Friday, August 24, 2007

The Fire Beneath the Cauldron

Steve Clemons has an important piece on the neocons' favorite hawk-in-dove's-feathers, Michael Ledeen. Just as Ledeen claims that he never supported the invasion of Iraq (a claim that is easily refuted), so too does Ledeen insist that he doesn't want military confrontation with Iran. That is, when he's not busy urging the Bush administration to bomb Iran, and send troops across the border.

Clemons on the state of Ledeen's obsession with bringing about a war with Iran:
Michael Ledeen -- who once told me that he only supported the Iraq War because it provided momentum and pre-positioning of American military forces to then go after Iran -- is not going to feel self-actualized until America unleashes a considerable portion of its arsenal against the nation and people of Iran.
It is important to recognize that the total war agenda - the "cauldronization" of the Middle East as Ledeen put it, in eager anticipation - is still being pursued in earnest by some of the most influential pundits and policy makers in and around the Bush administration. They have a sympathetic ear in Vice President Cheney and his coterie (where there is considerable intermingling).

In the article cited by Clemons, Ledeen argues that there are no diplomatic options for dealing with Iran, that there never was and that there never will be (Clemons rather easily debunks the historical claim). Further, argues Ledeen, Iran is at war with the United States - and has been since 1979. [As a side note, it is remarkable how the neocons always seem to start the clock of conflict with Iran circa 1979, totally ignoring that messy chapter in the 1950s when the CIA led a coup to topple Iran's then democratically elected Prime Minister, Mohammed Mossadegh. The US helped to dismantle an active and thriving democracy in the Middle East in order to secure the despotic rule of an unpopular dictator, Shah Reza Pahlavi, almost entirely in the name of oil - with some Cold War flourish thrown in for good measure. But Iran, you see, has been at war with us since the 1970s. No doubt, they hate us for our freedoms.]

While Ledeen doesn't actually come out and advocate for war in this piece (he picks and chooses his spots to preserve his implausible deniability), the thrust of the article is that all options for dealing with Iran short of war are futile. In a bid to further up the rhetorical ante - and make war seem like a necessary step - Ledeen argues that Iran poses an existential threat* to the United States of America. Says Ledeen:
Washington diplomats have steadfastly refused to see the Iranian regime for what it is: a relentless enemy that seeks to dominate or destroy us.
This is scaremongering of the worst variety. Iran is a relatively smallish country (70 million people compared to our 300 million), with a struggling economy and a mediocre military with little capacity for actual conquest. Iran, if you recall, was unable to "dominate or destroy" Iraq despite almost a decade spent fighting (1980-88), and the sacrifice of more than 500,000 Iranian citizens. The same Iraqi military that Iran found so indomitable, we were able to dismantle in a matter of weeks with minimal casualties not once but twice since over the past fifteen years.

Iran's military prowess and capacity has not grown considerably since then. While its regional prominence has improved, this has been largely attributable to Iran's good fortune of having George Bush around to do to Saddam what Iran couldn't, and to unseat the hostile Taliban regime on its western border. Even still, Iran is struggling to forge a sustainable economy, grappling with a restive population that is pushing and pulling in many different directions along social fault lines and dealing with a ring of Sunni Arab dictatorships that are increasingly hostile to Iran's new found gains. Hardly an impressive launching pad for global domination.

Consider, also, the record. Despite being at war with us since 1979, as Ledeen would have it, how many battles has Iran actually won? Under the most charitable (to Ledeen) reading of Iran's nefarious agency over the course of thirty years, Iran has made keeping Marines in Beirut overly costly, they have made staying in Saudi Arabia slightly more costly (Khobar Towers) and have made staying in Iraq prohibitively costly. There has been a loss of American lives, but, although still tragic, not a huge number. If Iran's goal is to dominate or destroy us, they have failed miserably.

But Michael Ledeen would have us believe that Iran is now on the verge of taking over or destroying us. Emboldened by those craven diplomats that favor negotiations, Iranian hordes would travel vast distances across land and ocean in...motorboats and dilapidated fighter jets? Establishing supply lines sufficient to maintain an occupying army in the US while we all stand aside and look, mouth agape, ruing the fact that we didn't take Michael Ledeen seriously enough. This is worse than a ruse because it is mendacity in pursuit of mass carnage.

Ledeen and his neoconservative brethren will not make an honest, good faith case for war with Iran because they know that there isn't a solid one to be made. So instead, they will pull every rhetorical dirty trick from their bag: from relentless Hitler and Chamberlain accusations, to mythical ties to al-Qaeda, to nuclear weapons that don't exist (and if they did, would not be used offensively) to tales of world domination and dhimmitude.

Don't be fooled by the preposterous nature of the arguments, and the utter disregard for history and empiricism (past and present), though. Such glaring ignorance and tendentiousness might matter to me and you, but it's George Bush and Dick Cheney that occupy the White House. Their standards are quite lower.

(* The ostensibly "clever"response here would be to point out that Ledeen isn't actually saying that Iran could destroy or dominate us, but that this is their goal. This rebuttal, however, would be too clever by half. If Iran lacks the capacity to actually dominate or destroy us, Ledeen should make that clear. Instead he invokes the specter of destruction and domination in order to maximize the fear and recklessly hype the threat.

Besides, that rebuttal would be one of the strongest arguments against war with ran. An enormously powerful country does not need to fight wars against relatively impotent countries based on their fantastic and unrealistic goals. We we can and should shrug off Iran's hollow bluster and minor regional maneuvering, and not let them induce us to take the one action whereby Iran could really harm us: start a war with Iran while our troops are in Iraq, or move those troops next door in an attempt to occupy Iran.

Again, for a country intent on our destruction for the past 30 years, what has Iran actually accomplished in terms of damaging our interests? Actually, George Bush has done a lot more to harm the US, and help Iran, through the invasion of Iraq than Iran could have ever achieved.)

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