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Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Iran a greater threat?

I think it is pretty clear that both Iran and North Korea were greater threats to U.S. security in 2002-2003 than was Iraq. Their nuclear programs are real, they had not lost the better parts of their military equipment in the Persian Gulf war, and they have strong state and societal forces that oppose the US ideologically.

That said, I don't think the US should have gone to war with either of them. Deterrence, containment and negotiation (or "engagement") were and are superior strategies.

I agree with the international law: the US shouldn't use force except for self defense, which includes preempting imminent attacks, but does not include preventive war.

Thus, I find the latest round of buyer's remorse somewhat unsettling. Sure, I'm all for challenging the justification for war in Iraq -- as well for questioning the preparation and execution of the occupation.

However, I do not think Bush opponents should rally around the idea that the US should have attacked Iran instead of Iraq.

Yet, some news coverage of the 9/11 Commission is starting to suggest that alternative: See, for example, the Los Angeles Times: "Bush, CIA at Odds on Iran."
Iran's emerging prominence in the Sept. 11 investigations looms as a potentially difficult issue for the White House, because it could raise new questions about why Bush led a war against Iraq but so far has taken a distinctly less bellicose stance toward Iran.
There were very good reasons not to attack Iraq.

There are even better reasons not to attack Iran.

Iran is a wealthier and much more powerful state than Iraq; thus, a war would most likely have been bloodier and longer. Iran is more than three times as large as Iraq and has almost three times the population. The per capita income (measured by purchasing power) is about $7000, while Iraq's was just $1600 (estimated) in 2003. Just about 90% of the population is Shi'a, so Iran is a much more unified country than Iraq. If you think post-war Iraqi resistance has been surprising, imagine the possibilities when people are driven by much more intense nationalism.

Moreover, Iran has been moving toward a viable public sphere and democratic reform. This is from the CIA:
Over the past decade, popular dissatisfaction with the government, driven by demographic changes, restrictive social policies, and poor economic conditions, has been pressuring for political reform.
This makes Iran a theocratic republic. Iran's popularly elected President, Mohammad Khatami, lived and worked as an academic in Germany. He was elected thanks to an Iranian "gender gap" as well as the youth vote. He clashes often with the hardline Islamists who control much of the power in Iran.

The European Union has taken advantage of Khatami's election by pushing the possibility of cooperation:
Over the last few years, EU relations with Iran have been developing in a positive direction. Following the election of Mr. Khatami as President in May 1997 and positive moves by Iran on a number of issues, a Comprehensive Dialogue in the form of semi-annual troika meetings at the level of Under-secretary of State / Deputy Minister was established in 1998. The political part of the dialogue covers issues regarding regional conflicts, including the Middle East conflict, non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, human rights and terrorism. The EU also decided to explore possibilities for co-operation with Iran in the areas of energy, trade and investment, refugees and drugs control.
Prior to the 2000 election and 9/11, the US was moving in this direction as well.

Iraq war opponents: let's cheer the fact that Bush has taken a "distinctly less bellicose" stance toward Iran. We cannot allow the media, the 9/ll Commission, the neocons, or even Democratic opponents to goad the US into another disastrous military conflict.

This might be a thoughtcrime in Bush's America, but I'll quote John Lennon as to the range of policy possibilities vis-a-vis Iran: "All we are saying is give peace a chance."

Update: Abu Aardvark has a fine post on this as well.

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