Out of the Shadows

Openly discussing the possibility of a US air strike against Iran no longer courts banishment from polite company. To see why, we need look no further than a remark volunteered by the new Senate Majority Leader in the US, Harry Reid, just a few weeks ago:

“Much has been made about President Bush’s recent saber rattling toward Iran. This morning, I’d like to be clear: The President does not have the authority to launch military action in Iran without first seeking Congressional authorization — the current use of force resolution for Iraq does not give him such authorization.”

Note Senator Reid was not backed into a corner when he delivered himself of this unusual statement. It was, it would seem, his attempt at a pre-emptive strike, made as part of the Democrats’ address on the State of the Union.

Tom Engelhardt, in a piece amusingly entitled “Thelma and Louis Imperialism” (well, it’s not really amusing at all nor of course was it meant to be) notes that although rumours of such an attack have been quietly circulating in certain circles for some years, it took a rapid fire sequence of events and announcements for “much of official Washington to panic”. Most alarming amongst these are the deployment of another carrier task force to the Persian Gulf together with rumours of a third, the emplacement of Patriot anti-missile systems in the smaller Gulf states, reports of the readying of new air bases in Bulgaria and Romania, the authorisation by George Bush for the military to take out Iranian agents anywhere in Iraq and of course the generally heightened anti-Iranian rhetoric.

Few knowledgable observers find anything much positive to say about such a venture. Indeed, many see it as an unmitigated disaster and one really needn’t exercise too much imagination to understand why. Quite aside from the moral consequences of another unprovoked American attack, there are the practical considerations: the further sidelining of moderates within Islam; the likelihood of a radical destabilisation of the whole Middle East, including, quite possibly, the fall of some friendly regimes; soaring oil prices; the real possibility that US forces in Iraq in particular will come under potentially fatal seige; and of course the bolstering of Ahmadinejad and his fellow radicals within Iran. Hence the “Thelma and Louis” analogy.

This isn’t the place to attempt to pursue the deeper reasons why such an improbable course of action seems to be under serious consideration. Any such analysis would I suspect soon have to venture into the quicksands of the psychological and emotional states of the small coterie who still hold the reins of power in America. And of those from the other side of politics who seem to share the obsession with Iran and the use of force. As to the broader question of why it could still happen despite the immense risks, the almost incoherent rationale, growing domestic criticism and a notionally empowered opposition, here I fear we quickly sink into the bogs of an alarmingly dysfunctional political system, one at odds with itself and largely gridlocked. One where the President since 9/11 has assumed the mantle worn hundreds of years ago in more primitive political systems by the monarch, with much of the nation sufficiently stunned to acquiesce. The waking up from this black sleep, although underway, is likely to be both slow and painful.

What may be more pertinent, and what finally prompted me to sit down and write this piece is the question of what all this might mean for Australia. A number of Troppodillians, amongst them D W Griffiths and more recently James Farrell in his Plans for Iraq series, have raised this issue as it pertains to our role in Iraq. Despite their best efforts, I don’t know that any of us have yet managed to make much headway with this vexed question, which is hardly surprising given the impasse it represents. I wonder, though, whether this Iranian business — given that it seems we may have no choice but to take the possibility seriously — mightn’t present Australia with a whole new calculus.

Much the same techniques as were used in the lead up to the Iraqi invasion seem to be in play now in regard to Iran. There is, however, a very different mood afoot than prevailed four years ago. Not only in the international community, which by and large was never terribly keen anyway, but also within the US where a bitter debate over Iraq is now very much front and centre. It would seem to follow that whatever it is that eventually tips the decision on Iran one way or the other may this time be the product of a far more delicate mechanism. One more subject to that small factor that could prove decisive.

It occurs to me that Australia’s stance on this question — good and stout friend that it’s been — might just, providing it were made known well beforehand, be that factor. Let me “just suppose” for a moment. If Australia, in sorrow rather than anger, let it be known that any action against Iran would result in its post-haste withdrawal from the coalition, might this not provoke a small firestorm over there? We are after all, I think, held in quite high regard within the US political establishment and our presence has undoubtedly been a boon for the administration through this very trying time. An explicit call of enough would not, I suspect, be so easy to air brush out. I don’t, of course, mean to exaggerate our influence but so little may in the end separate yea from nay in this case that such a clear statement of intent might just tip the balance. Nor, by the way, do I mean to suggest that the reason for any such stance should be to influence the US. If it did so, that would merely be a beneficial side effect of a policy decision that seems to me vital for Australia’s interests.

