Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Experts Predict US Attack on Iran (summary)

Scott Ritter - ex of the US Marine Corps and former chief UN Weapons Inspector in Iraq - was unequivocal. Plans for an attack on Iran are being drawn up and acted upon “right now….as we speak”. In preparation, the US is “already committing acts of war on a daily basis”, including reconnaissance missions and other cross-border operations, some of which are being carried out on its behalf by the terrorist group, the Mojahedin-e Khalq. All of these activities are violations of Iran’s national sovereignty.

Ritter was speaking in London last week on the subject of whether a US attack on Iran is in prospect, on the same evening that the UK Foreign Office accused Iran of being behind all the British troop deaths in Iraq this year. Alongside him were Dan Plesch, a former Senior Research Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, and Fred Halliday, Professor of International Relations at LSE. Neither dissented from Ritter’s view.

According to Ritter, events will unfold in a familiar pattern. First, the deception, based around talk of the security threat posed by Iran’s non-existent nuclear weapons. Second, confrontation in the field of international diplomacy. The ‘EU3’ (Britain, France, Germany) have involved themselves in negotiations with Iran on its nascent civilian nuclear capability that the US has no intention of allowing to succeed. Dan Plesch described one of the offers made to the Iranians that he had been told about by officials involved in the discussions. In return for Iran promising never to pursue any nuclear capability, civilian or military, the UK and France alone would promise not to use nuclear weapons against Iran in any conflict. Hardly a sign of serious dialogue taking place.

When the impasse reaches the UN Security Council the US will challenge the international community to act, the fraudulent case for war will of course be rejected, at which point unilateral military action will commence. This had been originally planned for June 2005 but was postponed when John Bolton’s nomination to the post of UN ambassador to the UN stumbled in Congress. Bolton is central to the diplomatic side of the strategy.

Ritter described the stages various stages the attack would move through, starting with air strikes on political and military targets. Then, four divisions of US troops will invade from Azerbaijan and head straight for Tehran. By hitting Iran hard with air strikes, then applying pressure on the regime with the presence of ground troops on the country’s borders and encircling Tehran, the aim is to create the conditions for a civilian uprising to emerge and depose the regime. To this end ‘usable nuclear weapons’ (Ritter: “and the thing about ‘usable nuclear weapons’ is, they’re usable”) will be retained as an option.

Given the now all but universal acceptance that the invasion of Iraq has been a disaster, and the political crises currently circling the Bush Presidency, one might have expected discussion of a US strike on Iran to be couched in ifs buts and maybes, if not for the idea to be dismissed as a thwarted neo-con ambition. But Ritter was forceful in his certainty. One audience member asked how an invasion could be militarily feasible, and where the US would find the troops to control the situation on the ground post-invasion. Ritter, again, was unequivocal. We can discuss the feasibility of a military operation for as long as we want, he said, but the fact is that it’s happening. You can test this by checking the deployment of US National Guard units internationally. You’ll find them concentrated round the Caspian Sea area, in particular Azerbaijan. There’s no shortage of troops. The US has all the troops it needs for this plan, in the shape of air crews for the bombers that will form the main focus of the attack. Yes, the idea that the Iranians will help the US overthrow the regime is ludicrous. Yes, the attack will end in yet another military disaster for the US. And yes, any use of nuclear weapons will “uncork the genie” with terrible consequences. But none of this means it won’t happen because, in a White House administration run by the neo-conservatives, fantasy is reality.

Another audience member asked how accusations of WMD proliferation could be made with any credibility after Iraq. Scott Ritter said simply, “no problem”. Those who lied their way to war paid no serious political price for doing so. Bush has been exonerated in several inquiries on the subject. At least as far as the non-existent Iraqi WMD is concerned, they got away with it. Dan Plesch pointed out that the Reagan government had two maxims: firstly, always have a bad guy, and secondly, when in trouble change the subject. In the current political circumstances, an attack on Iran fits in very well with this way of thinking. As for political opposition, there’s little chance of the Democrats “defending the mullahs” (as any opposition would be portrayed), and in the UK, probably only a Tory party under Ken Clarke would oppose an attack, and that would cause it to split.

