Tuesday 7 February 2012
by: Mike Lofgren, Truthout | News Analysis
Retired Republican House and Senate staffer Mike Lofgren spoke with Truthout in Washington, DC, this fall. Lofgren's first commentary for Truthout, "Goodbye to All That: Reflections of a GOP Operative Who Left the Cult," went viral, drawing over 1.2 million page views.
For most of my three-decade career handling national security budgets in Congress, Iran was two or three years away from obtaining a nuclear weapon. The idea of an Islamic bomb exerts a peculiar fascination on American political culture and shines a searchlight on how the gross dysfunctionality of American politics emerges synergistically from the individual dysfunctions of its component parts: the military-industrial complex; oil addiction; the power of foreign-based lobbies; the apocalyptic fixation on the holy land by millions of fundamentalist Americans; US elected officials' neurotic need to show toughness, especially in an election year. The rational calculus of nuclear deterrence, which had guided US policy during the cold war, and which the US government still applies to plainly despotic and bellicose nuclear states like North Korea, has gone out the window with respect to Iran.
It is curious that the world already confronts over 100 Islamic bombs: those possessed by the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. It is even more curious that Pakistan may have had a maximum of 30 to 50 such weapons at the time of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on this country, which resulted in a shotgun marriage between Washington and Islamabad. A decade of partnership with the United States netted Pakistan about $20 billion in aid money and at least 50 more nuclear devices; anyone who knows anything about the fungibility of money will conclude that the United States partially funded Pakistan's nuclear buildup, knowingly or not. Pakistan's government has also been credibly linked to sponsorship of terrorist organizations that have operated outside its territory. But Iran, we are told, is different. A window is closing, and it is closing not in two years, but in six months. And we had better leap through it before it is too late.
In the past, I have been skeptical about imminent war, e.g., in 2003-06, when the neoconservative chicken hawks around President Bush were crowing about how "real men want to go to Teheran," meaning somebody else's husband or son should suit up and invade Iran. At the same time, Seymour Hersh was churning out articles in The New Yorker about the possibility of an attack on Iran. After about the third article, I began discounting the possibility of war. But present circumstances have a different quality. During this presidential campaign season, there is, on the GOP side, the most toxic warmongeringpolitical dynamic imaginable: one that makes Bush look like a pacifist in retrospect. President Obama for his part is trying to triangulate à la Bill Clinton among the GOP, a Democratic base that is mostly antiwar but politically ineffectual, Israel, the military-industrial complex and his polling numbers. Obama may feel he can slide through the next nine months with ever-tightening sanctions and a strategy of tension short of war, but the government of Israel is attempting to force the pace with increasingly hyperbolic predictions. It is also evidently manipulating Congress (e.g., the director of Mossad meetingwith the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee last week). Whether it is sources in Tel Aviv, sources in Washington, or both, that are feeding Iran stories to the US news media is unclear. Whoever they may be, they are playing much of the press - The Washington Post and CBS News are standout examples - like a Stradivarius. In Pentagon-speak, this is known as "prepping the psychological battlefield."
No historical analogy is remotely close to being perfect, but in terms of the psychology of the actors, this circumstance bears a passing resemblance to the July Crisis of 1914 and the blank check Berlin issued to its client in Vienna. Germany (per Bismarck's previous statecraft) was a sated, status quo world power that would gain nothing by war, regardless of what its neurotic and impetuous kaiser thought. Its weaker client, Austria, was always fretting about its relative demographic decline amid a hostile Slavic sea - does that sound familiar? Accordingly, it was constantly egging on Berlin about the "Slavic menace" that was around (and within) Austria's borders. The assassination of the Austrian Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo was like the Iranian nuclear program - a red line that the Slavic (read: "Iranian") menace had crossed. Something "had" to be done, and Berlin gave its client a blank check to issue an ultimatum so extreme as to force war, a "preventive" war, the scope of which snowballed because of an unbroken chain of miscalculations into the First World War.
Fast forward to the present: we have the roiling instability of the Middle East because of the Arab spring (see: Egypt); an unreliable Shiite-run US client state in Iraq; a borderline civil war in Syria; and US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice baiting and hectoring two world powers, China and Russia, over their Syria policy.(1) And finally, the US and Iran are reprising the Gulf of Tonkin in the Strait of Hormuz. All these factors compose a brew potentially so toxic that one would think it would give even the most belligerent chicken hawk pause before quaffing it.
