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Magpie is a former journalist, attempted historian [No, you can't ask how her thesis is going], and full-time corvid of the lesbian persuasion. She keeps herself in birdseed by writing those bad computer manuals that you toss out without bothering to read them. She also blogs too much when she's not on deadline, both here and at Pacific Views.

Magpie roosts in Portland, Oregon, where she annoys her housemates (as well as her cats Medea, Whiskers, and Jane Doe) by attempting to play Irish music on the fiddle and concertina.

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Saturday, April 8, 2006

The upcoming war against Iran.

When a government is in political trouble, there's nothing like a good war to get the public back in line. Given what Dubya's administraton appears ready to do to Iran, the prez and his minions might want to look at what happened to the generals who ruled Argentina in the early 1980s.

When the Argentine people grew restless after years of dictatorial rule, the generals started a war to take the Malvinas [Falkland Islands] back from the British, who had colonized the islands in the early 19th century despite Argentina's claim of sovereignty. After whipping up the propoer amount of nationalist hysteria, the generals sent Argentine soldiers and sailors off to take the islands back. At first, the April 1982 invasion went pretty much as planned. Argentine troops met almost no resistance, the colonial government surrendered within days, and the patriotic fervor whipped up by the war did indeed ease the generals' immediate domestic political problems.

Before the fall

Argentines rally to support the invasion of the Malvinas, unaware of the disaster that was only weeks away.
Are scenes similar to this — and the tragic outcome — in the cards for the US?
[Photo: Graciela Blaum]

Of course, the story doesn't end there.

When formulatiing their war plans, the Argentine generals figured that the remote location of the Malvinas in the South Atlantic, plus the islands' small population and negligible economic value, would make the UK unwilling to go to war. And, in normal times, that might have been true. However, 1982 wasn't a normal time in the UK. Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government was facing big political problems, as the opposition to her roll-back of Labour-era social programs wsa rising. Unfortunately for the Argentine generals, a successful war to kick the Argentines off the islands was just what the Iron Lady needed to get the British public behind her. Thatcher whipped up patriotic fervor and mobilized the UK's military, which set off in late April to re-take the Falklands. By the end of May, the islands were back in UK hands and Argentina had suffered the worst military defeat in its history. As a result, the Argentine people turned decisively against their military rulers, and democracy was restored to the country in less than a year — not exactly the outcome that the generals had predicted when they set out on their Malvinas adventure.

So what happened to the Argentine generals as a result of their decision to take on the UK over the Malvinas reminds us that the best-laid plans often go astray — and that there are few times that this is more likely to be the case than when governments go to war in order to solve domestic political problems.

Now we can move on to the main part of this post: A look at Sy Hersh's New Yorker article on Dubya's plans to attack Iran. As Hersh describes these plans, they appear to be far less well thought out than the plans that Dubya's administration made when it attacked Iraq.

Iran in Dubya's crosshairsAccording to Hersh, Dubya has ordered the Pentagon to make plans for a massive bombing attack on Iran, with the ostensible goal of shutting down the Iranian nuclear program before there's any danger of that country acquiring nuclear weapons. The more important goal of the attack, however, is regime change. [Sound familiar?] Dubya and other White House officials want to remove the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who they believe is a threat to the peace of the region, and a possible new Hitler. [Sound even more familiar?] Dubya and defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld apparently believe that a successful attack on Iran's nuclear facilities will lead to a revolt against Ahmadinejad's government. Sources told Hersh that US troops have already been ordered into Iran to lay the groundwork for an attack, and that US military planners have been considering the use of tactical nuclear weapons to take out Iran's nuclear-related facilities.

As Hersh explains, there's substantial opposition within the Pentagon to a bombing campaign in Iran, espeically one that includes nuclear weapons. This opposition is so strong that some high military officers may resign if the nuclear plans are approved. That possibility is growning extremely likely as an advisory group packed with Rumsfeld appointees is leaning toward the nuclear option.

The biggest problem for Dubya's attack plans, however, is that same one that faced the Argentine generals back in 1982: Unplanned and unexpected consequence from the attack. It's one thing to achieve the strictly military goals of destroying particular facilities in Iran. It's quite another to correctly anticipate what the effects of that attack will be on Iran's domestic politics, and — especially — how the Iranian government will retaliate for the attack.

Iran, which now produces nearly four million barrels of oil a day, would not have to cut off production to disrupt the world's oil markets. It could blockade or mine the Strait of Hormuz, the thirty-four-mile-wide passage through which Middle Eastern oil reaches the Indian Ocean. Nonetheless, the recently retired defense official dismissed the strategic consequences of such actions. He told me that the U.S. Navy could keep shipping open by conducting salvage missions and putting mine- sweepers to work. "It's impossible to block passage," he said. The government consultant with ties to the Pentagon also said he believed that the oil problem could be managed, pointing out that the U.S. has enough in its strategic reserves to keep America running for sixty days. However, those in the oil business I spoke to were less optimistic; one industry expert estimated that the price per barrel would immediately spike, to anywhere from ninety to a hundred dollars per barrel, and could go higher, depending on the duration and scope of the conflict.

Michel Samaha, a veteran Lebanese Christian politician and former cabinet minister in Beirut, told me that the Iranian retaliation might be focussed on exposed oil and gas fields in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates. "They would be at risk," he said, "and this could begin the real jihad of Iran versus the West. You will have a messy world."

Iran could also initiate a wave of terror attacks in Iraq and elsewhere, with the help of Hezbollah. On April 2nd, the Washington Post reported that the planning to counter such attacks "is consuming a lot of time" at U.S. intelligence agencies. "The best terror network in the world has remained neutral in the terror war for the past several years," the Pentagon adviser on the war on terror said of Hezbollah. "This will mobilize them and put us up against the group that drove Israel out of southern Lebanon. If we move against Iran, Hezbollah will not sit on the sidelines. Unless the Israelis take them out, they will mobilize against us." (When I asked the government consultant about that possibility, he said that, if Hezbollah fired rockets into northern Israel, "Israel and the new Lebanese government will finish them off.")

The adviser went on, "If we go, the southern half of Iraq will light up like a candle." The American, British, and other coalition forces in Iraq would be at greater risk of attack from Iranian troops or from Shiite militias operating on instructions from Iran. (Iran, which is predominantly Shiite, has close ties to the leading Shiite parties in Iraq.) A retired four-star general told me that, despite the eight thousand British troops in the region, "the Iranians could take Basra with ten mullahs and one sound truck."

Given the predictions that Dubya's administration made about what would happen after its invasion of Iraq, the details revealed by Hersh don't exactly inspire confidence in the plans being made for Iran, do they? Especially given that Iran is four times as large as Iraq with almost three times as many people. Not to mention a military that has more up-to-date equipment than that of Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

Like the Argentine generals. Dubya may be calculating that bombing Iran is a way to shore up his sagging political fortunes that has negligible dangers. It would certainly re-solidify support for the prez among the hard-core of his supporters, and it might increae support among others by throwing up the spectre of terrorism, nuclear-style.

But, as Hersh suggests in his article, the consequence of an invasion aren't likely to be negligible. God save us if Dubya actually carries through with his Iran plans.

There's a lot more scary stuff in Sy Hersh's article, which you can read here. I notice that the administration is already attacking the article. Given past attacks on Hersh's Iraq reporting, this probably show's that he's dead on-target with his Iran piece.

| | Posted by Magpie at 3:08 PM | Get permalink

Liar, liar, pants on fire!


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