An audience member asked about the significance of oil. Dan Plesch said that oil is precisely what gives the greater Middle East its significance in world affairs. Currently the US, Russia and China are in fierce competition over access to and control over energy reserves throughout Central Asia. Fred Halliday said that the issue at stake was about who holds power in the greater Middle East: the US (and its allies Israel and Saudi Arabia) or Iran. He noted that if the US interest in Iraq had been purely about access to oil it could have done a deal with Saddam. The concerns of hegemony and credibility were also factors. Ritter mentioned the recent US National Security Strategy, and its stated intention to dominate the globe, allowing no rival power to emerge anywhere. Control over resources is central to this.

Above all, Ritter stressed that the issue of Iran should not be seen as having to do with legitimate US/UK national security concerns. This has absolutely nothing to do with it, as was the case with Iraq. The real issue is the global ambitions of the neo-conservative Bush administration. Fred Halliday pointed out that in Washington in 2003, the modish phrase was, “wimps go to Baghdad, real men go to Tehran”.
I've written previously on the prospect of a US/UK attack on Iran here. For a full account of the talk given by Ritter, Plesch and Halliday, see below.


Anonymous said...

Hi, the link to the full talk at the bottom of the article doesn't work. Would be interesting to read the full account :-)

9:00 PM  
David Wearing said...

apologies. try now

9:44 PM  
Anonymous said...

I am interested to hear you views on the substantial issues of this debate.
1. Do you think Iran is attempting acquire the Bomb?
2. Do you not think that the UK (and US) governements should be acting to stop this if this is the case?
3. What course of action would be advisable if the answer to the first two questions is yes (as I hope you will concede!). I certainly agree that war is to be avoided but what if it is the last resort?


11:16 AM  
David Wearing said...

Nye – thanks for your input. To answer your questions:

“1. Do you think Iran is attempting acquire the Bomb?”

I think Fred Halliday gives the best answer to this question (see my full account of the talk) when he says that Iran is pursuing a policy of “nuclear ambiguity”; giving the impression of having a deterrent whilst avoiding being technically caught by international concerns over proliferation. International Atomic Energy Agency chief, Mohammad El-Baradei, seems to see no evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program. Scott Ritter, himself a former UN weapons inspector, says that Iran is in “full compliance” with the NPT. Does Iran want the benefits of a nuclear weapons capability? Almost certainly. Does it consider that it can best gain those benefits by actually having such a capability or by simply giving the impression of having one? Plainly that’s harder to say.

”2. Do you not think that the UK (and US) governements should be acting to stop this if this is the case?”

I’d go further, and say that the US and the UK should certainly, like all responsible governments, act to prevent nuclear proliferation in any and every case.

”3. What course of action would be advisable if the answer to the first two questions is yes (as I hope you will concede!). I certainly agree that war is to be avoided but what if it is the last resort?”

There are a great number of positive measures that the US and the UK can take.

In the first instance, we can reverse our own nuclear policies and reaffirm our commitment to the Non Proliferation Treaty. The NPT allows non-nuclear states to develop a civilian nuclear programme only, in return for the existing nuclear states disarming. Whilst the US/UK retain, upgrade and threaten to use their nuclear weapons, demands that Iran lives up to its commitments under the treaty can hardly be taken seriously.

Secondly, we can reaffirm our commitment (or more accurately, merely commit) to Article 14 of Security Council Resolution 687 which spells out the need to create a zone free of all weapons of mass destruction across the Middle East. The US can take concrete steps here by making further maintenance of the financial lifeline to Israel, Iran’s principal regional rival, conditional on its signing up to the NPT and disarming its nuclear capability. The US and the UK can use their substantial links with another fascistic theocracy in Iran’s neighbourhood, our ally Saudi Arabia (another regional rival for Iran), to force it to pledge not to develop nuclear weapons and submit to inspections (in light of its links with Pakistani proliferator A.Q. Khan). In the wider region, pressure should also be applied to India and Pakistan to sign the NPT and disarm themselves. Note that, unlike these states, Iran is a signatory to the NPT.

