First of all, there was this piece in Salon yesterday about Bush’s Euro summit, written by Sidney Blumenthal. The gist was this:
President Bush has reached a dead end in his foreign policy, but even though he has posed this quandary himself, he has failed to recognize it. His belief that the polite reception to him on his European trip is a vindication of his previous adventures is a vestige of fantasy.
Then further down:
On his trip, Bush hummed a few bars of rapprochement. By their applause the Europeans began to angle him into a corner on Iran. In time Bush must either join the negotiations or regress to neoconservatism, which would wreck the European relationship for the rest of his presidency. If he chooses a course that is not “simply ridiculous,” on his next visit the Europeans might be willing to play Beethoven’s Third Symphony, the “Eroica.”
I call this wishful thinking. I still think those Rapture-ready loonballs would have no problem attacking Iran.
Our sometimes poster Saruman has replied with this:
I don’t think it’s wishful thinking so much as I think it’s an incomplete analysis of geopolitics and the acknowledgement that Bush is being given a last chance by the Europeans. Blumenthal does not assert that Bush will not choose ‘the ridiculous’ option of military action, simply that should Bush ‘regress to neo-conservatism’ he would ‘wreck the European relationship for the remainder of his presidency.’
Blumenthal, here, does see the ‘ridiculous’ as a truly frightening option, as he should. A direct American military operation in Iran might trigger a global war, and no one can envision the consequences of such a confrontation. Rice is playing a stupid, and obvious, game. She and her minions at the NSA disliked Putin, and were unhappy when Bush ‘looked into his soul’ and decided to play footsie with the former KGB officer. For Rice, the real goal of stirring the pot with references to ‘totalitarianism’ in Iran could easily be that she hopes to inflame tension with Russia. While the Americans ‘won’ the Cold War to the extent that the Soviet Union’s hold on eastern Europe and the central non-Rus republics (Georgia, Ukraine), Russia remains a world power. Perhaps not yet its own superpower, but it never was such.
There’s pretty good evidence (see the issue of the Nation, e.g., ‘The Harvard Boys Do Russia,’ from the late 1990s) that the IMF/austerity planning done TO Russia under Yeltsin was an attempt to relegate Russia to Third World status. This strategy has failed. Note how aggressively Washington attempted to derail the seizure of Yukos, and the renationalization of Russia’s natural gas fields. So, Rice and other ex-Cold Warriors have both a problem and an opportunity: a problem, in that the current leadership (Bush, Cheney) are comfortable with Putin and his ‘strong hand,’ and an opportunity, if they can re-cast Russia as a global villain. This role would then allow all the Cold War military-industrial infrastructure to crank back up, and the ‘outmoded’ skills of Rice and Co. would be back in high market demand.
Since Rice, Wolfowitz, John Bolton, and their various adherents, never gave up on Russia as a threat, the role of Iran may well soon become pivotal. Syria and Iran have made some sort of loose anti-US agreement (just what this understanding is remains murky to me) and Russia is about to ink some sort of deal with Iran on nuclear power-plant enhancement. One possible view: Putin is playing open footsie with Iran so as to ensure that Russia is a broker in any IAEA negotiations that take place under the auspices of the U.N. Could be. Could also be that Putin et. al. and sending Rice a message: ‘this is still our sphere of influence.’ That Russia has forgiven Syria’s Cold War debt and pro-rated the interest, allowing Syria to pay 3 billions on 15 billions, is very clearly a sign that Russia is not a ‘junior partner’ to the US in the Middle East.
There are many ways to interpret this series of actions on Russia’s part, and I suspect that Rice’s chosen formulation in the speech she made at Sciences Po’ is a hint as to her line of thinking: ‘totalitarian’ indeed. The French interlocutor was not willing to be serious with Blumenthal, in my reading of his piece. The folks at Sciences Po’ knew what Rice was getting at: it takes a totalitarian mindset to ink deals with totalitarians. In a sense, she and her crew were outflanked by the wingnuts in using the term ‘Islamofascism’ rather than ‘Islamo-Stalinism,’ a formulation that is ridiculous, but that would have given Rice a better meme.
The maneuvering going on right now, however, as Blumenthal rightly points out, is qualitatively different than the period leading up to March 2003. Bush has no resolution from Congress and no platform in the UN. He might be able to get one, but every single Democrat in the Senate except Lieberman (and maybe that freak Biden) would vote Nay, as would the majority of Dems in the House. In addition, I think we might see a significant breakdown in party discipline in the GOP caucus.
The only way Bush could achieve a strong UN resolution would be for Iran do commit an egregious act, such as an actual nuclear weapons test, and they can’t: they’re years away. What they are not, however, years away from, is fission power plants. This reality in some ways scares Israel and the U.S. more than North Korea’s probable but primitive and barely deliverable actual weapons. Why?
Workable, sustainable fission power-plants in Iran will greatly and permanently change Iran’s place on the world stage, something that is slowly happening anyway. If Russia and Iran do in fact become partners, I suspect that there may be what amounts to a ‘Persian Renaissance,’ a flowering of a certain kind of strange new society in the Empire of the Peacock. Real modernization of Iran’s infrastructure, and lucrative trade with Russia and India, will actually create a true center of gravity in the Middle East that has nothing to do with the West.
My suspicion is that if this flowering were to go forward unhindered that in a generation, maybe two, the theological basis for Iranian government would be essentially a shell, with a scientific and technical powerhouse underneath: think of an Shi’a Islamic Singapore, in a sense. That to me seems the goal that could unify all Persians, and all Shi’a Arabs, into a realistic coalition, which has obvious implications for Iraq. With the victory of Ibrahim al-Jaafari as Prime Minister in the interim Iraqi National Assembly, the likelihood of a refoundation of a serious bi-national Persian/Shi’a super state just took a big step towards reality.
Technological improvements cascade. The U.S. has created, in the invasion of Iraq, an historical moment that would otherwise have passed: the possibility of a non-democratic, non-Communist, non-totalitarian, but still restrictive and repressive, Shi’a Islamic pole in Iraq/Iran that will pull geo-politics towards itself as the stability and technology of the region expands. Personally, on one level, I think Blumenthal is right: it’s too late for the Neoconservatives to carry out their plans with Iran. The U.S. is weakened. Russia is on the ascension in the Caucasus. India has even stopped allowing Westerners to adopt Indian children, a clear move to limit population shifts that India cannot control. These factors represent a kind of slow earthquake, and behind them is the shape of a very different global ordering.
Therefore, at present, what can Rice do? She’s rattling the saber, but here I agree with Blumenthal: the moment is passed for an invasion of Iran, unless the Neocons are willing to risk World War III. They may be so willing, and of course the wild card is Ariel Sharon. If he orders massive, unilateral air-strikes on Iran’s fission plants, he may well be acting in the role of Gavrillo Princip, and those bombs may be the ‘blasts heard round the world’ for our generation. As always, speculation is bootless, but it is entertaining.