The Iranian Escalation

The Obama Administration announced two weeks ago that a bumbling Iranian-American used car salesman had conspired with a U.S. government agent posing as a representative of Mexican drug cartels to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington. This brought highly skeptical reactions from experts here across the political spectrum.

But even if some of this tale turns out to be true, the handling of such accusations is inherently political. For example, the U.S.  government’s 9/11 commission investigated the links between the attackers and the Saudi ruling family, but refused to make public the results of that investigation. The reason is obvious: There is dirt there and Washington doesn’t want to create friction with a key ally. And keep in mind that this is about complicity with an attack on American soil that killed 3,000 people.

By contrast, the Obama Administration seized upon the rather dubious speculation that “the highest levels of the Iranian government” were involved in this alleged plot.  President Obama announced that “all options are on the table,” which is well-known code for possible military action. This is extremist and dangerous rhetoric.

University of Michigan professor Juan Cole, a leading Mideast scholar,offered that Obama may be “wagging the dog” – looking for a military confrontation to help his re-election in the face of a stagnant economy and high unemployment. This is certainly possible. Recall that George W. Bush used the build-up to the Iraq war to secure both houses of Congress in the 2002 election. He didn’t even have to go to war. The run-up to war worked perfectly to achieve his main goal: All of the issues that most voters cared about and were threatening to cost Republicans one or both chambers of Congress – the jobless recovery, Social Security, corporate scandals – disappeared from the news during the election season between August and November. President Obama’s advisers certainly understand these things.

Of course the latest saber-rattling could also just be part of a long-term preparation for war with Iran, just as President Clinton spent years preparing the ground for the Iraq war launched by Bush. Once this is done, war is difficult to stop; and once these wars are launched, they are even more difficult to end, as 10 years of useless, bloody war in Afghanistan show.

That is why international initiatives to roll back the march toward war, such as the nuclear fuel-swap proposal brought forth by Brazil and Turkey in May 2010, are so important.  The Iranian government hasrecently offered to stop enriching uranium if the United States would provide uranium for Iran’s medical research reactor – which it needs for hundreds of thousands of cancer patients. This uranium would not be usable for weapons. The proposal was endorsed by leaders of the American Federation of Scientists.

Brazil is one of the few countries with the international stature, independence, neutrality and respect to help defuse this confrontation. We can only hope that it will make further attempts to save the world from another horrible war.

Mark Weisbrot is an economist and co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. He is co-author, with Dean Baker, of Social Security: the Phony Crisis.

This article originally appeared in Folha de São Paulo (Brazil).


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Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, D.C. and president of Just Foreign Policy. He is also the author of  Failed: What the “Experts” Got Wrong About the Global Economy (Oxford University Press, 2015).

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