At the very least — setting aside what is quite likely a fantasy if for no other reason than I struggle to see the Howard government doing any such thing — might this not be something by which the Labor party could more clearly differentiate itself and bring pressure to bear on the government? I for one would certainly not like to have the task of defending Australiaâs cooperation, however marginal and unenthusiastic, in a pre-emptive US attack on Iran. Nor of reassuring the electorate about the safety of our servicemen and women in the Gulf during the chaos that would likely follow.

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Kevin Schnaper
Kevin Schnaper
17 years ago

I don’t know what’s hard to understand about Iran. We are trying to win in Iraq. Iran has been meddling in there for quite some time. You can’t really ask them nicely to leave so there has to be some implied threat and an aircraft carrier is one way to do it. To publicly mention their efforts is another way, so that the talk in the US media about it will get back to tehran (so they know we’re watching what they are doing and political force is being generated against them in the US). Thus the good cop bad cop routines.

Only the far far left hysterics really believes we will attack iran. The right realizes the threat must be on the table, though, for the purposes of the war in iraq. Many people dispise these types of testosterone-type games of diplomatic chicken. But sometimes they are necessary. With any luck (and a little backbone from the international community), it is conceivable that Iran will back off the nukes and iraq. I think I heard something yesterday about them installing cameras in all their nuke facilities and something else about just wanting peaceful nuclear energy.

But nobody buys that stupid line. Why would they need a nuclear reactor for energy when they’re sitting on one of the world’s largest supplies of energy in the form of oil. They must think the world community is pretty dumb.

Brezhinski is a wonderful speaker but his record as a foreign policy advisor is rather dismal. He completely messed up Egypt after the deal was in the bag, he let Iran fall, bizarrely took Yassar arafat and Ceaucescu at their words and worked to legitimize them in america, and his and Carter’s weakness allowed the Soviet Union to get into Afghanistan. He has pretty much no credibility.

Harry Reed is just talking to his base through television when he gets up in the senate and says the things he does. The chamber is more or less empty during the day for these speeches. One of the great strategies that the Dems employ over here is to shout to the television cameras that they are against things that nobody has suggested. That way it seems as if they were suggested, and that they are heroes for standing up to it. It happens every day on US television. Another thing is for them to demand that the administration do things they already did the previous week, that’s another good one. And then this nonsense is broadcast around the world. And the world wonders how such a bunch of stupid rednecked christian fundamentalists could possibly get in power. The US media is quite a bit of garbage, in case you didn’t know it already out there down under.

Here’s the key line in the essay, by the way, that lets us know exactly what we are dealing with: “Assumedly, this was because the latest doctored intelligence, claiming the Iranians are supplying advanced IED technology that is causing American deaths looks as hollow as the administration’s cherry-picked and doctored intelligence on Iraqi WMDs before the 2003 invasion.”

He forgot to mention that its all controlled by an Israeli cabal that has taken over the white house. Sponsored by Haliburton. I guess if you repeat something often enough, people begin to think its true. What’s that old saying, falsehood travels round the world before truth can even get its pants on.

Oh, and on the “No evidence they’re arming the Sunnis”. Well, maybe they’re just arming the Shia. That would be kinda sensible. Or maybe they’re just in there blowing up US troops and then skipping back home. Or maybe they’re just on a site seeing tour. Or maybe they think the Shia is more aligned with the rank and file shia in their own country, which are against the iranian government mullahs and lunatics. So they figure they can strike a deal with the Ba’athist and Sunnis against the rank and file shia. Lots of possibilities not mentioned in the article.

Wonderfully informative article otherwise.

James Farrell
James Farrell
17 years ago

I’m trying to post a comment, but I get a message that says I’ve already posted it. Well, that’s true, but when I did it post it went to the log-in page and the comment was apparently lost. Anyone know why this is happening?

Ken Parish
17 years ago

There seems to be an ongoing but intermittent problem with commenting that Jacques so far hasn’t been able to fix. I’ll email him yet again. Personally I think the best solution would be simply to remove the OpenID logon plugin (or whatever it is), which as far as I know neither Nicholas nor I asked for and which is completely pointless as far as I’m concerned. Of course it may not be the cause of the problems, but they do so seem only to have occurred since it was installed. Hopefully commenters will persevere until this is fixed.

17 years ago

The reports of Iranian munitions being used in Iraq do seem very hollow. Looks like most of the response from, well, everyone has been little more than “yeah, so what?”
I really don’t see of what possible use this is to the Bush cause. The US can’t go into Iran, thus any of the military movements highlighted by Kevin above are empty. As far is Iran is concerned the US has already lost the game of chicken.