Third, whilst we cannot undo our past actions, there are steps that we can take to mitigate the effect they may have in encouraging Iran’s desire for a nuclear deterrent (or indeed that of any other country). We can acknowledge and express our regret for the US/UK role in instigating a coup against the former parliamentary government of Iran in 1953 and replacing it with the vicious dictatorship of the Shah, which we then backed throughout its 26-year reign of terror. We can acknowledge and express our regret for the US/UK role in backing Saddam’s aggression against Iran in the 1980’s, including the use of WMD. More broadly, we can acknowledge and express regret for our launching an illegal war of aggression against Iran’s neighbour, Iraq. The US can remove its military bases from the various Central Asian countries encircling Iran. We can pledge not to engage in any further acts of military aggression or intimidation against Iran or anywhere else (without prejudice to our right to undertake military action in accordance with the UN Charter).

Taking these three steps would remove any justifiable perception within Iran of the need to walk the NPT tightrope, risking international sanctions and economic pariah status. Also, note that taking these three steps would only bring us into line with the standards of behaviour we are demanding of others, and yet would constitute complete reversals of current policy. We can therefore dispense with the notion that our governments’ position on Iran stems merely from reasonable concerns over nuclear proliferation.

To underline that last point its worth making a final observation. Right up to the Islamic revolution in 1979, the U.S. was providing Iran with nuclear technical assistance, training and equipment, demanding no reciprocal guarantees that the Shah’s dictatorship would not attempt to develop nuclear weapons. In the 1970s, the Ford administration approved the sale to Iran of up to eight nuclear reactors, with fuel, and lasers with known capability for uranium enrichment. These decisions were made for President Ford by three key members of his administration: Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and Paul Wolfowitz. Now we’re being asked to believe that these three men, their colleagues and their allies, are concerned that a tyrannical Iranian regime wishes to develop a nuclear weapons capability.

As Dan Plesch pointed out (see full text), disarmament through diplomacy is proven to work in countering proliferation. But if our leaders had any interest in this there would be no need to suggest the three courses of action outlined above. As each of the speakers last week made clear, this has nothing to do with proliferation or legitimate security concerns. Its about consolidating and extending the power of the US and its allies in the region.

For background, Aijaz Ahmad provides an excellent review of the issues here:
“Iran: Imperialism’s Second Strike” by Aijaz Ahmad 10 October 2005 http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=67&ItemID=8903

Also recommended are:
“Nobel Prize Slaps Bush Nuke Policy” by Marjorie Cohn, 11 October 2005 http://www.truthout.org/docs_2005/101105I.shtml

“Attacking Iran: I Know It Sounds Crazy, But...” by Ray McGovern April 2005 http://www.tomdispatch.com/index.mhtml?pid=2230

“As the US lowers the nuclear threshold, debate is stifled” Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian, October 5 2005 http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,1584990,00.html

6:05 PM  
wendy mann said...

jeckstraw uk foreign minister last night stated the strategy for an attack on iran for the uk govt.

it is possible to view this from the bbc newsnight website until the 10pm tonite. it is a not to miss watch.

effectively he has said that the uk govt would take the appropriate action against iran with respect to the alleged attacks that the iranians have been involved in iraq against uk soldiers.

2:35 PM  
Timothy Michel said...

I did an initial study of the impact of an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities. What I learned is that a strike by conventional weapons would cause an initial 3 million deaths. but because of air and ground water contamination, 30 million additional deaths would result over a period of ten years. Now I can't imagine any administration committing that kind of mass execution. I therefore dismissed the idea that the U.S. would ever do more than fly manned recon missions and then drone recon missions. I would like to know what evidence you have beyond the agreements the U.S. has with Azerbaijan and the buildup on the 15 billion dollar base in Qatar. I know the scenario has been run several times in computer simulation, but what further evidence is there to indicate that there is an impending decision to commit. It would take the mind of Hitler to conceive of such a thing.

