"Weapons of Mass Deception"


Tides of victory

A Bush administration buoyed by electoral success is extending its military ambitions to Iran and Syria.

Paul Rogers

As the most opulent presidential inauguration in United States history takes place, a principal effect of George W Bush’s election victory in November 2004 has become clear: confirming his administration’s sense of the rightness of its course of action in Iraq. Bush’s clear majority of the popular vote, and the Republicans’ success in Congress, gives Bush and his advisors a sense of vindication over Iraq (see “Bush Says Election Ratified Iraq Policy”, Washington Post, 16 January 2005).

This attitude combines with three other factors to give a clearer picture of the US administration’s current thinking towards the middle east – and especially the prospects of military action against Iran or Syria.

The first is the series of changes instigated within the CIA that will cumulatively lead to a long-term loss of independence for that agency. The administration now sees the role of the CIA and other intelligence agencies as much more of a supportive one – helping it to implement its policies rather than providing independent analyses.

The second is the growing importance of the Pentagon, which is acquiring a much louder voice in US security policy – effectively sidelining not just the CIA and other agencies, but the State Department. [It is significant here that serious planning to expand the war in the Gulf beyond Iraq appears to have predated the November election. Whether or not the neo-conservatives were confident of victory, they were certainly prepared to plan for military outreach in a second term (see Seymour Hersh, “The Coming Wars: What the Pentagon Can Now Do in Secret” New Yorker, 17 January 2005).]

The third factor is the growing determination and confidence of the neo-conservatives, who now see an opportunity to implant their own worldview even further into US politics. The next two to three years are crucial for them. If they can ensure that US security policy follows the vision of a New American Century in a manner which makes it difficult for a future administration to reverse, they believe that their success could be measured in decades rather than years.

Will the neocon vision prevail?

For this to happen, the success of current US policy in the middle east will be pivotal. If, at the end of the second Bush administration, Iraq is still in disarray and tying down tens of thousands of US troops, if Iran is even closer to having nuclear weapons, and if the Syrian regime survives as one of the lesser members of the “axis of evil”, then a key part of the neo-conservative vision will have been found wanting – and this will affect the viability of the entire venture.

In this context, Seymour Hersh’s recent account of Pentagon planning for the middle east – particularly action against Iran – has the ring of truth. A Pentagon led by Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith is very much at the core of the neo-conservative worldview. Its influence is extended by a close working relationship with Dick Cheney and his advisers, while the administration as a whole is now freed from the modestly restraining influence of former Secretary of State, Colin Powell.

But however much preparation may now be underway for action against Iran, any plan for further military strikes in the middle east faces serious problems. Iraq itself remains deeply unstable, and there is no pretence that the 30 January elections will make much difference. All indications are that the insurgency is deeply embedded, has a vigorous life of its own, and that its sustained attacks on the energy infrastructure are particularly effective in damaging any kind of lasting reconstruction.

In such circumstances, to initiate military action against Iraq’s neighbouring countries might have some limited military effect on the insurgency, but it would be greatly outweighed by a further increase in antagonism to the United States across the region. If Syria is a major potential target, the implication of Hersh’s New Yorker article is that the Pentagon civilian leadership more clearly have Iran in their sights. The huge range of difficulties facing any US military action against the regime in Tehran makes this judgment especially significant.

The Tehran conundrum

These difficulties are highlighted by the impressive way that Iran is rapidly forging links with other major global players. In November 2004, Iran concluded a deal worth $70 billion over twenty-five years to export liquefied natural gas to China, a country that will soon be second only to the United States in its demand for imported oil.

More recently, the National Iranian Oil Company concluded an agreement with India worth $40 billion over a similar timescale. This also involves exports of liquefied natural gas, but in addition Indian contractors will be involved in developing two new natural gas fields in Iran and one new oil field.

These agreements supplement existing close cooperation between Iran and Russia. They demonstrate how Iran’s political leadership is systematically developing long-term links with key states. The economic benefits are evident but the political implications, given Iran’s current tense relationship with the US, may be even more important.

These benefits make it well nigh impossible for the US to organise effective economic sanctions against Iran, should it try to do so. Iran has significant oil reserves, around 10% of the world total. Its share of world gas reserves is even higher, second only to Russia in the world league. India, China and others recognise this only too well. The natural gas deals are clear examples of a planning outlook that is measured in decades.

In one sense, this reduces the options for the US and might appear to make a military alternative more likely. If it occurs such action would be targeted against a state with increasingly close links with the two emerging Asian great powers, not an isolated pariah state such as the Iraq of Saddam Hussein. Yet none of this means that the neocons are going to be distracted from seeking regime change in Tehran. Indeed, the real significance of Hersh’s New Yorker piece, along with many other recent indications from Washington, is that their vision is very largely unaffected by realities in Iraq, or indeed across the middle east as a whole.

The near-messianic view of the New American Century is not just still in place: it has been reinvigorated by the November election. The implications for the middle east, for Europe and the wider world are profound and dangerous.

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Milton Frihetsson, 03:54


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