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How About an October Naval Skirmish?

The Elections, Iran and al-Qaeda

by REZA GHORASHI

The buzz about Iran’s possible facilitation of Al-Qaeda’s 9-11 terrorist movement has hit the airwaves. NBC, for example, had two segments on Iran in its July 19 ­04 national news. NBC’s news editors are well aware of significance of allotting so much of their 20+ minutes of news to this subject. "National media" such as Washington Post and Time magazine have devoted valuable space to the issue. President Bush promised to "look into the facts" about Al-Qaeda members’ crossing Iran on their way to the US.

What he didn’t say is the fact that no one can come to the US directly from Iran (legally or otherwise). These terrorists must have gone through a number of other countries. Turkey? UAE? Others? It doesn’t seem that Mr. Bush will "look into the facts"to see how these terrorists managed to cross those other, friendly, countries. It is also alleged that Iranian border authorities have not stamped terrorists’ [Saudi Arabian] passports. But how could they, if these terrorists were crossing the border illegally? Have those other friendly countries stamped the passports? All of these raise a question: Is Iran, another "axis of evil," going to be used by Mr. Bush in his re-election efforts?

Two years ago around this time the news headline were all about Enron and other corporate scandals, failure of Bush administration’s economic policies and tax cuts, and so on. Predictions were that in upcoming November mid-term elections Democrats will hold on to the Senate, may increase their lead there, and even take over the House. Then news about Saddam Hussein, his WMD, his nuclear ambitions, and his links to Al-Qaeda started to crop up. In the beginning not too many took these serious. By August, however, things were changing. By October it was all Iraq and "the war president." Republicans won the elections; held on to the House and re-claimed the Senate.

The likelihood of a full fledge war ala Iraq is slim. But how about some serious naval skirmishes and invasion of disputed islands in the Gulf?

Or bombing of Iran’s suspected nuclear facilities?

Even more likely is a clash between Iran and some regional surrogates. Already there has been a number of "incidents" between Iran and Qatar, Kuwait, and UAE. Iraqi defense minister had some very harsh words for Iran in his interview with a Saudi sponsored newspaper on Tuesday. Such a confrontation would be serious one. It has to be a believable clash sufficient for enough extra votes to ensure Mr. Bush’s re-election. The people (of the US, Iran, and rest of the world) will pay a high cost for such an event. How is the Islamic Republic of Iran responding?

The Khatami administration (a.k.a. reformist faction) is concerned about such a scenario. They have been all over the media refuting the allegations. Such a clash will tip the balance even further in favor of the powerful conservatives. The latter, incidentally, do not mind such a clash. In fact they may welcome it! It gives credence to their claim of struggle against "the Great Satan." Some exiled Iranian opposition groups may consider the cost of such clash acceptable if this meant overthrow of the Mullas’ regime. This, unfortunately, may be wishful thinking. The Bush administration is neither willing nor able to overthrow the Islamic clerics’ regime. All it ends up doing is to reinforce their oppressive abilities. For Iranian people it will be a "lose lose" situation..

REZA GHORASHI is professor of political economy at Stockton College. He can be reached at: Ghorashi@stockton.edu