Washington's political class is apparently counting on the short memory of the electorate: it is barely a month and a half since we withdrew the last combat forces from Iraq, and already we have incessant agitation over Iran. America's Iraq adventure took seven years, cost 4,500 US military deaths(2) and sent a trillion dollars down the drain. And that one was going to be a cakewalk, remember?
1. Regardless of how heinous the Syrian government's behavior is, it is not obvious that the United States will better secure the future cooperation of two permanent UN Security Council members by having its ambassador publicly saying these two powers' votes "disgusted" her. For that matter, how eager will Russia and China be to pull America's chestnuts out of the fire if our brinkmanship over Iran gets us into unforeseen difficulties?
2. Estimates of Iraqi civilian deaths are unreliable, but are likely well over 100,000. They are here reduced to a footnote because civilian deaths do not seriously enter into American political calculations as to the feasibility of a war.
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Ever since December 27th, war clouds have been gathering over the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow body of water connecting the Persian Gulf with the Indian Ocean and the seas beyond. On that day, Iranian Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi warned that Tehran would block the strait and create havoc in international oil markets if the West placed new economic sanctions on his country.
Why Closure of the Strait of Hormuz Could Ignite a War and a Global Depression
Originally from http://www.tomdispatch.com
“If they impose sanctions on Iran’s oil exports,” Rahimi declared, “then even one drop of oil cannot flow from the Strait of Hormuz.” Claiming that such a move would constitute an assault on America’s vital interests, President Obama reportedly informed Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that Washington would use force to keep the strait open. To back up their threats, both sides have been bolstering their forces in the area and each has conducted a series of provocative military exercises.
All of a sudden, the Strait of Hormuz has become the most combustible spot on the planet, the most likely place to witness a major conflict between well-armed adversaries. Why, of all locales, has it become so explosive?
Oil, of course, is a major part of the answer, but -- and this may surprise you -- only a part.
Petroleum remains the world’s most crucial source of energy, and about one-fifth of the planet’s oil supply travels by tanker through the strait. “Hormuz is the world’s most important oil chokepoint due to its daily oil flow of almost 17 million barrels in 2011,” the U.S. Department of Energy noted as last year ended. Because no other area is capable of replacing these 17 million barrels, any extended closure would produce a global shortage of oil, a price spike, and undoubtedly attendant economic panic and disorder.
No one knows just how high oil prices would go under such circumstances, but many energy analysts believe that the price of a barrel might immediately leap by $50 or more. “You would get an international reaction that would not only be high, but irrationally high,” says Lawrence J. Goldstein, a director of the Energy Policy Research Foundation. Even though military experts assume the U.S. will use its overwhelming might to clear the strait of Iranian mines and obstructions in a few days or weeks, the chaos to follow in the region might not end quickly, keeping oil prices elevated for a long time. Indeed, some analysts fear that oil prices, already hovering around $100 per barrel, would quickly double to more than $200, erasing any prospect of economic recovery in the United States and Western Europe, and possibly plunging the planet into a renewed Great Recession.
The Iranians are well aware of all this, and it is with such a nightmare scenario that they seek to deter Western leaders from further economic sanctions and other more covert acts when they threaten to close the strait. To calm such fears, U.S. officials have been equally adamant in stressing their determination to keep the strait open. In such circumstances of heightened tension, one misstep by either side might prove calamitous and turn mutual rhetorical belligerence into actual conflict.
Military Overlord of the Persian Gulf
In other words, oil, which makes the global economy hum, is the most obvious factor in the eruption of war talk, if not war. Of at least equal significance are allied political factors, which may have their roots in the geopolitics of oil but have acquired a life of their own.
Because so much of the world’s most accessible oil is concentrated in the Persian Gulf region, and because a steady stream of oil is absolutely essential to the well-being of the U.S. and the global economy, it has long been American policy to prevent potentially hostile powers from acquiring the capacity to dominate the Gulf or block the Strait of Hormuz. President Jimmy Carter first articulated this position in January 1980, following the Islamic Revolution in Iran and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. “Any attempt by an outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America,” he told a joint session of Congress, “and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.”
