March 25, 2010

War with Iran by Any Other Name

This week may be looked back on as the pivotal moment when war with Iran entered the mainstream of political thought in the Obama era. At a time when Iranians are standing up to an Iranian government that has been deprived of the Bush-era shadow of war, that shadow is again emerging.
“Bomb Bomb Iran” may be finally crossing over to the pop charts.
While Iran war rhetoric is nothing new in Washington, for the first time it has been given a vehicle. This week, a resolution in the House of Representatives is being circulated by Texas Republican Louie Gohmert that explicitly endorses an Israeli military strike on Iran if “no other peaceful solution can be found within reasonable time.” The resolution does not specify what peaceful solution its supporters are willing to endorse, what timeframe they would consider “reasonable”, or what kind of “support” the United States would provide to Israel if they bombed Iran. The resolution also does not specify what sort of Israeli military action the U.S. would support.
But in the National Review this week, neoconservative pundit Daniel Pipes raised the specter that, if Israel bombs Iran, it will be with nuclear weapons. Pipes offers this as yet another reason the President must be cajoled into bombing Iran first (he has previously urged that Obama attack Iran to win reelection).
This was also the week that AIPAC convened its annual conference in Washington, in which many of the speakers, including U.S. lawmakers, focused on the importance of imposing “crippling sanctions” on Iran and rallied AIPAC members to lobby Congress on this point. While it was the “crippling” gasoline sanctions that were on the marquee, the conference’s subtext was clearly war.
“To our friends in Israel, to AIPAC,” Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina proclaimed to the conference on Monday, “Congress has your back!”
“All options must be on the table. And you know what option I’m talking about,” Graham declared.
“When you talk about war you should never talk about it with a smile on your face. But sometimes it’s better to go to war than it is to allow the holocaust to develop a second time,” asserted Graham, thus reducing the debate on Iran policy to a false choice between all out war or a second holocaust.
And then, having committed himself to the former option, Graham laid the groundwork for his vision for war.
If military options go forward, Graham said, “The Iranian government’s ability to wage conventional warfare against its neighbors and our troops in the region should not exist; they should not have one plane that can fly or ship that can float.”
Whether this message was intended for Israeli generals or for American war planners, Graham’s message was clear–a military option must be “decisive” and the U.S. and Israel need to act soon because “we do not have time on our side”.
“I hope and pray that other options will work,” Graham insisted. “I hope and pray that is not the option we have to seek.” But if figures like Graham are so hopeful that other options will work, it is odd that they have worked so effectively to systematically undercut and eliminate those other options every step of the way.
Already, multilateral sanctions the Obama Administration is attempting to construct with partners and at the U.N. have been declared dead before arrival. Prior to that, it was the engagement track that was prematurely eulogized after a mere twelve weeks. And once “crippling sanctions” are circumscribed to an artificial timeline and fail to miraculously fix everything, we will soon have exhausted our entire diplomatic playbook with remarkable swiftness. The path will be cleared for war.
This is not keeping all options on the table, this is clearing the table for only one option.
On Sunday, Michael Makovsky, foreign policy director of the Bipartisan Research Center, revealed the true pathway upon which “crippling sanctions” will place the U.S. In a column in the San Francisco Chronicle, Makovsky clearly connected the dots between a “crippling” gasoline embargo and war with Iran.
The President, Makovsky said, should “beef up” the U.S. naval presence in the Persian Gulf so that “the U.S. Navy could then blockade Iran to enforce sanctions on gasoline imports passed by both houses of Congress.”
In order to enforce “crippling sanctions”, then, a naval blockade will be necessary. And while Makovsky does not call this blockade “war”, a naval blockade is an act of war by accepted international legal standards. Hence, while one can call it “the naval blockade option”, as Lindsey Graham would say “you know what option I’m talking about.”
Thus, we have policymakers and pundits claiming an aversion to war, talking about not talking about war with a smile on their face, and yet their solution is merely to call the pathway to war by a different name.
In committing only to pushing forward the most draconian sanctions available, they avoid a true assessment of what will be the cost–derailing diplomatic options, burning bridges with our allies, and helping snuff out Iran’s opposition movement.
The abysmal effort that has been invested in avoiding a war scenario makes it challenging to accept the premise that these policymakers are actually committed to war as only a last option. Hoping and praying is not sufficient. If we know “bomb bomb Iran” is next on the playlist, it is time to get serious and figure out how to change the station.

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