Editor's note.  Dr. Sniegoski presented an earlier version of this article as a paper at the 12th Mut zur Ethik Conference held September 3-5, 2004, in Feldkirch/Vorarlberg, Austria. The conference theme was "Giving Inner Courage: democracy, values, education, and dialogue."

That version has now (October 2004) been posted at Zeit-Fragen (Current Concerns). Zeit-Fragen/Current Concerns is published in Zurich, Switzerland.

Nicholas Strakon


The future of the global War on Terror:
Next stop, Iran



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What will be the next front in the war on terror? I don't claim to be Nostradamus and I don't have a crystal ball, but I can confidently say that the current situation points to a wider war in the Middle East. That result has been sought and planned for by the American neoconservatives; it is what they have referred to as World War IV. It is all in the published record; no conspiracy-theorizing is necessary to see it.

Also on the record, but receiving much less attention, is the fact that the drive toward World War IV reflects the long-held Israeli Likudnik goal of destabilizing and fragmenting Israel's Middle Eastern enemies in order to ultimately facilitate the elimination of the single greatest danger to the Jewish state — its large and ever-growing Palestinian population. (I will not repeat here all of what I have written elsewhere about the neocon/Likudnik background for the war in the Middle East — how the neocons were the driving force for the war on Iraq and how the war plans were conceived in Israel.)

Neoconservatives do not control American policy to the extent that they can lead the country directly into the wider war in the Middle East. Other U.S. elites, especially the financial elite, do not want such a wider war. Instead, it seems likely that the neocons will use the momentum of their invasion and occupation of Iraq to thrust the United States into the wider war, and it seems likely that it will begin with an attack on Iran.

The neocons have been focusing on the danger of Iran for some time, and it now appears that much of what they have said about that country may actually be true. Numerous experts now report that the Islamic Republic of Iran possesses an extensive and intensive nuclear program that could develop weapons. Moreover, Iran has developed substantial ballistic-missile capabilities; it can probably hit targets throughout the Middle East, including Israel. An interesting point, however, is that Iran does not seem to be violating any international laws in importing materials for its suspected nuclear-weapons program. That program uses the same basic technology involved in a civilian nuclear-energy program, which Iran is permitted to have under the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty. [1]

If Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons, that would fit with its declared strategy of "deterrent defense," as opposed to an offensive threat to Israel or, certainly, to the United States. Iran wants to be a regional power able to defend itself against Israel and the United States, which it apparently believes are more apt to attack weak countries unable to fight back. As Middle East news commentator Youssef Ibrahim writes: "I have little doubt Iran is pursuing nuclear weapon systems. Its officials privately assert it is so because they view Israel as a real menace to them and the region with its 200 nuclear warheads.... The United States completely ignores that double standard, which resonates widely among Arabs and Muslims. Added to that is the suspicion the Bush administration is still bent on, or addicted to, more American-induced regime changes." [2]

Commentator Edward S. Herman aptly observes: "Iran is the next U.S. and Israeli target, so the mainstream U.S. media are once again serving the state agenda by focusing on Iran's alleged menace and refusing to provide context that would show the menace to be pure Orwell — that is, while Iran is seriously threatened by the U.S. and its aggressively ethnic-cleansing client, Iran only threatens the possibility of self-defense." [3]

Iran's very effort to develop strategic weapons prompts Israel and the United States to press for a pre-emptive attack. It might also be argued that while the rulers of Iran certainly want to avoid a destructive American or Israeli attack, at the same time they can use a war atmosphere to unify their country, now divided between religious militants and moderates.

