Swans Commentary » swans.com May 22, 2006  



The Last Petal


by Michael Doliner





(Swans - May 22, 2006)   In spring a young man's fancy turns to war. Lying in the fresh meadow grass, lost in reverie, he plucks the petals of a daisy. Will he, won't he, will he, won't he, will he bomb Iran? Will Bush launch a nuclear air strike against Iran or won't he? Let's see if we can guess.

What will happen if Bush doesn't attack Iran? As everybody knows, the war in Iraq has increased Shiite power at the expense of the Sunnis. Not all the Shiites are allied with Iran, but if the Shiites rule, Iran will have an enormous influence. Shiite power in Iraq will strengthen the Shiites in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia who happen to live in the oil producing regions. If those sheikdoms continue to oppress their Shiites they will likely resist, possibly affecting oil production. The Shiites will demand equality and power to the extent of their numbers, and they will appeal to Iran for help. In Lebanon, too, the Shiites, also supported by Iran through Hezbollah, will become stronger. Growing Shiite power, centered in Iran, will weaken the governments of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and challenge American hegemony in this vital region.

The United States hopes to counter growing Shiite, and through them Iranian, power with its permanent bases in Iraq. It built these bases to control the region, but the bases control very little more than the ground they cover. The Iraqi resistance has driven the American army into the shelter of these bases. The conventional American military can destroy entire cities, but it cannot defeat this "fourth-generation" force. As William S. Lind has pointed out, the guerrillas are fighting "on God's time." (1) They don't have to win, just keep fighting. In any case, instead of gaining control Bush seems to be losing it. In fact, he has lost. Remaining in Iraq is damaging the American military and there is a growing domestic opposition. Although the United States has maintained bases in other foreign countries over long periods of time, it cannot do so in the face of continued resistance. It is virtually certain that the United States cannot control Iraq, let alone the rest of the region, through the bases it is building in Iraq. The United States remains there now only because of inertia, because of the fantasy-based neocon agenda, and because Bush can't face the political fallout from defeat.

Thus Iran, left alone, need do nothing to lead a growing Shiite power in the Persian Gulf that will control the oil producing region and challenge Israel. No treaties, no talks, will change this. Since their revolution in 1979, Iran has been hostile to the United States not only for its support for the hated Shah, but also for having overthrown Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953. This animosity is long standing, recently exacerbated, and unlikely to end in the near future. American oil companies are not likely to be welcome anywhere in the Persian Gulf under these circumstances, and Iran is not likely to consider America's geopolitical concerns important.

On the other hand, in November 2004 Iran agreed to allow China to develop the Yadavaran oil field, (2) and the United States sees China as its primary, perhaps the only, likely geopolitical threat. China has been expanding trade with Latin America, the Middle East, and even Canada. As the United States fades as a Persian Gulf power China's position will brighten. China's growing influence in Iran and Saudi Arabia might explain France's surprising support for the US against Iran after they opposed the war with Iraq. France gets 20% of its oil imports from the Persian Gulf and 80% of that from Iran and Saudi Arabia, (3) but China's oil deals threaten to cut France out or at least diminish what Iran might supply. French oil companies lost big in the war in Iraq when the United States nullified deals France had there. (4) They wouldn't want to be cut out of an American-controlled Iran. However, having thrown in with the United States, France has no road back, if even sanctions are imposed on Iran, for the crisis will push Iran even further towards China.

The United Kingdom, with the North Sea oil fields depleting rapidly, will soon need to import oil as well, and the Persian Gulf would be the only source for it. Soon the UK will need Iranian oil as much as does France. Finally, Germany also supports the American UN resolution even though it opposed the war in Iraq. Since then Angela Merkel has replaced Gerhardt Schröeder as Chancellor in Germany. Although Germany does not get much oil from the Persian Gulf, Merkel seems to want to repair ties with the United States. It is important for Germany to keep Turkey, a US ally, out of the EU and she may expect support for this position in return.

These countries have not committed themselves to support a war with Iran, but have supported a UN resolution that might lead to sanctions. If it does so, France and the United Kingdom will then be committed to supporting regime change, for such sanctions will push Iran even further towards China and the east.

Now, what happens if the United States attacks Iran? Unless the U.S. obliterates Iran with nuclear weapons, Iran will be able to cause enormous trouble both in the Persian Gulf and elsewhere. The Shiites in Iraq could attack the troops there. The Shiites in Kuwait, joined by forces from Iran, could try to disrupt the supply bases there. The Shiites in Saudi Arabia, already unhappy with their treatment, could disrupt that country's huge oil infrastructure. The shipping lanes in the Straits of Hormuz are narrow and Iran is likely to close them, ending the flow of most of Persian Gulf oil. Certainly Iranian oil will not flow. Elsewhere, enraged Muslims might close the Straits of Malacca cutting off 80% of Japan's oil. (5) Russians, who are installing nuclear equipment in Iran, will likely be killed, and Russia could take this as an act of war against them. Loss of oil from the Persian Gulf will damage the Chinese and many European economies, perhaps disastrously. It is said that sophisticated Iranian Sunburn missiles, carried on difficult-to-detect mobile launchers, can penetrate any American defenses and sink American warships, perhaps even an aircraft carrier or two. Iran has an elaborate terror network throughout the world. It will certainly strike within the United States.

