shiite majority in Iraq annihilate the Sunni minority while the government looks the other way. Afterward, Iran can resume a Persian-Arab conflict if it wants.

Iran is a country that, up until the revolution in 1979 was an open, modernizing country (thanks partly to the U.S. installed and supported Shah). Much of the cultural, intellectual, and technological initiative the country had still exists. Moreover, the median age of the population of 69 million is 25. These young people are ambitious, Internet savvy, and interested in the world around them. The grip of the Islamists is slipping. Within 30 years, if left to its own devices, Iran will have a peaceful transition toward moderation and modernization. What the U.S. needs to focus on with Iran is human rights, women’s rights, anti-terrorism (Iran was among the nations that condemned the 9/11 attacks) and modernization, all within the context of Islam. But that takes dialogue and diplomacy, both in short supply in the Bush administration.

I sincerely hope and pray that I’m wrong, that Bush is not as foolish and ignorant as I think. I hope he is aware enough to know that initiating (or provoking) a war with Iran would be political suicide (and fratricide against his Republican comrades). I hope that he does not have some twisted apocalyptic intention of accelerating the coming of the end. I hope our military can come home, resume regular life, and stop dying in dead-end pursuits. I hope that the Bush administration realizes the power of coalitions and consensus, and that John Wayne worked in a scripted world, not the real one. I hope historical actions of the administration are not predictors of future actions. I hope everyone can laugh at me and call me a fear monger and a conspiracy theorist who was dead wrong about this; I hope.


Mike W. says:

Not only has the U.S. not been willing to talk to Syria, the US government has told Israel to not talk to Syrian officially, although Israel has apparently continued to do so unofficially.

Dave said: “Pitting Shia against Sunni won’t work when they all see a common enemy in the U.S. They will bind together as brothers in Islam to fight against what they feel is the most dangerous country in the world today—and W is trying to prove them right.”

I disagree with the idea that Shia and Sunni “will bind together as brothers in Islam.” This battle has been going on for about 1500 years. It will continue to fester and worsen until it explodes with Shia in Iraq (now well-armed and in control of the government ) deciding that they can’t work with the Sunni/Baathists and they unite forces with Iran.

Dave says: “Question: why would Iran want to foment “insurgency” in Iraq? The insurgency is a Sunni operation, trying to destabilize what will eventually be a predominantly Shiite government.” That is the answer to the question. By encouraging a Sunni insurgency in Iraq, Iran practically guarantees more power (and arms) for the Shias (which arms will have been provided by the USG).

The U.S. has feared the Shia for at least 3 decades, to the point that we supported a brutal dictator named Sadaam Hussein in his war against Iran. However, our concern with Iran wasn’t enough to keep Oliver North from selling arms to the Iranians to generate cash for the Contra rebels in Nicaragua so that the USG could keep Central America under our protective wing.

Your take on Iran’s future is very hopeful (dare I say, idealistic). I agree with it. The only way it will happen, however, is, as you say, for the U.S. to support the things we agree with the Iranian people and encourage the internal changes that will bring about the moderation. Unfortunately, we have almost never shown that willingness.

Mike W. says:

Here is a story, from today, describing the course Iran is taking with Iraq. They really want to get a foot in the door while the Shiite faction has control of the government.

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