War with Iran?

Warnings of the disaster that would come of an American attack on Iran are plentiful, increasingly urgent, and persuasive[i] – but it is not at all clear that they are working on the one vote that matters. The NewsHour on PBS television ran a short feature on the growing irrelevance of George Bush, but on security matters he’s still very much in charge, and when it comes to Iran he still likes to say that all options remain on the table.

Iraq and Afghanistan notwithstanding, Pentagon planners and presidential advisors seem to have an inexplicable capacity to infuse their attack scenarios with an irrepressible optimism. In their computerized simulations, otherwise intractable problems, like Iran’s nuclear programs, are swept aside like so much hi tech chaff once the missiles start flying. The Christian Science Monitor recently observed that “perhaps the most egregious error policy planners make is their assumption that once wars are started, their outcome is predictable.”[ii]

It is true that some outcomes are predictable enough. No one could have doubted that the attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq would lead to the overthrow of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein. Nor could anyone doubt that if the United States attacked Iran it could manage to destroy, at least for a time, its nuclear programs, set its economic infrastructure back a generation, or overthrow its government. Regime destruction can be accomplished with dispatch – but after that all bets are off.

Paul Rogers of the University of Bradford has offered a careful and cautious account[iii] of the consequences of a concentrated air attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities and defence infrastructure. He rules out a ground offensive and a regime overthrow by the United states as unfeasible given American commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He says “an air attack would involve the systematic destruction of research, development, support and training centres for nuclear and missile programmes and the killing of as many technically competent people as possible.” In addition, the attack would “involve comprehensive destruction of Iranian air defence capabilities and attacks designed to pre-empt Iranian retaliation. This would require destruction of Iranian Revolutionary Guard facilities close to Iraq and of regular or irregular naval forces that could disrupt Gulf oil transit routes.”

Civilian and military casualties would be difficult to monitor, but would be in the many thousands, given that much of the technical infrastructure in support of Iran’s nuclear and missile programs is located in urban areas.

After the attack, he says, “Iran would have many methods of responding in the months and years that followed.” He includes disruption of Gulf oil supplies and support for insurgents and anti-Israel forces in the region. Rather than end Iranian nuclear programs, an attack would ignite Iranian nuclear weapons ambitions. Iran would emerge united and determined to build a bomb and withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. That would presumably occasion further attacks and propel long-term and widening confrontation in the region.

After that come the unpredictable consequences, including the environmental impact of exploding nuclear facilities – at this point with limited quantities of nuclear materials present – and various political fallout possibilities. President Bush and his army of upbeat advisors and analysts obviously did not anticipate that their 2003 attack on Iraq would be a major boon to Iran. But, says the former Ambassador and current Senior Diplomatic Fellow at the Center for Arms Control, Peter W. Galbraith, “of all the unintended consequences of the Iraq war, Iran’s strategic victory is the most far-reaching.”[iv] Similar unintended consequences would also ensue from an attack on Iran.

Mr. Bush seems rather more aware of folly when the issue is the military action of others. It is almost touching to hear his kindly reprimand of Turkey for having the temerity to threaten attacks on northern Iraq in an effort to deny rebel Turkish Kurds sanctuary there. “There is a lot of dialogue going on,” he explained to reporters at the White House, “and that is positive.”[v]

To measure his own actions he uses a different calculus. There may, after all, be a lot of dialogue going on with Iran as well, but in this case he finds nothing positive in it. Talking to Iran, whether it is the Russians or the International Atomic Energy Agency, only emboldens it in its wicked ways.

Left to his own devices, and bolstered by the authors of triumphalist attack scenarios, President Bush is eminently capable of crowning his disastrous presidency with another military misadventure – this time in Iran. In other words, he shouldn’t be left to his own devices.

The Parliament of Canada would perform a worthy service in support of international stability through a unanimous and two-fold call: for the United States to unequivocally reject military action against Iran and for Iran to unambiguously resolve all outstanding issues with the IAEA and provide it ongoing and unencumbered access to all Iranian nuclear facilities and programs.

As an emergency statement onIranby a group of concerned Canadians puts it, “an aerial assault on Iran would be an environmental and human catastrophe that our already damaged world cannot afford.”[vi]


[i] Dan Plesch and Martin Butcher, “Considering a war with Iran: A discussion paper on WMD in the Middle East,” The School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, September 2007 (http://www.rawstory.com/images/other/IranStudy082807a.pdf).

Barnett Rubin, “Thesis on Policy toward Iran,” Informed Comment: Global Affairs, September 5, 2007 (http://icga.blogspot.com/2007/09/theses-on-policy-toward-iran.html).

Seymour M. Hersh, “The Iran Plans: Would President Bush go to war to stop Tehran from getting the bomb?” The New Yorker, April 17, 2007 (http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2006/04/17/060417fa_fact).

[ii] Walter Rodgers, “The folly of war with Iran,” The Christian Science Monitor,” October 16, 2007 ()

[iii] Paul Rogers, Iran: Consequences of a War, Briefing Paper, Oxford Research Group, February 2006 (http://www.oxfordresearchgroup.org.uk/publications/briefing_papers/pdf/IranConsequences.pdf), 16 pp.

[iv]Peter W. Galbraith, “The Victor?,” The New York Review of Books, October 11, 2007 Volume 54, Number 15 (http://www.nybooks.com/articles/20651).

[v]By Paula Wolfson, “Bush Urges Turkey to Refrain From Cross-Border Operations in Iraq,” Voice of America, October 17, 2007 (http://www.voanews.com/english/2007-10-17-voa49.cfm).

[vi] From an “emergency statement” of concerned Canadians. The statement remains open for signature through Jillian Skeet of Vancouver who can be reached at jillianskeet@telus.net.

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