Israel is especially concerned — it is obsessed, even — about Iran's developing nuclear weapons because it regards its regional nuclear monopoly as a fundamental pillar of its security. We might recall that Israel bombed Iraq's Osiraq nuclear reactor in 1981 when it feared that Iraq was trying to develop nuclear weapons there. Iran is, of course, an active enemy of Israel, providing support to Hezbollah in Lebanon and to a number of Palestinian resistance groups. In the past couple of years numerous Israeli officials have sounded grave warnings about the potential Iranian nuclear threat. For example, in November 2003 testimony before the Israeli parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Mossad chief Meir Dagan warned that Iran's nuclear program posed "the biggest threat to Israel's existence since its creation" in 1948. [4] And addressing a conference on national security in December 2003, Avi Dichter, the head of Shin Bet, Israel's internal-security agency, said that Iran was sponsoring terrorism and developing non-conventional weapons, which posed "a strategic threat to Israel." Dichter declared that "Iran is the No. 1 terror nation in the world." [5]

Israeli leaders emphasized concern about Iran before the U.S. attack on Iraq. In January 2002, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, a leading member of the Labor Party and a former prime minister, claimed that Iran posed a grave missile threat to Israel: "The ayatollah leadership in Iran is also threatening to destroy Israel ... inflicting genocide through the use of missiles." [6] And in an interview with the New York Post in November 2002, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said that as soon as Iraq had been dealt with, he would "push for Iran to be at the top of the 'to do' list." Sharon called Iran the "center of world terror" and declared that "Iran makes every effort to possess weapons of mass destruction ... and ballistic missiles.... That is a danger to the Middle East, and a danger to Europe." [7]

As usual, neoconservatives acted in tandem with Israel. The point man here would seem to be veteran neoconservative Michael A. Ledeen. On April 30, 2003, in an address titled "Time to Focus on Iran — the Mother of Modern Terrorism" at a policy forum of the Jewish Institutite for National Security Affairs (JINSA), Ledeen declared: "The time for diplomacy is at an end; it is time for a free Iran, free Syria and free Lebanon." [8] Elsewhere Ledeen would write: "We are now engaged in a regional struggle in the Middle East, and the Iranian tyrants are the keystone of the terror network. Far more than the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the defeat of the mullahcracy and the triumph of freedom in Tehran would be a truly historic event and an enormous blow to the terrorists." [9] Ledeen actually argued that the United States should first attack Iran, which he portrayed as the "keystone of the terror network," even while the Bush administration was preparing its attack on Iraq. "I have long argued that it would be better to liberate Iran before Iraq," he wrote in November 2002, "and events may soon give us that opportunity." [10]

In early 2002 Ledeen set up the Coalition for Democracy in Iran (CDI), an action group focusing on producing regime change in Iran. His principal collaborator is Morris Amitay, vice chairman of JINSA and a former executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Israel's ultra-powerful lobby in the United States. CDI also includes members of key neoconservative policy institutes and think tanks, including Raymond Tanter of the Washington Institute for Near East Affairs (WINEA) — an off-shoot of AIPAC — Frank Gaffney, president of the Center for Security Policy, American Enterprise Institute (AEI) scholars Joshua Muravchik and Danielle Pletka, and former CIA director James Woolsey. The organization proclaims that diplomatic engagement with Iran has proved to be an utter failure, and that the only way to end the reign of Iran's "terror masters" is to actively support opponents of the regime in their efforts to topple the reigning mullahs. [11]

The move on Iran enlisted broad support among neocons. On May 6, 2003, AEI hosted an all-day conference titled "The Future of Iran: Mullahcracy, Democracy, and the War on Terror," whose speakers included Ledeen, Amitay, and Uri Lubrani from the Israeli Defense Ministry. The convenor, Hudson Institute Middle East specialist Meyrav Wurmser (whose husband David worked as her AEI counterpart until joining the Bush administration), set the tone. "Our fight against Iraq was only one battle in a long war," she said. "It would be ill-conceived to think that we can deal with Iraq alone.... We must move on, and faster." [12] As Marc Perelman pointed out in the Jewish newspaper Forward in May 2003, "A budding coalition of conservative hawks, Jewish organizations, and Iranian monarchists is pressing the White House to step up American efforts to bring about regime change in Iran." [13]