In accordance with this precept, Washington designated itself the military overlord of the Persian Gulf, equipped with the military might to overpower any potential challenger. At the time, however, the U.S. military was not well organized to implement the president’s initiative, known ever since as theCarter Doctrine. In response, the Pentagon created a new organization, theU.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), and quickly endowed it with the wherewithal to crush any rival power or powers in the region and keep the sea lanes under American control.
CENTCOM first went into action in 1987-1988, when Iranian forces attacked Kuwaiti and Saudi oil tankers during the Iran-Iraq War, threatening the flow of oil supplies through the strait. To protect the tankers, President Reagan ordered that they be “reflagged” as American vessels and escorted by U.S. warships, putting the Navy into potential conflict with the Iranians for the first time. Out of this action came the disaster of Iran Air Flight 655, a civilian airliner carrying 290 passengers and crew members, all of whom died when the plane was hit by a missile from the USS Vincennes, which mistook it for a hostile fighter plane -- a tragedy long forgotten in the United States, but still deeply resented in Iran.
Iraq was America’s de facto ally in the Iran-Iraq war, but when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990 -- posing a direct threat to Washington’s dominance of the Gulf -- the first President Bush ordered CENTCOM to protect Saudi Arabia and drive Iraqi forces out of Kuwait. And when Saddam rebuilt his forces, and his very existence again came to pose a latent threat to America’s dominance in the region, the second President Bush ordered CENTCOM to invade Iraq and eliminate his regime altogether (which, as no one is likely to forget, resulted in a string of disasters).
If oil lay at the root of Washington’s domineering role in the Gulf, over time that role evolved into something else: a powerful expression of America’s status as a global superpower. By becoming the military overlord of the Gulf and the self-appointed guardian of oil traffic through the Strait of Hormuz, Washington said to the world: "We, and we alone, are the ones who can ensure the safety of your daily oil supply and thereby prevent global economic collapse." Indeed, when the Cold War ended -- and with it an American sense of pride and identity as a bulwark against Soviet expansionism in Europe and Asia -- protection of the flow of Persian Gulf oil became America’s greatest claim to superpowerdom, and it remains so today.
Every Option on Every Table
With the ouster of Saddam Hussein in 2003, the one potential threat to U.S. domination of the Persian Gulf was, of course, Iran. Even under the U.S.-backed Shah, long Washington’s man in the Gulf, the Iranians had sought to be the paramount power in the region. Now, under a militant Shiite Islamic regime, they have proven no less determined and -- call it irony -- thanks to Saddam’s overthrow and the rise of a Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad, they have managed to extend their political reach in the region. With Saddam’s fate in mind, they have also built up their defensive military capabilities and -- in the view of many Western analysts -- embarked on a uranium-enrichment program with the potential to supply fissile material for a nuclear weapon, should the Iranian leadership choose someday to take such a fateful step.
Iran thus poses a double challenge to Washington’s professed status in the Gulf. It is not only a reasonably well-armed country with significant influence in Iraq and elsewhere, but by promoting its nuclear program, it threatens to vastly complicate America’s future capacity to pull off punishing attacks like those launched against Iraqi forces in 1991 and 2003.
While Iran’s military budget is modest-sized at best and its conventional military capabilities will never come close to matching CENTCOM’s superior forces in a direct confrontation, its potential pursuit of nuclear-arms capabilities greatly complicates the strategic calculus in the region. Even without taking the final steps of manufacturing actual bomb components -- and no evidence has yet surfaced that the Iranians have proceeded to this critical stage -- the Iranian nuclear effort has greatly alarmed other countries in the Middle East and called into question the continued robustness of America’s regional dominance. From Washington’s perspective, an Iranian bomb -- whether real or not -- poses an existential threat to America’s continued superpower status.
How to prevent Iran not just from going nuclear but from maintaining the threat to go nuclear has, in recent years, become an obsessional focus of American foreign and military policy. Over and over again, U.S. leaders have considered plans for using military force to cripple the Iranian program though air and missile strikes on known and suspected nuclear facilities. Presidents Bush and Obama have both refused to take such action “off the table,” as Obama made clear most recently in his State of the Union address. (The Israelis have also repeatedly indicated their desire to take such action, possibly as a prod to Washington to get the job done.)
