Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Starting A War

By Cernig

In an email this morning, Mr M at Comments From Left Field asked me "What happens if Iran DOES make an overt war act on the US?" Of course, the rightwing meme is that Iran has been carrying out both covert and overt acts of war for some time now - but any time someone who doesn't really want a war with iran looks at their evidence it ends up looking contrived, conspiratorial and, in essence, fabricated.

My first reaction was "why the f**k would the do that? They may be theocrats but mostly they have a rational wish to keep their good lives intact and ongoing." Its undoubtably true that a war on Iran would be a disaster for the U.S. and its allies - it would accomplish none of the warmongers objectives except revenge for a decades-old insult at an embassy and would be highly counter-productive to U.S. and allied interests globally.

The same is also true for the current Iranian regime. While they would be able to fend off any chance of America accomplishing much other than an entrenchment of their regime, the good life they enjoy would greatly suffer. Their nation would suffer greatly - the U.S. has the power to reduce much of Iran's infrastructure to rubble still, even if it couldn't remove the current regime or halt any (still hypothetical, despite what the neocons think) Iranian nuclear weapons program. Their own interests in the region would be equally as harmed by a overt conflict. With such a reduced infrastructure and all hands needed for their home front, their ability to conduct covert outreach would be severely curtailled, their influence would wane with their treasuries ability to fund others, their neighbours would see an opportunity to gain at their expense.

In such a conflict, there would be no winners. So why have such a conflict?

Then I realsed that many a war has been fought between two sides who thought they could win, even when any sensible observer could have told them that wasn't the case. And it isn't always the guy who starts shooting that emerges as victor.

Most sensible observers could have told Japan it had no hope of beating both the British Empire and the might of the U.S. in open battle. At least one Japanese admiral said exactly that. Pearl Harbor still happened. And then the Empire became the anvil to America's hammer, as everyone knew it would.

But what is so often forgotten in talk of that ill-fated day is that the circumstances leading to a Japanese perception that such an attack was neccessary had been largely engineered, albeit unwittingly, by the U.S. itself. An embargo of Japanese imports, for a nation that relied so heavily on them, left that nation with a stark choice of quiet defeat or a noisy one. In such circumstances, the temptation to get a few hits in on the way down is a very human one. "If we're going down, at least let us go down fighting". The embargo was an understandable and probably minimum reaction to an attack on the U.S.' allies, but it unwittingly began a snowballing chain of events that led, at last, to death by nuclear fire.

In other words, wars happen for complex reasons, not simple ones. Linear narratives are probably more unsuited to understanding the causes and motives of a conflict than they are to any other field of human expression. The tragedy is that nationalist tempers stirred by drumbeats for war invariably prefer linear narratives that make clear the division between "us-good" and "them-bad". Populist warmongers know this and play to it, every time. There will always be those who get some atavistic rush from knowing that they've created the conditions whereby the young, willing and able of their nation will go and prove the instigators' manhoods by proxy - by virtue of dying on a foreign field. Those drummers for war know, too, that this sacrifice will perversely make them more popular with their countrymen. Such has been the story of human nature throughout history and it isn't going to change soon.

So in answer to Mr M's question...if Iran Iran DOES make an overt war act on the US it will be messy and damaging to both nations and the true winners will be other countries who take no active part but instead make ready to gain from that mutual defeat. And if Iran DOES make an overt war act on the US it will be because of a complex interplay of factors which make lunacy seem sensible for a moment.

Factors like the following, perhaps, which could create the same kind of pressure as was felt by Imperial Japan if matters aren't carefully monitored yet seems eminently sensible as a non-violent coercive measure on its face. As Japan relied on imports, Iran relies on exports for its economic continuance.
A British proposal to target Iran's national shipping lines under a draft U.N. sanctions resolution could temporarily curb Tehran's ability to export oil to world markets, maritime sources said on Tuesday.

The confidential draft, obtained by Reuters on Friday, suggests denying rights of passage to Iranian merchant ships in foreign waters. The withdrawal of landing rights for Iranian aircraft is also suggested.

The proposal would have countries "deny permission to take off from, land in or overfly their territories, or berth in or secure passage through their territorial waters, of all aircraft and vessels owned or controlled by Iranian airlines or shipping companies."

Under the United Nations Law of the Sea Convention ships of all nations have the right of innocent passage through a country's territorial seas. U.N. member nations are bound to enforce Security Council resolutions once adopted.

Oil shipping sources said on Tuesday that, if adopted, the proposal could have a short-term effect on Iran's ability to supply oil to world markets, even though U.S. and European officials insist it is not meant to target Iran's oil.

"It's a question of logistics," said James Davis of Lloyd's Marine Intelligence Unit (LMIU) in London, a consultancy that tracks global oil tanker flows.
Then again, maybe not. If I had all the answers, I'd be in the OVP, not blogging (/snark). Still, it takes a determined person to ignore the way in which wars get easier to start if vocal members of one side are trying to find reasons to start one as well as trying to back the other side into a corner. That's so obvious it shouldn't need saying - but maybe it does.

(P.S. I think Mr M. really wanted a post on the nitty-gritty of any prospective war. I've already written that post though.)

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