It is worth noting that despite their reputation as advocates of global democracy, the neoconservatives have proposed restoring the monarchy in Iran, in the person of Reza Pahlavi, the exiled son of the former shah. Perelman wrote: "The emerging coalition is reminiscent of the buildup to the invasion of Iraq, with Pahlavi possibly assuming the role of Iraqi exile opposition leader Ahmed Chalabi, a favorite of neoconservatives. Like Chalabi, Pahlavi has good relations with several Jewish groups. He has addressed the board of the hawkish Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs and gave a public speech at the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, and met with Jewish communal leaders." [14]

A strong Israeli connection was apparent here. According to Perelman, Pahlavi has had direct contacts with the Israeli leadership: "During the last two years ... [Pahlavi] has met privately with Prime Minister Sharon and former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as Israel's Iranian-born president, Moshe Katsav." [15]

Another writer, Iraj Pakravan, maintained that the neocon and overall Zionist support for Pahlavi was to be reciprocated by his support for Israel, should he ever take power. Pahlavi and his supporters must "give guarantees that they will conduct a policy that supports Israel's position against the Palestinians and abide by the U.S.'s energy needs. Furthermore, and most importantly, the opposition group must accept that Israel will be the leading state in the hierarchy of the regional system, a position that many states in the Middle East covet." [16]

Indicating the seriousness of the American move to destabilize Iran was the fact that preparations were being made by the Defense Department's Office of Special Plans (OSP), which played such a key role in the U.S. attack on Iraq. Perelman wrote in May 2003: "Iran expert Michael Rubin is now working for the Pentagon's 'special plans' office, a small unit set up to gather intelligence on Iraq, but apparently also working on Iran. Previously a researcher at the Washington Institute for Near East policy, Rubin has vocally advocated regime change in Tehran." [17]

As a result of a leaked FBI probe in the late summer of 2004, it has come out that Israel might have had direct contacts with members of the OSP on the Iran issue. The implication is not simply that individuals involved were pro-Israel but that some of them might be conspirators in a clandestine operation launched by Sharon's Likud Party. Robert Dreyfuss, writing in the Nation, has called them "agents of influence" for a foreign government.

Dreyfuss reports that "the point of the FBI probe, sources believe, is not to examine the push to war but rather to ascertain whether Sharon recruited or helped place in office people who knowingly, and secretly, worked with him to affect the direction of U.S. policy in the Middle East." Tom Barry of In These Times writes that, unbeknownst to the CIA or the State Department, the office of Douglas Feith (assistant secretary of defense for policy) engaged in "back-channel operations" and over the past three years participated in clandestine meetings in Washington, Rome, and Paris "to discuss regime change in Iraq, Iran, and Syria." Attending the meetings, Barry writes, were "Office of Policy officials and consultants ... [Lawrence] Franklin, Harold Rhode, and Michael Ledeen..., an expatriate Iranian arms dealer (Manichur Ghorbanifar), AIPAC lobbyists, Ahmed Chalabi, and Italian and Israeli intelligence officers, among others." The direct link to Sharon's government was most obvious in the plan for regime change in Iran, which Barry says would most likely involve "a combination of preemptive military strikes (either by the United States or Israel) and support for a coalition of Iranian dissidents." [18]

It was not just the neoconservatives in the Bush administration who were moving to attack Iran: President George W. Bush himself identified Iran as a member of the "Axis of Evil" in his first State of the Union Address in January 2002. And National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice made this aspect of U.S. policy clear in her August 8, 2004, appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press": "We cannot allow the Iranians to develop a nuclear weapon." [19] The next day, while campaigning for re-election, Bush asserted that Iran "must abandon her nuclear ambitions," and he vowed to stand with U.S. allies to pressure Tehran to do so. [20]

