By Dan Plesch, a research associate at the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy, School of Oriental and African Studies (THE GUARDIAN, 15/01/07):
The evidence is building up that President Bush plans to add war on Iran to his triumphs in Iraq and Afghanistan – and there is every sign, to judge by his extraordinary warmongering speech in Plymouth on Friday, that Tony Blair would be keen to join him if he were still in a position to commit British forces to the field.”There’s a strong sense in the upper echelons of the White House that Iran is going to surface relatively quickly as a major issue – in the country and the world – in a very acute way,” said NBC TV’s Tim Russert after meeting the president. This is borne out by the fact that Bush has sent forces to the Gulf that are irrelevant to fighting the Iraqi insurgents. These include Patriot anti-missile missiles, an aircraft carrier, and cruise-missile-firing ships.
Many military analysts see these deployments as signals of impending war with Iran. The Patriot missiles are intended to shoot down Iranian missiles. The naval forces, including British ships, train to pre-empt Iranian interference with oil shipments through the straits of Hormuz.
Having been given so much advice on what to do in Iraq – most notably by the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group – the president went with the recommendations of the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI). So much for the idea that the Iraq debacle marginalised the neocons.
The political context as seen from inside the White House and Downing Street is that we are in a war as serious as the second world war. John Bolton exemplified this outlook when he compared US problems in Iraq with the fighting with Japan after Pearl Harbour.
Donald Rumsfeld and the AEI have developed a strategy for regime change in Iran that does not involve a ground invasion. Weapons of mass destruction will provide the rationale for military action, though it won’t be limited to attacks on a few weapons factories. It will include limiting Iranian retaliatory capability, using bombers to destroy up to 10,000 targets in the first day of any war, and special forces flying in to destroy anything that’s left.
In the aftermath, the US will support regime change, hoping to replace the ayatollahs with an Iran of the regions. The US and British governments now support a coalition of groups seeking a federal Iran. This may be another neocon delusion, but that may not be the point. Making Tehran concentrate on internal problems leaves it unable to act elsewhere.
Bush has said he will destroy the Syrian and Iranian networks in Iraq. These may include Moqtada al-Sadr’s militia, but are also likely to target the Iranian-created Badr brigades, now wearing Iraqi police uniforms. In the south, the withdrawal of British troops to Basra airport looks more like a preparation to avoid a Shia backlash than a handover to the government of Iraq.
The US director of national intelligence, John Negroponte, explained that the threat to launch Hizbullah against Israel was the main deterrent to a US attack on Iran. Although politically Hizbullah scored a major victory in holding off the Israeli army last summer, in fact it was badly damaged.
The Iranian regime seems prepared for confrontation, perhaps confident Washington is bluffing. Next month Iran celebrates its completion of the nuclear-fuel cycle, in defiance of UN sanctions. Expect Bush and Blair to ask what the world will do to prevent a new Holocaust against the Jews. In his Plymouth speech, Blair told us that we could not pick and choose our wars. He may have been telling us more than we realised.