Most serious analysts have concluded that military action would proveextremely risky, probably causing numerous civilian casualties and inviting fierce Iranian retaliation. It might not even achieve the intended goal of halting the Iranian nuclear program, much of which is now being conducted deep underground. Hence, the consensus view among American and European leaders has been that economic sanctions should instead be employed to force the Iranians to the negotiating table, where they could be induced to abandon their nuclear ambitions in return for various economic benefits. But those escalating sanctions, which appear to be causing increasing economic pain for ordinary Iranians, have been described by that country’s leaders as an “act of war,” justifying their threats to block the Strait of Hormuz.
To add to tensions, the leaders of both countries are under extreme pressure to vigorously counter the threats of the opposing side. President Obama, up for re-election, has come under fierce, even hair-raising, attack from the contending Republican presidential candidates (except, of course, Ron Paul) for failing to halt the Iranian nuclear program, though none of them have a credible plan to do so. He, in turn, has been taking an ever-harsher stance on the issue. Iranian leaders, for their part, appear increasingly concerned over the deteriorating economic conditions in their country and, no doubt fearing an Arab Spring-like popular upheaval, are becoming more bellicose in their rhetoric.
So oil, the prestige of global dominance, Iran's urge to be a regional power, and domestic political factors are all converging in a combustible mix to make the Strait of Hormuz the most dangerous place on the planet. For both Tehran and Washington, events seem to be moving inexorably toward a situation in which mistakes and miscalculations could become inevitable. Neither side can appear to give ground without losing prestige and possibly even their jobs. In other words, an existential test of wills is now under way over geopolitical dominance in a critical part of the globe, and on both sides there seem to be ever fewer doors marked “EXIT.”
As a result, the Strait of Hormuz will undoubtedly remain the ground zero of potential global conflict in the months ahead.
Michael T. Klare is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College, a TomDispatch regular, and the author, most recently, of Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet. His newest book, The Race for What’s Left: The Global Scramble for the World’s Last Resources (Metropolitan Books), will be published in March.
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2-8-12 The Money Rules From Counterpunch.org
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2-8-12 The Money Rules From Counterpunch.org
Will Iran Be Attacked?
Washington has made tremendous preparations for a military assault on Iran. There is speculation that Washington has called off its two longest running wars–Iraq and Afghanistan–in order to deploy forces against Iran. Two of Washington’s fleets have been assigned to the Persian Gulf along with NATO warships. Missiles have been spread amongst Washington’s Oil Emirate and Middle Eastern puppet states. US troops have been deployed in Israel and Kuwait.
Washington has presented Israel a gift from the hard-pressed american taxpayers of an expensive missile defense system, money spent for Israel when millions of unassisted americans have lost their homes. As no one expects Iran to attack Israel, except in retaliation for an Israeli attack on Iran, the purpose of the missile defense system is to protect Israel from an Iranian response to Israeli aggression against Iran.
Juan Cole has posted on his blog a map showing 44 US military bases surrounding Iran.
In addition to the massive military preparations, there is the propaganda war against Iran that has been ongoing since 1979 when Washington’s puppet, the Shah of Iran, was overthrown by the Iranian revolution. Iran is surrounded, but Washington and Israeli propaganda portray Iran as a threatening aggressor nation. In fact, the aggressors are the Washington and Tel Aviv governments which constantly threaten Iran with military attack.
Neocon warmongers, such as David Goldman, compare the Iranian president to Hitler and declare that only war can stop him.
Washington’s top military officials have created the impression that an act of Israeli aggression against Iran is a done deal. On February 2 the Washington Post reported that Pentagon chief Leon Panetta believes that Israel is likely to attack Iran in two to four months.
Also on February 2, Gareth Porter reported that General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, informed the Israeli government that the US would not join Israel’s aggression against Iran unless Washington had given prior approval for the attack.
Porter interprets Dempsey’s warning as a strong move by President Obama to deter an attack that would involve Washington in a regional conflagration with Iran. A different way to read Dempsey’s warning is that Obama wants to hold off on attacking Iran until polls show him losing the presidential election. It has generally been the case that the patriotic electorate does not turn out a president who is at war.
On February 5, President Obama canceled Dempsey’s warning to Israel when Obama declared that he was in “lockstep” with the Israeli government. Obama is in lockstep with Israel despite the fact that Obama told NBC that “we don’t see any evidence that they [Iran] have those intentions [attacks on the US] or capabilities.” By being in lockstep with Israel and simultaneously calling for a “diplomatic solution,” Obama appeased both the Israel Lobby and Democratic peace groups, thus upping his vote.