Ominously, on May 6, 2004, a U.S. House of Representatives resolution authorized "all appropriate means" to put an end to Iranian nuclear-weapons development; the administration could use that resolution as legal justification to launch an attack. [21]

There are strong rumors floating that Israel plans to attack Iran's nuclear installations, as it attacked Iraq's reactor in 1981. "For Israel it's quite clear, that we're not going to wait for a threat to be realized," says Ephraim Inbar, head of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University. "For self-defense we have to act in a preemptive mode." [22] But some Israeli authorities believe that destroying Iran's nuclear capabilities would be a far more difficult mission than the 1981 attack. "I don't think there's an option for a pre-emptive act because we're talking about a different sort of a nuclear program," maintained Shmuel Bar, a fellow at the Institute for Policy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel. "A hit-and-run preemptive attack can't guarantee much success." [23]

In late September 2004, however, Israel announced that it would purchase 500 "bunker-busting" bombs from the United States (paid for by U.S. military aid) — weapons that could destroy Iran's underground nuclear stores and laboratories. [24]

In the event of any Israeli strike on its nuclear installations, Iran has threatened to unleash its forces in an all-out retaliation, including long-range missile attacks and terror attacks from Lebanon. Iran's claim to be able to wreak great damage on Israel may just be bluster to ward off an attack, but defense experts do report that the latest version of Iran's Shahab-3 medium-range ballistic missile can reach Israel.

Threats of an Israeli attack, which could ignite an all-out Middle East war, might induce the United States to move on Iran. Moreover, American attacks on Iranian missile sites would probably be more effective than anything Israel could carry out and would make it less likely that Israel would suffer from Iranian retaliation. Thus, the safety of Israel would likely motivate those influential Americans who identify with Israel to push for an American attack.

Ironically, by eliminating the hostile regimes bordering Iran — Afghanistan and Iraq — the United States provided Tehran with opportunities to greatly expand its power in the region. At the same time, however, the presence of American forces in those bordering countries puts considerable geopolitical pressure on Iran. The stabilization of those neighbors under American domination would seriously endanger Iran, especially since the United States already controls the Persian Gulf. Historian Juan Cole describes the situation this way: "The Iranians are very afraid that the United States will find a way to maneuver an anti-Iranian government into power" in Iraq. [25] The current Iraqi government of Iyad Allawi definitely seems anti-Iranian; thus it is in Iran's interest to work against stability for the existing Iraqi government.

With American occupation forces in neighboring Iraq, the situation with Iran is a veritable powder keg. American officials and Prime Minister Allawi have claimed that Iran is aiding the violent Shi'ite resistance in Iraq led by the radical cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr. [26]

The situation is ripe for incidents leading to conflict. Iranian Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani told Al-Jazeera TV on August 18, 2004, that Iran might even launch a preemptive strike against U.S. forces in the region to prevent an attack on its nuclear facilities. "We will not sit (with arms folded) to wait for what others will do to us. Some military commanders in Iran are convinced that preventive operations which the Americans talk about are not their monopoly." Shamkhani continued: "The U.S. military presence (in Iraq) will not become an element of strength (for Washington) at our expense. The opposite is true, because their forces would turn into a hostage" in the event of an attack. [27]

In light of the American public's disenchantment with the bloody quagmire in Iraq, it is highly unlikely that the Bush administration would dare to attack Iran before the November election. But what could the United States do after the election? Although the Iranian military is not in any way comparable to that of the United States, it is larger and better equipped than the Iraqi forces that the United States faced in 2003. The Iranians also have the benefit of having learned from U.S. military operations in Iraq. And Iran's military power has not been sapped by a decade of bombing, as Iraq's had been.