7:31 PM  
Timothy Michel said...

Oh if anyone would like to leave me any informatino on hte above comment, feel free to write me at: edgar_michel@hotmail.com

7:33 PM  
David Wearing said...

tm - thanks for your comments.

The purpose of the article was to record and convey the recently expressed views of three experts in military and international affairs, whose credentials are of the highest order. They were:

Dan Plesch: a former Senior Research Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies (UK's foremost research institute on military & foreign policy) and regular interviewee providing political and military analysis for the BBC, CNN, ITN and other news media.

Scott Ritter: ex of the US Marine Corps and former chief UN Weapons Inspector in Iraq between 1991 and 1998

Fred Halliday: Professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics

All brought to the discussion, not only their knowledge and experience, but also the weight of their personal contact with government, military/intelligence and diplomatic circles. So that's what backs up the arguments made in the article (which, it has to be said, went some way beyond merely citing some US agreements with Azerbaijan and troop build up in Qatar).

Plainly I can't comment on your personal research, or whether the numbers you've come up with are correct. But what should at least be uncontroversial is that mass death does not present an insurmountable moral barrier to the actions of government. US/UK sanctions killed over a million Iraqis. At least 2 million Indochinese are thought to have died in the Vietnam War. These are examples of 'mass execution' that you don't need to imagine, because they are an historical fact.

As I've already said in another comments section here, my personal view is that we're still in 'if' not 'when' territory. US manoevrings and recent UK pronouncements on Iran could simply be gunboat diplomacy. But the case made, most forcefully by Ritter and Plesch, that it is something altogether more sinister, is a strong one, and needs to be seriously considered.

8:33 PM  
Nagging Doubt said...

Hi Diarist,

Just out of interest, what do you think the anti-war movement should do? Do you think that there should be a march soon, before the government is committed to action, to show the level of opposition? Or would it be better to wait until it looks more likely? (I'd go with the first - but I can't help but think that numbers would be lower, which may weaken its impact and influence numbers on a later march. But what do I know...)

9:18 AM  
David Wearing said...

Nagging Doubt – I think that all the recent anti-war demos have, whilst focusing on Iraq, also been aimed at highlighting issues like attacks on civil liberties, Israel/Palestine, threats to countries like Syria and Iran. That mixture and balance of various aspects of the so-called “war-on-terror” seems about right to me.

With Iran specifically, as I’ve said, I think we’re just about in ‘if’ not ‘when’ territory, and I suspect that if you asked the general public, most would be shocked by the idea that attacking Iran is so much as a possibility.

Personally, I what’s important is to get involved in public discussion about Iran and raise awareness about the issues covered in last weeks talk at the ICA – hence my taking a note of it and posting it here. For example, the government’s accusations of Iranian involvement in attacks on UK forces in Iraq can’t be allowed to pass without comment or challenge from our side. The insurgents are Ba’athist, Wahhabi, Nationalist Sunni, maybe some Sadrist Shia, all of which have no great love for Iran. Why would Iran back these forces against the current Iraqi government which is dominated by religious Shia sympathetic to Tehran? These considerations need to be highlighted if this is going to be part of the US/UK case for military action in the future. On nuclear proliferation, the facts I pointed out in this comments section above need to be highlighted or we’re going to have the same embarrassingly poor level of public debate we had over the Iraqi WMD non-issue. As Scott Ritter stressed again and again last week, the public needs, above all, to get past the notion that any of this has to do with legitimate security concerns. This is about power, and that needs to be understood. More than marches and soforth, direct action of the intellectual variety – contributing to public debate and ensuring that the relevant facts do not get swept aside – is the best contribution that any of us can make, it seems to me.

4:09 PM  
Wallsy said...

I have Swedsih/Iranian students here who have heard accounts similar to Ritter's from members of the PMI (not to be confused with the radical opposition group). This is extrememly worrying and will, as quoted above, let the genie out of the bottle and with it the collected horrors of the world. I am frankly very worried...I think it is time to begin demonstrating now; start shaping public opinion on this now!

4:37 PM  

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