I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Iran v. Syria: A winner emerges

It always seemed to be an incredibly close and hard-fought competition between Iran and Syria as to which country would get to be the neocon's next target. Now that we're being told how we are winning oh-so-gloriously in Iraq, it looks like a winner has finally been selected. From The Jerusalem Post:

IAEA chairman Muhammad ElBaradei on Monday confirmed Israel's assessment that Iran is only a few months away from creating an atomic bomb.

If Teheran indeed resumed its uranium enrichment in other plants, as threatened, it will take it only "a few months" to produce a nuclear bomb, El-Baradei told The Independent.

It's unclear from this report whether ElBaradei is actually agreeing with the Israeli warning -- namely, that Iran is now months away from production of a nuclear bomb -- or whether he is agreeing with that assessment only hypothetically, i.e., that Iran would be months away if it engaged in full-on enrichment efforts. But no matter. The article, at the very least, signals that the Israelis (and their neocon supporters in the U.S.) are no longer willing to wait around with regard to Iran.

Any serious person would have to admit that the prospect of Iran acquiring a nuclear capability is an extremely serious (arguably paramount) threat -- and not just to Israel, but to the United States. That ought to go without saying.

But the problem here is an obvious one: in light of the Iraqi WMD debacle, who in the world is going to believe any American (or Israeli) Chicken Little warnings about Iran's nuclear threat? That's why ElBaradei has to be trotted out in order to confirm this warning -- because nobody, in the wake of Iraq, will believe the warnings if they emanate only from the U.S. and Israel.

Because American credibility on this issue is non-existent -- combined with the fact that our military seems a bit occupied (no pun intended) at the moment -- the threat of war against Iran would appear to be something which the Iranians need not even take seriously.

And that, in a nutshull, is the real disaster of our invasion of Iraq. On the ever-turning carousel of war justifications, the one which I always found to be the most reasonable and serious was the notion that perceptions of American weakness had become so widespread and uncontradicted that our "greatest-military-in-the-world/only-remaining-superpower" status was frightening and deterring exactly nobody. A real war against a universally despised dictator, so that argument went, would at least re-establish the undeniably necessary fear that the U.S. is willing to fight a war if it deems it to be (even imprudently) in its national interest to do so.

But our invasion of Iraq on false pretenses, and the endless mishaps and miscalculations of our subsequent occupation, have achieved exactly the opposite result. Our inability to contain a rag-tag insurgency has made us look more like a paper tiger than ever. The longer we stay in Iraq, the more depleted our military becomes, and the less able we are to pose a real threat to fight a real war against any other country.

Worse than that -- much worse -- nobody is going to even be considering supporting, let alone helping, with any U.S. military action against Iran, particularly on the basis that U.S. "intelligence" reveals that the Iranians are close to proliferating. It makes one cringe to even formulate the argument that we need to take strong action against Iran because they are developing their WMD capabilities -- assertions which will mirror almost verbatim what we said over and over to the world about Iraq. And Iran, of course, knows this.

Moreover, unlike Saddam, Iran has cultivated meaningful and serious alliances with countries which matter, beginning with Russia and China. There were a few countries with enough unseemly entanglements with Saddam to motivate them to oppose our invasion (read: France), but Iran has made itself of genuine financial and strategic importance to many countries far beyond what Iraq was, and that's just yet another very serious barrier to our posing a genuine threat.

Now imagine a world where Saddam is still in place, sputtering around impotently and in check by stringent inspections. There has been no WMD debacle in Iraq. Our decades-long alliances are intact. Our military has been engaged only in precision projects against actual terrorists where they are found -- rather than occupying a country of 25 millions Muslims plagued by brewing sectarian civil war -- and is therefore primed, energized, and fresh. And U.S. credibility on issues like these is what it was before we invaded Iraq, rather than what it is now.

The credible threat we could pose to Iran under those circumstances is in a different universe than the virtually non-existent threat we can pose now.

And it is on that basis that opposition to our war in Iraq is most convincingly and solidly predicated. This war has been a disaster not because Muslim terrorism is an overblown problem (it's not), or because we shouldn't be aggressive in fighting terrorism, including militarily (we should be). The war is a disaster precisely because it impedes our ability to wage war on the real threats of Islamic extremism which genuinely endanger the United States, and has been such a worthless and counter-productive distraction from that war.

It seems that Iran is turning out to be the biggest benefactor of this war -- not just because they are likely to have the Iranian-hating Saddam replaced by a mullah-loyal Shiite quasi-theocracy which rules Iraq, but also because the war has virtually ruined our ability to pose a real threat to Iranian proliferation efforts.

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