Last year, when with every passing month there appeared spooky new articles counting down to Zero Hour, I was one of the very few commentators who predicted that there would be no war with Iran and that all the blithering about a U.S. or Israeli military option was, and still is, a masterly bluff. All the feigned trepidation over Iran has more to do with a schism within Washington over grand strategy than an Iranian nuke posing a threat to the whole world. So will these clamorous Cassandras be right this time in 2013? My Nostradamus-type prognostication is that, no, there still isn’t going to be war. Nothing has happened in the interim since I initially thought so to convince me otherwise. Instead, I argued that the West would eventually accept Iran’s civilian enrichment—a forecast which is already being borne out.
The Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl recently addressed the Iran war in 2013 question and found that “there’s a good case to be made that next year will finally bring a break in the Iranian standoff—by means of a military confrontation, the appearance of an Iranian bomb or a diplomatic deal of some kind.” Well, which one will it be? In my estimation, the first two aren’t happening—no side wants a war and Iran prefers not having a nuclear arsenal—so that leaves a deal. As for Diehl, he discusses the matter with Dennis Ross, President Obama’s former adviser on Iran, who also foresees a deal in the offing where “Obama will likely first present Khamenei with a final offer, allowing Iran a civil nuclear power program under tight restrictions.” For Iran’s part “Ross… sees some signs that the Iranian leadership and state-controlled media are setting up a climate in which the supreme leader could make such a decision,” to approve a comprehensive bargain.
That sounds most encouraging and, while Ross cautions that “If by the end of 2013 diplomacy hasn’t worked, the prospects for use of force become quite high,” a resolution will be reached before then. The Obama administration is anxious to pivot to the Pacific and so the sooner things in the Middle East can be cleared up the better. Although Israel would surely object to an America that was less than obsessively fixed on the region, if it came to it Israel would simply adapt by allying with Iran. To cement this “Tehran-Tel Aviv Axis” Israel, in a move that would contradict decades of mania over an Iranian bomb, might even go so far as to allow Iran to build nukes. Indeed, an Iran that remained joined to Israel under the periphery doctrine could have gotten nukes whenever it pleased.
When Israel began waxing hysterical over a nuclear Iran in the early Nineties, Andrew Killgore at the time was convinced these “‘Leaks’ in Israel’s press last fall about the inevitability of an Israeli action to “take out” Iranian nuclear capability were just part of Shamir’s campaign [for a new benefactor]. The message to Iran was do it with us or we won’t let you do it at all.” Israel is not opposed to a nuclear-armed Iran per se and likely wouldn’t care a thing about it provided the two were partners. The same goes for Washington, which was deeply involved in helping its ally, the Shah of Iran, build a nuclear program—a program that, by the way, did have a weapons dimension until it was scrapped under Ayatollah Khomeini. Remembering that, it’s no wonder that the U.S. is bent on restricting Iran’s nuclear capacity: if the Iranians develop a full nuclear cycle independently it means U.S. corporations can’t develop it for billions of dollars.
I’ve spent months maintaining that the hoopla about a nuclear Iran is little more than a gross fraud and have provided several reasons for why this campaign against a phantasm is being waged. Here is yet another: decrying Iran is a cheap, easy way to score domestic political points. Pondering the mindless nature of congressional sanctions against Iran, Paul Pillar suspects “it is a mistake to take [the sanctions’] stated objectives at face value and that for some members getting a negotiated agreement with Iran is less important than their own posturing, which is based on the belief that Iran-bashing and Iran-pressuring is always good politics.” It is indeed good for politicians, who are invariably eager to set up and bash a foreign bugaboo to distract from their manifest failures to solve problems at home.
Senator Tom Watson, referring to the Spanish-American War, captured the logic behind politicians promoting conflict abroad: “It takes the attention of the people off economic issues, and perpetuates the unjust system they have put upon us. Politicians profit by this war. It buries issues they dare not meet.” The U.S. and Israeli politicians, however, prefer a cold war with Iran, which brings them all the benefits of a belligerent atmosphere without any bombs dropped. This state of semi-war is very much a choice for these politicos. Israelis officials, for instance, wouldn’t have to agonize over a potential nuclear Iran if they joined with Turkey (and Iran) in advocating a Mideast Nuclear Weapons Free Zone. But Israel declined to attend the latest conference on that topic and in consequence cancelled it. It’s clear that to the Israeli government having Iran persist as a dreaded specter is advantageous. Why and to what end?
Previously, I’ve made mention of an Iranian political science professor who asserted that Tehran, Tel Aviv, and Washington “need each other” and have a symbiosis wherein each can point to an awful antagonist to better control their respective countries. Israeli journalist Akiva Eldar also sees this phenomenon at play in his piece “We Won’t Relinquish the Enemy” about Israel’s inability to accept the Saudi peace plan that would terminate the Arab-Israeli conflict. Eldar explains this bizarre refusal with Constantine Cavafy’s poem “Waiting for the Barbarians”: “And now, what’s going to happen to us without barbarians? / They were, those people, a kind of solution.” The impression of barbarians—be they Iranian or Arab—encamped outside Israel’s gates is perfect for politicians and their purposes so they aren’t about to start a war and risk dispelling the helpful horde. This scheme emphasizes all the more that there will be no military action against Iran. Now isn’t that great news for the New Year?