Will the US Really Bomb Iran?

“They’re about taking out the entire Iranian military.”

This particular spine-chiller comes from Alexis Debat, excitingly identified as “director of terrorism and national security” at the Nixon Center. According to Debat, the big takeout is what the U.S. Air Force has in store, as opposed to mere “pinprick strikes” against the infamous nuclear facilities.

Predicting imminent war on Iran has been one of the top two items in Cassandra’s repertoire for a couple of years now, rivaled only by global warming as a sure-fire way to sell newspapers and boost website hits.

Debat was re-roasting that well-scorched chestnut, the “Shock and Awe” strategy, whereby-back in March of 2003-the U.S. Air Force proposed to reduce Iraq’s entire military to smoldering ruins. In the event, “Shock and Awe” was a resounding failure, like all such pledges by Air Force commanders to destroy the enemy’s military since the birth of aerial bombardments nearly a century ago. Such failures have never stopped the US Air Force from trying once again, and there are no doubt vivid attack plans now circulating the government.

Will it come to pass? In his memoirs, I Claud (which I’m happy to say CounterPunch Books/AK Press will be republishing next spring,) my father offers a useful recipe on this matter of prediction.

One morning, as we at length relaxed at breakfast by a brazier on the terrace of the Café du Dôme, he [Robert Dell, the diplomatic correspondent of the Manchester Guardian] said to me: “Do you want to get what used to be called a ‘scoop’ for your horrid little paper every day?” (The “horrid little paper” was, of course, the Daily Worker, whose diplomatic correspondent I then was.)

“That would be nice.”

“Well then, all you have to do is to read all the continental papers available every morning, take lunch with one or more of Europe’s leading politicians or diplomats, make up your mind what is the vilest action that, in the circumstances, the French, British, Italian or German government could undertake, and then, in the leisure of the afternoon, sit down at your typewriter and write a dispatch announcing that that is just what they are going to do. You can’t miss. Your news will be denied two hours after it is published and confirmed after twenty four.”

So, whether in 24 hours or 24 days or at some point before the end of his term, we should predict Bush will send the bombers on their way to Teheran to destroy the usual targets–power stations and kindred civilian infrastructure, hospitals, maybe a few bomb shelters crammed with women and children.

But will it really come to pass?

Despite the unending stream of stories across the months announcing that an attack on Iran is on the way, I’ve had my doubts. Amid the housing slump here, with the possibility of an inflationary surge as the credit balloon threatens to explode, would the US government really want to see the price of gas at the pump go over $5? What would Hugo Chavez do? Even a hiccup in flows from Venezuela would paralyze refineries here, specifically designed for Venezuelan crude. China has a big stake in Iran. It’s also Uncle Sam’s banker. The Chinese don’t have to destroy the dollar, merely squeeze its windpipe, or revalue their currency enough to double retail prices in Wal-Mart. The Republicans and the presidential candidates wouldn’t want that on the edge of an election year.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff know the Iraq War has almost broken the US Army. Wouldn’t they adamantly oppose the notion of an attack on Iran, which would see Shiite resistance groups in Iraq cut US supply convoys from Kuwait bringing fuel and water to the big US bases? Wouldn’t Shiite forces as a whole finally commence a campaign of eviction of the American occupier? Wouldn’t this puncture the fantasy that General Petraeus’ “surge” is working?

The other side of the ledger isn’t hard to fill in either. The oil companies like a crisis that sends up the price of their commodity. The Chinese are a prudent lot and don’t want to rock the world economy. Politically, both they and Russia would like to see the US compound the disaster in Iraq and get into a long-term mess in Iran. Israel wants an attack on Iran, and the Israel lobby calls the shots in US foreign policy. What Israel wants, Israel gets. The US peace movement is in disarray, and sizable chunks of it would be delighted to see bombs shower down on the woman-hating ayatollahs and Ahmadinejad, the holocaust denier.

Amid the disaster of their Middle Eastern strategy Bush and his advisors may hype themselves into one last desperate throw, emboldened by the fact that the selling of the surge has been a success even though all the Democrats need to do is cite the UN, which says the number of Iraqis fleeing their homes has gone from 50,000 to 60,000 a month. Or quote Associated Press which counted 1,809 Iraqi civilians killed in August, compared with 1,760 in July. The Sunni split in Anbar province is not one likely to be replicated in Baghdad or elsewhere and anyway had nothing to do with the hike in US troop levels. Bush didn’t dare go to Baghdad.

Weigh it all up, and you’d be foolish to bet that an attack on Iran won’t happen. I knew Noam Chomsky used to be dubious about the likelihood of a U.S. attack and emailed him last week to ask if he is still of that opinion. Here’s his answer.

Yes, I was quite sceptical. Less so over the years. They’re desperate. Everything they touch is in ruins. They’re even in danger of losing control over Middle Eastern oil — to China, the topic that’s rarely discussed but is on every planner or corporation exec’s mind, if they’re sane. Iran already has observer status at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization — from which the US was pointedly excluded. Chinese trade with Saudi Arabia, even military sales, is growing fast. With the Bush administration in danger of losing Shiite Iraq, where most of the oil is (and most Saudi oil in regions with a harshly oppressed Shiite population), they may be in real trouble.

Under these circumstances, they’re unpredictable. They might go for broke, and hope they can salvage something from the wreckage. If they do bomb, I suspect it will be accompanied by a ground assault in Khuzestan, near the Gulf, where the oil is (and an Arab population — there already is an Ahwazi liberation front, probably organized by the CIA, which the US can “defend” from the evil Persians), and then they can bomb the rest of the country to rubble. And show who’s boss.

The peace movement had better pull itself together, remembering that should the bombs start to fall on Tehran, most of the Democrats in Congress will be on their feet, cheering.

Note: A shorter version of this column ran in The Nation last Wednesday.


Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined!, A Colossal Wreck and An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents are available from CounterPunch.