Be careful what you wish for–that might be the catch phrase for American relations with Iran since the CIA helped overthrow the elected government of that country in 1953 and installed the young Shah in power. Much of our present world–and many of our present problems in the Middle East and Central Asia–stem from that particular act of imperial hubris. The Shah’s Iran was then regarded by successive American administrations not just as a potential regional power, but as our regional bulwark, our imperial outpost. The US helped bulk up the Shah’s military, as well as his fearsome secret police, and, under President Dwight Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace program, actually started Iran down the nuclear road which today leaves some administration figures threatening bloody murder, even while former Centcom commander John Abizaid claims that an Iranian bomb would not be the end of the universe. ("There are ways to live with a nuclear Iran… Let’s face it, we lived with a nuclear Soviet Union, we’ve lived with a nuclear China, and we’re living with [other] nuclear powers as well.")
The White House has reportedly given secret approval for covert operations to "destabilize" Iran and, evidently, its backing to small-scale terror strikes inside that country, while Iranian influence inside Shiite Iraq remains (as it has long been) significant. Meanwhile, a war of words (and charges) only escalates. President Bush heightened the anti-Iranian rhetoric in his September 13th post-Petraeus-hearings address, while an escalating campaign of charges against the activities of Iran and its Revolutionary Guards in Iraq continues to intensify, just as reports are coming out that the Pentagon is building a new base in Iraq, right up against the Iranian border. The Iranian nuclear situation remains at a boil.
There are also regular, if shadowy, reports that Vice President Cheney’s office is pushing hard for a shock-and-awe air campaign against Iran. Recently (and not for the first time), the Iranians shot back: General Mohammed Hassan Koussechi, a senior Revolutionary Guard commander, threatened to respond to any American action in his country by firing off missiles with a range of at least 1,200 miles against American and Western targets across the Middle East including, presumably, the enormous military bases the Pentagon has scattered across Iraq. ("Today the Americans are around our country but this does not mean that they are encircling us. They are encircled themselves and are within our range.")
While US aircraft carrier battle groups slip in and out of the Persian Gulf, a murky Israeli air attack on a site in the Syrian desert, combined with a bizarre and unlikely nuclear tale involving the North Koreans, has added a further touch of paranoia to the situation. (According to the Israeli paper Haaretz, ex-United Nations Ambassador John Bolton has claimed that the Israeli bombing should be taken as "a clear message to Iran…. that its continued efforts to acquire nuclear weapons are not going to go unanswered.")
The President has indicated, more than once, that he would not hand the Iranian nuclear situation over to his successor unresolved (unlike the war in Iraq). Even Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, a man who knows well the dangers a U.S. attack on Iran poses, continues to claim that "all options are on the table" when it comes to the Iranians. So consider the Iranian-American relationship, splayed on the "table" of Iraq, to be the potential crucible of disaster for the planet between now and January 2009.
At Salon.com, Steve Clemons, the Washington insider who directs the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation, has just weighed the likelihood of an American air assault on Iran and managed to suggest a number of hair-raising scenarios, even while indicating that President Bush may have backed off from the possibility. Former US ambassador Peter Galbraith, who considers the Iranian-American relationship in the upcoming issue of the New York Review of Books (in an essay posted at Tomdispatch.com) suggests that, "of all the unintended consequences of the Iraq war, Iran’s strategic victory is the most far-reaching," and explains just how the Bush administration has actually forwarded Iranian interests in Iraq at every level.
"The US," he concludes, "has good reason to worry about Iran’s activities in Iraq. But contrary to the Bush administration’s allegations–supported by both General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker in their recent congressional testimony–Iran does not oppose Iraq’s new political order. In fact, Iran is the major beneficiary of the American-induced changes in Iraq since 2003."
Who would be the beneficiary of a late-term Bush administration assault on Iran? Only one thing is clear at the moment–not the United States.