The occupation of Iraq has stretched the U.S. Army so thin that a large-scale ground invasion of Iran, followed by a comparable military occupation, seems to be out of the question. But bombing of Iran's nuclear sites and military infrastructure is highly likely. After all, neither the Air Force nor the Navy, with its cruise missiles, is mired in Iraq. However, since many Iranian facilities are located in urban areas, even "precision" bombing would cause extensive civilian casualties. Furthermore, precision bombing alone might not knock out Iran's nuclear installations, many of which are said to be built underground. [28]

Neocons would undoubtedly press for the severest attack possible, not just to set back Iran's nuclear program but also to weaken its military and economic potential. That would dramatically set the stage for regime change in Iran. Hence, a limited ground invasion of Iran with air support would not be out of the question; the aim would be not to occupy Iran but rather to destroy Iranian forces. A ground invasion could oblige Iran to position its military forces in defensive positions that American airpower could then destroy.

What would be the impact of such an American attack on Iran? A war against Iran is liable to set off a tidal wave of terror in the rest of the Middle East. Saudi Arabia, already shaken by terror, could fall into chaos. The concomitant danger to the Saudi oil supply would threaten the economy of the world. A call would arise in the United States to militarily occupy the Saudi oil-producing regions; that is a move for which Washington is reported to have had contingency plans for a long time, and it has been publicly advocated by the neocons. Since anti-Saudi feeling is high in the United States, such a move might enjoy considerable support here even among those who identify with the anti-war American Left (i.e., the moderate Left). It is worth noting that Michael Moore's popular anti-war movie "Fahrenheit 9/11" blames the Saudi government for the 9/11 attacks and the war on Iraq.

While the U.S. military could manage to occupy Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province, maintaining the oil supply would not necessarily be easy. The pipelines would also have to be secured, including, presumably, the vitally important pipeline that stretches across the country to the Red Sea. Such an undertaking would further stretch the depleted military and financial resources of the United States.

Any aggression directed against Saudi Arabia, the center of the Islamic religion, would undoubtedly have a galvanizing effect on the peoples of the entire Muslim world. Thousands of fanatical Muslim fighters would not only pour into Saudi Arabia but would also attack American and Western interests throughout the world. The pro-American regimes in Jordan and Egypt would face destabilization.

The turmoil would cause oil prices to skyrocket, which would have dire economic consequences around the world, provoking social and political upheavals far beyond the Middle East.

Obviously, important American economic interests — Big Oil, international finance — as well as the foreign-policy elite would not want that nightmare scenario to develop. But those groups have generally opposed the American war in the Middle East all along, with little success. They are currently pushing for negotiation with Iran; Zbigniew Brzezinski, for example, headed a recent study for the Council on Foreign Relations that recommended the diplomatic approach. But the war skeptics among the elites — defenders of the imperialist status quo — have been overtaken by events. Things have slipped beyond their control. As the American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson exclaimed during the American Civil War: "Events are in the saddle and ride mankind."

As long as the United States stays in Iraq, the widening of the war is very likely. Earlier I referred to the U.S. occupation of Iraq as a powder keg; it is now ready to explode. And a couple of crucial actors threaten to light the fuse. The Islamic regime in Iran believes its survival depends on keeping Iraq unstable and on developing a powerful military deterrent, probably including nuclear weapons. Militant Islamic terrorists — al Qaeda — see an all-out war between the United States and Islam as a chance to overthrow the existing Arab regimes and gain power. Sharon and the American neocons realize that destabilizing the Middle East can save the Jewish state by facilitating a final solution to the Palestinian demographic threat, which if ignored will soon overwhelm the Jewish population in the areas controlled by Israel. Consequently, Israel and its influential American supporters push for a U.S. hard line — to bring about the neoconservatives' World War IV.

It is probably beyond the power of the Bush administration to pull out of Iraq, given the influence of the neocons and the fact that its prestige is on the line. In fact, its justification for attacking Iraq is even more applicable to attacking Iran, as many have pointed out. The Bush administration is just not willing to throw in the sponge and walk away from Iraq; to do so would be to admit that its whole policy had been a failure.

