November 01, 2005

Unleashing Armageddon: What Then?

I want to discuss in some detail the propaganda campaign now being waged with regard to both Iran and Syria, as well as the ideological frame of reference that underlies the particular manner in which that campaign is being and has been conducted. I will address the nature and strategy of this campaign -- how such a campaign was waged with regard to Iraq, and how a similar campaign is now underway with regard to Iran and Syria (and has been for some time) -- in subsequent essays here. But I will begin by starting at the end.

I do that for a simple but crucially important reason. We now have a voluminous record, in news accounts, in government documents and in other forms, to prove beyond any doubt that the Bush administration gave almost no attention to the aftermath of the Iraq invasion. No one had any serious question about our taking down the Saddam Hussein regime, except about how long it might take and the details. Despite that certainty, we know that the Bush administration did not listen to many of its own experts and planners about what should be done once Saddam was gone. To put the point simply, the Bush administration never seriously addressed the multitude of inordinately complex issues encompassed in the question: What then?

They appear to have genuinely believed their own propaganda: that we would be joyously greeted as liberators (which we were at first by many Iraqis, but that response quickly wore off as the long series of disasters played out) -- and then, by means of some mystical, magical "somehow," a democratic Iraq would be born. They never troubled themselves to specify precisely how that might happen, and they also ignored a great deal of advice provided from many sources, including from within the government itself. An administration-wide self-hypnosis seems to have occurred: as they sought to convince millions of Americans about how "easy" it would all be (and about how grave a threat Saddam allegedly was), they themselves became the most devoted of believers. This is either a disturbing kind of almost religious devotion carried to criminally negligent extremes, or these are people of remarkably limited intelligence. Neither explanation is comforting -- not with regard to what has already happened, and not in connection with what may be in the future.

In exactly the same manner, many of the most vehement hawks now clamor for military action against Iran and/or Syria. Almost everyone, save a few hallucinatory followers who remain caught up in the fantasy to a degree that erases reality altogether, recognizes that we cannot stage any kind of land invasion; we simply don't have the troops to do it. But we don't need troops: we have planes, bombs and missiles -- and we have lots of those. Strategic strikes against both countries are entirely feasible in practical terms. And we are now hearing the "newspaper of record" (if the description can still reasonably be said to apply at this point to the NYT) tell us, as an uncontested fact, that "Iran has a nuclear weapons program." (See this earlier post for details.) And Iran is run by viciously destructive and dangerous leaders.

I have no argument on the last point -- except insofar as that dictates our military and political strategy. But the key to that strategy obviously lies in the first point: that "Iran has a nuclear weapons program," or that it will have one in the near future. This apparently commonly accepted belief is at the heart of the current propaganda campaign, and I will return to it in detail later. For now, I will say only that much of what many Americans think they know about this question -- and most of what is reported in the mainstream media -- is extremely misleading, and sometimes simply false.

But let's assume for the moment that the hawks are right in everything they contend, and that Iran represents an even more serious threat than Iraq did (I should say: than they claimed Iraq did). Let's say that the hawks have good grounds to demand that action be taken now, by means of strategic military strikes and related kinds of measures.

Just as was true in the case of Iraq, I have seen none of these hawks address this crucial question in any detail: What then? We attack Iran. Let's assume we manage to take out their major nuclear facilities. Given the manner in which Iran seems to have dispersed and hidden those facilities, that's a lot to concede -- but let's do so for the sake of this grim exercise. We're successful in our strikes...and then what happens?

Claude Salhani is a foreign editor and political analyst with UPI. He offered a fairly detailed scenario of what might happen in an article published in September 2004: "Four Day War -- The Iran/Israel Conflagration, a history." You should read the entire article; here are a few highlights.

Salhani notes that it may be entirely reasonable to think that Iran believes a nuclear capability is in its own interest -- but he also notes that such a belief results in significant part from the Bush administration's own actions:
From their perspective, Iranians feel they have good reason to want nuclear deterrence.