Again, the effect on China is the most important. China is the ultimate target of any American attack on Iran. (6) America's undisguised purpose is to dominate the world, and China threatens that project. The dust-up over Taiwan, the brouhaha in Korea, the shady American nuclear deal with India, and the installation of puppet governments in the "stans" of the former Soviet Union are all parts of a military circle around China. Although China is very cautious, it might think it rational to supply Iran with a nuclear weapon to deter the disastrous American attack, for after such an attack the Chinese economy would be in crisis that nothing could alleviate.

An annihilating nuclear attack on Iran will kill millions of people and send radioactive clouds east across Afghanistan, nuclear-armed Pakistan, and nuclear-armed India. Iranian oil flow, and in all likelihood that of much of the Persian Gulf, would stop and the world economy would collapse. Pakistani President Musharraf, known as "Busharraf" for his sycophancy of Bush, is fighting a growing rebellion. There have been several attempts on his life. The anti-American sentiment such a cloud of death would inspire might topple him. In all likelihood an enraged anti-American nuclear-armed government would emerge. Another possibility is a Pakistani failed state ruled by warlords armed with nuclear missiles. The cloud would blow over India too, with unpredictable but certainly destabilizing effects. No one outside the United States would view such an attack as anything but a war crime and every American would be persona non grata everywhere. An unprovoked nuclear attack would strip away the last shreds of international law and force nations to confront the United States with force against force, that is, on a wartime basis.

So if the United States does not attack Iran its position in Iraq will continue to deteriorate until it inevitably withdraws, at which point American influence in the Persian Gulf will be all but non-existent. China, with agreements to buy oil and develop oil fields both from Iran and Saudi Arabia, (7) will gain as the United States loses. On the other hand, an attack on Iran whether devastating or not will likely launch uncontainable war.

What to do, what to do? Such a difficult choice. Clearly, no grownup would destroy the world in a fit of pique because he is losing his lollipop, but it is not clear that Bush is a grownup. Unfortunately, political considerations might sway him in the wrong direction. If he does not attack Iran, American fortunes in Iraq will only continue to sink. Judging from the way American public opinion is shifting the Republicans can expect one of the biggest political debacles in history in November. Bush might think an attack on Iran can save Republican (and his own) bacon. He probably fears impeachment and even criminal prosecution if the Democrats gain control of Congress, but just what the Democrats will do, if anything, is unclear. Nevertheless, political considerations definitely encourage Bush to bomb. It is entirely possible that he will launch an uncontainable war in a wild bid to save his own and all of his associates' political skin. But let us make no mistake: to bomb is to court disaster.

To allow American influence in the Persian Gulf to wane violates the primary directive of American foreign policy since at least 1956. Nevertheless, that is the only rational course. In truth, the policy never served the American population. The purpose was not to insure the flow of oil to the United States, but to apply geopolitical pressure on other states and gain profits for American oil companies. But the world is changing. The American empire of bases is crumbling. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have demonstrated once again that conventional armies cannot defeat guerrilla movements except in very small countries. Meanwhile, peak oil and global warming threaten civilization. The United States, to survive, must wake up. The choice of what to do about bombing Iran will determine once and for all whether or not the United States can climb out of Sleepy Hollow and into the noonday sun of the twenty-first century. Nothing could be better for the United States than to dismantle its empire of bases, cut its military budget, and use the savings to prepare for the coming energy and environmental crises. The United States would then be in a far better position to counter China than its present belligerent position offers. As we can see from China's diplomacy, negotiation works far better than force. What will the last petal on the daisy tell Bush to do?


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1.  http://www.counterpunch.org/lind06032003.html  (back)

2.  http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/3970855.stm  (back)

3.  http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/international/oiltrade.html  (back)

4.  http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn?pagename=article&contentId=A18841-2002Sep14  (back)

5.  http://www.geocities.com/uksteve.geo/canal6.html  (back)

6.  http://www.tomdispatch.com/index.mhtml?emx=x&pid=78021  (back)

7.  http://www.energybulletin.net/2348.html  (back)

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About the Author

Michael Doliner has taught at Valparaiso University and Ithaca College. He lives with his family in Ithaca, N.Y.



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Published May 22, 2006