Iran: Overheated Rhetoric and U.S. Policy
By Heather Hurlburt
November 3, 2011 | The Guardian
In the past week, it seems as if every leading Israeli political and security figure has opined on the advisability of a pre-emptive strike on Iran soon; it wouldn’t surprise me to hear that Israel‘s Eurovision song contest entry has spoken out, too, and I missed it. Iran’s media has also featured overheated commentary. And in the US, conservative presidential candidates have fallen over themselves to match Herman Cain’s toughness in pledging to send an aircraft carrier to block Iran’s terrorist plots.
The Guardian jumped into the fray Wednesday, reporting on UK military planning for an Iran action – which led at least one wag on my side of the pond to wonder whether the UK military still has those 1812 plans for burning the White House on the books somewhere. Right on cue, conspiracy theorists pop up everywhere – the concerns reported are all phony, part of a “Wag the Dog” manipulation scenario.
There’s a great deal of ferment in Iran and Iran policy right now, but the fundamentals remain unchanged: Iran responds to unified global pressure and embarrassment, not to unilateral threats; and military and economic experts continue to warn that military action would unite Iranians, devastate the global economy and have unforeseeable knock-on security consequences. So, why all the talk?
In the next week, the International Atomic Energy Agency will release a report on the state of Iran’s nuclear program, and meet 17-18 November to discuss a response. An array of serious, non-conspiratorial experts, from the Brookings Institution’s Martin Indyk to the Stimson Center’s Barry Blechman, has suggested that the leaks of war talk this week are intended to ratchet up pressure for a strong response to the report.
At the same time, Peter Beinart suggests that we view the high-volume discussions in Israel as democracy in action. Iran watchers have been darkly murmuring that the political calendar gives a six-month window in which Israel could conceivably act unilaterally against Tehran and pressure the US into supporting it, before the US general election campaign gets into full gear. Israelis – particularly those opposed to a unilateral action, apparently – have now taken this debate into the public sphere. Beinart cites Israel’s most prominent columnist “suggesting that the new crop of officials running Israel’s military and intelligence services also were pushing back hard against war.”
Away from the headlines, anxiety about Iran’s behavior has grown in recent months both among Iran’s Gulf neighbors, as Yahoo News’ Laura Rozen points out, and in US and European capitals – with respect not so much to nuclear developments, as to Iranian activity in Afghanistan and Iraq. The recent US announcement that it will proceed with a full withdrawal from Iraq this year will have sent all that anxiety into higher gear.
Readers are aware of the US election calendar, but Iran, too, faces a backdrop of elections in the next year and significant internal unrest – including its supreme leader suggesting that an elected government was no longer advisable – as well as external turmoil, with its Syrian ally under threat and its appeal to the region severely blunted by the emergence of popular democratic movements elsewhere.
And even further out of the headlines, Iran and the west have engaged pragmatically on several fronts, recently – attending the Istanbul conference on Afghanistan’s future and signing a joint declaration with 12 other countries, consulting with the US over Syria. Iranian state media even reported that the letter from Washington laying out details of the alleged Iranian plot on the Saudi and Israeli embassies also contained an offer of dialogue.
These developments suggest that the path of diplomacy is far from exhausted. At the same time, Ahmadinejad complains that the UN sanctions are biting, and Iran finds itself utterly isolated in front of the UN Human Rights Council – without even the regional support that North Korea and Burma enjoy. But the overheated political climates in the Middle East and the nasty politicisation of security policy in the US make the risk of miscalculation unnervingly high – as former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mullen reflected when he proposed a US-Iran hotline last month.
Mullen also called the prospect of a military strike “incredibly destabilising”; the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran interviewed leading human rights voices inside the country and found them overwhelmingly opposed to a western strike. This is a mix of spin and substance that really should worry military planners and civilian leaders alike.
For the original piece, click here.