First, the United States’ invasion of Iraq served as a reminder to autocracies around the world of their need to be strong enough to deter potential U.S. intervention. If nothing else, Iraq’s invasion served as the poster child for nuclear deterrence against unilateral military action from the world’s remaining superpower. Repeated threats of regime change by the Bush administration have only increased Iran’s fears that they could be next in line. President George W. Bush’s campaign promise about “finishing the job,” if re-elected in November, is a slogan that must keep more than one ayatollah awake at night—and pushing for nuclear deterrence.
Salhani provides other valuable background, and then moves on to his (hopefully) imaginary war. It is launched by Israel, but "Iran retaliates," "[b]elieving that Israel would never undertake such actions without U.S. approval." On Day Two of the war, Iran sends thousands of Revolutionary Guards into Iraq where clashes with American troops result in many casualties, while Hezbollah attacks Israel. The chaos quickly spreads through the Middle East. The consequences continue to ripple out on Days Three and Four; Saudia Arabia is in turmoil, and Musharraf is overthrown.

Then, on what is only Day Four of this conflict, we see the following transpire:
Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI—a long-time supporter of the fundamentalists—in agreement with the plotters, takes control of the country’s nuclear arsenal and its codes. Within hours, and before news of the coup leaks out, Pakistan, now run by pro-bin Laden fundamentalists, loads two nuclear weapons aboard executive Lear jets that take off from a remote military airfield, headed for Tel Aviv and Ashdod. Detouring and refueling in east Africa, they approach Israel from the south. The crafts identify themselves as South African. Their tail markings match the given identification.

The two planes with their deadly cargo are flown by suicide pilots who, armed with false flight plans and posing as business executives, follow the flight path given to them by Israeli air traffic control. At the last moment, however, the planes veer away from the airfield, soar into the sky and dive into the outskirts of the two cities, detonating their nuclear devices in the process.

The rest of this scenario can unfold in a number of ways. Take your pick; none are encouraging.

Israel retaliates against Pakistan, killing millions in the process. Arab governments fall. Following days of violence, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt succumb to Islamist rebels who vow open warfare with Israel. The Middle East regresses into war, with the fighting claiming hundreds of thousands of lives. A much-weakened Israel, now struggling for its very survival, deploys more nuclear weapons, targeting multiple Arab capitals. The Middle East is in complete mayhem, as the United States desperately tries to arrange a cease-fire.

This was all a bad dream, or rather one writer’s dark vision of what might happen if the current situation is allowed to continue unchecked. What precisely are the chances of any of this coming to pass? The probability of Israel striking Iran is very real. That could happen at any moment. As for the rest, there is really no way to know what will ensue once the demons are unleashed. Events could unfold as described above, or they could develop a bit differently, give or take a nuke or two. Whatever the outcome, it will not be good.
One of the more horrifying ironies of this kind of scenario is that the hawks who are so militant about attacking Iran are also great defenders of Israel. It seems never to occur to them that unleashing these particular demons might well end in Israel's near or even total destruction.

I would add one further element to Salhani's nightmare. I think it more than probable that, if even part of these events were to transpire, various terrorist groups -- either independently or in some loose alliance -- would quickly dispatch agents to the United States, with directions to launch devastating attacks in the immediate future. The idea that "we're fighting them over there so that we don't have to fight them over here" would be brought to what may be a terrifying end, once and for all.

As Salhani indicates, there is no way to know if these events would occur in this precise way. But change a few details -- "give or take a nuke or two" -- and does this scenario become any more acceptable, and any less horrifying?

Those who so fervently agitated for the invasion of Iraq got exactly what they wanted, and they never considered or planned for the consequences. They employ the same defective and destructive approach in connection with Iran. They say that Iran is a threat that cannot be tolerated. They say we must attack Iran and neutralize the threat, and the sooner, the better.

And they never satisfactorily consider or answer the question: What then? It causes you to wonder exactly what value they place on human lives -- either those of others, or their own.