Iran - sabre rattling or real threat?

Andy Newman


According to a recent report in the Daily Telegraph: “Strategists at the Pentagon are drawing up plans for devastating bombing raids backed by submarine-launched ballistic missile attacks against Iran's nuclear sites as a "last resort" to block Teheran's efforts to develop an atomic bomb…. …. This is more than just the standard military contingency assessment," said a senior Pentagon adviser. "This has taken on much greater urgency in recent months.”

This chimes in with the emphasis of London’s anti-war demonstration for 18th March, that alongside calling for troops home from Iraq, also says “Don’t Attack Iran”. Respect National Secretary and leading SWP member John Rees has said, 'We've long said that the US was planning another military conflict and that Iran would be the target. These documents prove that such plans are being advanced by a group of strategists reporting to Donald Rumsfield.”


The trouble with this analysis is that the signs from Washington contradict there being any preparation for war. As Francis Fukiyama has recently observed: “The Bush administration has been walking — indeed, sprinting — away from the legacy of its first term, as evidenced by the cautious multilateral approach it has taken toward the nuclear programs of Iran and North Korea.”


Neo-Cons proved wrong in Iraq


In terms of foreign policy, the neo-cons in Washington have suffered serious reverses in Iraq. Firstly, their lack of forward planning for reconstruction in Iraq and for fighting the insurgency was based upon wildly optimistic – and ideologically driven – assumptions. As Fukiyama, who does have considerable insight into the neo-con mindset, observes: “The way the cold war ended shaped the thinking of supporters of the Iraq war, including younger neoconservatives like William Kristol and Robert Kagan… it seems to have created an expectation that all totalitarian regimes were hollow at the core and would crumble with a small push from outside. The model for this was Romania under the Ceausescus: once the wicked witch was dead, the munchkins would rise up and start singing joyously about their liberation.”

According to George Packer's recent book on Iraq, "The Assassins' Gate," the Pentagon planned a drawdown of American forces to some 25,000 troops by the end of the summer following the invasion. After the rapid collapse of the Iraqi armed forces, which was almost inevitable given the imbalance of military power and technology – the conquerors assumed that wiping the slate clean for Iraqi institutions by disbanding the army and dismissing even low ranking civilian officials with Ba’ath party associations would revert Iraq to a default stable democratic condition.

They are now bogged down in a long war, with little end in sight, and any escalation of confrontation with Iran would meet opposition, for different reasons, from both the Pentagon and the State Department. The military know that their only prospect for a good outcome in Iraq is to transfer day to day security to Iraqi forces, and that means not only the forces of the Iraqi government, but also coming to an accommodation with Sadr’s Mehdi army and the Iranian backed Badr brigades, both of these would be compromised by any military action, however tentative, against Iran.


Neo-Cons proved wrong about US allies


Secondly, the neo-cons foreign policy assumptions, about relations with other developed nations, have been proven wrong. Fukiyama quotes Kristol and Kagan writing before the Iraq war on why they did not think American unilateralism would provoke resistance from the rest of the world, where they concluded, "It is precisely because American foreign policy is infused with an unusually high degree of morality that other nations find they have less to fear from its otherwise daunting power." Again, US policy makers were imprisoned inside their own ideological  self-delusion about the manifest destiny of the American model of the unfettered market and the best democracy money can buy.


The limits of America’s ability to act unilaterally have been revealed not so much by the insurgency in Iraq as by their dependency on building an international consensus for NATO to take over in Afghanistan, and the necessity of them going cap in hand to ask for aid after Hurricane Katrina. US Military action against Iran would precipitate a very real crisis of relations with the EU and Russia, not least with Britain that has consistently followed the consensual EU approach to building bridges with Iran. It is important to note that there is no diplomatic effort coming from Washington to turn around the EU’s policy towards Iran. The State Department are not acting as if war is even planned, let alone imminent.


Neo-Cons discredited in the eyes of the US people

Thirdly, conservative domestic opinion in the US is instinctively opposed to foreign wars, partly due to a legacy of Wilsonian isolationism, but also due to the defeat in Vietnam, and now the bloody and seemingly directionless debacle in Iraq. Opposition to the Iraq war is not only from the metropolitan centres, but also increasingly from the so-called Red states, and the Reagan Democrats – blue collar workers who were won to a conservative agenda.


The neo-cons exploited a window of opportunity after September 11th 2001, in the expectation that they could rapidly shift the balance of world power in America’s favour by bold and decisive action. That window has now closed – if they wish to embark on a military adventure against Iran (even via an Israeli proxy) they need to embark on a major propaganda campaign against Iran aimed at US domestic opinion, and there is no sign of that happening, nor could they assume that it would be successful.


So what is going on?

Perhaps we can gain an insight from the recently declassified “Information Operations roadmap” written in 2003 for the Department of Defense (DoD), with a forward by Donald Rumsfeld. This was originally marked Secret and No Foreign Eyes (NOFORN). This is a guide to propaganda, and other psychological operations (PSYOP), among other areas of information warfare.


Here we read: “effectively communicating U. S. Government (USG) capabilities and intentions is an important means of combating the plans of our adversaries. The ability to rapidly disseminate persuasive information to diverse audiences in order to directly influence their decision making is an increasingly powerful means of deterring aggression. Additionally it undermines both senior leadership and popular support for employing terrorists or Weapons of Mass Destruction”


We also learn: “DoD Public Affairs should be more productive in support of U. S. Government Public Diplomacy objectives to include a broader set of select foreign media and audiences” It may be significant that these Pentagon plans appeared in the Daily Telegraph, and not in a US newspaper, because the DoD is constitutionally prohibited from PSYOP against domestic US audiences. (although they note that “information intended for foreign audiences, including public diplomacy and PSYOP, increasingly is consumed by a domestic audience and vice versa”)


Surely it is inconceivable that the Daily Telegraph, of all papers, would have revealed by investigative journalism Pentagon plans to attack Iran. However, it is more than likely that they would run a Pentagon press release intended to put the wind up the Tehran government.


What about Afghanistan?

Of course there is little harm in raising the alarm about American intentions against Iran, except that it is drawn attention away from the more important priorities of the British anti-war movement.


Surely as 3500 British troops take on a lead military role in Afghanistan, in a province where significant casualties may be expected, then Afghanistan and not Iran should have been raised as a priority. What is more, the most significant challenge facing the increasingly confused and demobilised anti-war movement is lack of understanding about what is actually happening in Iraq – elevating the unlikely possibility of imminent US military action against Iran just adds to the confusion.


Picture credit: 





March 2006

> > home page > >