Worldview Commentary No. 285 on Chicago Public Radio, 91.5 FM WBEZ

“Iran: War Drums in Washington”

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Are the people who brought us a calamitous war in Iraq about to drag us into another one in Iran?

A war in Iran would be different, of course. It could not be another massive land invasion: the Pentagon has no troops to spare, and the American people have no patience for another such debacle.

So we are to be seduced instead by illusions of a so-called “surgical strike”: bombing camps in Iran that train Shiite resistance fighters in Iraq. In and out, nice and easy.

There is only one problem with that fantasy: Iran’s reaction. By striking against Iranian national sovereignty and pride, we will manage to achieve the hitherto impossible: unite Iran’s democratic reformers with its theocrats. The entire nation will rally around their flag. They will strike back.

How? In Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and around the world. Do we have problems now with Iranian support for insurgents in Iraq? Attack Iran, and those problems will multiply. In Afghanistan, where Iran is not currently giving us much trouble, it can find ways. In Lebanon, where the conflict seems to be heating up again, Iran can bring it to a boil.

And woe unto Americans who travel, live or do business abroad. Iran’s targeting of Americans through its support for terrorism of late has been minimal. Attack Iranian soil, and why should Iran hold back?

If Iran pursued any of these stratagems – which it would – Washington would be compelled to retaliate. So what began as a surgical strike would quickly escalate into something far broader and bloodier.

If Iran posed a clear and present danger to our national security, we might have to bite this bullet. But it does not. Last November an intelligence estimate, jointly agreed by all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, reported that Iran abandoned its nuclear weapons program in 2003. Although Iran could resume its program, there is no imminent threat. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has reportedly put plans for attacking Iranian nuclear facilities on the back burner.

More likely, according to reports attributed to “western intelligence sources,” is an attack on insurgent training camps in Iran. If these leaks are mere threats meant to deter Iranian meddling in Iraq, they may be helpful. If serious, however, they are counter-productive. Iran’s Shiite Ayatollahs have been cooperative to a degree with Iraq’s Shiite government. The best way to keep Iran in check is for their Shiite brethren in Baghdad to negotiate with them, as they are now doing.

Unfortunately, there are mounting signs that Washington’s threats are serious. In March the Central Command chief who openly opposed attacking Iran, Admiral William Fallon, was forced out of his post. That same month President Bush reportedly signed a secret finding authorizing a sweeping covert war against Iran, including support for Mujahadeen terrorists, who may recently have bombed a mosque in Iran. This month a U.S. amphibious force was dispatched to the Persian Gulf, weeks ahead of schedule.

And commentators close to Vice President Cheney sound a growing chorus in support of attacking Iran. They know they have only a few more months before their friends in Washington leave office. Last week former US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton called for “the use of military force against a training camp to show the Iranians we’re not going to tolerate” their interference in Iraq.

Expanding the war in Iraq to Iran will only compound our grief. Recall when President Nixon, frustrated by Viet Cong retreats into sanctuaries in Cambodia, decided to bomb Cambodia. As a result, we not only lost the Vietnam War, we also destabilized Cambodia, bringing to power the Khmer Rouge.

If we bomb Teheran, we may not only lose the war in Iraq, we may keep the hard-line Mullahs in Iran in power for another generation.

There has been far too little public awareness or debate over this ill-advised expansion of an ill-advised war. In that context, Alderman Joe Moore and his co-sponsors are to be congratulated for bringing a resolution opposing an attack on Iran before the Chicago City Council. I testified in favor of the resolution at the Council hearing; among other witnesses was former New York Times reporter Steven Kinzer, who argues convincingly that the U.S. should negotiate with Iran before leaping into another war.

The Council resolution will not by itself prevent another war. But at the very least, it serves to heighten public debate and awareness, not only in Chicago, but in other cities and towns that are likely to draft similar resolutions. In an election year the Illinois congressional delegation, and eventually others as well, will take notice. Only visible grassroots opposition is likely to stiffen the congressional backbone against another military misadventure.

So, thank you, Alderman Moore, for helping to awaken the public conscience against this “sleeper war” in the making. But if this new war is to be stopped, many more people will need to speak out against it.


Doug Cassel’s commentaries are generally broadcast Wednesdays during the noon hour of the Worldview program on Chicago Public Radio, 91.5 FM, and rebroadcast at 9 PM in the evening. Views expressed are personal views of the author and not necessarily those of Notre Dame Law School, the Center for Civil and Human Rights or Chicago Public Radio.