Although John Kerry, the Democratic candidate for president, has the support of most of the substantial anti-war vote, he is likely to pursue a policy in the Middle East similar to Bush's. [29] Kerry, in fact, doesn't even promise much change; some of his critics have styled the Kerry program on the Middle East "an echo, not a choice." [30] Kerry has said he would retain American troops in the Middle East. Only recently, finding himself behind in the polls, has he begun to actually admit that the invasion of Iraq was a mistake. As late as August 2004, Kerry was saying that he would have voted in the Senate to give the president the power to wage war on Iraq even if he had known that the WMD danger was non-existent. In regard to his plan for Iraq, Kerry differs with Bush only in respect to the former's much-touted internationalism, though it is doubtful that Kerry could attract much international support to occupy Iraq.

It should be added that Kerry's major organizational backers — the Democratic Leadership Council and the Progressive Policy Institute — are peopled by liberals who supported the war on Iraq. Moreover, like the neocons, they identify closely with Israel. Kerry himself has said that the "cause of Israel must be the cause of America" — at a time when the actual "cause" of the Sharon government is to destabilize the Middle East in the interests of Israel. [31] It also should be noted, however, that Kerry, under the guise of progressive internationalism, could more effectively intensify and widen the war in the Middle East than could the Bush administration, whose credibility is much tarnished by lies, torture, and corruption.

The fact is that even if the neoconservatives themselves should lose their grip on the reins of government power, the war policy that they initiated in the Middle East has taken on a life of its own. And that holds true despite the influence of the Establishment figures who, unlike Kerry, opposed the American attack on Iraq. In large measure, the neoconservatives have placed their Establishment adversaries in a position where they cannot undo what the neocons have done. That is because the American foreign-policy elite believes that withdrawing from Iraq would destroy America's image as a world superpower. As columnist Paul Krugman writes: "Even among harsh critics of the administration's Iraq policy, the usual view is that we have to finish the job. You've heard the arguments: We broke it; we bought it. We can't cut and run. We have to stay the course." [32] According to this line of thinking, if the United States looked like a paper tiger in Iraq, it would not have the credibility to exercise its necessary role of world leadership.

For the United States to pull out would put it on the defensive in the rest of the world. That demonstration of weakness would invite attacks on other parts of the American empire. Elite opinion on this issue is supported by much of the general populace, who see American honor at stake in staying the course and not giving in.

In stipulating that the United States must not retreat, the foreign-policy elite inadvertently reveals the genius of neoconservative foreign policy on Iraq. The neocons have driven American policy into a position that their foreign-policy adversaries — insofar as they support the American global empire — must accept. Essentially, the neocons tied the interests of the American empire to those of Israel, which the non-neoconservative foreign-policy elite believes it cannot now abandon without undermining its own globalist agenda.

But why can't the United States jettison its empire? Some say American wealth depends on its military empire — an economic view I reject. Arnaud de Borchgrave, a critic of the attack on Iraq, presents the non-economic rationale for global militarism: "Not to see this mission [the Iraq business] through to a successful conclusion would relegate the United States to the role of Sweden or Switzerland in a world increasingly populated by pariah states. A new world disorder would be well-nigh inevitable." [33]

But Sweden and Switzerland do quite well without a military empire. And it seems unlikely that the United States could be the country indispensable for maintaining prosperity for the rest of the world. All producers have a vital self-interest in trade, as opposed to self-sacrificing embargoes. If there arose some terrible threat to cut off vital resources to the industrial world, other countries would undoubtedly intervene in some manner — even by bribing dictators, as the dastardly French are supposed to do on occasion.

The standard of living in the United States does not depend on the regime's global military empire. Unfortunately, the necessity of such an empire is ingrained in the thinking of the foreign-policy elite and of most educated Americans. Therefore it is hardly likely that the United States will pull out of Iraq. And that means there is a global debacle in the making.

October 14, 2004

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