As I wrote previously, this spring is a prime time for attacking Iran, because there is a good chance that Russia will be in turmoil because of its March election. The Russian opposition to Putin is financed by Washington and encouraged by Washington’s statements, especially those of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Whether Putin wins or there is an indecisive result and a run-off election, Washington’s money will put tens of thousands of Russians into the streets, just as Washington’s money created the “Green Revolution” in Iran to protest the presidential elections there.
On February 4 the former left-wing British newspaper, The Guardian, reported a pre-election protest by 120,000 anti-Putin demonstrators marching in Moscow and demanding “fair elections.” In other words, Washington already has its minions declaring that a win by Putin in March can only signify a stolen election. The problem for Obama is that this spring is too early to tell whether his re-election is threatened by a Republican candidate. Going to war prematurely, especially if the result is a stiff rise in oil prices, is not an aid to re-election.
The willingness of peoples around the world to be Washington’s puppets instead of loyal citizens of their own countries is why the West has been able to dominate the world during the modern era. There seems to be an infinite supply of foreign leaders who prefer Washington’s money and favor to loyalty to their own countries’ interests.
As Karl Marx said, money turns everything into a commodity that can be bought and sold. All other values are defeated–honor, integrity, truth, justice, loyalty, even blood kin. Nothing remains but filthy lucre. Money certainly turned UK prime minister Tony Blair into a political commodity.
The power of money was brought home to me many years ago. My Ph.D. dissertation chairman found himself in the Nixon administration as Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security affairs. He asked if I would go to Vietnam to administer the aid programs. I was flattered that he thought I had the strength of character to stand up to the corruption that usually defeats the purpose of aid programs, but I declined the assignment.
The conversation was one I will never forget. Warren Nutter was an intelligent person of integrity. He thought regardless of whether the war was necessary that we had been led into it by deception. He thought democracy could not live with deception, and he objected to government officials who were not honest with the American people. Nutter’s position was that a democratic government had to rely on persuasion, not on trickery. Otherwise, the outcomes were not democratic.
As Nutter saw it, we were in a war, and we had involved the South Vietnamese. Therefore, we had obligations to them. If we proved to be feckless, the consequence would be to undermine commitments we had made to other countries in our effort to contain the Soviet Empire. The Soviet Union, unlike the “terrorist threat” had the potential of being a real threat. People who have come of age after the collapse of the Soviet Union don’t understand the cold war era.
In the course of the conversation I asked how Washington got so many other governments to do its bidding. He answered, “Money.”
I asked, “You mean foreign aid?”
He said, “No, bags of money. We buy the leaders.”
He didn’t approve of it, but there was nothing he could do about it.
Purchasing the leadership of their enemies or of potential threats was the Roman way. Timothy H. Parsons in his book, The Rule of Empires, describes the Romans as “deft practitioners of soft power.” Rome preferred to rule the conquered and the potentially hostile through “semiautonomous client kings which the Senate euphemistically termed ‘friends of the Roman people.’ Romans helped cooperative monarchs remain in power with direct payments of coins and material goods. Acceptance of these subsidies signified that an ally deferred to imperial authority, and the Romans interpreted any defiance of their will as an overt revolt. They also intervened freely in local succession disputes to replace unsuitable clients.”
This is the way Washington rules. Washington’s way of ruling other countries is why there is no “Egyptian Spring,” but a military dictatorship as a replacement for Washington’s discarded puppet Hosni Mubarak, and why European puppet states are fighting Washington’s wars of hegemony in the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia.
Washington’s National Endowment for Democracy funds non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that interfere in the internal affairs of other countries. It is through the operations of NGOs that Washington added the former Soviet Republic of Georgia to Washington’s empire, along with the Baltic States, and Eastern European countries.
Because of the hostility of many Russians to their Soviet past, Russia is vulnerable to Washington’s machinations.
As long as the dollar rules, Washington’s power will rule.
As Rome debased its silver denarius into lead, Rome’s power to purchase compliance faded away. If “Helicopter Ben” Bernanke inflates away the purchasing power of the dollar, Washington’s power will melt away also.
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