Considering how un-credible threats of US action against Iran are, what can they possibly hope to achieve? I disagree that they have any effect on what Iran does with Iraq. There is nothing to compel the Iranians to stop either interfering with Iraq or playing silly buggers with it’s nuclear program. An aggressive act by the US against Iran is a PR victory for Iran and not really anything more.
Could Bush et al be hoping to spark a war with Iran by getting them to invade Iraq?
If the US want a fight with Iran they have to dress it up as just punishment.

Ken Lovell
17 years ago

Why would they need a nuclear reactor for energy when they

Kevin Schnaper
Kevin Schnaper
17 years ago

The report didn’t escape my notice. I just think it a bit weak argumentatively.

Here’s a more informed (than I can offer) rebuttal of the piece to which you refer. I’m assuming you’ve read it, but If not, here is the link…


And, incidentally, I don’t think calling me an “apologist for the bush administration” is either warranted, necessary or helpful. I am trying to get to the truth just like you are. A free and open debate is the only way. Let’s let all informed voices into the debate.

Ken Lovell
17 years ago

LOL I’ll have to remember that labelling people ‘far far left hysterics’, claiming that ‘nobody buys that stupid line’ and dismissing the US media as ‘quite a bit of garbage’ are all indicators of a ‘free and open debate’.

Kevin Schnaper
Kevin Schnaper
17 years ago


I wasn’t claiming you were on the far far left in America, obviously. And the implication meant by “nobody buys that stupid line” is that, once all the facts are appreciated, the line is untenable. One who believes untenable contentions may be described, in indelicate fashion I admit, as “stupid”.

Although, upon reflection, they could be crazy too. Or possessed of ideological convictions. I concede the point. Stupidity isn’t the only excuse for believing untenable contentions. I apologize for the statement. Regardless, the argmuments that Iran needs nuclear energy simply fall apart under scrutiny.

And the US media is quite a bit of garbage. I live here I know. It has become nothing more than a sound bite circus trying to drum up emotions through innacurate simplifications, mostly coming from the left.

Whereas, I assumed by Bush apologist, you were speaking of me, a direct attack. A bit different, all joking aside.

I hope you read the carnegie article. Its arguments are solid and informed (Don’t let my shenanigans dissuade you from the article). Here’s the link again:


Furthermore the simplified rationale I offered, “Why would they need a nuclear reactor for energy when they

Kevin Schnaper
Kevin Schnaper
17 years ago


Well, I do admit, that when I see something that I percieve to be reflexively ideological, regardless of its charms as prose, it bothers me. But it also interests me. Thereafter I find positing a very strong simplified contention against the position I percieve to be reflexively ideological often leads to the very strongest “real” counter-argument from the other side. This leads very quickly to the heart of the matter and away from ideology. It is simply a tactic to pull particpants off easy argument as quickly as possible. LIke the irritating sand grains that generate the pearls from an oyster (cheesy metaphor, I realize).

I realize this tactic is not necessarily conducive to bonhomie. I regret that. But neither lazy agreement nor ideologically-hollowed arguments in these matters helps us to understand what’s actually going on or the forward possibilities. I think everyone wants to hear the clearest core arguments all around as soon as possible in a thread. If information were provided “straight” on Troppo, I wouldn’t do this. Troppo doesn’t need to do these jabby-snarks either, as the community is clearly enormously intelligent and well informed. It doesn’t need to be patronising or resort to calling George-and-Dick “wacky” as in the link you provided in this thread. It lowers the debate and deserves rebuke. I respond in kind as a form of rebuke.

Your point about the Generals believing the possibility of the attack is interesting. There is the possibility that they are playing the good cop bad cop game (They being the good cop, of course, to the “crazy texans in the white house” bad cop). Or that they are being played without their knowledge and reacting, without realizing it, the exact way the administration would wish. (The identity of the good cop “reactors” doesn’t really matter. Usually its the doves, like Reed or Brezhinski. The point is that somebody must honestly react in fear to the possibility. This is what gives the feint credit.)

This all goes to the idea that the Bush Administrations seriousness in the matter of attacking Iran must be absolutely creditable and inscrutable, for the current tactic to have any gravitas. Although with Iraq in such a state, any notion of attacking Iran is simply incredible. Its a silly notion. But then again, it must be creditable. And there you are.

My listing of possible reasons for Iran to bring weapons into Iran was actually a semi-serious possibility set. There can be many different reasons for those weapons to be in Iran including arming Sunni militias, as suggested by “wacky George-and-Dick”. Chaos in Iraq helps Iran, period. Any way they can sow it, I submit, is within the realm of possilbity.

On the Harry Reed quote, my apologies, but I saw him say the exact same thing in the empty Senate chamber a few days ago. The point about what he thought his purpose was still stands.


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