Sunday, August 21, 2011

Our next war?

There is a lot going on. There is a lot going on in the Middle East. With so many new items on the table: Afghani assassinations, and Arab uprisings, some of the older issues are not as sexy as in the past.
The run up to wars are not always signaled very clearly. The death of an unpopular Arch-Duke of Austria in Bosnia, was not viewed as a likely run up to a war; and certainly not to the type of war that became known as World War One.

What seems very obvious now, was very fuzzy at the time. A number of observers thought that there was so much interlinked world trade, that great coalition wars had become a thing of the past; that a great war would cause a collapse in the world economies that knowbody could afford. Well the Great War did cause the collapse of the global trade system of its day. And if the appropriate measure of the importance of European war debt is factored in was a major contributor to both the rise of Hitler, and the European portion of the Great Depression.

This fuzziness of the moment, the inability to accurately weigh the future costs of current actions is what often brings on wars: big wars.

In a very quiet way, a potential attack on Iran by Israel is back in the news.

The pending problems were flagged in an interview with an interview of Robert Baer.

Robert Baer is a former CIA case officer and writer two New York Times bestsellers: Sleeping with the Devil: How Washington Sold Our Soul for Saudi Crude, and See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA's War on Terrorism. He has also written The Devil We Know: Dealing with the New Iranian Superpower, and more recently, with his wife Dayna, The Company We Keep: A Husband-and-Wife True-Life Spy Story. In the film version of See No Evil, Syriana, he was portrayed by George Clooney.

Let us first get some background information:  Interview with Robert Baer
Kevin Sullivan, Real Clear World, 29 October 2008

RCW: Many of the recent books on Iran focus primarily on the nuclear question. You take a different approach in The Devil We Know. Why?

BAER: What you have in Iran is a country that is very good at projecting power throughout the Middle East. What they are attempting to do, whether they succeed or not, is essentially build an empire in the Middle East. They justify this imperialistic expansion through an anti-colonial message--for instance, the liberation of Lebanon, of Palestine, etc.--and they have been extraordinarily effective at doing this. I don’t know of any other instance in history where anybody has tried it this way. Past Persian empires have always done this through invasion and occupation. It’s more like an empire by proxy, which is something that’s hard for the average person to understand.

RCW: You referred to Iran’s ambitions as an empire by proxy. One of the more common arguments against confronting Iran is that they are a small country with an economy the size of Switzerland’s. How can such a country desire empire, much less attain it?

BAER: Well, they would again prefer proxies and blackmail. The fact that Iran can take control of the Gulf’s oil resources ostensibly puts them in charge of the world’s economy. You might argue that the American military will be there to prevent this, but that’s provided we stay. But you need the military to do this. Do we want to put a million troops in the region to contain Iran and police the Middle East? And engaging the Iranians would be difficult, because any action we undertake could result in a form of proxy retaliation. One of these measures could be shutting down the world’s oil supply. We’re up against a regime with advanced capabilities in guerilla warfare, an extensive network of blackmail and an unassailable message: “We are being colonized!”

Note that Baer wrote a novel, that implicated Iran in the 911 incident. So he clearly is not in the Iran is O.K. with me camp.

His assertion in the recent interview is that Isreal is planning an attack on Iran, and that the United States, who has little actual leverage over Israel at the moment, has little ability to stop it. The actual interview is hear: Background Briefing, July 12 – Robert Baer: War with Iran The direct link for the interview in question is here.

The American language version of Al Jazeera, who for obvious reasons is interested in what happens in the Middle East, did pick up the story

The American language version of Al Jazeera, who for obvious reasons is interested in what happens in the Middle East, did pick up the story.

MJ Rosenberg, Al Jazeera, 17 July 2011

There is almost "near certainty" that Netanyahu is "planning an attack [on Iran] ... and it will probably be in September before the vote on a Palestinian state. And he's also hoping to draw the United States into the conflict", Baer explained.

The Israeli air force would attack "Natanz and other nuclear facilities to degrade their capabilities. The Iranians will strike back where they can: Basra, Baghdad", he said, and even Afghanistan. Then the United States would jump into the fight with attacks on Iranian targets. "Our special forces are already looking at Iranian targets in Iraq and across the border [in Iran] which we would strike. What we're facing here is an escalation, rather than a planned out-and-out war. It's a nightmare scenario. We don't have enough troops in the Middle East to fight a war like that." Baer added, "I think we are looking into the abyss".

The Al Jazeera article tends to slant the rest of the article toward an anti-Iranian slant that has them encouraging the conflict. I simply took Baer’s point to be that, welcoming it or not, the Iranians are in a position to cause a lot of damage using asymmetric methods of warfare.

If we recall from Alex Scarrow’s novel Last Light, the Straits of Hormuz is one of the eleven key choke points in his (planned) crash of the global economy. Iran has purchased, anti-shipping missiles, anti-shipping cruise missiles, mines, rocket assisted (deep water) mines, diesel-electric submarines, and miniature submarines, all with the intent of blocking the flow of oil through the straights for an extended period of time.

As Mr. Baer notes, the Iranians have somewhat limited options as to where they can attack Isreal, but they have much more immediate targets against the United States (Iraq and Afghanistan), and the World Economy.


PioneerPreppy said...

I really thought Israel was going to attack the nuke sites last Fall. In fact I kinda wonder if Israel wasn't talked out of it and convinced to let the stutnet or whatever it was called do it's thing to avoid an outright confrontation.

Now I wonder if they missed their window and the Egyptian troubles aren't going to be too much of a tender box to risk it. Not that they really have a choice.

russell1200 said...

The Bush W. Administration sure made a lot of noise that sounded like they were going to do it. But the misfire on the Iraq WMD gave them a severe credibility problem.

Obama does not seem to be real popular with the Israelis. I doubt they think they can count on him.

I am with you. I am a little surprised it has not already happened.