Geopolitics

World War III Progress Report

By Ryan McGreal
Published October 26, 2007

The US Bush Administration raised the stakes in its campaign of aggression against Iran yesterday, accusing the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps of spreading weapons of mass destruction and calling the Quds division a terrorist organization.

In response to these claims, the US introduced unilateral economic sanctions against the Guard and any person or company doing business with it, including Iran's three biggest banks. This effectively bans any business in Iran, since the Revolutionary Guard is involved in all aspects of the Iranian economy, and it extends to foreign individuals and companies as well.

Pulling out all the rhetorical stops, US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice announced:

Unfortunately the Iranian government continues to spurn our offer of open negotiations, instead threatening peace and security by pursuing nuclear technologies that can lead to a nuclear weapon, building dangerous ballistic missiles, supporting Shia militants in Iraq and terrorists in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, and denying the existence of a fellow member of the United Nations, threatening to wipe Israel off the map.

Of course, Iran didn't actually threaten to "wipe Israel off the map", there's no evidence whatsoever that Iran is attempting to acquire nuclear weapons (though look carefully at Rice's choice of weasel words: "pursuing nuclear technologies that can lead to a nuclear weapon" - pure FUD based on popular confusion about the difference between civil- and weapons-grade nuclear enrichment); and the US "offer" of "negotiations" has hardly been "open".

But what's a few more mendacious statements amid the torrent coming out of this administration? The US is working double-time laying the groundwork for some kind of military strike against Iran, and this is part of the campaign.

In fact, it very closely mirrors the 2002-03 US propaganda campaign against Iraq. The accusations are all the same, and just as unfounded as before:

According to Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann, former high-level Middle East policy experts for the US National Security Council, the US campaign against Iran is specifically designed to force a military confrontation and sabotage the threat of a diplomatic solution:

[T]he engagement strategy [in the US toward Iran] was never serious and was designed to fail, they say. Over the last year, Rice has begun saying she would talk to "anybody, anywhere, anytime," but not to the Iranians unless they stopped enriching uranium first. That's not a serious approach to diplomacy, Mann says. Diplomacy is about talking to your enemies. That's how wars are averted. You work up to the big things. And when U.S. ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker had his much-publicized meeting with his Iranian counterpart in Baghdad this spring, he didn't even have permission from the White House to schedule a second meeting.

The most ominous new development is the Bush administration's push to name the Iranian Revolutionary Guards a terrorist organization.

"The U.S. has designated any number of states over the years as state sponsors of terrorism," says Leverett. "But here for the first time the U.S. is saying that part of a government is itself a terrorist organization."

This is what Leverett and Mann fear will happen: The diplomatic effort in the United Nations will fail when it becomes clear that Russia's and China's geopolitical ambitions will not accommodate the inconvenience of energy sanctions against Iran. Without any meaningful incentive from the U.S. to be friendly, Iran will keep meddling in Iraq and installing nuclear centrifuges. This will trigger a response from the hard-liners in the White House, who feel that it is their moral duty to deal with Iran before the Democrats take over American foreign policy. "If you get all those elements coming together, say in the first half of '08," says Leverett, "what is this president going to do? I think there is a serious risk he would decide to order an attack on the Iranian nuclear installations and probably a wider target zone."

This would result in a dramatic increase in attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq, attacks by proxy forces like Hezbollah, and an unknown reaction from the wobbly states of Afghanistan and Pakistan, where millions admire Iran's resistance to the Great Satan. "As disastrous as Iraq has been," says Mann, "an attack on Iran could engulf America in a war with the entire Muslim world."

Again, this echoes the US campaign against Iraq, which systematically sabotaged the possibility of a diplomatic - i.e. a non-violent - solution.

Diplomacy as it's normally understood entails carrots and sticks - good behaviour is rewarded and bad behaviour is punished. The US strategy toward Iran is stick/stick - all behaviour, good or bad, is punished. This is calculated to provoke Iran into the very non-cooperation the US accuses it of following.

Going it Alone

The US imposition of harsh unilateral sanctions also marks the point at which the rest of the industrialized world is no longer willing to come along for the ride.

Behind the fawning, obsequious language of the NY Times article ("the decision to single out the Guard reflects increased frustration in the administration with the slow pace of diplomatic negotiations over Tehran's nuclear program"), it's hard to miss the unspoken elephant in the room: the US had to impose unilateral sanctions because there's no way the UN Security Council would authorize this next step.

Other than the predictable club of imperial enablers (chiefly Britain and France), the international community is splitting over this attempt to strong-arm the world into following the US lead.

In a little-reported event last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Iran and met with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. According to a source close to Putin, he promised Khamenei that Moscow will regard a US attack against Iran as an attack against Russia.

Putin publicly castigated the Bush Administration, saying "You can run around like mad people wielding razor blades, but it is not the best way to resolve the problem."

China has also sided with Iran against further escalation in the US war campaign, blocking the US case at the UN and continuing to trade with Iran, including selling weapons.

China is Iran's largest trading partner, and will likely respond with economic counter-measures if the US tries to enforce its sanctions against doing business with Iran.

China also has the power to undermine the US economy by dumping some of its huge dollar reserves and further driving down the already struggling dollar. The US economy depends on sustained consumer buying, but after decades of outsourcing, most US consumer items are imported (much of them from China itself).

The US is on track to run a balance of payments deficit of $800 billion for 2007, meaning it will import $800 billion more in goods and services than it exports. It can get away with this as long as international demand for US dollars and dollar-backed securities remains strong.

A dump of Chinese dollar holdings would push down the value of the dollar and make it harder for the US to cover its current accounts deficit. However, it would also hurt Chinese exports to the US.

A New Cold War

Quietly, under everyone's nose, a new Cold War has begun between the US and a loose coalition of anti-hegemonic countries, chiefly Russia, China and Iran.

It started with the US withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and revival of the Ballistic Missile Defense program, which is really intended to establish US military dominance of space, the "ultimate high ground".

It continued with the neoconservative US doctrine of Pre-emptive War, tested in Afghanistan and Iraq, which undermines 60 years of progress in establishing and maintaining norms of international law.

It is reaching its culmination with the US campaign against Iran, in which Russia and China, which each have their own agendas, have taken sides in opposition to this further expansion of US imperial power.

President Bush recently suggested that the conflict with Iran could turn into World War III.

For over a year, the Bush Administration has been softening the American public for a long-planned attack against Iran, crippling its ability to act as a regional hegemon in the Middle East and undermining its decision to abandon the US system of petrodollar hegemony - all while global oil production, the lifeblood of the American way of life and Iran's principal export, slides into inexorable decline.

Things are about to get very ugly.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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